-by Pastor Ashley Brown
Hezekiah’s Relationship with Babylon
In Isaiah 39 an envoy from Babylon comes to congratulate Hezekiah on his miraculous recovery from sickness. In the process Hezekiah gladly welcomes Babylon, pleased to display all of his earthly power and treasure. Hezekiah seems to relish the thought of an allegiance with Babylon. He is unguarded and careless in his interaction with them, and he unwittingly sets the stage for the destruction of his nation. Roughly 100 years after this envoy, the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem and hauled off the people of Judah into captivity.
The Role of Babylon
Throughout the book of Isaiah the city and nation of Babylon seems to signify more than simply the historical nation of Isaiah’s own day. During the time of Isaiah (700’s BC), Babylon was still a vassal state, not the major imperial power it one day became. And yet, in the earlier chapters – chapters 13-14 & 21 – Isaiah gives an extremely disproportionate focus to Babylon. This continued focus on Babylon, and the exile of the Jews, in roughly 600BC, ends up forming the historical background for the last third of Isaiah – chapters 40-66. Isaiah is clearly speaking about the historical nation of Babylon, which would be known in his own day, as in Isaiah 39. And yet, he also seems to refer to some sense in which Babylon symbolizes a greater evil with which God will deal in the final judgment.
The book of Revelation picks up on the Babylon imagery and uses it heavily. It would seem the New Testament authors use “Babylon” as a symbol for the world system that is set up in opposition to the LORD’s rule. For instance, in closing his first letter, the Apostle Peter uses “Babylon” to refer to Rome, the capital of the ungodly cultural and political system in the First Century Mediterranean world. Things in this world are either in submission to Babylon or they are a part of God’s unshakable kingdom. And so, Isaiah uses Babylon both in a historical sense (with regard to his own day) and in a symbolic sense (as the embodiment of the sinful world system opposed to God’s rule).
How Does This Impact Us Today?
First, we need to realize that God often uses historical events and entities to point toward larger, abstract truths. This is particularly applicable when we read prophetic and apocalyptic books. God has a pattern of pointing to concrete illustrations that are understandable to His people. He then uses those concrete realities to help us grasp bigger realities beyond our comprehension. This is what Jesus did with parables. He pointed to concepts commonly accessible to people living in an agrarian society, and He used those concepts to explain how things work in His Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven.
Second, we need to examine our own hearts. Are we becoming enamored with “Babylon” in the way Hezekiah was? This reminds me of a series of X-ray Questions posed by David Powlison in his book Seeing with New Eyes.
Whom must you please? Whose opinion of you counts? From whom do you desire approval and fear rejection? Whose value system do you measure yourself against? In whose eyes are you living? Whose love and approval do you need? When you lose God, you enter into a jungle of distortion. You tend to live before your own eyes or before the eyes of others – or both. The “social idols” which encompass approval and fear can take numerous forms: acceptance or rejection, being included or excluded, praise or criticism, affection or hostility, adoration or belittlement, intimacy or alienation, being understood or caricatured.
Am I Like Hezekiah?
In Isaiah 39 Hezekiah worried more about pleasing and gaining Babylon’s approval than the approval of the LORD. Sadly, I am often no different. I care more about pleasing myself or others in this world more than God. When this happens I, once again, must turn Godward and trust in Him. I repent and rest in His declaration of who I am, regardless of what myself or others may say. We all called to do the same.