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About the Author
He and his wife, Donna, have four children.
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Agents of Babylon
What the Prophecies of Daniel Tell Us about the End of Days
By DAVID JEREMIAH, Stephanie Rische
Tyndale House PublishersCopyright © 2015 David Jeremiah
All rights reserved.
The young man — hardly more than a boy — no longer bothered to brush away the flies that buzzed around his face. His tunic of fine linen was now caked with dust and sodden with sweat. The once-sturdy soles of his sandals, crafted by the finest cobbler in Jerusalem, were worn so thin that his feet were purple with bruises from treading the stones on the long, dry road.
He was dead tired, hardly able to lift a foot to take another step. Yet he and his companions kept walking, as they had every day for the past four weeks, beginning at dawn and not stopping until sunset. His only relief came when it was time to eat the meager ration of dried bread and drink the tepid water his captors provided. But it wasn't long before the hostages were prodded to get moving again, herded down the seven-hundred-mile road to Babylon.
The young man's name was Daniel. He was fourteen years old, tall and well built before the march reduced his muscular limbs to skin and bone. As miserable as the conditions were, he hardly noticed the flies, the bruises, the blistering heat, or even the mind-numbing exhaustion. Those challenges paled next to the horrors he'd witnessed before the march — images that were now seared into his fevered brain. The pounding of Babylonian battering rams against the walls of Jerusalem. The stream of Babylonian soldiers pouring into the city. The screams of panicked citizens as they raced through the streets. The Babylonians in their chariots, striking down men, women, and children. Worst of all, his final glimpse of his parents as they were brutally slaughtered before his eyes.
He groaned inwardly as he remembered his beloved Leah, the beautiful girl he was betrothed to, being wrenched from his arms and dragged away screaming. When he fought to free her, a Babylonian soldier knocked him unconscious and threw him onto a cart with other wounded Jews.
Daniel shuddered as he remembered the sickening feeling that came over him when he awakened in the cart. Everywhere he looked, the streets of Jerusalem were strewn with bloodied bodies. His tears flowed when he recalled passing the Temple and seeing enemy soldiers piling the sacred worship utensils onto wagons to be hauled away to Babylon. He remembered his shock as the cart carried him through the Eastern Gate, where he joined the other Jews who had been selected to march to Babylon. He looked around and noticed that all of them were young. Those who were old or middle aged or ill had been slaughtered or left in the city.
These images haunted Daniel's mind every waking hour as he made the grueling march, and they ravaged his sleep every night. Someone behind Daniel spoke, pulling him out of his painful memories and back to the miserable present.
"I think I know you," the voice said.
Daniel turned and looked into the first familiar face he'd seen on the road to Babylon. "Hananiah!" The words cracked through his dry throat. "You survived."
"Yes, but I'm not convinced that's such a blessing. The dead ones may be better off than we are. Have you seen our friends Mishael and Azariah?"
"No," Daniel replied. "Have you seen Leah? She and I were taken at the same time, but I don't know whether she —"
The searing pain of a whip shot across his back.
"No talking!" a soldier bellowed. "You know the rules. Speak again, and it's ten lashes for both of you."
The relentless march continued for weeks. Many Jews died along the way, their bodies left by the roadside for the vultures. The first hole appeared in Daniel's sandal, and the stones of the road began to cut through his skin. The more raw his foot became, the more he struggled to keep pace. More than once he stumbled and fell, but each time he managed to get up and continue walking. He was growing delirious, no longer fully conscious of his surroundings. Yet his body kept staggering forward.
One day he was vaguely aware of a fellow journeyer saying he could see the walls of Babylon. Within hours, they passed through the gate of the city. The march came to a halt, and Daniel, more dead than alive, collapsed to the ground, unconscious.
* * *
Daniel awoke in a darkened prison cell crowded with other young men from his hometown, including Hananiah. He looked around and spotted his missing friends, Mishael and Azariah. His body was raging with a fever, and when he tried to move, he was seized by a searing pain. For the next few days, he wandered in and out of consciousness. When the pain finally subsided and he became aware enough to realize its source, he groaned with an agony that went even deeper than the physical pain. He and his three friends had been tragically mutilated. He would never be a husband. He would never be a father.
As the prisoners healed, they were allowed to rest and were given bread and water. A few weeks later, when the captives had regained sufficient strength, their overseers began assigning them tasks. Some of the men were sent to clean stables and groom horses; others were put to work as porters, carpenters, or janitors. Daniel was ordered to the wagon yard to repair chariots and oxcarts.
The female prisoners were also put to work, washing clothing, cooking, and mending garments. Some of the women served the men at lunchtime, brought weekly changes of clean clothing, and carried drinking water to them in the heat of the day.
