A line of cattle and oxen, guided by Babylonian priests plod along the road, carrying statues, idols of Bel and Nebo. They are fleeing; the Persians are coming, led by king Cyrus. And so the temples of the ancient Babylonian gods are being emptied before they are overtaken.
Compare us, God says, and consider in whom to put your trust.
Compare the God who has carried his people from the womb to their old age; the God who will continue to carry and save them. The God who has a purpose for the world that has been declared from the very beginning, and who will fulfill that purpose.
Compare that God to the idols of Babylon, gods that are purchased, forged by the goldsmith and worshiped. They cannot move themselves, relying on people to carry them around. They can neither speak nor answer when the people cry out for help, and they are powerless to save.
Listen, God says to the remnant – described here still as transgressors, stubborn of heart, far from deliverance – even so, God is moving and to bring about God’s purpose to redeem and restore them to their home.
It seems so simple, doesn’t it? How could the people miss the contrast between the living God, able to save, and these powerless idols of stone and precious metal? On one hand, we do this all the time; looking for fulfillment, meaning and hope in places that cannot meet those needs; looking to people or possessions, wealth or work to save us and make us happy. Seeking affirmation and validation on how many ‘likes’ we get in the things we share online.
God calls us to remember there is more to life; there is a purpose for which we were created and to which God beckons us to return. In the midst of chaos and upheaval, in times when we are being stubborn, God is already carrying us, drawing near for redemption. We might ask what sets the God of scripture apart from all the gods of our own imagination and invention; to this, Isaiah points us back to what God said to Moses (Exodus 3) – I AM that I AM (or, you will know me, by what I do). We find the difference as we see how God speaks into the world and keeps promises, who acts and heals and transforms.
Isaiah 47: What goes around….
The scene shifts to the perspective of the Babylonians, lamenting for the coming judgment. They had been the conquerors, taking out the Assyrians, carting away the people of Jerusalem into exile. They had been on the top of the heap, but it was crumbling around them. The ‘princess’ of Babylon will sit in the dust and work as a commoner, and for all the pride and position and status Babylon had enjoyed, it will be taken away, while the exiles of Jerusalem declare that it is the God of Israel who has done this, acting to redeem them.
I never thought it could happen to me.
I shall be mistress forever
I am, and there is no one beside me; I’ll never be a widow, never know the grief of losing a child
I am powerful
I have spiritual power; sorceries and enchantments to control the divine
I am secure
I am wise and full of knowledge
No one sees me (i.e. “I can get away with what I want to)
Except… they won’t. What they couldn’t imagine happening to them is coming to pass.
Why did God give Israel over to Babylon? Because of their greed, violence, cruelty, oppression of the poor, abuse of religiosity for personal gain, idolatry and rejection of the God who called them into relationship and community. The people of Babylon failed to consider that when they acted the same way, the same fate would await them.
What does the example of Babylon invite us to consider about our own lives and attitudes?
It’s tempting to always think of ourselves as ‘the good guy’. Everyone’s the hero of their own story. Without humility to recognize we are part of a bigger story, that pride can create blind spots to the things that become our downfall.
Jesus told his disciples that those who live by the sword, die by the sword (Matthew 26:52).
How does Jesus enact and point to a different way forward; a way that breaks this cycle?