John Bradshaw - The Kingdom of Stone
This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. I'm in Zimbabwe, Africa, the country once known as Rhodesia. It's a country with a long and colorful history. Colonists arrived here in the 1880s. Independence was declared in 1965. Civil war followed. And since 1980, Zimbabwe has been a republic. The country has a population of around 14 million and 16 official languages. Zimbabwe is about the size of the state of Montana. The capital, Harare, is in the northeast, and today we're traveling from right about the middle of the country, in the city of Gweru, and heading to see some fascinating history. We're traveling a little over 200 kilometers, or what will be about 130 miles, just beyond the town of Mashvingo, to Great Zimbabwe, remarkable ancient ruins that shine a light into the deep history of this land.
There's something fascinating, something compelling, about archaeological sites, about artifacts. They speak to us about a bygone era, and they transport us into the past. They raise a lot of questions. They ask us, where did these civilizations come from? Where did they go? What did the people who lived here at the time do? They raise a lot of questions because, as you realize when you come to a place like this, stones don't talk. Real people lived here once. They lived, they loved, they worked, they played, they created, they earned, they celebrated, they died. That was long ago. Some of the world's most iconic locations are historic sites.
The pyramids of Egypt that speak of the might of the pharaohs, remind us of the time God's people spent in captivity. The Mayan ruins in Mexico, Machu Picchu in Peru, the Great Wall of China, Rome with the Coliseum and the Forum, Angkor Wat in Cambodia. They give us a glimpse into how people used to live and how societies used to operate. But there's so much more we don't know about what happened to these civilizations. How did they develop? How did they disappear? What would these stones tell us if they could talk? When it comes to the birth of civilizations, there are two opposing theories. The first one says that civilizations developed in different places around the world independent of each other. The second theory, the diffusionist theory, says that civilizations began in one place and then spread out around the world from there. This was the theory promoted by the Norwegian anthropologist and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl.
During his famous Kon-Tiki expedition in 1947, he sailed a primitive raft built from balsa wood across the Pacific Ocean. Heyerdahl's goal was to prove that ancient mariners could have crossed the Pacific or the Atlantic, for that matter, showing civilizations could spread from one continent to another. These are the remains of a lost civilization in the heart of Africa, in central Zimbabwe. This is what was once the stone kingdom of Great Zimbabwe. It's thought the word "Zimbabwe" means essentially "stone houses," which is fitting enough, for sure. During the late African iron age, this was a great city, the capital of the kingdom of Zimbabwe. At its peak, it was the largest settlement in southern Africa. Construction of what you see here today began in around the 12th century. By the time Portuguese explorers got here in the early 1500s, the civilization was gone, and all that remained of Great Zimbabwe... were these ruins.
Now, most likely, Great Zimbabwe served as the royal palace for the Zimbabwean monarch. And what's so impressive about this place, or one of the many impressive things about this place, is that, like Machu Picchu, it's all built entirely without mortar. You get up close to these structures and you realize just how impressive they truly are, all of it built one stone at a time. There are a lot of other similar ruins throughout Zimbabwe, but this one's the most prominent. That's why it's called Great Zimbabwe. That term "great" sets this place apart from all of the other, smaller Zimbabwes. There are other theories about Great Zimbabwe's past. It was at the intersection of major slave trade routes. It's been suggested that slaves were held here, and that the stonework here can be traced to India, where slave traders originated. Inside these walls there's what appears to be a speaker's platform, which gave rise to the theory that this enclosure was a place of education, an initiation school where younger members of society were taught the rules and customs of the culture.
Visiting historic sites transports you back into the past. And that's what reading the Bible does. The last book of the Bible was penned almost 2,000 years ago. And when you read the Bible, you're transported back into a bygone era, or bygone eras. Read the Bible, and you discover kingdoms and empires and nations which were once mighty, but have long since, like Great Zimbabwe, passed off the world's stage. Or you read about nations, empires, kingdoms once they flourished, but today they've, they've lost their former glory. Now, there was an interesting theory floated about this place some years ago that connected Great Zimbabwe directly with the Bible. I'll tell you more in just a moment.
