Modern day Iran is Persian, not Arab as many Americans seem to think. Most people do not know that Persia (modern Iran) was not always Moslem and not always ruled by the current crop of religious fanatics. Persia has one interesting history!
Alexander the Great, prophesied in the Bible (not by name, Dan. 8:20-21) toppled a number of nations of various sizes and shapes. The big one was the Persian Achaemenid Empire an empire that succeeded the Babylonian Empire of Daniel’s time. The Achaemenids factor into Bible history in a number of places and in a very interesting way.
The first Achaemenid mentioned is in the Book of Esther.
Now it took place in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, in those days as King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne which was at the citadel in Susa, in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his princes and attendants, the army officers of Persia and Media, the nobles and the princes of his provinces being in his presence. (Esther 1:1-3, NASB)
We know King Ahasuerus as Xerxes, which is the name he was called by the Greeks. Xerxes is the same Xerxes made famous in the movie 300 Spartans. It was a lame movie from a historical point of view but what was accurate is the fact Xerxes did invade Greece and forced the Greeks in a rare instance of national unity to oppose him. The 300 Spartans and other Greeks did hold the Pass of Thermopylae against over whelming odds until they all died.
The following year a Greek coalition led by Athens and Sparta defeated Xerxes at Salamis (a sea battle) and Plataea (a land battle) thus stopping the Achaemenid advance into Europe. Had the Persians won, Greek history would have been radically different and once Greece fell there was no telling how far the Achaemenids might have advanced. The whole history of western Europe was affected by that Battles of Salamis and Plataea according to many historians.
Esther, a Hebrew, was one of Xerxes queens having replaced Vashti who displeased Xerxes in a major break of court protocol.
If you know the rest of the story you know that Esther became instrumental in saving her people the Hebrews from annihilation. The Hebrew homeland of Palestine was under Persian control since the Persians took over from the Babylonians. The Babylonians (and their predecessors the Assyrians) had removed many Hebrews from Palestine during their conquests and transplanted them to the center of the empire, modern-day Iran. That’s why Esther was in Persepolis, the Persian capitol.
It is interesting to me in light of recent events to note that a Persian King had a Hebrew Queen who was used by God to save his people from annihilation. Just sayin.
But this is not the only place the Achaemenids are mentioned in Scripture. Check this out from the Book of Ezra:
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. ‘Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalem ‘Every survivor, at whatever place he may live, let the men of that place support him with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, together with a freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.’ ” (Ezra 1:1-4, NASB)
The Hebrews as a whole are still in exile scattered within the Achaemenid Empire. God stirs up the current King, a man named Cyrus (common name for a number of Persian kings) and he issues a proclamation to allow the Hebrews to return to Palestine and Jerusalem to rebuild the house of the Lord. Keep in mind that by now, Palestine was populated by people other than Hebrews. Many in fact were Samaritans. Perhaps the best way to describe Samaritans is to think remnant Hebrews mixed up with transplanted people from other areas of the Empire. The Samaritans were not the only residents of Palestine and many others were what we might call Arabs (Neh. 2:9-10).
The current residents did not like the fact the Hebrews were returning (sound familiar?) and mounted opposition to the idea.
Ezra did not lead the only trip back to Palestine. It was left to Nehemiah, the Persian King’s cup-bearer (a very high position since it protected the king against poisoning-it ain’t easy being king) to lead another expedition to finish the job.
Here’s the passage that shows Artaxerxes granting Nehemiah permission to lead a second expedition back to Palestine. This time it was the walls of Jerusalem itself that would be restored:
And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, that wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. So the king said to me, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?” Then the king said to me, “What would you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. I said to the king, “If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it. Then the king said to me, the queen sitting beside him, “How long will your journey be, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me, and I gave him a definite time. And I said to the king, “If it please the king, let letters be given me for the governors of the provinces beyond the River, that they may allow me to pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress which is by the temple, for the wall of the city and for the house to which I will go.” And the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me. Then I came to the governors of the provinces beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen.(Neh. 2:1-9. NASB)
The King of Persia, the Achaemenid Artaxerxes not only allows a second expedition to Palestine to rebuild the walls (knocked down by the Babylonians) to be rebuilt but he also allows for provision and for a military escort thus foreseeing that the current residents of Jerusalem would not be too happy and that the Hebrews would need protection.
The pattern we see is three separate incidents of an Achaemenid Persian King helping the Hebrews. In each instance it was God who orchestrated it all and whether or not you believe the Scripture does not matter but you would have to admit, it is what the Scripture says.
Alexander the Great put an end to the Achaemenid Empire. Upon Alexander’s death his Macedonian-Greek Empire broke up into successor states each led by one of his top generals. Palestine was ruled either by the Seleucids based in Syria or the Ptolemies based in Egypt. Modern day Iran and Iraq were among the first to break away from the Seleucid successors of Alexander. A new Persian kingdom emerged called Parthia under the Arsacid Persian Dynasty.
Palestine would eventually fall under Rome’s control and Parthia would be Rome’s fiercest enemy until Parthia was replaced by yet another Persian Dynasty known as the Sassanids who in turn took over where the Parthians left off to become an unconquerable enemy of Rome.
The Sassanids themselves would fall to the Armies of Islam who replaced the Persian religion with Islam. The Sassanids lasted a bit longer than their enemy the Romans who gave up Palestine to the Armies of Islam before the Sassanids were eclipsed as well. Persia has been an Islamic State since the 7th Century and it’s worthy to note it was not a peaceable conversion. The Sassanids fought just as hard resisting the Arabs as they had against the Romans.
Palestine would stay Moslem until the Crusades (1096 A.D.) and for about 200 years Palestine would be a “Latin Kingdom” until the Ottoman Turks brought some sort of Moslem unity to the Turks, Arabs and Persians and anyone else in their vast Islamic Empire, including the Hebrews who still lived in Palestine.
Sometimes people wonder why the majority of evangelical Christians seem to be pro-Israel. The answer to that question can take more than one track including the idea that Israel is a democracy surrounded by Moslem nations who clearly are not. Iran (Persia) is among the most vocal in advocating another demise of Israel.
But the other track is biblical. I’ve shown in this brief article that God was behind the restoration of his chosen people to their land in Old Testament times. God used Achaemenid Persian Kings to do His will and save Hebrews and even to return them to the land he promised them.
So here we are, in the middle of another crisis with Persia (I mean Iran). Perhaps the USA is the new “Roman” enemy of Persia just as earlier dynasties of Persia were the enemies of ancient Rome.
The modern-day Persians are not Achaemenids, Arsacids or Sassanids. They are Moslems and the ruling class are of the most extreme type. It’s been that way since 1979 when the Shah of Iran was replaced by a religious revolution.
In 1971 the Shah of Iran gave a parade and held a festival celebrating the rich history of his country. The parade featured the soldiers of the Achaemenid and Sassanid Dynasties.
It was a big deal as he went out of his way to reproduce the arms, armour and costume of the empire that once ruled a huge chunk of the middle-east and was used by God to save Israel. Perhaps this is why the Ayatollah Khomeini called the festival the “devil’s festival.”