Thursday, February 25, 2021

Judging Empires

Many of the Old Testament prophets prophesied against the empires of their day. Prophesying against empires will be part of the role of some mature prophets.

Empires are not subject to the conditions of the Mosaic covenant, so I was curious to see what criteria the Old Testament prophets used when judging empires. I was surprised to find that in most cases, the prophets announcing judgment against an empire did not list a number of failings, as they did when prophesying against Israel and the surrounding nations.

Rather the Old Testament Prophets judged empires for being empires. In their view, the desire of an empire to rule over the entire world was an afront to God because it is his world, and he is the only one who should rule it all.

Brian Zahnd defines an empire as a rich, powerful nation, which believes it has the divine right to rule other nations and has a manifest destiny to shape history according to its agenda. This is perceptive because these are prerogatives that belong to Jesus alone.

By trying to control the world, or a big part of the world, empires are standing against Jesus and insulting him. They also open themselves up to the intervention and control of the spiritual powers of evil, who also want to control the world and see empires as a useful instrument of their power (Rev 18:2).

God is always opposed to empires and is committed to bringing them down; so it is only ever a question of time. He will sometimes allow an empire to persist because it is useful for advancing his purposes (usually destroying or constraining a previous empire), but once his objective is accomplished, the empire will be destroyed. In the eyes of a prophet, the days of an empire are always numbered.

According to the prophets, God condemned emperors and empires for the following characteristics, all related to the nature of an empire.

  • Seeking power and control over the entire world.
    • The Tower of Babel was the first attempt to control the world (Gen 11:5-7).
    • Babylon the Great loves power; it is called the City of Power (Rev 18:10).
  • Plotting evil against God’s purposes and trying to take his place (Nahum 1:9,11).
    • Egypt made plans that did not align with God’s purposes (Is 19:3).
  • Pride and arrogance are the heart of empire.
    • Babylon has the arrogance of the haughty and the pride of the ruthless (Isaiah 13:11).
    • Nebuchadnezzar boasted about what he had done (Dan 4:30).
    • Belshazzar set himself up against God (Daniel 5:22-14)).
    • The king of Babylon believed that he could rise higher than God (Isaiah 14:13-14).
    • Babylon was lounging, confident in its security (Is 47:8).
    • Babylon the Great boasted of its greatness (Rev 18:7).
  • Empires seek alternative sources of power, such as magic and sorcery
    • Babylon relied on magic and sorcery (Is 47:9,12).
    • Egypt relied on mediums and spiritists (Is 19:3).
  • Empires increase their power by creating terror amongst the people of the nations.

    • Babylon aimed to create terror (Is 14:12).
    • Babylon is a scary warclub (Is 51:20).
    • Babylon is a nation of warriors (Jer 51:56).
    • The sword of Babylon is ruthless in destruction (Ezek 32:11-12)
  • Empires corrupt the nations that they control.

    • The powerful rulers corrupt their wisdom for the sake of splendour (Ezek 28:17).
    • Babylon the Great led the nations into adultery (Rev 18:3,9).
  • Empires seek control of wealth.
    • Babylon the Great created huge wealth for itself and the nations it controlled (Rev 18:3,14,17).
  • Because empires oppose God, they often persecute his people.

    • Egypt oppressed the children of Israel (Exodus 3:7-9).
    • Babylon the Great persecuted the prophets and the saints (Rev 17:14; 18,14).

Prophets will use the same criteria to assess modern empires. God still judges empires for pride and arrogance, which leads them to seek control of the entire world. He opposes their ruthless violence and reliance on magic (technology) to maintain their power and control. He hates their manipulation and control of many nations for their own purposes.

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