This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me today at Great Zimbabwe in the country of Zimbabwe in southern Africa. Several hundred years ago, there was a thriving kingdom that flourished right here on this very spot. Today, all we have is rocks and the occasional tourist. In the 1870s, a German explorer came here and he, he popularized a theory that suggested that this place had a very interesting biblical connection. And he wasn't the only person to have come to that conclusion. Now, in the book of 1 Kings and chapter 10, we come across the story of King Solomon entertaining a very important visitor. Now, "When the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to test him with hard questions. She came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels that bore spices, very much gold, and precious stones; and when she came to Solomon, she spoke with him about all that was in her heart".
First Kings 10, verses 1 and 2. "Then she gave the king one hundred and twenty talents of gold, spices in great quantity, and precious stones. There never again came such abundance of spices as the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon". First Kings 10, verse 10. A hundred and twenty talents is a lot of gold. That's over four tons of gold. Can't imagine how many camels it took the queen of Sheba to transport all that gold to Solomon's place. Well, the Bible goes on to say that when the queen of Sheba finished her visit, she left and went back home. "Now King Solomon gave the queen of Sheba all she desired, whatever she asked, besides what Solomon had given her according to the royal generosity. So she turned and went to her own country, she and her servants".
First Kings 10:13. The theory was floated for a while that the queen of Sheba came from Africa, and that this was where her kingdom was located. Thing is, the Bible doesn't have anything at all to say about where the queen of Sheba's home was. Some early archaeologists believe that Great Zimbabwe was built by Arab, Egyptian, Phoenician, and even Roman immigrants. They said these structures resemble those seen in Arabia. Some suggested the city was built by the lost tribes of Israel. But a lot of what prompted most of those theories was nothing more than racism. If you stop and think about some of the regrettable aspects of southern Africa's early history, then you realize there were plenty of people who didn't want others thinking that black Africans were capable of building a complex like this. Today, however, archaeologists agree: this place was built by Africans.
Now, kingdoms come and kingdoms go. If you were living here in the 14th century, it probably would have been impossible for you to imagine that a place as powerful, as great, as sweeping and as prosperous as this, would ever come to...this. Well, that's what happens over time. Kingdoms come and kingdoms go. Think about kingdoms and empires in the Bible. Let's take a moment to think about some of them now, consider what they once were and consider where they are today. Long ago, great pharaohs ruled Egypt. And Egypt, an African country, was a great nation. Moses was a son of Africa, born in Egypt. Before his birth, a great famine caused Jacob and his family to come to Egypt for food. And then they lived in Egypt when Joseph was the prime minister. The magnificent pyramids and the wealth of Egypt testify that this was a seriously great nation. But pharaoh hardened his heart against God, and that once great nation can today hardly be described as great or, in recent years, even stable.
A population of 90 million people, and it's not any kind of economic powerhouse. In fact, every year Egypt receives more than a billion dollars in military aid from the United States. Then there's the Assyrian Empire. Nineveh, the city Jonah was sent to by God, was part of the Assyrian Empire. It was a great, powerful and prosperous empire. But by the time the sixth century B.C. rolled around, the Assyrian Empire was gone. And what was known as Nineveh is today known as Mosul in northern Iraq: hardly powerful, and certainly not prosperous. Egypt was conquered by Babylon. Now, that was a mighty kingdom. Ruled by Nebuchadnezzar in Bible times, the book of Daniel records Nebuchadnezzar surveying Babylon one day and saying with pride, "Is this not great Babylon that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my people"?
