An ancient Phoenician coin, which was minted long ago in the bustling commercial city of Tyre, bears a curious image. The coin shows a serpent entwined around a tree stump. To the left of the stump stands an empty cornucopia. To the right, a flourishing palm tree.
Curious, yes. But is it significant? Amazingly, the story these symbols tell is of great relevance to our time!
To classical scholars, the symbols on the coin are familiar ones. They are found in the art and mythology of many civilizations through the millennia. What do they all mean? First, consider the snake. The snake on the Phoenician coin, classical scholars point out, is the symbol of a powerful god whom the Romans called Aesculapius, the Greeks Asklepios. Who was this personage?
Aesculapius was an ancient pagan god of healing. His healing powers are reflected in the meaning of the Greek form of his name, Asklepios – “the strength-restorer.” But consider the meaning of the Latin form of his name Aesculapius. It means, literally, “the man-instructing serpent.”
Now we see a significant biblical tie-in! The serpent who sought to teach mankind is mentioned, of course, in the third chapter of Genesis, when he seduced our first parents, Adam and Eve. It is none other than man’s adversary, “that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world” (Rev. 12:9).
In mythology, Aesculapius was believed to be the child of the Sun, and thus the “enlightener” of mankind. He was often represented in art by a serpent or as an old man holding a staff around which a snake is entwined. (Even today, the snake-and-staff is the well-known symbol of the medical profession.)
Throughout the ancient Mediterranean world, Greeks, Romans and others kept sacred snakes in the many temples dedicated to Aesculapius, temples where the “man-instructing snake” – actually Satan himself was worshiped as a god.
On an island in the Tiber River (the Isola Tiberina) near the Ponte Garibaldi, the Church of St. Bartholomew today stands atop the ancient ruins of Rome’s once-flourishing Temple of Aesculapius. Traces of a relief of the snake-and-staff can still be seen on the remains of an old wall there.
As the legend goes, Aesculapius was ultimately struck down by a thunderbolt thrown by an angry Zeus, king of the gods, and cast into the underworld. (Compare this with Luke 10:18, where Jesus declared, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”)
But what about the tree stump on the coin? In the mythologies of many ancient civilizations, we find the imagery of a great tree being cut down. The hewing down of a stately tree symbolizes the cutting off of a great god or hero, a mighty one being cut down prematurely in the midst of his power and glory. The stump thus represents the fallen god and his ruined kingdom.
Many ancient nations had legends about sacred trees. A familiar tale found in civilizations of past ages describes a full-grown tree springing overnight from a dead tree stump, symbolizing the coming forth unto new life of a fallen god or hero. Such stories have been associated with a variety of “god-men” through the ages, including Osiris in early Egypt and later, Nimrod in Mesopotamia.
During the Saturnalia – the December feast of Saturn (a name for Nimrod) – the Romans anciently decorated trees with red berries and trinkets. The tree – precursors of today’s “Christmas trees” – symbolized their slain god come to life again. (Classical sources identify Saturn with Kronos, the first king of Babylon – the deified Nimrod.)
With the understanding that the hewing down of a great tree symbolizes the cutting off of a mighty one, we can now comprehend the empty cornucopia to the left of the stump on the Phoenician coin.
The cornucopia – the “horn of plenty,” which is usually emblematic of abundance – is empty because the great god (symbolized by the dead stump) has been cut off!
But remember the Aesculapian snake has encoiled the stump. Classical scholars tell us this pictures the life-restoring serpent exerting its supernatural powers on the dead stump to revive it. The result? The tree stump now springs forth unto new life, by the power of the man-instructing serpent. At its side, on the coin, sprouts a young tree – a palm tree, the well-known symbol of victory. The god, fallen before his enemies, has now risen triumphantly over them, never to be cut down again. Or so declares the symbolism on the coin.
The Bible also employs the symbol of a hewn tree. Satan, the world’s great counterfeiter and plagiarist, has appropriated many biblical symbols, including the serpent and tree stump, and introduced them into pagan mythology and worship.
Notice, now, the biblical usage of tree imagery. Later we will see how Satan has added his own perverted twist to it.
Daniel 4 records a dream experienced by King Nebuchadnezzar of ancient Babylon. In the dream Nebuchadnezzar saw an enormous tree occupying a central position on the earth. Its height “reached to the heavens, and it could be seen to the ends of all the earth” (v. 11).
This tree, it was later revealed to Daniel, was Nebuchadnezzar himself (vs. 20-22).The tree also represented Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom, Babylon. In the Bible, a kingdom and its king are treated as synonymous (compare, for example, verses 38 and 39 of Daniel 2). Nebuchadnezzar personified Babylon. In the dream, the beasts of the field-- subject nations-- rested in the shadow of the great Babylonian tree and were fed by its fruit (v. 12). Most of the known world lay under the scepter of Babylon.
