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The Greatest Wonder of All

For the history enthusiast, the seven ancient wonders of the world are items of incredible interest. While only one of the ancient wonders still stands, The Pyramids at Giza, for the Bible student, those ancient wonders are quite fascinating as we consider their impact on Bible history and the desire for worldly success.

For example, The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were built by King Nebuchadnezzar II as a sign of love for his homesick wife, Amyitis. This same king would later be humbled by God, lose his kingdom and "eat grass like oxen" (Daniel 4:31-33). All of this after the king arrogantly proclaimed, "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). Apparently, Philon of Byzantium agreed with Nebuchadnezzar, to a degree, and selected his Hanging Gardens of Babylon as one of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World and as a symbol of power and majesty.

Yet, as advanced as Nebuchadnezzar was in his day and age, God always finds a way to prove to the arrogant that He is the Almighty Creator of the world and deserves the glory. After Nebuchadnezzar is humbled he says, "...I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation" (Daniel 5:34). Nebuchadnezzar, whose accomplishment in landscape architecture was the greatest at the time, teaches a valuable lesson. One may become the smartest, wealthiest, most powerful and most technologically advanced person of his time, yet, such talents should be used to glorify God, not ourselves (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

In the New Testament another Wonder of the World, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, may have provided light to Apollos as he set sail from his birthplace, also home to the revered Library of Alexandria, and settled in Ephesus (Acts 18:24). Alexandria was a city "second only to Rome in size and wealth" and was known for its well-educated populace and is still studied by archaeologists today for its maritime technology (www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexandria). According to the previously cited online encyclopedia, Alexandria was a major shipping point for Egyptian grain that fed "a majority of the Hellenistic and Greek world." With this in mind, the "Alexandrian ship" Paul took to Italy may have been carrying grain when Julius found it in the harbor at Myra for him (Acts 27:5-6). This may be the reason Luke documents the slow speed of the trip (Acts 27:7). Of course, the lack of wind would decrease the speed of sailing, but the weight of grain would also slow down a sailboat as it increases drag and friction in the water.

Paul may have seen the collapsed Colossus of Rhodes as he returned from his second missionary journey (Acts 21:1). This statue, fallen at the time, but still admired by travelers was located at the entrance of the harbor of the Mediterranean island of Rhodes. This great statue was around 110 feet tall but fell in 226 B.C. due to an earthquake. It lay in ruins until A.D. 654 when Arabs invaded Rhodes and sold off the fragments of the statue. Pliny the Elder once remarked that the thumb on this statue was so large few people could wrap their arms around it. It is not mentioned in Luke's account of Acts, because it had no bearing upon the disciples' journeys. They were not traveling from city to city as mere tourists and sightseers. They were traveling to teach the lost and encourage the faithful.

Finally, the Temple of Artemis (also known as the Temple of Diana) is the only "ancient wonder of the world" directly cited within the Scriptures. It was located in the city of Ephesus. The account of the conversion of the Ephesians is riddled with tension in Acts 19 as direct reference is made to the Temple of Diana and the pagan pressure in that city. Despite this tension it still flourished as the gospel was preached. As Trench says in his Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia, "...it was most famous of all for the celebrated temple of Diana, one of the seven wonders of the world...but Ephesus had better titles of honour than these. It was a city greatly favoured of God...nowhere did the word of the Gospel find a kindlier soil, strike root more deeply, or bear fairer fruits of faith and love" (p. 70-71).

In Ephesus, Paul labored for "three years" and still worried about the influence of paganism and false teachers within the church (Acts 20:28-33). His personal remark about coveting "no one's silver or gold or apparel" was probably a subtle reference to the tradesmen of that town who made their money off of creating statues and idols of Diana and the gods. Members of these trade guilds were the chief opponents of Christianity in that city. According to the city clerk of Ephesus, they considered their city as the "temple guardian of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus" (Acts 19:35). Their steady defense of Diana and their quick penchant for riot was probably for selfish reasons. The city of Ephesus harbored many criminals and many of these criminals found their work in the temple and its trade guilds. Barclay writes, "The Temple of Diana possessed the right of asylum. That is to say, any criminal reaching the area round the temple was safe. Inevitably, therefore, Ephesus had become the home of the criminals of the ancient world."

Paul probably describes a few of these rogue characters in Ephesians 4:19 as, "being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness." Thus, this ancient wonder of the world, much like its pagan companion, the Statue of Zeus (located in Olympia, west of Athens, another pagan city Paul debated in Acts 17), had a tremendous impact upon the culture in which Paul tried to teach. Forty years later, the Temple of Diana and its associated trade-guilds in Ephesus still impacted the local church's psyche as John wrote, "I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil" (Revelation 2:1-3). The church at Ephesus would have to tirelessly work to stay pure as they resisted the temptations prevalent in that city.

While these ancient wonders were revered during the lives of various Bible characters, only one of them still stands—the Pyramids. Some were destroyed by earthquakes and natural deterioration, others were knocked down in war and by vandals and one of them, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, was taken apart piece by piece as its stones were used to construct a castle.

The temporary nature of these great, architectural feats teaches a simple, easily forgotten principle. The things in this world are temporary. As John says, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:15-17). Hear the words of the disciple Jesus loved again: "the world is passing away." Two millenniums ago these were the greatest structures man could fathom. Today, all but one of these "wonders" is history and the only one remaining has faded from its original glory.

With all of these "wonders of the world" fading away and being replaced by new wonders, we should turn to something truly "Wonderful"—the Son of God (Isaiah 9:6). Though the creations of men will pass away, "the word of the Lord endures forever" (1 Peter 1:25). Its glories never fade, its promises will not fail and the life it offers is eternal. Thus, when caught up by the desire for newer, greater, material possessions may we recall the words of Jesus Christ in Matthew 6:19-21, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." To the Christian, heaven is our greatest treasure, God's Word is our map and God's love is the greatest wonder of all.