The picture above by Arthur Hacker “By the Waters of Babylon” (1888) is in the public domain.
The picture is an imagination of Psalm 137 click on the link if you wish to read it. Wm. Faulkner used one stanza as a title for a novel, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem.”
I. Our viewpoint from earth leads us to assign a human cause to calamity. vs. 1
1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.
This is the first indication of Babylon fighting with Judeans. Much of the problems between nations, then and now, consist in allying oneself with nations a man thinks is the most powerful force in their area of influence. This is called realpolitik. To quote the great forger of alliances—
“America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.” by Henry A. Kissinger, the great realpolitik advocate of the Nixon and Ford administrations.
The orange area in the map above shows the Assyrian Empire at its height. The small yellow area is Judea. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0.
Judea was in the middle of two great superpowers—(1) the Egyptians and (2) the Babylonians. The only way one could attack the other was through Jewish territory. The Judean Kings played one nation over another in an attempt to pay less tribute and to be left alone.
Psalm 20:7—Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
Large numbers of horses and chariots meant security and peace in the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) world. Weak nations ally themselves to the stronger nation.
II. If we adopt God’s viewpoint in his word, we realize He rules the circumstances of His people. vs. 2
2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god.
This was not the first time God had aided Judea against a stronger nation—see Isaiah 36-37. Let me quote a minimum of verses from those two chapters of Isaiah, so the reader can follow the story.
1. Assyria had attacked Judea and was poised to conquer Jerusalem.
Isaiah 36:1 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. 2 And the king of Assyria sent the Rabshakeh from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem, with a great army. And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field. 3 And there came out to him Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder.
2. All pagan nations trust in their own gods—metal or mental.
Public domain picture of an Assyrian siege of a city [not to scale). (1889)
4 And the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this trust of yours? 5 Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? In whom do you now trust, that you have rebelled against me? 6 Behold, you are trusting in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. 7 But if you say to me, “We trust in the Lord our God,” is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, “You shall worship before this altar (in the temple at Jerusalem)”?
9 How then can you repulse a single captain among the least of my master’s servants, when you trust in Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? 10 Moreover, is it without the Lord that I have come up against this land to destroy it? The Lord said to me, “Go up against this land and destroy it.”’”
Portrait of John Singer Sargent – Study for “Pagan Gods,” Boston Public Library – 1937. Public Domain from WikiMedia Commons right →
3. Hezekiah humbled himself and prayed before God, and so ought we against all who oppose our God and ourselves.
Isaiah 37:1 As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord.
14 Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. 15 And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: 16 “O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 17 Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 18 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their lands, 19 and have cast their gods into the fire. For they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 20 So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord.”
King Hezekiah, clothed in sackcloth, spreads open the letter before the Lord. (1873)
36 And the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. 37 Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and returned home and lived at Nineveh. 38 And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword. And after they escaped into the land of Ararat, Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place.
Why did Judea forget this great deliverance from their foes in the past? God always meets the person or nation who cries out in desperation to Him!
A beleaguered evangelist from the Salvation Army sent a telegram to Wm. Booth.
“I have tried everything and can make no headway with the people on my mission field.”
Booth sent a terse reply, “Try tears!”
General William Booth is pictured to the right. Public domain. Wikimedia Commons.
III. Conquering powers always set out to capture the youth and press them into service against God. vss. 3-4
3 Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, 4 youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.
We see this same pattern today. Our youngest children are turned from God and are taught things opposed to His Word, will, and ways. This is a “brain-drain” of titanic proportion. Our institutions of higher learning mislead the students who will be teachers. In the classroom, these newly graduated teachers mislead our children and grandchildren.
Maybe it’s time we spread the threatening letters to us before God, and pray that a similar fate not meet us as met Judea.