Carried Off to Babylon

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us.

Panorama of partially restored Babylon ruins and Former Saddam Hussein Palace, Babylon, Hillah, Iraq

“Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 39:6 ESV)

This is a follow up blog piece to Here Today Gone Tomorrow. The story of King Hezekiah, and Isaiah Chapter 39, is, illustrative of our tendency to hold on to things in this world and in this life contrary to what God intends for us. Jesus speaks to God’s intention when he urges us to lay up our treasures in heaven, and not to focus on accumulating treasures on earth.

Hezekiah was a pretty good king as kings of Judah go. Many of those kings turned away from God to idol worship and other behaviors influenced by the pagan culture of the nations around them. These were the people who were never completely driven out of the Promised Land as God instructed. The people and their kings became corrupted by those influences and succumbed to them.

The descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob split into two camps early on after the people rejected the rule of judges and wanted kings like the nations around them.  They split into the nation of Israel and the nation of Judah.

By the time King Hezekiah came around, the nation of Israel had been overrun, captured, and exiled to Babylon. During Hezekiah’s reign the people were hanging on by a thread, with the threat of Babylonian exile dangling like the sword of Damocles over the remnant, Judah, that remained in Jerusalem.

In Hezekiah’s fourteenth year as king, Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them, but for Jerusalem. King Hezekiah responded to this threat by turning to God. He prayed, and, as the story goes, 185,000 troops of the Assyrian king died in the camp overnight, sparing the City of Jerusalem from certain doom. (Isaiah 37)

Hezekiah turned to God when circumstances were dire and his death was imminent. Like most of us, though, the King was short-sighted. He focused on the immediate, protecting himself for the remainder of his short life.

Soon after evading the Assyrian onslaught, Hezekiah became ill. The prophet, Isaiah, foretold his imminent death. The king wept and pleaded with Isaiah and God. Isaiah delivered God’s response as follows:

“I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city.” (Isaiah 38:5-6)

As might be expected, Hezekiah was incredibly thankful. Sometime thereafter, however, Hezekiah was visited by the son of a Babylonian king. Hezekiah received the king’s son and naively showed him around the palace, showing off all the storehouses of silver, gold, spices, and olive oil, including the entire armory and every treasure Hezekiah had. (Isaiah 39)

You can imagine the angst in Isaiah’s voice when he asked, “What did they see in your palace?” And Isaiah’s concern undoubtedly grew when the King responded, “They saw everything….” One might imagine the King becoming uncomfortable at that point, as Isaiah prophesied:

“Hear the word of the Lord Almighty: The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. “

As if that were not bad enough news, Isaiah added:

“And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”

King Hezekiah response reveals his heart. Unlike the weeping and pleading for his own life, the King doesn’t responded more “philosophically”:

“’The word of the Lord you have spoken is good’…. For he thought, ‘There will be peace and security in my lifetime.’” (Isaiah 39:8)

The King cared greatly about his own plight, but he wasn’t as concerned about the prophet’s dire prediction that his descendants would be taken away. He was content to let it be. He didn’t weep and plead as he had for his own life. It didn’t matter to him that all the treasures in the palace storehouses would be carried off, because it wouldn’t happen in his lifetime.

The King’s short-sighted response is not too dissimilar to the way we often live our lives. We live for today and try to hold on to what have, knowing that tomorrow we die and can’t take it with us.

Just as the treasures in King Hezekiah’s palace were eventually carried off to Babylon, the treasures that we store up for ourselves in this life are, in a sense, “carried off to Babylon” when we die. Maybe we leave something for our children if we have been successful, wise and prudent, but we our benefit dies with us. Our descendants, too, will not get to keep any of it, and they won’t benefit from it after they are gone.

These realizations caused the writer of Ecclesiastes to proclaim that everything is meaningless! It’s like “chasing after the wind.”

What is another 15 years of life compared to eternity? What is 80 years or 100 years of life compared to eternity?

I am as guilty as anyone for living for today and the immediate tomorrow. Oh, that God would so impress upon my heart “the weight of glory” about which CS Lewis famously wrote:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (From the Weight of Glory and Other Addresses)

Years ago when Isaiah wrote of King Hezekiah, Babylon was a city of splendor, but today it is no more. It’s just a desolate place that we wonder about when we pull dusty history books from their tired resting places to peer into the past or are stand at the edge of the ruins trying to imagine life among the haunt of jackals. The treasures are gone with wind that carries the sand from those ruins until all evidence of the past is erased.

From dust to dust is this life, except that God put eternity into our hearts. (Ecc. 3:11) People of faith have grasped that – confidence in the hope and assurance of what we don’t see – God formed the universe and made all that we can see out of nothing, and that God is a rewarder of those who seek Him. With eternity in our hearts, we are foreigners and strangers on this earth, longing for a home that we have not yet seen. (Hebrews 11)

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