Rise and Fall of Nations
Where are the great empires of the past? Where is the Assyrian Empire? The Babylonian Empire? The Roman Empire? You can find what is left of them in museums, in ruins and in a few ancient stone buildings frequented only by modern tourists. Great nations rise and fall! Is it possible that the United States could be returned to ashes, like so many great nations that have gone before?
We cannot help but be impressed by the great empires of the past. The Babylonian Empire ruled the Middle East, and the armies of Nebuchadnezzar were unstoppable. The mighty Roman Empire lasted for 500 years, before falling to the Vandals and the Heruli. World War II saw the blitzkrieg expansion of the Third Reich across Europe and North Africa. Hitler's ambitions included conquest of the Soviet Union, but he failed, and Allied armies pummeled mighty Germany into a rubble heap. Can any nation or empire long endure? Can the U.S. last much longer as a superpower? What does the Bible say about the future of kingdoms, empires and nations? Does God have a say in what will happen? What are the lessons of history—and Scripture—and the warnings they portend for Western civilization?
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics consisted of 15 republics and one-sixth of the world's land surface, or 2.5 times the area of the U.S. This great superpower reveled in its Communist ideology; it fought for the hearts of nations all over the world and lost. On November 9, 1989, the symbol of its subjugation of Eastern Europe, the Berlin Wall, came tumbling down.
Now this once-mighty power has shattered into 15 struggling nation-states, with 12 tied together in the Commonwealth of Independent States. Who could have predicted the fall of this great superpower? A small group of biblically based Christians did understand that Eastern Europe would eventually escape the iron grip of the Soviet Union. How could they have known that? Bible prophecy predicted the rise of another great superpower, called the Beast in the book of Revelation. Nearly 50 years ago, Herbert W. Armstrong wrote that East Germany would be rejoined to West Germany, and that Russia "will be forced to relinquish her control over Hungary, Czechoslovakia and parts of Austria" (Plain Truth, April 1952, p. 16).
Shortly after Russia's 1956 invasion of Hungary, when many experts believed that the "Iron Curtain" had fallen inexorably on the nations of Eastern Europe, Mr. Armstrong wrote: "The way is being prepared for a colossal third force in world politics—a European Federation of Nations more powerful than either Russia or the United States!… We have shown years in advance what would happen to Russia's ill-fated Empire in Eastern Europe" (Plain Truth, December 1956, p. 3).
You can know the future from Bible prophecy. You can know the broad outlines of world history, and what will happen to the great nations of this 21st century! There is a God in heaven who is working out a great plan here on earth. He is giving human beings and human civilization six millennia to experiment with religion, science, government, business, education and social institutions. God is allowing human beings to go their own predictable, carnal way of selfishness, war, and violence, but He often intervenes in order to teach lasting lessons of life and death.
King Nebuchadnezzar ruled the mighty Babylonian Empire, but his arrogance and rejection of God's authority brought a great judgment upon him. King Nebuchadnezzar called upon the prophet Daniel to interpret a troubling dream. God revealed that the king would be driven from his throne to live with the beasts of the field for seven years. What was the lesson this most powerful king had to learn? He needed to learn "that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, gives it to whomever He will, and sets over it the lowest of men" (Daniel 4:17). Or, as translated in the King James Version, the "basest of men."
After the seven years, God restored the kingdom to King Nebuchadnezzar. The king had learned his lesson. Scripture quotes the king's repentant reflection. "Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down" (Daniel 4:37).
Other great empires have fallen, just like Nebuchadnezzar's. In his book When Nations Die, author Jim Nelson Black recounts the fate of several modern empires. He writes: "The collapse of the Soviet Union, which has been constantly in the headlines since the fall of 1989, is clearly the most recent example of the fate of nations. But it is not the only one. In this century alone [the 20th century] we have seen the fall of the German Reich, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Italian Empire of Benito Mussolini, the Japanese Empire of Hirohito, and not least, the British Empire" (p. xvii).
Why do nations decline and fall? History has proved, time and again, that a nation's moral condition and its character are key to its endurance. God's moral law applies to nations as well as individuals. The Apostle Paul wrote: "Do not be deceived; God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" (Galatians 6:7). Individuals and nations that sow immorality, violence and oppression will not long endure.
