We are looking at how civilizations collapse to see what we can learn about what’s happening to ours and what will happen in the future. If you have not read the first part of our series, we invite you to click here to read it.
[Podcast version available at the end of this post.]
Historical research shows that civilizations have a pattern of rise and fall that lasts about 250 years. Some last longer, some shorter. The United States, for example, recently celebrated its 245th birthday, which would put it at close to the end of the civilization cycle. Some historians believe the United States is already showing signs of rapid decay and decline which could bring it to an end within ten to twenty years.
If that does happen, it doesn’t mean everybody dies and the American land mass with its cities and population disappears. What it does mean is that life will probably change dramatically. New societies emerge and transform life in societies that collapse.
We looked at Revelation chapters 2 – 6 in the last study to see the kinds of things that often happen to declining societies — including moral and religious decline, outside kingdom conquering, deadly conflicts within society, scarcity of necessary commodities, hunger, disease and natural calamities.
Past civilizations often had many warning signs that they were facing decay, decline and societal collapse. Many of those civilizations had prophetic voices that warned of impending doom, but people and leaders in those societies usually did not listen to the warnings. We find listings of some of those nations in the Old Testament of the Bible including Sodom, Gomorrah, the Hittites, the Canaanites, Edomites, Moabites, Assyria, Babylonia and others.
Some of the Hebrew prophets were involved in warning these nations of their impending doom. One interesting situation concerned the people of the major Assyrian city of Nineveh. God sent Jonah to Nineveh to warn them of their impending collapse in 40 days if they didn’t repent. The people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, put on sackcloth and repented of their sin. The king of Nineveh rose from the throne, laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes (Jonah 3). That was about 785 BC. Though the Ninevites did get a temporary reprieve from God, the city of Nineveh was sacked and burned by an allied force of Medes, Persians, Babylonians and others in 612 BC. Revival doesn’t last if people don’t continue in obedience to God.
[The Neo-Assyrian Empire collapsed 300 years after it was established.]
Warnings of Israel’s Collapse
Israel had its own internal problems during those years. The unified Israel under King Solomon divided soon after his death (about 931 BC). That kingdom began under King Saul in about 1021 BC. Except for a brief period between Saul’s death and David’s coronation, the United Kingdom continued until Solomon’s death.
[The United Kingdom of Israel collapsed a little more than 100 years after it was established.]
Israel’s division led to a Northern Kingdom (Israel) under a king who was not in the lineage of Solomon or David and Southern Kingdom (Judah) under a king who was in the lineage of Solomon and David. The new king of the Northern Kingdom did not want the people to go to Jerusalem to worship God, so he established new worship centers at Bethel and Dan and placed a golden calf in each place.
Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan. He made shrines on the high places, and made priests from every class of people, who were not of the sons of Levi. 1 Kings 12:30-31
God sent an unnamed prophet to the king to prophecy against him. The king attempted to have the prophet arrested, but God withered the king’s hand. The altar was also split apart and the ashes poured out from the altar. The king begged the prophet to “entreat the favor of the Lord your God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored to me” (1 Kings 13:6). The prophet prayed and the king’s hand was restored.
That was the beginning of God sending prophets to both kingdoms to warn them of impending collapse if they didn’t obey Him. Some of those prophets were Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, Isaiah, Joel, Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Each prophet carried specific warnings for the kings, priests, scribes and people of each kingdom.
God is very long suffering, but He doesn’t wait forever for people to obey Him. The Northern Kingdom of Israel collapsed when the king of Assyria defeated Israel in the late 8th century (722 BC). The Assyrian king went through the land of Samaria (Northern Kingdom) and besieged it for three years. The king defeated Israel and carried the people away to Assyria. He placed them in places like Halah, by the Habor, the River of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes (2 Kings 17). The king of Assyria then brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath and Sepharvaim and placed them in the cities of Samaria to live on the land he had conquered. That introduced Gentiles into the land of the Jews. You can read 2 Kings 17:24-41 to see what happened to those people.
The reason why this happened and the part the prophets played in it are important to note for the purpose of our understanding how civilizations collapse.
