Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):
The Decline and Fall of Nations: A Prophetic Perspective
Ancient Babylon fell in one night after having been "weighed in the balance and found wanting." Can modern empires fall just as quickly? History and the Bible provide an answer!
by Darris McNeely
Harvard historian Niall Ferguson, writing in the March-April 2010 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, presents an analysis of how empires can quickly collapse into chaos. Rather than a slow decline over centuries, Ferguson shows that many large nations of the past were gone in a few short years. While seemingly strong and viable, they faded virtually overnight.
Conventional wisdom assumes that the economic challenges to America's global dominance are long-term threats. It is pointed out, for instance, that demographics alone will over time increase the debt to unmanageable proportions.
Ferguson himself cites long-term predictions of China overtaking America in economic size and output by 2027 or 2040, but then he asks: "What if history is not cyclical and slow moving but arrhythmic -- at times almost stationary, but also capable of accelerating suddenly, like a sports car? What if collapse does not arrive over a number of centuries but comes suddenly, like a thief in the night?" ("Complexity and Collapse," p. 22).
Sudden Shifts Like a Thief in the Night
A thief in the night? Sounds biblical! The New Testament tells us: "But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, 'Peace and safety!' then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape" (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3, emphasis added throughout).
What the Bible says about end-time events culminating in the Day of the Lord applies to the sudden collapse of powerful nations and empires throughout history.
Ferguson looks at the collapse of the Soviet Union over a short period of five years, from the time Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. Although the CIA overestimated the size of the Soviet economy, the Soviets did have nuclear superiority over the United States. It looked as if the Soviet Union would be around to challenge America for many years to come.
"Yet less than five years after Gorbachev took power, the Soviet imperium in central and Eastern Europe had fallen apart, followed by the Soviet Union itself in 1991. If ever an empire fell off a cliff -- rather than gently declining -- it was the one founded by Lenin" (p. 30).
Ferguson's thesis is that empires are large, complex systems that can be turned upside down in short order by the insertion of even one event that is more than the system can handle. Lack of confidence in a nation's future, even while it is strong, can be such an event. When other nations lose confidence in the sustainability of an economic model, events can be set in motion to quickly change the balance of power.
Other smaller, seemingly insignificant events can trigger a chain reaction leading to massive upheaval. The assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914 was the fuse that lit the powder keg of World War I. No one saw it at the time, but events quickly raced out of control, and a worldwide conflict ensued.
An Example from the Recent Economic Crisis
We have the recent example of how the complex world economy went from boom to bust when a lot of Americans began defaulting on what are commonly called "subprime loans." Because thousands of large financial institutions were set up to depend on the performance of those loans, they suddenly found themselves insolvent or quite near the brink. The reverberation brought down large Wall Street financial houses and had repercussions across Europe and Asia.
The world financial system approached meltdown one week in September 2008. The global economy is still recovering. It is an object lesson in how quickly events, even relatively small ones, can turn the world upside down.
Ferguson concludes by observing that "empires behave like all complex adaptive systems. They function in apparent equilibrium for some unknowable period. And then, quite abruptly, they collapse...It is sudden" (p. 32).
What Ferguson and other historians typically leave out of the discussion is what can be called the missing dimension in world affairs. That missing dimension is the hand of YEHOVAH God in the rise and fall of nations and empires.
The Bible is a chronicle of ancient nations that rose and fell according to YEHOVAH's plan and purpose. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome -- all are mentioned in the narrative. All played key roles in interacting with the nation of Israel and the Church founded by Yeshua the Messiah. Even today, the lessons of empires embedded in the Bible apply as we watch the modern world move toward what the Messiah said would be the end of the age of human governments.
The Lesson of Ancient Babylon
The prophetic book of Daniel lists Babylon as the first in a line of empires that would impact the world from the time of the fall of Jerusalem in Daniel's day to the end of the present age of human misrule. Daniel found himself at the seat of the empire dealing with a succession of rulers beginning with Nebuchadnezzar. While explaining the significance of the king's dream to him, the prophet told him that YEHOVAH God "removes kings and raises up kings" (Daniel 2:21).
Here is a crucial first principle to understand about world affairs. YEHOVAH God determines the course of nations. He can set up or remove a leader when He wills. That doesn't mean He is involved in every small nation's affairs when these don't impact the course of His plan. But clearly He is involved in seeing to it that all the prophecies He has given about various nations and the world at large are fulfilled. Many of these prophecies are warnings of judgment.
Babylon found itself facing YEHOVAH's prophetic warning on the night when a subsequent ruler, Belshazzar, "made a great feast" (Daniel 5:1). This event occurred as the Persian armies massed outside the city gates. During the banquet the disembodied fingers of a man's hand appeared and wrote on the wall of the king's palace (verse 5). King Belshazzar was troubled at the sight and asked for anyone who could interpret what the writing said. Word came that Daniel was the only one who could possibly interpret the handwriting, so he was brought into the banquet room.