Jim Nelson Black, researching decadence in modern society, listed such signs of decay as "luxury, skepticism, weariness, superstition… a preoccupation with self… promotion of the wrong people, the urge to overspend, and a rise of 'liberal opinion'—that is, the popularization of attitudes and policies controlled by sentiment rather than sound moral judgment" (Black, p. xvii).
Yet God will deliver a nation that responds to His warning. Facing attack by the armies of Moab and Ammon, the Kingdom of Judah humbled itself and sought God. You can read the full account of this inspiring story in 2 Chronicles 20. King Jehoshaphat exhorted the people to trust in God for their victory. "Hear me, O Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem: Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper" (2 Chronicles 20:20). They did, and God gave Judah the victory! That vital principle applies today! Will we listen to the warnings God is giving us—even this very minute? Or will we nationally and individually become more and more decadent?
Note these sobering words by former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett: "National prosperity, as it happens, is largely dependent on lots of good private character. If lying, manipulation, sloth, lack of discipline, and personal irresponsibility become commonplace, the national economy grinds down. A society that produces street predators and white-collar criminals has to pay for prison cells. A society in which drug use is rampant must pay for drug treatment centers. The breaking up of families means many more foster homes and lower high school graduation rates. A society that is parsimonious in its personal charity (in terms of both time and money) will require more government welfare. Just as there are enormous financial benefits to moral health, there are enormous financial costs to moral collapse" (The Death of Outrage, pp. 35–36).
Do Bennett's words describe our modern American culture? Sadly, the answer is "yes." Author Black shares a similar perspective. He writes: "Could our own culture already be in the latter stages of decline? Is it possible that America—once universally acknowledged as the foremost economic and military power in the world—may one day, perhaps very soon, go the way of Greece and Rome?" (Black, pp. xvii–xviii).
The answer is that, unless we repent nationally and individually, we will continue our moral decline into devastation and destruction. God Almighty, Who judges the conduct and character of nations, will bring upon us the Great Tribulation. No nation or empire can long endure without moral character and God's blessing. Ancient King Nebuchadnezzar learned the hard way. He neglected the warning of God's prophet, and lived with the beasts of the field for seven years. We saw, through King Jehoshaphat's example, that God will bless a nation that humbles itself, that seeks God, and that acts upon the warnings and instructions of His prophets and servants!
God sent the prophet Jonah to warn the Assyrian kingdom. Jonah traveled to the Assyrian capital city, Ninevah, along the Tigris River. His warning is recorded in the book of Jonah. "And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day's walk. Then he cried out and said, 'Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!'" (Jonah 3:4). How did the Ninevites respond? "So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes" (Jonah 3:5–6).
The Assyrians responded to the prophet's warning. They repented of their evil ways and God spared them. This took place in the eighth century bc. So God spared them until they returned to their carnal ways. In 612bc, Nineveh was destroyed by the Babylonians, the Scythians and the Medes. God had previously used Assyria to punish ancient Israel. Israel went into captivity to the Assyrians. The kingdom of Israel was lost in history and became known as the "lost ten tribes."
God had sent His prophets to warn Israel to repent. They refused to reform. So the kingdom of Assyria conquered the northern kingdom, the ten-tribed House of Israel, and moved the captives far to the east in Assyria. The final captivity took place around 721bc.
Then God also sent prophets to warn the southern kingdom of Judah, which also persisted in its sins. God used the kingdom of Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar to punish the house of Judah. The majority of Jews were deported to Babylon over a period of two decades ending with the destruction of Jerusalem in 586bc. A young Daniel and three of his friends were taken captive and trained in the culture and literature of Babylon. These young men continued in the godly values they had been taught, and God used Daniel to interpret the dream of Nebuchadnezzar.
"Now in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar's reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; and his spirit was so troubled that his sleep left him. Then the king gave the command to call the magicians, the astrologers, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans to tell the king his dreams. So they came and stood before the king. And the king said to them, 'I have had a dream, and my spirit is anxious to know the dream'" (Daniel 2:1–3).
