God and Alexander the Great
February 4th, 1987 @ 7:30 PM
GOD AND ALEXANDER THE GREAT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-4-87 7:30 p.m.
Beautiful, ah, you dear young people. This message tonight is to me one of the most encouraging that I could ever prepare. So much of history seems discordant with the sovereign grace of God. That is because we are so very limited. What we must remember is God works through centuries and millennia—through thousands of years, and what to us may seem so disastrously illogical in the working out of the sovereign purposes of God’s love for the people of this earth, yet in His sight and in His program, what God is doing may be the ultimate and final cause of the victory that He will bring to our blessed Savior.
I think of that and remind myself of that when I look at the world situation in which we live. Islam has been dormant for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years. And today, there is not a paper you will pick up anywhere in the earth, that you are not reading about the fanatical, Islamic hordes who are awakening the whole central part of this earth. The fastest growing religion in England—my ancestors came from England—the fastest growing religion in England this minute is Islamic. It’s Mohammedanism. They have practically swept the entire northern continent of Africa. It is only in the southern part of the continent that you will find Christian missionary work dominant. Beside the rise of communism, that’s in my generation. I can remember 1917 and Kerensky and the Bolshevik Revolution.
But I must not turn aside. I am just pointing out the background of the message prepared out of the eighth chapter of the Book of Daniel. The title of the discourse, the study, is God and Alexander the Great. He is the subject of this passage you read in the eighth chapter of Daniel. He appears again in Daniel 10:20. And he appears again in Daniel 11:2-3.
Of course, as you know, he was the supreme representative of the Greek people. The Greeks originally lived in Asia Minor, but about the time that Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, the Greeks who lived in Asia Minor, invaded the Aegean Peninsula—what we call Greece today.
Their history properly begins in the seventh century BC, when the city-states of Athens and Corinth and Sparta came into being. These city-states were constantly at war. The Athenians despised Sparta, and both of them looked down in hatred upon the Corinthians.
The golden age of Greece was in the fifth and fourth centuries BC. They excelled in every field of learning. They were incomparable. Let me give you an instance of that: in England two summers ago I counted the courses in “Aristotle” taught by Oxford University, and there were about 425 of them. You can’t imagine such a thing! In the greatest university in the world, 425 courses on Aristotle alone. Well anyway, in philosophy there is Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
In the military world, there was Pericles and Thucydides and Xenophon. In the world of drama there is Sophocles and Euripides and Aristophanes. In the world of history there is Herodotus, called the “father of history.” Heraclitus was the founder of metaphysics. Hippocrates was the founder of medicine. Xeno was the founder of the Stoics. Aristippus was the founder hedonism—the philosophy of pleasure. Leucippus and Democritus were the founders of the atomic philosophy, the discoverer of the atom.
And on and on I could go. They taught us all that we know. That is a sentence I took out of one of the great academicians of our modern age, “Everything we know, we were taught by the Greeks.”
But their golden age was also their age of terror. Xerxes—Ahasuerus—now you read about him in the Book of Esther [Esther 1:1]. Xerxes was ambitious, and he extended the Persian Empire throughout all Asia Minor down to the Mediterranean Sea. And just beyond the Hellespont was Greece. And it was the purpose of Xerxes to cross the Hellespont and to conquer Greece.
Their annihilation seemed inevitable. The Persians had armies of millions of people—millions of soldiers. And those little Greek city-states had a handful of a few thousand. How could the tiny, Greek city-states defeat the vast colossus from the East? But that is precisely what happened. In the land battle of Marathon in 490 BC that little bunch of Greeks overwhelmed the Persian armies. In the sea battle of Salamis in 480 BC, the Greeks annihilated those great flotillas of Persian ships. The Greeks shattered—literally destroyed, annihilated—the superior Persian armies and navies. It was illogical. There is nothing in the earth in reading that, that is defensibly logical. But history never stops to apologize for her inconsistencies. She continues to be illogical. The small Greek tribes defeated the Persian armies over and over again.
But here is another illogical thing. It never occurred to the Greeks to pursue the defeated enemy into his homeland. Their civilization was too good to be wasted on the barbarians, and why assume the burden of trying to educate them? So those Greek city-states were very content just to annihilate the Persian armies and navies—and they left it at that. That is, until Alexander the Great. He had a different idea—one of world conquest—and thus to make the entire universe Greek. That was his burden of heart and vision and goal of life. He was a passionate missionary. He was the apostle of Hellenism. Hellas is the Greek name for Greece—Hellenism, Greekism. His ambition was not only to establish a Greek empire, but also to control the vast empire by extending Hellenic culture to all men everywhere. He wanted everybody to speak Greek, to think Greek, and to act Greek.
