The Babylonian king described in the Bible is Nebuchadnezzar II, the longest reigning and most successful king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. He ruled from 605-562 B.C. during the time when the Babylonian kingdom reached the peak of its power and influence in the region. Babylonia's major competition for power during this time came from Media to the north (northwest Iran) and Egypt to the west. The Egyptians were interested in ports and trade in Syria and Palestine so they stirred up rebellion against Babylonia whenever they could. At the Battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C., King Neco of Egypt was defeated by Nebuchadnezzar and driven back to his country (2 Kgs 24.7).
Nebuchadnezzar sponsored many building projects in his capital city, Babylon. He fortified the city walls and built the famous Ishtar Gate as a grand entrance into his proud city. He also devoted himself to Marduk, the patron god of that city, and rebuilt Marduk's temple. See also the mini-article called “Babylon.”
Nebuchadnezzar stopped at nothing when it came to conquering or punishing rebellious peoples. He invaded Judah twice. In 598 B.C., he punished Judah for refusing to pay tribute money to Babylonia (a kind of bribe tax to keep Babylonia from invading). Nebuchadnezzar deported Judah's King Jehoiachin and many of the nobles and craftsmen back to Babylonia. In 587 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar responded to King Zedekiah's rebellion (2 Kgs 24.18-20) by surrounding Jerusalem and destroying many of the smaller towns in Judah. Judah's King Zedekiah tried to escape from Jerusalem in secret, but he and his family were arrested. Zedekiah was forced to watch as his sons were executed. Then his own eyes were poked out and he was dragged off to Babylon (2 Kgs 25.1-7).
In August of 586 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar's army smashed through the walls of Jerusalem, and destroyed the city (see 2 Kgs 25.8-21). They burned down the temple, the king's palace, and much of the rest of the city. They also robbed the temple of many of its holy treasures, and carried them back to Babylonia. Finally, still more of the Jewish people were sent to Babylonia, where they lived as exiles until Babylonia fell and Cyrus of Persia set them free in 539 B.C.
The prophet Jeremiah recognized two things about Nebuchadnezzar. For one, God was using him as an instrument of judgment for the sins of Judah. So, before Jerusalem fell, Jeremiah advised its leaders to give in to Nebuchadnezzar and surrender, in order to save the country and the city from horrible destruction. Secondly, after the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah foresaw that Babylonia too would come under the judgment of God. Nebuchadnezzar's empire would face its day of reckoning as well (Jer 50, 51).
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