In 1899, a German archaeologist working among the ruins of the ancient city of Babylon found a cuneiform tablet on which Nebuchadnezzar had inscribed, "O Babylon, the delight of mine eyes, the excellency of my kingdom. May it last forever"! But as mighty as it was, Babylon was done by 539 B.C. Gone. And today, in spite of Saddam Hussein's best efforts, old Babylon is history. And that's all it is. Kingdoms come and kingdoms go. Once-powerful rulers become historical footnotes. Thriving towns die off. Borders are redrawn. And people, well, we know what invariably happens there. Does anything last forever? Back with more in just a moment.
Thanks for joining me. The book of Daniel is fascinating. It shows that God's plans are going to be worked out and will not be frustrated by anyone. In the dream of Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzar's image showed the rise and the fall of nations, including the fall of Babylon, right down till the time of Jesus' return. But Nebuchadnezzar didn't like that. He thought Babylon should last forever. So he built a golden statute declaring Babylon should never be overthrown. One day he's admiring his capital city when he says: "Is not this great Babylon that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty"? Daniel 4:30. But by the time the chapter's over, Nebuchadnezzar is a believer in God. Not only did Babylon pass away; Nebuchadnezzar was saved. God's plans always work out for the best. Let's live today by every word.
Thanks for joining me today on It Is Written. Among other things, the Bible is a book of history. It contains the record of historical figures like kings and caesars, historical events such as the exodus and the diaspora. And it speaks of nations that were once mighty and prominent, but have since either disappeared from the global stage or are merely shadows of their former selves. In the book of Daniel, you read about a succession of great kingdoms, beginning with the kingdom of Babylon. In Daniel, chapter 2, it's represented as the head of gold on a statue dreamed of by King Nebuchadnezzar. And in Daniel 7, it's represented by a lion with eagle's wings. But not even great Babylon could last forever, which is phenomenal considering the might of Babylon. But Daniel spoke to the king and said, "After you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours." That's Daniel 2:39.
Babylon was gone, pushed aside in one night while its ruler, Belshazzar, was partying the night away. Medo-Persia was a powerful empire. It ruled when Queen Esther came onto the stage. Daniel was put into the lion's den by a Medo-Persian king. There are ruins and artifacts that speak of the might of the Medo-Persian Empire, which occupied a significant chunk of the Middle East, including what today we call Iran. And after Medo-Persia was Greece, which was dominant from around 331 B.C. to about 168 B.C. and figured in the Bible as the midsection of brass in Daniel 2, the leopard in Daniel 7, and the goat in Daniel 8. The influence of the Greek Empire is still felt today through literature, politics, philosophy and architecture. But Alexander the Great's once-mighty empire is today just...a relic of the past. Like Great Zimbabwe, it speaks to a bygone era. But it doesn't speak of present-day might. Its sun shone brightly, but now that sun has well and truly set.
Now, from a biblical perspective, the next great nation that emerged on the world scene was Rome, which dominated the world until the fifth century A.D. Through legal systems, political systems, architecture, language, and even religion, maybe especially religion, the influence of Rome is still felt in the world today. In the book of Daniel, Rome is represented as the legs of iron in chapter 2, and as a beast, an animal, in Daniel 7. But the Roman Empire today? Gone. No more. Visit Rome, and as beautiful as it is, it speaks of a mighty empire that was, and not one that is. You'll find ruins of a Roman wall in London, England. The wall, begun in the second century by the emperor Hadrian to separate Scotland from England, still stands. But the mighty Roman Empire? That is gone.
Now, bring it down closer today. The Soviet Union is no more. Communism has come to an end almost everywhere. There's no more Yugoslavia, no Czechoslovakia. Go back a little bit further, and now there's no Ottoman Empire. And we're now living in a time of some considerable political instability. It seems that almost anything could happen. The United States arose from out of obscurity. Today it's the world's only true superpower. Will it last forever? Well, Nebuchadnezzar thought that Babylon would last forever. And the people who lived in Great Zimbabwe had little reason to believe that five or six hundred years later, these magnificent structures would only be a collection of masonry.