Daniel related some of what the former ruler Nebuchadnezzar had learned through his experience with YEHOVAH God, including the fact that "the Most High God rules in the kingdom of men, and appoints over it whomever He chooses" (Daniel 5:21).
Daniel's interpretation of the handwriting highlights another fundamental dimension in world affairs. The message on the wall was, "God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it...You have been...found wanting...Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians" (Daniel 5:26-27).
It is YEHOVAH God who judges the time an empire is allowed to persist and when its time is over. A key is when the nation and its people are "found wanting" -- not measuring up. In other terms, this is speaking of sin, breaking YEHOVAH's laws and not acknowledging Him.
The Babylonians worshipped false gods who neither saw nor heard nor knew anything. They did not acknowledge the "God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways" (verse 23). Their problem was the same as virtually all other great nations that rose and fell throughout history: They did not worship the true God. They practiced what the Bible calls idolatry, worshipping as God that which is not God. The problem remains with us today.
That very night the Persians captured Babylon and Belshazzar was killed. As a power, Babylon ended -- absorbed into the Persian kingdom. The transition was over suddenly, like a thief in the night.
A Modern-Day "Babylon" to Rise and Fall
In the Bible, the name "Babylon" refers to more than just that ancient city. It is also used to describe a religious and political system that traces its roots back to pagan Babylon. When we go to the book of Revelation, we see a modern version of this ancient system dominating the world scene. Revelation 17 shows a woman sitting on a scarlet beast with this name on her forehead: "Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth" (verse 5).
This system controls the world for a brief but significant time prior to the coming of Yeshua the Messiah and YEHOVAH God. The world will be lulled into a sense of peace and security by this system that will come together in the guise of safety and security.
While this system will impact the entire world, there are signs it will be weak in its foundation. Its size alone will make it a complex system. Many nations, ethnicities, cultures and languages will be in play. It will be an unstable mixture that, after a brief supremacy, will quickly unravel.
Revelation 17:16 shows that the economic and military power aligned with this end-time Babylon, prophetically called the "beast," will turn on this system symbolized by a fallen woman. Revelation 18:8 tells us: "Therefore her plagues will come in one day -- death and mourning and famine...'For in one hour your judgment has come'" (Revelation 18:8-10).
Once again, judgment comes quickly -- unexpectedly. Whether it is days or months is unclear, but it will likely not be much longer, given the time frame of prophecy in this period. Like ancient Babylon falling in one night, we see that sudden change can come on a nation even as life appears to be normal.
The Messiah's Warning Not to Be Caught Unaware
Yeshua the Messiah said people would be going about a normal life and would be caught unaware by the momentous changes occurring: "But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth" (Luke 21:34-35).
Once again, we see the warning that events will occur suddenly, like a thief in the night. What Niall Ferguson observed in his article about the decline and fall of nations is supported by both history and biblical prophecy. But there is a difference. Ferguson and most modern historians focus on demographics and economic factors. As already pointed out, they typically leave out the spiritual dimension of YEHOVAH's intervention.
To ignore and deny the hand of YEHOVAH God in history is to miss the real meaning of history and current world events. And to deny YEHOVAH God is what lies at the heart of any decline and fall.
The Problem of Idolatry
Nebuchadnezzar had to learn this lesson the hard way. He looked at the kingdom he ruled and thought it was all established and built through his wisdom and cunning. Like any despot in history, he was pretty high on himself; and when he surveyed the splendor of Babylon in a pride-filled boast, he came face to face with reality.
Scripture says He went mad for seven years. His mental state made him a prisoner in his body, with no ability to act or think rationally. And then, just as suddenly, he returned to normal and resumed his position in the kingdom. He learned a lesson -- that YEHOVAH God's control of leaders and nations is the critical factor in world affairs. The last few verses of Daniel 4, where this part of the story is told, form a final word on the reign of Nebuchadnezzar.
The words of the prophets, including the Messiah, teach us the critical lesson we need for understanding why nations can suddenly collapse when the normal signs say otherwise. When a people fail to acknowledge YEHOVAH God and lapse into idolatry, putting themselves first, they set out on a road to collapse.
That collapse may take several generations, but it is inevitable apart from national repentance. The fall can take a few decades or only a few years. But when YEHOVAH's time is ready, what He has foretold will happen.
This is why the present state of affairs in America and its role in the world is so critical. Since the end of World War II, America has been the defender of what has been called the "free world." Its nuclear shield protected Europe during the Cold War, allowing European economies to rebuild. The U.S. Navy has kept the sea lanes of the world open to commerce. Its armies have fought terrorism, responded to genocide and been a deterrent to rogue nations like North Korea and Iran.
America's rising debt will one day -- perhaps very soon -- cause it to retreat from the historic role it has played as a global protector. When that day arrives, it will signal a change, perhaps a collapse, in America's role as a superpower. What follows will likely be quick and sudden, "like a thief in the night."
When the day comes that America and the English-speaking peoples relinquish their historic and biblically predicted role in the modern world, the world will become a vastly different place -- with much darker days to follow.
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