No one from ancient history influenced our world more than Alexander the Great. In the Bible, God told us about Alexander’s empire and wars – hundreds of years before his birth. Today, let us see the the amazing history of this great emperor in contrast to the kingdom of God established by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Let us open our Bibles to Zechariah chapter 9. The Book of Zechariah was written five hundred years before Christ. First, let me give you the historical context of this book. As you know, God liberated Israelites from Egypt and led them to the promised land. Under the leadership of Moses, they walked through the wilderness for forty years. In their new nation, God gave them judges and later kings to rule them. The United Kingdom under Saul, David, and Solomon was divided in 931 BC into the northern kingdom of Israel and southern kingdom of Judah. Sadly, both kingdoms moved away into paganism from pure Judaism established by Moses. In accordance to Mosaic Law, judgment of God came upon the two kingdoms. First in 722 BC, northern kingdom of Israel was defeated and dispersed by Assyrians. Later in 586 BC, the southern kingdom of Judah was defeated by Babylonians. The Jews were taken into captivity and relocated to Babylon. The Babylonian Captivity lasted for seventy years. Then, God brought His people back to Israel. The first group of Jews reached Jerusalem in 538 BC. Under the shadows of the Persian Empire, the Jews started to resettle in their ancestral homeland. They were happy to return but discouraged by their surroundings. During those gloomy years, God sent prophet Zechariah to encourage his people.
Zechariah would write some of the most astounding prophecies about the coming Messiah. But before the birth of the Messiah, a great emperor would come, an emperor like one the world had never seen before. He would conquer the world like a leopard. The hellenization of the world that would follow him later help propagate the message of the Savior around the world. He would crush the enemies of Israel. Zechariah started to write down his prophecies in the year 520 BC. Two hundred years later, Alexander the Great would come fulfilling those prophecies.
Let us read a few verses from Zechariah chapter 9.
- And Tyrus did build herself a stronghold, and heaped up silver as the dust, and fine gold as the mire of the streets.4. Behold, the Lord will cast her out, and he will smite her power in the sea; and she shall be devoured with fire.
Zechariah says: the judgment of God is going to come on Tyre. Tyre lies northwest of Israel. It is strong and rich. It has silver like dust, it has gold like pavements. The Phoenicians who built this great city were skilled traders across the Mediterranean.
They devised an alphabetic system which influenced the world to this day. The spread of their alphabet increased literacy levels throughout the eastern Mediterranean. What could go wrong?
Prophet Amos tells us the sins of Tyre. Amos chapter 1:9,10.
Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Tyrus, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they delivered up the whole captivity to Edom, and remembered not the brotherly covenant: 10. But I will send a fire on the wall of Tyrus, which shall devour the palaces thereof.
During the reigns of David and Solomon, the Phoenicians offered a helping hand to the Jews. King Hiram of Tyre gave assistance to David in building his house. Later, he helped Solomon in the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem. With bronze-casting technology, he fabricated 27 foot-tall bronze pillars for Solomon’s temple. Imagine that for a moment, 27 foot-tall bronze pillars in the temple of Solomon. As a gesture of gratitude, no king of Israel ever made war against Phoenicia. They established a ‘brotherly covenant’.
But down the centuries the Phoenicians forgot their brotherly covenant. When they became prosperous and powerful, they enticed Israel towards their deity Baal. The Jews abandoned God and went after Baal and its pagan idolatry. The phoenicians who once helped the Jews in the construction of Solomon’s Temple, now seducing Israel into building temples to their pagan deities. The Israelites became weak and fragile. Then the Phoenicians sold Jews as slaves to the Edomites (Amos 1:6-8). They forgot the brotherly covenant and sold Jews into slavery. God condemned their slave trade in Ezekiel chapter 27:13.
He said, I will take away her wealth, I will destroy her power on the sea, I will burn it with fire.
Alexander the Great would come and fulfill this prophecy. His dates were between 356 to 323 BC. In the second half of the 4th century BC, a powerful Macedonian king named Philip II started to conquer Greek city-states. The Greeks detested the Persians. Philip was determined to invade the Persian Empire, but was murdered in his office in 336 BC. His 18 year old son, Alexander, succeeded him.
