Alexander the Great: An Amazing Example of Prophecy and Providence
Due to their progressive apostasy from God, the kingdom of Judah was eventually subjugated by the Babylonian empire.
According to a prophecy given by Jeremiah, they were destined to spend seventy years of captivity in that distant land (cf. Jer. 25:12), which in fact they did.
In the year 536 B.C., the first migration of the Hebrews back to their homeland was begun under the leadership of Zerubbabel (cf. Ezra 1:1-4).
One of their first assignments was the rebuilding of the temple that had been destroyed by the Babylonians a half-century earlier (cf. 2 Kgs. 25:8ff). Within a matter of months, the foundation of the temple was laid (Ezra 3:10).
However, due to the harassment of their enemies, the Israelites became discouraged and abandoned the project. For some fifteen years, the work lay dormant.
In the second year of Darius, king of Persia, Jehovah raised up two prophets to stir the hearts of his people and to awaken them from their lethargy (cf. Ezra 5:1).
The first of these was Haggai, whose responsibility it was to encourage the completion of the temple project. The other prophet was Zechariah who sought to bring about a spiritual revival among his people.
With this brief introduction in view, attention is now directed to a thrilling prophecy in the book of Zechariah.
Zechariah’s Prophecy of Alexander the Great
In the ninth chapter of his book, Zechariah prophetically described certain conquests of the Greek military machine that would arise under the illustrious leadership of Alexander the Great.
This is truly remarkable since these events would not occur for two centuries. At the time this prophecy was composed, no one would have dreamed that the Greeks could ever constitute a significantly powerful political force.
The prophecy deals with the punishment that Jehovah would visit on various city-states. These included: Hadrach, an Aramaean country near Damascus; Syria and its capital city Damascus; Phoenicia with its cities of Tyre and Sidon; and other certain prominent communities of Philistia (Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gaza).
Fulfilling this prediction, Alexander marched into Syria in 333 B.C. and defeated the Persian army at the battle of Issus. From that time, Damascus came under Greek control.
Tyre’s Stronghold Prophesied
Of special interest is Zechariah’s reference to Tyre.
This Mediterranean seaport “did build herself a stronghold, and heaped up silver as the dust, and fine gold as the mire of the streets” (Zech. 9:3).
Tyre had been virtually impregnable for centuries. The Assyrian kings Sennacherib (704-681 ), Esarhaddon (680-669), Ashurbanipal (668-625), and Shalmaneser (605-552) had tried to conquer Tyre but were unable to do so.
Nebuchadnezzar (605-562) of Babylon laid the region under siege for thirteen years. Though he greatly weakened the community, he did not conquer the island city (some 150 acres about a half-mile off the coast). So the monarch “had no wages” for his effort (cf. Ezek. 29:18).
But where men only propose, God can dispose.
Through Zechariah, the Lord announced that he would “dispossess” Tyre and “smite her power in the sea; and she shall be devoured with fire” (Zech. 9:4).
This was accomplished when Jehovah brought the city to its knees in 332 B.C. using Alexander as the instrument of his wrath (cf. Isa. 10:5; 13:3; 44:28; 45:1; Jer. 25:9).
In only seven months, the Greek king conquered the proud fortress!
Alexander Turns Toward Jerusalem
As Alexander continued his conquest southward into Philistia, it was only reasonable to assume that the Hebrew capital of Jerusalem only forty miles to the east would also fall to the ambitious Greek.
Such, however, was not to be! For the prophet declared:
“And I [Jehovah] will encamp about my house against the army, that none pass through or return; and no oppressor shall pass through them any more: for now have I seen with mine eyes” (Zech. 9:8).
The amazing fulfillment of this prophecy is described in detail by the Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities XI, VIII). We might remark that while the narrative of Josephus is marred by some discrepancies, the basic account is as follows.
While Alexander had the city of Tyre under siege, he sent a requisition for supplies to several places, including Judea.
When that message was received by the chief magistrate at Jerusalem, a high priest named Jaddus, it was refused since the Jews professed allegiance only to Persia. Alexander was angered at the rebuff and determined, after he had taken Tyre, to destroy Jerusalem.
Knowing of the terror of this Greek, the Jews at Jerusalem began to tremble at the prospect of his wrath. According to Josephus, Jaddus caused sacrifices to be offered to God and prayer to be made for the protection of the holy city.
It is recorded that the Lord spoke to the high priest in a dream and told him to have no fear for Jerusalem would not be captured. In fact, the Jews were instructed to throw open the gates of the city and to go forth in a splendid procession to meet the approaching conqueror “without the dread of any ill consequences, which the providence of God would prevent.”
The priests, dressed in their ceremonial robes, led the citizens forth to greet Alexander. When the Greek general approached this devout multitude, rather than exhibiting his anger, he saluted the high priest and seemed to pay him religious homage.
When questioned regarding his strange conduct, he gave this explanation.
Alexander declared that before he had departed from Macedonia, he had experienced a dream in which this very high priest had appeared to him. In the dream, the king was told that his army would proceed under “Divine conduct,” and that through him, the Persians would be defeated.
Subsequently, Alexander entered the city of Jerusalem and joined with the priests in offering sacrifices in the temple.
It is said that the Jews showed him a copy of the scroll containing the writings of the prophet Daniel wherein it was “declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians” (cf. Dan. 7:6; 8:3-8, 20-22; 11:3.)
Alexander was deeply impressed and concluded that he was the one of whom the prophet wrote.
Accordingly, he treated the Jews with considerable kindness. Not only did he not assault the city, but he also allowed them to practice the laws of their forefathers. He also exempted them from tribute in the seventh year.
Many of the Hebrews joined Alexander’s army and accompanied him in his mission of conquest in the antique world.
Whether the account given by Josephus regarding this matter is accurate, we cannot know for certain. In writing the history of his people he was known on occasion to exaggerate and to embellish his record. His testimony, therefore, is not always received with implicit confidence.
Be that as it may, we know several things for certain.
First, in describing Alexander’s Palestinian conquests, Zechariah declared that Jerusalem would not be taken.
Second, Jerusalem was a “ripe plum” indeed. There is no logical reason why it should not have been captured.
Third, for some seemingly inexplicable reason, Alexander spared the city and became friendly towards the Jews.
Fourth, in view of the prophecies in the book of Daniel, there is no question but that God was providentially directing the activities of the Greek ruler.
There are several important truths that we may learn from this account.
The omniscient God knows the future. He “calleth the things that are not as though they were” (Rom. 4: 17). Prophecy is one of the thrilling proofs of the divine origin of the sacred scriptures.
The Lord controls the national affairs on this planet (Dan. 2:21; 4:17). He determines the appointed seasons (length of duration) and the bounds of habitation (extent of the territory) of the various nations upon the earth (cf. Acts 17:26).
By the use of providential means, that is, his operation by means of his own natural laws, God is able to accomplish his will in working for the ultimate redemption of those who desire to be saved.
How great is our God! Let us stand in awe of his goodness and his power.