Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms,
the pride and glory of the Babylonians,
will be overthrown by God
like Sodom and Gomorrah.
She will never be inhabited
or lived in through all generations;
there no nomads will pitch their tents,
there no shepherds will rest their flocks.
Isaiah 13:19-20 (NIV)
Prophecy is a part of the human experience. It is a mysterious thing, yet even our great stories are filled with it:
- The weird sisters prophesy that Macbeth will be Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland.
- The otherwise prophetically inept Professor Trelawney utters the prophetic words that speak of Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort’s connected fate.
- Aragorn cites the words of Malbeth the Seer in making his fateful decision to traverse the Paths of the Dead.
I find it fascinating that our greatest stories quite regularly contain an element of the prophetic. Good stories are a reflection of the Great Story. The prophetic is a mysterious part of our human experience.
Reading and interpreting the prophetic writings of the ancient Hebrews requires knowledge, context, and discernment. The writing of the ancient prophets like Isaiah point to things that were, things that are, and things that yet will be. They are often woven together in a stream of poetic imagery that can be, and often is, misunderstood as we try to separate the strands.
As I attempt to understand the weave of prophetic strands in today’s chapter, there are two themes on which I find myself meditating this morning.
First, God was not opposed to utilizing kingdoms like Babylon and Assyria, to accomplish His purposes. This is not an isolated to occurrence. In fact, it is a recurring theme in the Great Story. From Balaam’s donkey, to the mysterious Melchizedek, to Rahab the prostitute, to the evil King Herod whose tax-raising census brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem in fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy, God uses a diverse and motley cast of characters and nations to drive the story line of history. This raises a number of fascinating questions. This morning, however, I find myself reminded not to try to put God in a box that He has not defined.
Second, I’m thinking about the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words, which are very visible today. While God used the Babylonian kingdom (despite their wickedness) and wove them into narrative in interesting ways, Isaiah’s prophecy is quite clear about the ultimate end (see the verses above). The ancient city of Babylon was, by all accounts, an amazing city. During two periods of history it was the largest city in the world. The hanging gardens there were among the “seven wonders of the ancient world.” But, within a few hundred years of Isaiah’s writing, the words of his prophecy would be fulfilled.
The ruins of Babylon are located just outside of Baghdad in Iraq, and can still be seen today. Despite Saddam Hussein’s failed attempt to resurrect the glory old city, Babylon remains “a large tell of broken mud-brick buildings and debris.” (Wikipedia)
In a time of political upheaval and present uncertainty, I find myself this morning taking quiet solace in the larger narrative of the Great Story, in the realization that God weaves many diverse Peoples and political regimes into that narrative, in the mystery of the prophetic, and in the present evidence of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophetic words.