Alexander was handsome, intelligent and charismatic. He was hungry for power and ruthlessly ambitious. He was tutored by Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher. Aristotle gave him a copy of Iliad. Iliad is a Greek poem written by Homer. It describes the great warrior Achilles. Alexander kept this copy of Iliad with him all his life. He used to keep it under his pillow and read it daily. Alexander wanted to be like Achilles, the hero of Iliad.
Like Achilles, he wanted to be strong, courageous and adventurous. He wanted to conquer the whole world. In 334 AD, with an army less than 35,000 soldiers, he entered into Asia minor, that is current day Turkey. First he won in the Battle of Granicus. Darius, the emperor of Persia, was ruling the world. Darius became the target of Alexander. In 333 BC, Alexander fought with Darius at Battle of Issus. Darius lost and fled from the battlefield. It was the beginning of the end of Persian Empire.
Alexander did not pursue Darius into Persia, rather he went to Egypt. On his way to Egypt along the Mediterranean coast, in November 333 BC, Alexander invaded Syria. He crushed its capital, Damascus. In 332 BC, Alexander invaded Tyre. Tyre consisted of both a mainland city and an island city, half mile into the sea. Both were well fortified. Alexander sent a message to the King of Tyre, ‘Surrender, I will let you live, or resist, I will destroy your kingdom and kill you’. The King of Tyre did not heed the warning. He prided about his fortress in the sea: ‘a rag tag army from Greece will not conquer my strong fortress’. Alexander became furious: ‘How dare you refuse to surrender! Even Darius could not stand my assaults. How in the world are you going to stand my fury?’
Tyre had a very strategic value. Destroying this mighty fortress would send a strong message to every king in the region. Alexander ordered his military officers to build a causeway into the sea. Using stones and wood, his soldiers spent seven months building this causeway. Finally they surrounded Tyre.
With pitiless savagery, Alexander destroyed Tyre and its inhabitants. He crushed the mighty phoenician capital, burnt its fortress, and plundered its wealth. He crucified its survivors. The prophecies God gave to Zechariah fulfilled at that moment: God said,
I will judge Tyre
I will cast her out,
I will smite her power
I will destroy her with fire.
I will punish its inhabitants
We read in Ezekiel chapter 28 about the pompousness of Tyre. It’s hubris rivaled that of Satan, that it became a metaphor for Lucifer. Ezekiel predicted its abrupt fall. We read in Ezekiel 26:4,12
- And they shall destroy the walls of Tyrus, and break down her towers: I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock.
- And they shall make a spoil of thy riches, and make a prey of thy merchandise: and they shall break down thy walls, and destroy thy pleasant houses: and they shall lay thy stones and thy timber and thy dust in the midst of the water.
The prophecies of Zechariah and Ezekiel were fulfilled literally word by word.
The Assyrian emperor Shalmaneser spent five years to defeat Tyre, but he could not. The Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar spent thirteen years to defeat it, but he could not. In seven months, Alexander scraped it bare like a rock. You can still visit this famed causeway which became an isthmus over time due to encroaching sand.
After Alexander’s defeat of Darius, every king along the Mediterranean coast surrendered to him except the King of Tyre. Had Tyre surrendered, the Bible prophecies would have been falsified. Tyre protested and destroyed just as God told the prophets Zechariah and Ezekiel.
Gaza: After destroying Tyre, Alexander continued south. There he encountered Gaza. It was ripe for the judgment of God. Let us read from Zechariah 9:5,6
- Ashkelon shall see it, and fear; Gaza also shall see it, and be very sorrowful, and Ekron; for her expectation shall be ashamed; and the king shall perish from Gaza, and Ashkelon shall not be inhabited.6. Foreigners will occupy Ashdod, and I will cut off the pride of the Philistines.
The philistines were confident of themselves because of the Phoenicians. But when Tyre fell, their confidence dissolved. The foundations of Ashkelon, Gaza and Ashdod were shaken as the wheels of Alexander’s chariot entered Philistia. He slaughtered over 10000 people in Gaza. Zechariah said, ‘the king shall perish from Gaza’.
