The Bible is full of promises and predictions. We all love the promises and we lean on them as we go through our daily lives. But I want to look at a few of the predictions. Better brains than mine say that there are seven hundred and thirty five future predictions in the Bible, of which five hundred and nineteen have already been fulfilled. That is eighty-one percent have already happened leaving us with nineteen percent still to go. A lot of that nineteen percent is taken up with what will happen when Jesus returns and there are only twenty more prophecies to be fulfilled before His return. We are living in exciting times or maybe you see it as troubling times.
I want to look at some old prophecies which were fulfilled at the time of one of my favourite Bible stories. That is the Feast of Belshazzar, or the Writing on the Wall (Daniel Ch.5) you may know it as. I want to look at what that had to do with prophesy and what happened afterwards.
You will remember that the Jews were in captivity in Babylon since Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed Jerusalem and laid waste to Israel. We know all about it through the account given by Daniel. Daniel was very young when he was marched off to Babylon, probably twelve to fifteen years of age. But by the time of Belshazzar’s feast Nebuchadnezzar was dead and his grandson, Belshazzar, was on the throne by proxy, because his father, King Nabonidus (the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire), had gone off to the very famous library in the Arabian desert to read the many ancient scrolls which were kept there.
That, by the way, left a very difficult question for modern archaeologists because all the remains of this period were in the name of Nabonidus, his seal was on everything. There were no remains in the name of Belshazzar therefore they concluded the Bible was untrue. Thankfully, this story of Nabonidus and Belshazzar was unearthed last century and the Bible proved true! There’s a surprise!
Going back to Belshazzar’s feast, which he gave for one thousand of his top workers who had helped him to rule; he had done very well ruling this huge empire until at the feast he got drunk. Very stupidly he ordered the sacred vessels from the Temple in Jerusalem to be brought out for him. He and his followers used them to drink toasts to the gods of Babylon. At this point God writes on the wall, something which no-one could read and everyone was terrified. At the suggestion of Nebuchadnezzar’s widow Daniel was sent for (Daniel 5:11-12).
Daniel knew what was about to happen and who was coming to take over Babylon because he read his Scriptures. In Jeremiah 29:10, he reads that the captivity in Babylon will last seventy years, so he knows that the time is up. He is now somewhere between eighty-two and eighty-five. He has been in Babylon for seventy years and he has started praying and asking God to fulfil this prophecy. Daniel also knows who is coming to take over. You will remember the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, with the gold head, the silver arms and breastplate etc. Daniel had told Nebuchadnezzar, “You O king are the head of gold” (Daniel 2:38). That head has now gone and those coming in are the silver section; the Medes and Persians.
When we were young, Persia still existed, but now it is called Iran, and the Shah of Persia was ousted. The Medes, however, had been lost long before that. In Daniel’s time the Medes and Persians worked together. The Persians had the army and the military might, but the Medes were the brains behind the outfit. At this time, Cyrus the Mede was the leader.
It took the Persian army three days to take over Babylon, and then Cyrus came riding in to inspect his new conquest. So all the important people in Babylon were lined-up for him to meet and greet, or execute if they displeased him. This always reminds me of the Royal Variety Performance when the acts are lined up on stage to meet the Queen. She of course cannot execute them but perhaps she would get a better performance if she could! In the Babylon line-up, Daniel was at the front as chief astrologer, and since his talk with Belshazzar, the most important person in Babylon. Remember, Belshazzar had made him third in the kingdom, after Nabonidas and Belshazzar. When Daniel stepped forward to meet Cyrus he was carrying the scroll of Isaiah, rolled open to what today is Chapters 44 and 45. Unfortunately the person putting the chapter headings in put Chapter 45 in a place which cut this prophecy in half. Here is what he read, starting with Isaiah Chapter 44:28, “The Lord says of Cyrus he is My shepherd and will accomplish all that I please. He will say of Jerusalem let it be rebuilt and of the Temple let its foundations be laid.” Then in Ch.45:13, “I will raise up Cyrus. He will rebuild My city and set My exiles free.” Can you imagine what it was like to be Cyrus reading this letter from a foreign God? Even more amazing this letter was written about one hundred and fifty years before Cyrus was born. Isaiah who had written at God’s dictation had been dead for more than one hundred years by the time Cyrus read it. Isaiah could not have known what he was writing about but he was faithful to write what God told him and Daniel now over one hundred years after Isaiah was faithful to what he was reading in God’s Word.
Cyrus was utterly amazed that God should speak personally to him and did all that God asked of him. He set all the Babylonian captives free, not just the Jews, but he gave the Jews building materials to go back and rebuild the Temple and Jerusalem. He also gave them provisions to keep them alive until the next harvest. Whenever the Jews have been absent from the land it has reverted to desert. It is only when they are present in the land that God sends the rain, and it blossoms and thrives again. The returning Jews had an enormous task of restoring Israel, cultivating the land and rebuilding the towns and villages. Thus, making the land fit to live in again. They didn’t know it but they had about five hundred and fifty years to build Bethlehem so Jesus could be born there, to build Nazareth so that Jesus could grow up there, to rebuild the Galilean towns and the fishing industry so that the disciples were there when Jesus called, to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple so that Jesus could teach and be crucified there.
Today, the Church celebrates advent for four weeks each year when we prepare our hearts and minds to receive the Christ-child at Christmas. God’s advent period is different. His first advent was five hundred and fifty years of preparation for Jesus’ coming; and for the world to be made ready for the coming of the Saviour.
We all know that that was not the end. Once more the Jews were expelled from the land and scattered among all the nations of the world. Once more the land stopped being productive and reverted to desert as Mark Twain found when he visited in the 1860s. Once again God had made a promise. The people would return. We read in Isaiah 66:8, “Can a nation be born in a day?” Yes, we all know it can. It was in the lifetime of some of us, on 14th May 1948 when the UN voted Israel into being. Praise God, the Jews are back, tasked once more with rebuilding the land and making it green and productive. What for this time? Well, obviously we are looking forward to the coming of Jesus for the second time. Not as a baby in Bethlehem, but to the Mount of Olives where Jesus will put down His feet as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We are in God’s Second Advent; we are part of that preparation. This year the Jews will celebrate seventy years back in the land. I don’t know what God has in mind. Is it going to be five hundred and fifty years again? I think probably not, but all I can say is what the Bible says. “Even so, come Lord Jesus!”