But suddenly, in the dream, an angelic being came down from heaven and cried aloud: “Chop down the tree and cut off its branches, strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the beasts get out from under it, and the birds from its branches (v. 14).
The tree was to be cut down, but not completely destroyed. The stump was to be preserved: “Nevertheless leave the stump and roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze, in the tender grass of the field. Let it be wet with the dew of heaven” (v.15).
Consider, now, the dual application of this prophetic dream. The haughty Nebuchadnezzar was to be personally “chopped down” if he persisted in denying God’s supremacy – yet, as Daniel explained, not permanently. “And inasmuch as they gave the command to leave the stump and roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be assured to you” (v. 26).
As prophesied, unrepentant Nebuchadnezzar, intoxicated with pride, was smitten with madness and driven as an animal from men (vs. 30-33).But, “at the end of the time,” his sanity returned and he was briefly reestablished in his kingdom (vs. 34-37). But that is only the first fulfillment of this dual prophecy! Nebuchadnezzar’s personal experience was but a type or picture of a similar fate for the kingdom of Babylon itself. Ancient Babylon, too, was to be “chopped down” – as it was at the hands of Cyrus the Persian. But, as with Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon was not to be utterly destroyed. The “stump and roots” would be preserved in the earth, and later sprout and flourish again!
As students of Bible prophecy understand, “Babylon” has an important figurative or symbolic meaning in prophecies for the “latter days.” Ancient Babylon is spoken of as a type of the economic and politico-religious world system to arise at the end of this age of man’s civilization, the very days in which we are now living.
The vision of Daniel 4 revealed that a protective and restrictive band of iron and brass had been placed around the dormant stump of the great tree, to be removed in the latter days. And then what? The tree would be free to sprout again! Notice the observation of Job: “For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again. Though its root may grow old in the earth, and its stump may die in the ground, yet at the scent of water it will bud and bring forth branches like a plant” (Job 14:7-9).
The Babylonish system of ancient times is prophesied to yet again “bring forth branches.” With the restraints removed, it will be free to emerge once again in its full, final grandeur and corruption.
The apostle John warns us of an end time “Babylon” that will be both an apostate religious system, heir to the ancient mystery religion of Babylon, (Rev. 17:1-6) and also a great political and economic system (Rev. 18:7-18, 24. It will be centered in the territory of the ancient Roman Empire, but in character will epitomize the spirit of Babylon.
The parallels of classical symbolism with biblical imagery are too clear to be missed. The stump, dormant Babylon, the evil system of the god of this world – sprouts again. The Satan-inspired imagery of the Aesculapian snake coiled around the stump reveals the power by which the sprouting occurs, the power of the “man-instructing serpent.”
Satan will exert his full powers in one last, desperate attempt to impose his rule over all mankind. Symbolized by the life-restoring, Aesculapian snake, he will cause the chopped-down tree to sprout again. But will the results, as the coin depicts, be a palm tree, symbol of victory and triumph, a tree never to be cut down?
That is what Satan desperately hopes will occur. That is his plan, devised in his twisted mind. But it will not be! In classical symbolism, Satan pictures himself and his empire (the victorious palm tree) coming out on top in the end. Satan thinks he can yet win. But Satan’s reborn Babylonish Empire will be short-lived.
The good news is that the government of God will triumph over it (Rev. 11:15). Just as the sins of ancient Babylon drew down God’s judgment upon her, so will the atrocities of this end-time Babylon bring down God’s divine wrath. The apostle John vividly pictures the destruction of the power of Babylon at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, in Rev. 18 and 19.
Babylon will become a great world empire in our day, only to fall a second time. That is the explanation of the angel’s cryptic repetition in Rev. 18:2: “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen.”
Satan’s days are numbered! We are living in climatic times. The end of this age is upon us. Biblical prophecies of a final revival of a modern Babylon, to arise in the area of the ancient Roman Empire, stand poised, ready for fulfillment in the headline of your daily newspaper. As we write this article movements are taking place in the European Union to bring forth a Super State, with Germany at its head. Ten nations will join them to revive the Babylonian Empire. (Rev. 17:11-14). The Catholic Church will provide the guidance of this great combine. (Rev. 17: 1-7).
It is time to watch world events more closely than ever before (Luke 21:36), and to prepare for the glorious New World that lies just ahead, the very Kingdom of God on earth! Satan’s plans will be thwarted. His Kingdom will come to an end, nevermore to rise. Read about this glorious Kingdom soon to be established on this earth in Isaiah 9:6-7. The events of this year’s presidential election in the United States will no doubt hasten that day!