Alexander remembered his hero, Achilles from Iliad. Achilles fought with Hector, the greatest fighter for Troy in the Trojan War. Achilles mercilessly murdered Hector and dragged his dead body by fastening it to his chariot. Alexander gave the same treatment to the king of Gaza. He killed him and then dragged his dead body through Gaza.
Let us read verse 7:
- And I will take away his blood out of his mouth, and his abominations from between his teeth: but he that remaineth, even he, shall be for our God, and he shall be as a governor in Judah, and Ekron as a Jebusite.
The Gazans were neck deep in idolatry and they were eating the blood and flesh of the animals they sacrificed to their idols. God said, ‘I will take away his blood out of his mouth’.
Alexander destroyed Gaza in two months, then his eyes fell on Jerusalem.
Jerusalem: Alexander demanded tribute from Jerusalem. The high priest Jaddua could not accept that ultimatum because he made a treaty with Persian Empire. He was paying tribute to Darius per the treaty. So, he sent a message to Alexander that he could not pay any tribute to him.
Alexander became furious: ‘Haven’t you heard about what I did to Tyre? I will destroy Jerusalem’.
Alexander proceeded to Jerusalem with his army. Let us see what God told Zechariah about this event:
And I will encamp about mine house because of the army, because of him that passeth by, and because of him that returneth: and no oppressor shall pass through them any more: for now have I seen with mine eyes.
God made a very specific prophecy about the fate of Jerusalem in this verse: I will protect Jerusalem from Alexander. The high priest of Jerusalem Jaddua encouraged himself with this prophecy.
The Jewish historian Josephus wrote about these incidents in his book Antiquities of Jews. According to Josephus, as Alexander approached Jerusalem, the high priest had a vision. In this vision, he was instructed to go out and meet the conqueror who was coming. The high priest in his purple and scarlet robes and people of Jerusalem in white robes went to the gates of Jerusalem. They welcomed Alexander into Jerusalem.
When Alexander left Macedonia, he had a vivid dream in which he saw individuals wearing spectacular clothes. Alexander remembered that dream and it cooled his anger. He spared Jerusalem. He did not wage a war on the Jews. The high priest showed him the prophecies in the Bible written about him hundreds of years ago. Alexander was amazed. Your Bible talking about me? They showed him the prophecies of Zechariah that he would spare the Jerusalem from destruction. They showed him the prophecies of Daniel, how in the vision of the tremendous statue, Alexander’s empire was represented by the thighs of the image. They showed him Daniel chapter 7 where Alexander is represented by a leopard, like a leopard he would conquer the world. They showed him Daniel chapter 8 where he is represented by a horn of the he-goat. Alexander was amazed when he saw these prophecies written about him in the Bible hundreds of years before his birth.He went into the temple and worshiped God of the Bible. It’s not Alexander the great, it is God who is great and worthy of our worship.
‘I will encamp my house’ ‘I will save Jerusalem’: Those prophecies were fulfilled that day.
Like a leopard, Alexander conquered the rest of the world. From Jerusalem, he went to Egypt. There he founded a city in his name, Alexandria. He built a great harbor in this city where 1200 ships could be docked simultaneously. From Egypt, he went to Persia, that is Iran in our time. In 331 BC, in the famous Battle of Gaugamela, he defeated Darius III. Then he went to Babylon. In 330 BC he subdued Susa and Persepolis. Alexander wanted to extended his kingdom into India. In 329 BC he invaded Bactria, that is Afghanistan in our time. The United States army is in Afghanistan for the last 16 years. The longest war in American history. Afghanistan is famously called ‘graveyard of the empires’. Throughout history, this region became an intractable problem for the empires of the world. Alexander decimated Bactria in a few days.
In 326 BC, Alexander defeated Indian King Porus at the Battle of Hydaspes. The Indian army fought valiantly. The greek army was terrified by the mighty Indian elephants which entered into the battle field. They were fatigued by the battles and wanted to return home.