Now these things our children remember. In 334 BC, he crossed the Hellespont to Aria Minor with just 32,000 infantrymen. That’s all: 32,000 soldiers. And he shattered the armies of the Persian Empire, which had millions of soldiers at its command. At the River Granicus, he defeated the Persians. At Issus, he annihilated them, and Darius III unconditionally surrendered, and the Persian Empire ceased to exist.
Then occurred one of the strangest and the most incredulous of all of the providences in history. The Jews had been kindly treated by their Persian rulers, and the Persians had allowed them to have their own government. Out of gratitude, the Jews remained faithful to King Darius and to his Persian Empire. Now this greatly angered Alexander. And as he marched through Palestine on his way to Egypt—he determined to annihilate the Jews—to destroy Jerusalem and to slay or send into slavery every Jew in the land. He had already destroyed Gaza, and he was on his way with his army to destroy Jerusalem and to take into slavery or to put to death every Jew that lived.
If you want to read one of the most exciting of all the passages in history, you read now what happens in Josephus—as Josephus describes it. Instead of fighting, the Jews opened the gates of their city. The high priest came forth at the head of a procession of priests and people dressed in white robes. And he carried in his hand, the high priest, carried in his hand a copy of the scroll of Daniel. And he opened the scroll to the passage you just read—in Daniel 8:1-8. And he read to Alexander the Great the prophecy concerning his ultimate triumph in winning the whole world in his military exploit. And instead of finding choler—as they call here—and hatred and massacre and death, Alexander bowed before the great Jehovah God. He became a friend of the Jews. He respected their religion, and he continued their self-government, the same that they had enjoyed under the Persian monarchs. An amazing turn from death to life! Now we are going to see how God used that. The Lord used Alexander in a mighty way, and that’s most amazing. Now this is just something that comes out of my heart as I read the story. (This is even) more amazing when we remember what a pagan Alexander was.
The center of cultured Greek life was the city, the polis. Your word political comes out of polis. It was essentially the life of a cultured few, who had slaves to enable them to possess the leisure to follow polite pursuits. Thus slavery was at the center of the culture of the Greco-Roman Empire. If you had walked down the streets of, say, Ephesus, or Corinth, or Alexandria, or Rome, or anywhere, three men out of every five you met would be chattel property—sold—they were slaves. And in the Roman Empire, which had a population of about a 100 million people, 60 million of them were slaves. The heart of the Greco-Roman Empire was slavery.
All right, another thing: the paganism of this Greek culture. To propagate Hellenism, he encouraged intermarriage. In Susa in 324 BC, he married the daughter of Darius at a great nuptial feast. Eight of his officers did the same thing, and thousands of his soldiers followed suit. And he encouraged that, to get the soldiers to marry, by giving them a large dowry and paying all of their debts.
Then again in 324 BC, the same year, he proclaimed his deity. He claimed to be the Son of Zeus. Alexander claimed to be God!
One year later, in 323 BC, at the age of 33, he encompassed his own death through his abandonment. In Babylon, reveling with his officers, he prepared a drinking match. Promachus drank twelve quarts of wine and won the prize, which was a talent of gold, but then died. Alexander drank a goblet of wine, a quart. The next day, again did the same thing. Then a fever took hold of him, and he died in that drunken, drinking match in Babylon.
When Alexander the Great died, his generals gathered around and they asked him, “Whose is the kingdom?” And Alexander the Great replied, “It’s for him who can take it!” And Cassander and Lysimachus took Asia Minor, Seleucus and Antiochus his son took Syria, and Ptolemy took Egypt, and they kept it in the Greek orbit for generations and for centuries.
Now I want you to look just for a minute at that culture. Alexander’s mother, Olympias—his father remember was Philip of Macedon—his mother claimed decent from Achilles, whose story is recounted in Homer’s Iliad. The Iliad had a special fascination for Alexander. When he slept at night, a copy of The Iliad was under his pillow along with his dagger, as if to symbolize the instinct and the goal of his life. When he crossed the Hellespont, he was retracing the steps of Achilles, and when he conquered Asia Minor, he was completing the work of his ancestor, Achilles, at the battle of Troy. He was reliving—only his was triumphant, when Achilles failed—he was retracing the story of The Iliad.