One day several weeks after he had begun his labor for the Babylonians, Daniel had just finished remounting a heavy wheel onto a wagon when he saw a young woman approaching with a flask of water. Her head was covered by a hood to protect her face from the sun, and Daniel, in his eagerness to drink, didn't give her a second glance.
When he lowered the flask and wiped his mouth, he caught a flash of recognition in the woman's eyes.
"Leah?" he exclaimed. "Is it you?"
"Oh, Daniel," she cried through joyful tears. "I've looked everywhere for you. I was afraid you'd been killed."
"I'm so glad you're alive! I had no idea what they might have done to you."
"We can't keep talking." She looked over her shoulder as she spoke. "They watch us at all times. Keep drinking while I tell you what I've learned."
Daniel again put the flask to his lips.
"They are getting all the young women healthy again after the march. Soon the most elite Jewish women will be pressed into the service of noblemen and officials, and the most beautiful will become the king's concubines. The rest will be free to marry, though we will remain slaves. So there is still hope that you and I may have a life together."
Daniel stared hard at the dusty ground. "No, Leah, we have no future together. I am no longer the man I used to be. You must count me as dead and find another husband." He handed the flask back to her and turned away to hide his tears.
"But, Daniel —"
"You there, water girl!" the voice of a guard boomed. "Cut the talk and get on with your rounds."
Leah stifled a sob as she walked away. Daniel returned to the carts, his vision blurred by bitter tears.
That night in his cell, Daniel writhed on the straw. He would never know the joys of marriage. He would have no descendants. His name would be cut off forever in Israel, which for a Jew was almost worse than death. God, he prayed silently, what will fill this emptiness in my soul? Finally he fell into a fitful sleep.
At dawn, however, Daniel arose calm and serene. He had received the answer to his prayer. God Himself would fill the emptiness in his life. God would be his friend, his purpose, and his comfort. That morning in the darkness of his cell, Daniel made a solemn vow that he would be faithful and true to God, just as he would have been to a wife. He wouldn't allow anything to come between him and his God.
Bolstered by his newfound dedication to God, Daniel committed each day to the Lord and to the task before him. His health returned fully, and his body grew strong from the physical labor.
One day as Daniel was replacing the damaged spokes of a chariot wheel, a guard approached and called him from his task.
"You are wanted in the food galley," the guard said. "Stop what you're doing and report immediately."
A dozen other male slaves were making their way to the galley when Daniel arrived. More streamed in, until the room was filled with about thirty Jewish men. Among them were his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
When everyone was assembled, two Babylonian men entered the room and stood before them. The first was a middle-aged, dark-skinned man dressed in the robes of a Babylonian official. The second, also finely dressed, stood slightly to the side, obviously an aide or assistant.
The official stepped forward and addressed the gathering. "My name is Ashpenaz. I am chief of the eunuchs in the palace of our great king, Nebuchadnezzar — may he live forever. You have been selected from among all the Jewish men as candidates for an exceptional honor. If you are chosen, you'll be trained for the king's service for the next three years. You'll learn the Babylonian language, literature, religion, philosophy, and astrology. You'll be well cared for and fed with the same food that is served at the king's table, including the finest meat that has been offered to the god Marduk."
Ashpenaz looked at the young men, pleased to see the hope reflected in their faces. "All of you were picked for your health, strength, and appearance. But before you are chosen, you must meet two additional qualifications: intelligence and discernment. To determine your fitness in these areas, I will interview each of you privately."
One by one, the young captives were ushered into Ashpenaz's presence. Some returned quickly; others had lengthy interviews. Some came out crestfallen or angry, while others beamed with obvious pleasure. When it was Daniel's turn, he was taken into the private chamber, where Ashpenaz sat facing him.
For the next hour, Daniel answered questions of almost every kind imaginable — political, religious, philosophical, scientific, and astrological. He solved riddles and mathematical equations. He unraveled problems of logic, named the constellations, and identified the major classifications of animals. With each answer, Daniel sensed Ashpenaz's approval growing. After an hour or so, Ashpenaz was actually smiling, nodding his head in approbation, and commending Daniel for his astute answers.
"You are amazingly well educated for such a young man," he said. "How do you feel about the prospect of serving in the court of the king?"
"It would be a great honor, sir. But my commitment to my God prevents it. I cannot, under the laws of my God, eat food sacrificed to an idol."
"Daniel, you must watch your tongue!" Ashpenaz said in a lowered voice. "Don't call Marduk an idol in the royal palace. You could be put to death for such sacrilege, and it would be a terrible waste to lose you. Yet there's no way I can allow you to eat any food other than what the king orders. To disobey him would mean my own death."