In 324 BC, Alexander returned to Babylon. He died a year later. June 10, 323 BC, this mighty greek warrior bowed his death before the angel of death. Historian Plutarch tells us that Alexander drank nine pints of undiluted wine before his death. His empire was divided between his four generals.
As he was lay dying, Alexander requested his generals to make a special casket for him. Both my hands should dangle out of my coffin. It seems Alexander realized that all his power and all his wealth were of no avail at the time of death.
Then let us turn to Zechariah 9:9. After describing Alexander’s conquests, the prophet is introducing us to the coming Messiah. Let us read verse 9
- Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.
This prophecy was fulfilled, five hundred years later, when Lord Jesus Christ entered into Jerusalem on a donkey. The people of Jerusalem greatly rejoiced when Jesus entered into the city.
- Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee:
The kings of Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and Greeks invaded and plundered Jerusalem, finally the king of heaven coming into Jerusalem as a meek and humble Messiah. The creator of the universe, Commander of the hosts of heaven, King of kings and Lord of lords entered Jerusalem as the
The hope of Israel
The anticipation of the prophets
The Savior of the sinners
The Redeemer of the lost
The King of the Jews
Just as the prophets predicted, he was crucified, killed, buried but resurrected from the grave, conquering death and hell.
So, today we have seen how the prophecies of Zechariah were fulfilled in the conquests of Alexander and the coming of Lord Jesus Christ. We know the Bible is the Word of God because its prophecies were fulfilled with incredible accuracy. Here in Zechariah chapter 9, the prophet placed Alexander the great and Lord Jesus Christ in one paragraph. He wants us to contrast these two great persons of world history.
-Alexander transformed our world, Jesus transformed our world.
-Alexander lived 33 years, Jesus lived 33 years.
-Alexander was a king of Macedonia, Jesus is the king of heaven.
-Alexander’s army was 32,000 well trained soldiers, Jesus’ army was twelve ordinary men.
-Alexander went to found a physical, earthly kingdom, Jesus came to establish a spiritual, heavenly kingdom.
-Alexander grew up learning war, Jesus grew up learning carpentry.
-Alexander went to kill people, Jesus went to save people.
-Alexander killed hundreds of thousands of people to establish his kingdom, Jesus established his kingdom without shedding one drop of blood, without lifting a sword.
-Alexander’s conquests destroyed families, his wars made widows and orphans. Jesus comforted widows and loved the orphans.
-Alexander took destruction and death to Tyre. Jesus gave salvation and grace to Tyre (Mark 7:24-26)
-Alexander went to Jerusalem on a horse with pomp and pageantry. Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey with meekness and humility.
-Alexander was greeted with fear and trembling. Jesus was greeted with joy and celebration.
-Alexander died with his hands dangling out of his coffin, ‘I gained nothing in this world’, Jesus died with his hands stretched on a wooden cross, ‘Behold, I conquered this world’.
-Alexander, as powerful as he was, could not conquer death. Jesus overcame death, demolished the powers of the grave, and rose again the third day, living forever as the eternal Son of God.
-Alexander’s empire, as vast as it was, evaporated into the pages of history, the kingdom of Jesus is spreading around the world, year after year, month after month, day after day.
-Alexander reigned only 13 years. Jesus will reign for ever, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Jesus visited Tyre and preached the gospel of grace and salvation. He rebuked Israel for not believing in him. In Matthew 11:21, we see Jesus reprimanding Israel,
- Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
How is your situation today? Have you received Jesus as your Lord and Savior? Today it is my prayer that you should realize that without a Savior you are on your way to hell, you should confess your sins, you should make Jesus your Lord and Savior and invite him into your life.
Prayer: ‘Lord Jesus, we thank you for this time you’ve given us. We pray that whoever is listening to this message, you convict them and help them make you as their Lord and Savior. We pray for people with sickness, give them health. People with loneliness, give them fellowship. People with depression, give them encouragement. People with fears, give them courage. People with anxiety, give them certainty. In your precious name we pray, Amen.’
Paul Kattupalli MD