For so it was that the children of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt, from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and they had feared other gods, and had walked in the statutes of the nations whom the Lord had cast out from before the children of Israel, and of the kings of Israel, which they had made. Also the children of Israel secretly did against the Lord their God things that were not right, and they built for themselves high places in all their cities, from watchtower to fortified city. They set up for themselves sacred pillars and wooden images on every high hill and under every green tree. There they burned incense on all the high places, like the nations whom the Lord had carried away before them; and they did wicked things to provoke the Lord to anger, for they served idols, of which the Lord had said to them, ‘You shall not do this thing.’ Yet the Lord testified against Israel and against Judah, by all of His prophets, every seer, saying, ‘Turn from your evil ways, and keep My commandments and My statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by My servants the prophets.’ Nevertheless they would not hear, but stiffened their necks, like the necks of their fathers, who did not believe in the Lord their God. And they rejected His statutes and His covenant that He had made with their fathers, and His testimonies which He had testified against them; they followed idols, became idolaters, and wentafter the nations who were all around them, concerning whom the Lord had charged them that they should not do like them. So they left all the commandments of the Lord their God, made for themselves a molded image and two calves, made a wooden image and worshiped all the host of heaven, and served Baal. And they caused their sons and daughters to pass through the fire, practiced witchcraft and soothsaying, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger. Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight; there was none left but the tribe of Judah alone. 2 Kings 17:7-18
[The Northern Kingdom of Israel collapsed a little more than 200 years after it was established.]
Warnings of Judah’s Collapse
Even though the tribe of Judah (Southern Kingdom) was spared, God was not happy with their behavior. He continued to send prophets to warn them of the impending collapse of Judah. Isaiah was one of the first prophets God used to warn Judah. Isaiah prophesied during the reign of four kings of Judah (approximately 760-673 BC). Micah prophesied to Judah from about 738-698 BC. Zephaniah prophesied to Judah from about 640 – 626 BC. Jeremiah prophesied to Judah from about 650 – 582 BC. Habakkuk prophesied to Judah from about 608 – 598 BC.
You can read details of the prophetic warnings to Judah from 2 Kings 19 – 25; 2 Chronicles 26 – 36; and in the writings of the prophets (e.g. Isaiah, Zephaniah, Micah, Jeremiah, Habakkuk). As you read through the prophetic writings and pronouncements, you will notice how specific the prophets were in speaking God’s warnings. God warned Judah about impending doom, but also held out His Hand of forgiveness if the leaders and people would repent.
Alas, sinful nation, A people laden with iniquity, A brood of evildoers, Children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the Lord, They have provoked to anger The Holy One of Israel, They have turned away backward. Why should you be stricken again? You will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick, And the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the head, There is no soundness in it, But wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; They have not been closed or bound up, Or soothed with ointment. Isaiah 1:4-6
Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow. ‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says the Lord, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land; But if you refuse and rebel, You shall be devoured by the sword’, For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. Isaiah 1:16-20
Jeremiah prophesied many decades after Isaiah and God’s patience with Judah was coming to an end. He warned the king and queen mother of the nation’s coming collapse:
Say to the king and to the queen mother, ‘Humble yourselves; Sit down, For your rule shall collapse, the crown of your glory.’ The cities of the South shall be shut up, And no one shall open them; Judah shall be carried away captive, all of it; It shall be wholly carried away captive. Jeremiah 13:18-19
Jeremiah summed up God’s efforts with Judah this way.
The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah (which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon), which Jeremiah the prophet spoke to all the people of Judah and to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying: ‘From the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, even to this day, this is the twenty-third year in which the word of the Lord has come to me; and I have spoken to you, rising early and speaking, but you have not listened. And the Lord has sent to you all His servants the prophets, rising early and sending them, but you have not listened nor inclined your ear to hear. They said, ‘Repent now everyone of his evil way and his evil doings, and dwell in the land that the Lord has given to you and your fathers forever and ever. Do not go after other gods to serve them and worship them, and do not provoke Me to anger with the works of your hands; and I will not harm you.’ Yet you have not listened to Me,” says the Lord, “that you might provoke Me to anger with the works of your hands to your own hurt. Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Because you have not heard My words, behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,’ says the Lord, ‘and Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land, against its inhabitants, and against these nations all around, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, a hissing, and perpetual desolations. Moreover I will take from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp. And this whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Jeremiah 25:1-11
[The Southern Kingdom of Judah collapsed a little more than 330 years after it was established.]
What about the people in charge? Didn’t the kings and priests see what was happening to their nation? Didn’t they listen to prophets God sent to them? If not, why not? Why would leaders of a country purposely ignore the warnings of prophets who were in direct contact with God? We’ll see that sad side of the story in the next part of our special series, Warning and Lament: The Collapse of Civilizations. We’ll also share what may be the single worst thing a nation’s leaders can do to their citizens.
Teaching Notes: On Genesis 17 – GraceLife Blog
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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