Thursday, October 16, 2014

Babylon: Quintessential City

For biblical witnesses, Babylon exemplified the whole meaning of the city. While inspired by Vulcan, god of technology, Babylon served all the Olympian gods as their home. It embodied their chaotic counter-creation at the expense of Yahweh’s good creation. It also served us humans as the place where, in our Olympian pride and devotion to those gods, we found our greatest satisfaction to our greatest hurt.

Isaiah, prophesying around 800 BC, foretold the day when Yahweh would free his people from the power of the king of Babylon, a mere human representative of the city, and from the city itself (Isaiah 14:4-23).

And what kind of person was this Olympian king? He was an arrogant oppressor (14:4) who ruled the nations in anger with unrelenting persecution (v. 6).

How do the peoples of the earth respond to the end of this incarnation of Olympian power? They are at rest and quiet; they break forth into singing (v. 7).

The rest of Yahweh’s good creatures join them in celebration because their systematic destruction has also come to an end: The cypresses exult over you, the cedars of Lebanon, saying, “Since you were laid low, no one comes to cut us down” (v. 8).

During his lifetime, the king of Babylon enjoyed all the bright, shiny, expensive trappings of power. Now? “Your pomp is brought down to Sheol, and the sound of your harps; maggots are the bed beneath you, and worms are your covering” (v. 11). Those trappings, then, proclaimed mere illusory Olympian significance, fooling both the king and the rest of us.

How might we characterize Olympian arrogance or self-centeredness? Isaiah says of the king: You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God…I will ascend to the tops of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High” (vs. 13-14). Let us remember that this same attitude marks the Olympian personality in each of us. Our Olympian personality always wants to rank highest in our personal context, to be the source, center, and goal of all that happens around us.

Nothing good comes of it though. “Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, who made the world like a desert and overthrew its cities, who would not let his prisoners go home?” (vs. 16-17). Perpetual war, ecological destruction, unending imprisonment: the works justified by the Olympian gods but mocked here by the one odd god of truth, freedom, love, and vitality by his prophetic witness Isaiah.

The final earthly reward for this very Olympian way of living? Lack of even a decent burial because you have destroyed your land, you have killed your people (v. 20).

For all these reasons, Yahweh’s faithful witness Isaiah promises an end not only to Olympian kings of Babylon but to Babylon itself: I will…cut off from Babylon name and remnant, offspring and posterity, says [Yahweh.] And I will…sweep it with the broom of destruction, says [Yahweh] of hosts (vs. 22-23).

Yes, Isaiah reveals that great Babylon and its mighty king, and now the Global Technological System, its current crop of leaders, and our own Olympian personalities, have no future. That belongs to the one odd god, his good creation, and our Christian personalities as they witness to him.

(Today we continued our reflections on Jacques Ellul's The Meaning of the City. Today's biblical quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible.)

Copyright © 2014 by Steven Farsaci.
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