Friday, October 24, 2014

Babylon: Chosen City

The prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah lived as faithful witnesses to Yahweh. Today they remind us of certain truths.

One, Yahweh’s people do not always remain loyal to Yahweh nor witness to his ways. Two, when this happens, Yahweh may use Olympians to discipline his people even though Olympians do not believe in Yahweh’s existence. Three, Yahweh as easily restrains Olympians as he does unleash them.

Today we will recall the words of Jeremiah and Isaiah concerning the people of Yahweh in Judah and Jerusalem around 600 BC. In 588 BC Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, destroyed Jerusalem, burned down the temple built by Solomon, and dragged them into exile.

1. Yahweh’s people prove disloyal to him

The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah, in the fourth year of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah (that was the first year of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon), 2 which the prophet Jeremiah spoke to all the people of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem: 3 For twenty-three years, from the thirteenth year of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah, to this day, the word of [Yahweh] has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened. 4 And though [Yahweh] persistently sent you all his servants the prophets, you have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear 5 when they said, “Turn now, every one of you, from your evil way and wicked doings, and you will remain upon the land that [Yahweh] has given to you and your ancestors from of old and forever; 6 do not go after other gods to serve and worship them, and do not provoke me to anger with the work of your hands. Then I will do you no harm.” 7 Yet you did not listen to me, says [Yahweh], and so you have provoked me to anger with the work of your hands to your own harm (Jeremiah 25:1-7, New Revised Standard Version, here and following).

Jeremiah tells the people of Yahweh that they are not acting like Yahweh’s people. They are not living in ways which witness to Yahweh’s freedom, truth, love, and vitality.

Instead, these people of Yahweh are absurdly devoting themselves to the six conventional Olympian gods of power, falsehood, violence, and death. They are living in evil ways and committing wicked acts.

Jeremiah tells the people of Yahweh that this devotion to destructive gods will soon have destructive consequences.

2. Yahweh chooses the leader of a powerful city to punish them

8 Therefore thus says [Yahweh] of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, 9 I am going to send for all the tribes of the north, says [Yahweh], even for King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these nations around; I will utterly destroy them, and make them an object of horror and of hissing, and an everlasting disgrace (Jeremiah 25:8-9).

Jeremiah tells the people of Yahweh that Yahweh their god is going to grant them their heart’s desire. Since they seek so much to serve the Olympian gods, Yahweh will allow those gods to master them through their most devoted servant: the king of Babylon. Then Yahweh's people will know that, in devoting themselves to the Olympian gods, they have abandoned the one true god of life for six deadly dull gods of destruction.

This unleashing of destructive powers, then, is possible only because it is willed by Yahweh. And it is willed by Yahweh only because his own people have forsaken him. In other words, destruction and death become increasingly widespread, evil grows in the world, as Yahweh’s own witnesses abandon him for the Olympians gods and Yahweh in response abandons his people to those same gods.

3. Yahweh’s people must accept this discipline by Yahweh

Thus says [Yahweh] of hosts, the God of Israel: This is what you shall say to your masters: 5 It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the people and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever I please. 6 Now I have given all these lands into the hand of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him even the wild animals of the field to serve him. 7 All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes; then many nations and great kings shall make him their slave.

8 But if any nation or kingdom will not serve this king, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, then I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, says [Yahweh], until I have completed its destruction by his hand. 9 You, therefore, must not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your soothsayers, or your sorcerers, who are saying to you, “You shall not serve the king of Babylon.” 10 For they are prophesying a lie to you, with the result that you will be removed far from your land; I will drive you out, and you will perish. 11 But any nation that will bring its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will leave on its own land, says the Lord, to till it and live there (Jeremiah 27:4b-11).

When Yahweh chooses to use Olympians to discipline his people, his people remain Olympian in their thinking if they reject that important but painful discipline.

4. These Olympian oppressors wrongly exalt themselves and harm witnesses faithful to Yahweh

1 Come down and sit in the dust,
    virgin daughter Babylon!...

5 Sit in silence, and go into darkness,
daughter Chaldea!
For you shall no more be called
the mistress of kingdoms.
6 I was angry with my people,
I profaned my heritage;
I gave them into your hand,
you showed them no mercy;
on the aged you made your yoke
exceedingly heavy.
7 You said, “I shall be mistress forever,”
so that you did not lay these things to heart
or remember their end…

10 You felt secure in your wickedness;
you said, “No one sees me.”
Your wisdom and your knowledge
led you astray,
and you said in your heart,
“I am, and there is no one besides me” 
(Isaiah 47:1a, 5-7, 10).

Powerful oppressors and their oppressive cities lack truth. They labor under a spell of falsehood cast over them by the Olympian gods they adore. They do not discern that it is Yahweh who gives them room to act and neither their gods nor their own power.

5. At the right time Yahweh punishes the powerful for their wickedness

12 Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, says [Yahweh], making the land an everlasting waste…14 For many nations and great kings shall make slaves of them also; and I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands (Jeremiah 25:12, 14).

Powerful oppressors never imagine themselves as ministers of the one true god. They act in every way as arrogant conquerors of peoples yet loyal minions of the destructive gods they believe in. When their destructive arrogance and arrogant destructiveness has served Yahweh’s purposes, Yahweh again restrains them. They disappear because they never had a future.

(Today we continued our reflections on Jacques Ellul's The Meaning of the City [Eerdmans, pp. 90-94]).

Copyright © 2014 by Steven Farsaci.
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