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 especially Isaiah Chapter 39, is, illustrative of our tendency to hold on to things in this world in this life contrary to what God intends for us. Jesus was clear in his urging for 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 of God and even 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.

Hezekiah turned to God when circumstances were dire, and when his death was imminent. Like most of us, though, the King was ultimately very short-sighted. He focused on the immediate and on what he could protect in this short life. He didn’t appreciate the bigger picture.

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)

Soon afterward, Hezekiah became ill, and the prophet, Isaiah, foretold his imminent death. The king wept and pleaded to the prophet and to God, and Isaiah delivered God’s response:

“I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. 6 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 boldly received the king’s son and showed him around the palace, showing off all the storehouses of silver, gold, spices, olive oil, 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 that angst 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. “

But then 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 doesn’t respond as he did when he thought his death was imminent. Instead, he says this:

“’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)

All the King cared about was his own plight. Since the prophet’s prediction was 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 was focused only on his own circumstance and cared only that his life would continue for a short time and that he would have his treasures during his life. He didn’t care about his descendants who came after him. God gave him another 15 years of life, and and his treasures were secure for the time being, and he was content with that.

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 don’t get to keep them and no longer have any benefit from them when we are gone. Our descendants, too, will not get to keep any of it, and they won’t benefit from it any further when they are gone.

In that sense, it’s like the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “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)

And today, even Babylon in all of its splendor is no more. It’s just a dusty, desolate place that we wonder about as we gaze at history books or are fortune enough to stand at the edge of the modern ruins and look upon them. The treasures are gone. All that is left is dust.

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 – that 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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