Reading Too Much into Some History

That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.

  • Daniel 5:30-31

The waters of the river will dry up,
    and the riverbed will be parched and dry.

  • Isaiah 19:5

The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East.

  • Revelation 16:12

Daniel 5:30 ‘That very night’: “One ancient account alleged that Persia’s General Ugbaru had troops dig a trench to divert and, thus, lower the waters of the Euphrates River. Since the river flowed through the city of Babylon, the lowered water enabled besiegers to unexpectedly invade via the waterway under the thick walls and reach the palace before the city was aware. The end then came quickly, as guards, Belshazzar, and others were killed on October 16, 539 B.C.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

As for the Scripture, Daniel 5 does not mention the Euphrates River being redirected and drying up within the city.  That detail is for the history books.  Isaiah speaks of a river drying, but that is in the curse of Egypt, not Babylon.  And in Revelation, it seems that the Euphrates River may one day dry up completely.

Yesterday, I wrote about a few canals being built during the Bible Study of Daniel 5-6, which says nothing about a canal.  Some may not have understood what I was saying.  I will go into more detail after repeating what I wrote, in bold/italics and on a gray background.

Rev. MacArthur’s commentary on Daniel 5:30 brought back fond memories.  In my army officer training, we actually studied this event and the military method of gaining a military advantage by redirecting a river.  We studied parallels in military history class to this story that is Biblical only in the result, never mentioning how the defenses of Babylon were breached so that Belshazzar could be killed.  Whether it is legend, as Rev. MacArthur suggests is possible, or fact, it has been taught in military history – if for no other reason, as a cautionary tale.  But in the war of the North vs. the South in the USA of the early 1860s, there were two attempts by the North’s engineers to redirect rivers, both failing.  In the siege of Vicksburg, MS by Gen. U. S. Grant, he had Grant’s canal built to redirect the Mississippi River.  This would accomplish two things.  The North would isolate Vicksburg from the river weakening those under siege, and the shorter route through Grant’s Canal would mean the North would control the river, whether they ever took the city or not.  If you look at a map of the area, at about the point where the Yazoo River pours into the Mississippi River, the river flows southward and then takes a hard left turn, flowing northeast to Vicksburg and then the river turns around and flow southwest, with only a small slip of land separating the flow to Vicksburg from the flow of the river from Vicksburg.  Looking at the map, it is hard to imagine that the river does that, but the Mississippi River has a reputation of doing strange things, and this was about to be a story of legend.

Where the first bend was located, the one turning left toward Vicksburg, the engineers decided to dig straight south, cutting off the other curves, shortening the river by a lot, far missing Vicksburg’s guns.  Water likes flowing downhill and water does not like bending around if it doesn’t have to.  After countless technical issues in forming the canal in 1863 (Murphy’s Law at work, anything that could go wrong, did go wrong), they dug again in 1864, more due to Lincoln’s insistence since the officers in the field had given up hope.  They finally got the canal built, but the water refused to flow in the easier direction down the canal.  It made the wild turns and kept water going to Vicksburg.  Soon after the canal failed to redirect the river, the siege itself affected the surrender of Vicksburg on the fourth of July 1864.  The surrender was signed on the banks of the canal that had failed.  If that date sounds familiar, on the same date, General Lee’s army lost the battle of Gettysburg, PA.

But later in 1864, the Corps of Engineers tried the Mede-Persian trick again, this time to divert the James River in Virginia to avoid the South’s strong artillery at Dutch Gap.  They maintained a dike to keep the canal construction dry until completed.  Upon completing the canal construction, they used explosives to blow up the dike and redirect the James River down the canal, but the dirt, moved by the explosion, landed in the canal that they had just constructed, and they were still digging the dirt from the explosion out of the canal when the war ended.

As an Army Corps of Engineers officer, it pained me greatly to write the previous couple of paragraphs.  But consider, while the Mede-Persians were successful, the US Corps of Engineers were not.  This is not judgment for or against the South in 1863 and 1864, but God’s hand, maybe the other hand since one hand was writing a note at the time, was making sure that the Mede-Persian army would succeed.

I have heard many people state that when the USA entered World War II, Hitler had no chance.  This might be true, but their reasoning was off.  They thought that Hitler was evil, and God rose up the righteous USA to bring sanity back to the world.  Followed by a resounding, “God Bless the U. S. A.”

Really?  The northern tribes, known as Israel, were defeated by the Assyrians.  Were the Assyrians righteous?  Not by a long shot.  The Babylonians were considered the vilest nation on earth, according to the Scriptures, but God used them to defeat Judah and carry out God’s punishment that was foretold in Deuteronomy.  The Mede-Persians were not wonderful folk either, but God used them to punish Babylon.

Does that mean that the USA in the 1940s was yet another evil empire like the Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes, and Persians?  We cannot draw that line either.

And why did the careful survey of the Euphrates River allow Darius’s general, Ugbaru, the ability of rerouting the Euphrates, letting the water level sink so that the army simply walked underneath the wall and into the city?  God’s hand was upon the endeavors to rid the world of Babylon, once and for all time.  It was the right time and God’s hand was upon it.

So, many people speak of the 1860s war within the USA as being a just war against slavery.  Why would God’s hand not be in play as it was in ancient Babylon?  Did God provide a prophet who would say that slavery has ended as a result of a miracle performed by God?  How can God clearly state the result without sending the prophet first, or in the case of Belshazzar, a disembodied hand that wrote on a wall.

The North won that war, and the North has written the history of that war, but the North glosses over the fact that if slavery had been abolished without the war, the North would have lost their strangle hold on commerce of raw cotton with Europe, their strangle hold on all looms making cloth being in the North, and industrial making of clothing in the North as well (think, sweat shops).  All of these were concessions for the North if, and only if, the South maintained slavery.  The North would lose a lot of money, millions and millions of dollars at the time – add many more zeroes for today’s economy – if the South seceded from the United States of America or the South abolished slavery without going to war.

Thus, neither side had a just and righteous reason to be at war with their neighbors, their brothers in many cases.  While slavery ending was a good thing, handled poorly afterward, God was probably sick that this could not be resolved peacefully.

But even then, God allowing the water to flow in a direction next to Vicksburg, Mississippi when all the calculations said that the river would never do that…  Reading the South as being justified by God for this “miracle” is just as wrong as the North being justified by God when the city fell almost immediately after the canal failed.

The fact that the Dutch Gap Canal happened almost immediately thereafter is simply comical.

Note to self: Please write about the Corps of Engineers successes in the Battle of the Bulge, done by the battalion I served under for much of my military career roughly thirty years later.  Enough of the Corps of Engineers’ failures.

Sometimes, God has His hand in what is done to give a message.  In the case of Belshazzar’s blasphemy, using goblets from God’s temple, to worship other false gods led God to write on the wall that He had enough of the Babylonians.  Okay, God actually wrote, “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin.”  Meaning…  Your kingdom is over.  Your life as king has been weighed and you are found lacking in every respect.  And I will use the Mede-Persians to defeat you.  And that night, God’s other hand was helping the water flow down a new canal while the river that flowed through the city of Babylon dried up, allowing Ugbaru and his men the opportunity of entering Babylon with no problem.

Yet, sometimes God does not send a message.  The South lost the war without either river being redirected.  God’s sovereign Will was achieved.  Let’s leave it at that without creating a spiritual referendum.

And please, when our government refuses to pray, we cannot claim to have God on our side.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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