Bel and Nebo, the gods of Babylon, bow as they are lowered to the ground. They are being hauled away on ox carts. The poor beasts stagger under the weight. Both the idols and their owners are bowed down. The gods cannot protect the people, and the people cannot protect the gods. They go off into captivity together. [Isaiah 46:1-2 (NLT)]
The Israelites were surrounded by various pagan peoples who worshipped foreign deities. Baal ruled over Canaan and Phoenicia, Chemosh over Moab, and Marduk/Bel and Nebo over Babylonia. The Philistines’ had Dagon and the Ammonites worshipped Molech. These gods usually had a domain over which they ruled. For example, Baal’s domain was rain, storms, and the harvest. Moab’s Chemosh presided over war and mountains. As patron deity of Babylon, Marduk/Bel was supposed to protect the city and rule over storms while Nebo’s purview was wisdom and science. The Philistines’ chief god Dagon presided over death, the afterlife, war, and agriculture while Ammon’s Molech reigned over the underworld, which may explain his association with child sacrifice in the Old Testament.
In spite of their reputed special powers, those pagan gods were nothing more than powerless idols who had to be carried around on ox carts and would be taken captive along with their worshippers! Marduk/Bel couldn’t protect Babylon from Cyrus or Alexander the Great and Baal, the god of rain and storms, couldn’t even make it rain after Elijah called for a drought or muster up a bolt of lightning to ignite a fire! In contrast, upon Elijah’s prayer, the God of Israel immediately flashed down flames and turned water-soaked wood into an inferno.
Perhaps, the ultimate test of any god is prophecy because only a true God can know all that has gone before and all that is yet to come. In Isaiah 41, the Lord called out those false gods because they couldn’t prophesy when He, the God of Israel, could! It wasn’t just His prophet Isaiah who accurately forecast the future; many others did as well. For example, Jeremiah accurately foretold Jerusalem’s destruction, King Jehoiakim’s death and the end of his line, Babylon’s fall, the length of captivity, and the exiles’ return to Judah. When interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Daniel accurately foretold the different empires in historical progression—from Babylonian to Medo-Persian to Grecian and then to Roman. In 536 BC, more than 213 years before it happened, he predicted the division of Alexander the Great’s kingdom into four weaker nations. In fact, the book of Daniel predicted political history for the next 370 years!
Since true prophecy is the living word of God, I suppose the historic accuracy of those fulfilled prophecies shouldn’t surprise us. Their accuracy tells us that God exists, that there are no other gods, and that, just as He controlled the past, He is in full control of the future. There are, however, several prophecies yet to come. For example, Daniel’s predictive prophecies didn’t stop at 166 BC with the Maccabees and Antiochus IV. He continued on with end-time predictions of the antichrist, the tribulation, and humanity’s resurrection. The accuracy of past predictive prophecy tells us that those prophecies not yet fulfilled will come to pass. Will you be ready when they do?
I’ve read the last page of the Bible. It’s all going to turn out all right. [Billy Graham]