These advisors asked the king to tell them the dream so that they could interpret it. But the king threatened them with death if they could not tell him the content of the dream. The king, in effect, was testing the astrologers' and magicians' claim to divine revelation. Daniel asked his friends to pray that God would reveal the dream, and during the night God made the dream known to Daniel, who gave the credit to God. "Daniel answered in the presence of the king, and said, 'The secret which the king has demanded, the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, and the soothsayers cannot declare to the king. But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days. Your dream, and the visions of your head upon your bed, were these…'" (Daniel 2:27–28). Then Daniel proceeded to describe this great image in the king's dream.
Daniel not only told the king what his dream was, but he also gave the interpretation. "You, O king, were watching; and behold, a great image! This great image, whose splendor was excellent, stood before you; and its form was awesome. This image's head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay" (Daniel 2:31–33).
Daniel told the king the dream's meaning: "This is the dream. Now we will tell the interpretation of it before the king. You, O king, are a king of kings. For the God of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength, and glory; and wherever the children of men dwell, or the beasts of the field and the birds of the heaven, He has given them into your hand, and has made you ruler over them all; you are this head of gold" (Daniel 2:36–38).
Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar that God had made him a king of kings, saying: "You are this head of gold." Here, God was revealing the power and authority that He, the Creator of the universe, was giving Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom. Notice that the image also symbolized great empires to come. What were those empires that Bible prophecy predicted? Here is Daniel's description: "But after you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours; then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth. And the fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron, inasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and shatters everything; and like iron that crushes, that kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others. Whereas you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter's clay and partly of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; yet the strength of the iron shall be in it, just as you saw the iron mixed with ceramic clay. And as the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly fragile. As you saw iron mixed with ceramic clay, they will mingle with the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay" (Daniel 2:39–43).
Who were these empires? Again, all serious Bible scholars agree on their identity. Daniel continued to describe what would eventually happen to this great image. The head of gold represented the Babylonian Empire from 625 to 539bc. This empire was replaced by the Medo-Persian Empire from 558 to 330bc, represented by the chest and arms of silver. The belly and thighs of bronze represented the Greco-Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great from 333 to 31bc. The two legs of iron represented the rising and falling Roman Empire, which first rose in 31bc, and most recently fell with the collapse of the German-Italian Axis at the end of World War II. The ten toes of iron mixed with clay represent one final future revival of the Roman Empire.
Notice that the final worldly kingdoms, represented by the great image Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream, will all come to an end. The image represented four world-ruling empires and their continuation until the end of mankind's civilizations at the end of this age. They will all be replaced by what is called the fifth kingdom, the coming Kingdom of God.
Daniel wrote: "You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth" (Daniel 2:34–35).
And what is this stone? Daniel describes its meaning: "And in the days of these kings [symbolized by the ten toes] the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever" (Daniel 2:44).
The history of the world is the story of nations and empires that prospered and later turned to dust. Will we learn the lessons of history? Some nations declined slowly before their demise. Others were destroyed or conquered suddenly.
Daniel was in the city of Babylon the night the Persian army conquered the city. And through Daniel, God also let king Belshazzar know what was going to happen to him and the empire. This is the famous story of the "handwriting on the wall." King Belshazzar prepared a feast, a great party, for a thousand of his nobles. They drank wine out of the plundered golden vessels from the Temple in Jerusalem. "In the same hour the fingers of a man's hand appeared and wrote opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king's palace; and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. Then the king's countenance changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his hips were loosened and his knees knocked against each other" (Daniel 5:5–6).
Daniel was called upon to interpret the message that this mysterious hand had written on the wall. "And this is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN" (Daniel 5:25). Daniel then told King Belshazzar: "This is the interpretation of each word. Mene: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it; Tekel: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting; Peres: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.… That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old" (Daniel 5:25–28, 30–31).
Today, the handwriting is on the wall for America and all the British-descended nations. The warning signs are all about us as we become more decadent and immoral. Yet there is still time for us to repent nationally and individually. Will we listen to God's warnings? We need to turn to the Savior of the world! As Jesus said: "Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man" (Luke 21:36). We need to take action, before it is too late!