"But, sir —"
"Say no more, young man. This interview is over. You are chosen for training, which means I must give you a Babylonian name. From this day forward, you are to be called Belteshazzar. Now go, Belteshazzar. Report to my steward, and he will escort you and the others to the royal palace."
Eleven other young men were selected. The steward took them to the palace complex, where they were given baths, groomed, dressed in Babylonian robes, and assigned plush rooms. Among the men selected were Daniel's friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, who had been given the Babylonian names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego.
At the call to the evening meal, Daniel walked with his friends to the dining hall. "You know we are about to face a crisis, don't you? We will be served food that we cannot possibly eat with a clear conscience before God."
"What will happen when we refuse?" asked Shadrach.
"We will be executed for disobeying the king's order. I don't know what you will do, but I will not eat that food."
The others affirmed Daniel's decision. "We will stand with you," they vowed.
The four young men were seated at a table with the other eight captives. As they awaited the food, they introduced themselves. Eleazar, the man seated next to Daniel, had been given the Babylonian name Malik.
Malik grinned broadly. "Men, our lives have suddenly taken a turn for the better. If we are careful, we can live out our years in luxury we never could have dreamed of in Jerusalem."
"But what about the food they will serve us?" Daniel asked. "We cannot eat anything sacrificed to idols."
"Don't you know that if we refuse, we will be executed?" Malik replied. "Since God put us in this place, surely He expects us to eat what is set before us. What choice do we have? He will understand our dilemma and not hold it against us."
All the men except Daniel and his friends agreed with Malik.
Daniel opened his mouth to respond, but just then the servers brought the food. It was even more extravagant and abundant than they had imagined: fish, pheasant, pork, and aromatic meats cooked in rich sauces, plus an endless array of fruits, vegetables, cheeses, nuts, and pastries.
The eight men did not restrain themselves — they plunged into the feast with great enthusiasm. Daniel and his three friends, however, sat silently, their plates untouched and their heads bowed in prayer.
When the meal was well underway, Ashpenaz's steward came in to check on the diners. When he saw that Daniel and his friends had not touched their food, he stormed over to them, his voice tinged with fury. "Why are you fools not eating? Are you trying to defy the king?"
"No, sir, not at all," Daniel replied. "We told your master that our God forbids us to eat food sacrificed to idols."
"Yes, yes, he told me that," the steward barked. "But he didn't believe you'd hold to it. He was sure that once the food was set before you, you would relent." He slammed a fist onto the table. "Now eat! If you disobey, it will mean your death."
"But sir, don't you see that we cannot betray our God?"
"I see that you will not," the steward retorted. "I won't allow you to defy the king and my master. Either you eat or you die."
"We understand, sir. You are under orders and you must carry them out, or your own life is in danger. But let us propose a solution — a test. Give us the foods we request, and if in ten days we are not as healthy as our companions, you may do with us as you will."
The steward resisted, but Daniel and his companions held their ground.
Finally, the steward threw up his hands. "Very well. You may try your diet for ten days. If your health, strength, or appearance wanes in any way, I will have no choice but to have you put to death."
When the steward left the room, Malik turned to Daniel. "You stupid fools!" he sneered. "Don't you know that you have just uttered your death sentence? There is no way you can flourish on the diet you are proposing. With no meat, you will waste away."
"We will see," Daniel replied. "In any case, we must obey the Lord's commands."
"Those laws were fine for those religious fanatics in Judah," one of Malik's friends jeered. "But only a fool would keep clinging to those ancient rules when times and circumstances change."
Over the next ten days, Daniel and his three friends stuck to their simple diet of water and vegetables. At the end of the trial period, the steward couldn't help but admit that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego appeared stronger, healthier, and more alert than their counterparts. He not only allowed them to retain their diet for the duration of their education; he encouraged it.
Excerpted from Agents of Babylon by DAVID JEREMIAH, Stephanie Rische. Copyright © 2015 David Jeremiah. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Why a Book about Babylon? vii
Chapter 1 The Hostage 1
Chapter 2 The Insomniac 29
Chapter 3 The Colossus 55
Chapter 4 The Fire Men 83
Chapter 5 The Wolf-Man 109
Chapter 6 The Fingers of God 137
Chapter 7 The Lion King 167
Chapter 8 The Conqueror 195
Chapter 9 The Madman 223
Chapter 10 The Herald 251
Chapter 11 The Archangel 281
Chapter 12 The End 309
Epilogue: Marching toward the Beginning 335
Appendix: The Agent of Agents 341
About the Author 361