Ancient wisdom holds a mystique and allure for many today. Some people seek to explore ancient wisdom and ancient arts in their quest for enlightenment and personal benefit. In view of that fascination I have often thought of compiling a summary of the Wisdom of the Ancient Kings.
If you have any observations or information on this point that might assist me in this project please let me know. I have noted several expressions of ancient wisdom in my own reading and research and I’ll share some of them is posts on ancient wisdom from time to time.
Wisdom and Folly
Neither wisdom nor folly is a new invention. Kings, rulers and potentates have shown great wisdom and great folly at times throughout history. As I review ancient wisdom I will also take note at times of the folly evidenced in the lives of ancient kings. Folly, as an inverse of wisdom, can also be instructive when it is observed as something to be avoided.
So if you are aware of evidences of folly in the leaders from antiquity please also advise me of your observations.
Kings and Kingdoms
History provides us a diverse set of kings and kingdoms to observe. Some have maintained their leadership by ruthless and violent punishments. Ruling by fear was evident in King Nebuchadnezzar’s reign over ancient Babylon. The Romans employed fear and the iron rule in their dominance of the first century world.
Other rulers asserted their divinity as just cause for their leadership. The Pharaohs of Egypt portrayed themselves as deities. The Roman leaders projected the notion of their divine authority. Even the Emperors of Japan asserted that they were divine, until the middle of last century, following Japan’s crushing defeat in World War 2.
Some kingdoms were strong because of wise strategies, such as the commercial aspirations of Tyre which gave them ability to dominate in their day. Genghis Khan and the Chinese Emperors had various strengths and weaknesses in their governments through the centuries.
Entire kingdoms have been wiped out, such as the Incas of South America and the Hittites of the Middle East. We have bare traces of some civilisations and much of what we know is anecdotal or fanciful, rather than factual.
The Hindu Vedas represent writings which carry a mixture of historical reference mingled with mythical aggrandisement of the characters. Greek mythology carries elements of the same phenomenon.
Monarchs from the British Empire, the establishment of the American nation and the modern history of nationalisation of former colonies give us up-to-date examples of wisdom and folly in the actions of kings and rulers. While these modern examples will not be the direct interest of this theme, they do provide an interesting reference point, especially where parallels with ancient kings and kingdoms are evident.
An Ancient Fool
I recently read the account of Belshazzar, the last king of Bablyon, who was killed on the night of October 12, 539BC. He was the effective ruler of Babylon on the night it fell to the invading Medes. The city had been under a long siege, but with 20 years supplies stored in the city everyone felt quite capable of resisting indefinitely.
King Nebuchadnezzar had built up a glorious city in Babylon, with its famous hanging gardens. Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom had been described as the greatest of kingdoms, with only lesser kingdoms following through human history.
Belshazzar had inherited this glorious heritage and all that had been built up by his predecessors. But he had fallen into self-confidence against the invading army and he also gave himself to an indulgent lifestyle. He had many concubines and he threw lavish parties, even in the face of the siege.
Belshazzar was the king who was shocked by the appearance of fingers which wrote on his palace wall. The man just about fell apart, with his knees knocking in distress.
When Daniel, the old man of God, was called to interpret the divine message written on the wall Belshazzar was advised that he had been weighed in God’s scales and found to be deficient. Thus he would lose his kingdom that very night.
This event gave rise to the saying “the writing is on the wall”, meaning that the outcome is fully predictable. The outcome for Belshazzar was already set and it was written on the wall.
The City Falls
The magnificent city of Babylon had the Euphrates River running right through it, guaranteeing a continuous water supply. But the invading Medes went to the extensive effort of diverting the river flow, into a lake. When the river level dropped, the invading army was able to enter the city under the gates. These events are recorded by two ancient historians, Herodotus and Xenophon.
The Bible account of these events simply states that, “That night Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans was slain. And Darius the Mede took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old.” Daniel 5:30,31
Folly after Wisdom
Despite the various expressions of wisdom on the part of Nebuchadnezzar, this descendent, Belshazzar, was a self-indulgent, overly confident, God-mocking ruler. His reward for that folly was that he lost his kingdom overnight.
This sad pattern is oft repeated, where one wise person builds something for the future, but a descendent becomes a fool, maybe buoyed up by the benefits they have been raised with, and loses it all.
The wisdom to draw from this example is to remain humble. In the face of great advantage and all the evidences of security, it is vital that we all remain humble and diligent in our protection of ourselves and our assets.
This wisdom is proving its worth today, in the face of the Crash of 2008. Many people who enjoyed the high life of income, prosperity, assets, security and so on are now facing uncertainty, loss, limitation and insecurity.
God rewards the humble, but pride and a haughty spirit come before a fall. Many today have been weighed in God’s balance and have proven themselves to have nothing to protect them from the collapse of their personal kingdom. Thankfully today’s generation can cry out to God for mercy and grace. I encourage you to humbly do so.