So how does a place like Great Zimbabwe was become a place like Great Zimbabwe now is? It was mineral rich. Its craftsmen were skilled. The land was fertile. And Chinese pottery shards and Arabian coins found at Great Zimbabwe suggest that there was trade with far-off lands. It was truly an influential location. It's believed that at around 1450, when Machu Picchu was being built, and just before the War of the Roses kicked off in England, this civilization declined due to climate change, exhaustion of the goldmines, and possibly due to famine. Today it's one of the world's lost civilizations. Now, there's something that won't ever pass away. Let's talk about that for a moment. In Matthew, chapter 24, Jesus was talking about the destruction of Jerusalem, which would happen in the year 70 A.D. And he was talking about the end of the world. "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away".
Peter used the same thought when he said this. You'll find it in 2 Peter, chapter 3 and verse 10. He said, "The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also, and the works that are therein shall be burned up". And John wrote in Revelation, chapter 21 and verse 1; he said there would come a time when "the first heaven and the first earth were passed away". First Peter chapter 1:24 and 25 says, "All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away, But the word of the Lord endureth forever".
In Daniel 2, after Daniel has explained to Nebuchadnezzar that the kingdom of Babylon would be conquered, and that Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome would all rule for only a period of time, he said that Rome would break up into 10 nations. History showed us that that's what happened. And what then? Well, Daniel explained that a stone cut out without hands would strike the image upon its feet, and the whole thing would be destroyed and blown away like the chaff left over after wheat has been threshed. In other words, the kingdoms of this world would be destroyed and swept away. And that stone would become a great mountain that would fill the entire earth. That is, the kingdoms of this world will one day all be swept aside, every one of them. And God will set up a kingdom that will never pass away.
Speaking of that kingdom, Daniel said in Daniel 2 and verse 44, "It shall stand forever". And he was so certain about these future events that he said in the very next verse, "The dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure". In other words, there's nothing more sure than the fact that one day the kingdoms of this world will all become like Great Zimbabwe, and then some. And that God's kingdom will be established and won't ever pass away. According to the Bible, it's certain and it's sure. The only remaining question is whether or not you'll be part of that kingdom. God wants you to be in that kingdom. And if you'll reach out your heart after Jesus today, and the salvation that He offers you, fully and freely, you can be certain that you will be.
You know, Jesus said a fascinating thing in John 5 and verse 40. He said, "But ye will not come to Me that you might have life". Something very important for both of us to understand. When Jesus said, "Come to me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," He was talking to me and you. No matter how down you feel like you are, no matter how broken your life, no matter how many times you've messed up, you feel like God couldn't possibly love you, would never welcome you back, well, that's just not true. Remember what He said? The problem is, "You won't come to Me that you might have life".
He might have said, your problem is your sin. I'm sure we could come at this from another angle and say, yes, that's a big problem. But Jesus has dealt with your sin, died on the cross so that your sins could be forgiven. Now...He invites you to bring your heart to Him. What's in it for you? Everlasting life. Life in this world, better than you could even imagine, blessed in the presence of God, and life in the world to come. God does not want you to miss out on that. I don't think you do, either. Be sure today to open up your heart and invite Jesus to be the Lord of your life.
Let's pray together:
Our Father in heaven, thank You that we can see Your hand in history, and that though the kingdoms and countries and nations and empires of this world must pass away, we thank You that Jesus is coming back soon to establish a kingdom that will last forever. And Father, thank You for the invitation to be part of that kingdom. We accept that now. Friend, do you accept Christ's invitation that you be with Him in His kingdom forever? You can do it; simply invite Jesus into your heart, have the assurance that He will live His life in you, give you a new heart, make you a new creature, help you to love the things that He loves and turn from the things that He wishes we would turn from. Friend, as you embrace Jesus now, you can have assurance that He is yours and you are His forever. Father, we wish to see this kingdom come soon. Keep us until then, we pray, in faith, in Jesus' name, amen.