Monday, September 22, 2008

Isaiah 39: The Pitfall of Vanity

The story of Hezekiah reaches a melancholy conclusion in Isaiah chapter 39.  It is now the time after Hezekiah’s miraculous recovery and apparently everyone knows about it, because a prince of Babylon sends an embassage to communicate congratulations.    A delighted Hezekiah takes in the servants from Babylon and proceeds to show off his riches, leaving nothing out of the grand tour.   Babylon, an enemy of Assyria, is likely anxious to make an ally with Israel and has seized upon this opportunity to do so.   This must have been a big deal for Hezekiah, who at that point in time was basically the king of a little-regarded city-state.    In today’s terms, this visit would be something akin to a high-level Chinese official visiting the Mayor of Provo.   Imagine the pride that would be felt in a middle-sized city to know that a great nation is paying attention to them.   I think we can empathize with Hezekiah, who sees opportunity in an alliance with Babylon and probably did not want to appear weak and insignificant. 

Nevertheless, Hezekiah’s actions were ostentatious and prideful, prompting a visit from the prophet.    Isaiah begins gently, giving Hezekiah a chance to see what he did wrong-  “Where did these guys come from?  What did they say to you?”    Hezekiah replies they are from Babylon.  Isaiah continues- “What did you show them?”   Hezekiah replies that he showed them everything.    Now comes the rebuke-  “God says this to you:  one day all of this will be theirs, and all your sons will be eunuchs in the palace of Babylon.”  Whoa

The message here is that pure irony is in store for those who seek security in the world’s goods.   If we seek our security in things, in the acquiring of them and in the showing of them to earn the envy of others, we can be sure that one day they will all be taken from us.  What will come of our security then?    Only those who delight in the things of God will find lasting security and satisfaction. 

Lest we think too poorly of Hezekiah for this indiscretion, I think it helps to know that he was humbled by Isaiah’s words, admitting that they were “good”, and finding solace in the fact that a few years of peace were left to him.   I also don’t think it was this single act that doomed Israel, but rather I think the act was symbolic of the spiritual disease that was still present in the people, and it was this progressive problem that led to their capture and enslavement.    Hezekiah (and all Judah) had been granted a reprieve by the Lord their God.    Yet how quickly they forgot.   As soon as they started to see a little worldly success, they forgot their priorities.    And that is the final lesson from Hezekiah:  Don’t forget your priorities.  As big and important as the world seems, it is not nearly as important as the seemingly simple things of God.  Let us make room for them and give the Lord our top priority.