And to the Jews in Jerusalem and to the Jews of the Diaspora, scattered over the world, the conquest of Alexander portended a bitter struggle—the struggle between Hellenism and Judaism. The teacher of Alexander, as you know, and his companion on all of his military journeys was Aristotle, the incomparable Greek philosopher. And Alexander’s personal copy of The Iliad was annotated by his teacher, Aristotle. It was Aristotle against Moses. It was The Iliad against the Bible. God’s use of Alexander is unbelievable! Little did Alexander realize that he was preparing the way for our Lord.
Greek became the world language. The gospel was preached in every part of the empire in Greek. When Paul wrote a letter to the churches in the interior of Turkey—today we’d call it Anatolia, over there in Asia Minor—when Paul wrote to those churches in the interior of modern Turkey, the letter to the Galatians, he wrote it in Greek. When you turn around to the west, when Paul wrote his letter to the church at Rome, he never wrote it in Latin, he wrote it in Greek. The entire world spoke one language: Greek.
And the second thing that happened in God’s use of Alexander was, the Jews were given liberty and freedom of commerce, and they settled in places throughout the world. It is called the Diaspora. For example, when James, pastor of the church in Jerusalem, writes a letter, he will start it off, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greetings to you” [James 1:1]. All over the civilized world there were those Jewish synagogues and those Jewish communities, protected and encouraged by the friendship of the great Alexander.
May I turn aside here and just say something? Wherever you speak of the lost ten tribes, who in the world invented that? I’ve tried to think that, find out. That is an historical, illogical assumption that has no basis in truth. There are no such things as the lost ten tribes. Here, James, a servant of the Lord, “to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greetings to you” [James 1:1]. They are as much here today as they have always been. I can’t pick them out. God can. And He knows where everyone of them is. And in the denouement of history, in the end time, it will be according to His purpose of grace written here in the Book.
Now look again in 1 Peter chapter 1, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the Diaspora”—it’s translated here in the King James Version, “to the strangers”—“Peter an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the Diaspora” [1 Peter 1:1]. Who are the Diaspora? Those are the [Jewish] people that are scattered throughout the civilized world under the aegis of Alexander the Great. “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God” [1 Peter 1:2]. On and on.
Now, to conclude as I began: don’t ever persuade yourself or lose hope, as though the Lord God Almighty does not have this world in His hand. He does! All the nations of the world and all of the developments of history are under the surveillance and sovereign purpose of the Almighty, who is our Lord God. And at times when we think the situation is so dark, there’s not any reason, and there’s not any purpose, and there’s not any grace, and certainly there’s not any hope to be entertained in our hearts beyond what we see now, oh no, no, no! The Almighty hand of God is guiding through all of the developments and exigencies of history. And it may take thousands of years for us to see it, but God sees the end from the beginning. I am so limited in what I can understand.
And may I conclude with the avowal? The same hand of the Lord God Almighty is in our lives. So many things, providences, exigencies occur in our lives, and we wonder at them. Many of them are filled with indescribable tears and sorrow and disappointment. All of us eventually come into those days and hours of despair. “Lord God in heaven, what and why?” It is for us to remember that He never sleeps. And He never slumbers. And He never fails. And He is always on time. And in every area of history and in every part of our lives, the Lord is moving.
And I praise His name that in that ultimate purpose He elected me [John 10:3]. He gave me a part in it. He knows my name. What an amazing thing: that the God of all time and history knows me and has chosen an outline for me. My life has purpose in it. It has meaning in it. God has elected it so. And it is thus with each one of us. It’s a wonder—it’s an amazing overwhelming thought—that the dear Lord should remember me and elect me and choose me. Us! O blessed Savior, full of grace, and glory, and love, and remembrance [John 1:14].
Now we’re going to sing us a song, and while we sing our hymn of appeal, I’ll be standing right there. And there’ll be room for you to come, even though our sweet orchestra stays here—you can just stay in your place. I’ll be standing right there. And tonight, to give your heart to the great Lord and King of our souls, who holds our lives in the hollow of His hand, to give your heart to the blessed Savior, welcome. A family you to come into our dear church, or a couple to respond to the appeal of the Spirit in your heart, as the God in heaven would open wide the gates for you, a thousand times welcome, come, on the first note of the first stanza. While we stand and while we sing.
AND ALEXANDER THE GREAT
W. A. Criswell
history begins in seventh century BC
age of Greece in sixth through fourth centuries BC
attempted to conquer Greece but could not
Alexander the Great
conquest established the Greek empire
Greek as the world’s common language
God used Alexander in a mighty way
of Greek life was the city
the Diaspora Jews to populate the world