Urban Current December 2013
Babylon & Bethlehem
Golden Babylon. Mighty Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?’
Thanks to German archeologist Robert Koldewey, who excavated at Babylon for nearly two decades in the early 1900s, we know quite a bit of the grandeur of this ancient city.
Nebuchadnezzar engaged in aggressive building projects constructing walls, temples, and palaces with bricks inscribed “I am Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, son of Nabopolassar, king of Babylon.”
During his reign, the city spread over 8.5 square kilometers, making it the largest ancient Mesopotamian city. The city was divided into ten quarters or districts boasting at least fifty-three temples plus other shrines or religious buildings.
The center of Babylon, was enclosed by triple walls and straddled the river Euphrates. Anyone entering passed through one of eight gateways. By far the most splendid was the Ishtar Gate, which controlled the processional road leading to the main temples. This gate had walls decorated with magical animals molded in relief in the brick work glazed yellow and brown against a blue background. A road led from this gate about a half mile to the temples of the god of Babylon, Marduk, commonly called Bel, Lord.
According to Nebuchadnezzar’s own records and the report of the Greek writer Herodotus, one of the temples had the walls of the holy place covered with gold and the provision of a great gold-plated bed and throne for the god. Local priests told Herodotus over 20 tons of gold had been used for the temple and its furniture. Rituals in the temple reportedly required over two tons of imported frankincense each year.
Babylon – big, potent, godless, trying to kill the believers who won’t bow to the golden image. Yet right there in the furnace of trial, the fourth man, the Son of God is present with His people.
Scripture portrays Babylon as the epitome of man’s arrogance and the center of human wickedness. Yet, God allowed this heathen empire to destroy the nation of Judah, and ravage Jerusalem, the city of God.
Prophet Isaiah declared that Babylon, the glory of the kingdoms, the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans, would become like Sodom and Gomorrah.
Revelation cites Babylon, symbol of the entire world system built on ego and lust, as being suddenly and completely destroyed in one day.
Little Bethlehem. Jacob buried Rachel in its vicinity. Boaz lived there. Obed, Jesse, and of course David, are forever connected with this ancient place. Originally called Ephrath (fruitfulness), later coming to be known as Bethlehem, house of bread, the city was walled at the time of David. Walls are what distinguish villages and small towns from cities. Bethlehem overlooks the main highway to Hebron and Egypt.
Shepherds searched for the Savior finding there was no room in the inn for the very pregnant Mary. Two thousand years later, shepherds made their way to Bethlehem carrying scrolls they had found in caves while caring for their flocks. The shopkeeper they took the scrolls to was not interested. Additional scrolls would be extracted from the caves. One of them was a copy of Isaiah 1000 years older than any copy of the day.
The Dead Sea scroll find spoke to the veracity of the Old Testament, the reliability of current copies. Isaiah 7:14 “a virgin shall conceive,”; 9:6 “for unto you a child is born, unto us a Son is given . . .” Let’s not be too hard on the Jews of Jesus’ day. They were looking for this mighty conqueror promised in the Old Testament. How could they know there were at least 2000 years between that first phrase in Isaiah 9:6 and the rest of the verse?
Fifty years ago, 70% of Bethlehem’s population was Christian. Now with Islamic peace, love, and kindness, the Christian population has been beaten down to 15%. There is still no room in the inn.
“Babylon the great”. Bethlehem, “Too little to be among the clans of Judah.”
Isn’t God forever turning our thinking upside down? Isn’t God the God of small things and weak things? The seed of the woman. Two senior citizens Abraham and Sarah. The forgotten last, youngest son of Jesse. A stone from a slingshot. A Messiah who comes as a Galilean peasant.
All around Bethlehem, the machinations of the power of Rome are at work. The emperor mandates a census. Herod’s throne sits in a pool of blood.
Looking for an economic engine? Looking for innovative technology? Looking for answers? Looking for the power that can make a difference in our world? Looking for the wealth that it takes to get things done? Anybody’s bet would be on Babylon, not Bethlehem.
Healing for the nations? Transformation for individuals? Hope for families? Bethlehem did not appear to have anything to offer.
Will we never be cured of “our thoughts and our ways”? Babylon brought more of what humanity had plenty of. Man’s wisdom. Man’s power. Man’s glitz and glamour. Man’s pride. From Bethlehem comes God’s promise, God’s plan. God chose Bethlehem as the entry point for a supernatural, extraterrestrial Deliverer bringing good news to the whole world.
God uses the little, the least, the last.
See the babel of man’s arrogance against the Logos, the message of God, humility personified.
No contest. Bethlehem beats Babylon.
Charles W. Lyons, Senior Pastor
Armitage Baptist Church
2451 N. Kedzie Boulevard
Chicago, IL 60647