The embassage from Babylon and its consequences.
We again drop poetry and return to prose, which certainly appears more harmonious with the contents of our short chapter, recording the failure in the testimony of a true saint, followed by the announcement of divine chastening on the nation.
The beloved Hezekiah, whose sincere intention was to "walk softly," has a more dangerous trial to undergo than the threatening of an open and powerful enemy, or the suffering from an internal disorder; and, what neither of these could effect, Babylon, coming in the guise of friendship, accomplished!
Both history and experience combine to tell us that the hour of peculiar blessing is the very hour of greatest danger. The natural tendency (unconscious, as it mostly is) to presume at such a time leads to a fall, as poor Peter found; for hardly had he heard the words, "Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona," before they are followed by, "Get thee behind Me, Satan"; while, to go back to an earlier day, that faithful "man of God, out of Judah," who had passed a day of faithful testimony, succumbs to the wile of an old "prophet," and never again shall he witness at all, for the setting sun throws its rays upon his dead body! (1 Ki. 13). Perhaps we too may know something of the same kind of failure and sorrow.
The history of that hour is not without its interest. Babylon was then only rising, and struggling to overthrow the dominant power, Assyria. She made but slow progress. Defeat after defeat did Babylon suffer, till her cause must have seemed hopeless. (How slow does God's work in the affairs of the world appear to us creatures whose life is so short!) Yet those repeated defeats were but as "waves" that gave a misleading testimony as to the trend of the "tide," which was really rising; and although this Merodach suffered many disasters after this, as did his son, eventually Nebuchadnezzar gained the coveted throne over the whole prophetic earth, and Babylon replaced Assyria, and thus we are introduced to that strange city that has so sinister a relation to our own race.
It was unquestionably a community of interests that led to the external amity between Babylon and Judah, that the chapter records. A common antagonism will bring the most heterogeneous elements to a unity, but such an accord has the gravest danger for that party to it who is the Lord's. Thus if a Christian today finds himself or herself working beside, and yoked with one or many, to whom the Lord Jesus is not truly "all," the common object before each being looked upon as in a sense sanctifying the otherwise unhallowed association—let him or her beware. How frequently we see such associations for the purifying of politics, or bettering the world in its distance from God; objects that have a superficial appearance of goodness, yet all on the world-side of the Cross, and therefore "wood, hay and stubble," that must eventuate in loss to the Christian in the future and often leading to the vexing his righteous soul here. This religious Delilah-world loves to weave the Nazarite locks of the true saint with her fair-looking but Christless work; it adds to her respectability, eventuates in his loss of the power that is due to separation and dependence, till he finds that, as in this matter of the Babylonian ambassadors, and as all history confirms, this world's politeness but too often hides Satan's policy.
We are not told the name of the king of Babylon, Merodach-Baladan, without some purpose for our profit. The first part of this compound word seems quite clear in its meaning: the consonants that form the root, m, r, d, make the root-verb marad, "to rebel," and the derived substantive is "the rebel." The suffix ach (really only one letter, k) may be either the possessive "thy"; or, as Gesenius takes it, simply formative, that is, not affecting the meaning of the word, and so, not to be translated. Our thoughts go back to the founder of Babylon or Babel, Nimrod, a name made up of the same root letters, m, r, d, the prefixed n being again only formative. "Merodach" then is only "Nimrod" reproduced. The last part, "Baladan," itself is a compound, bal, the negative "not," and adahn, "Lord"; so that the whole name of "Merodach-Baladan" to Jewish ears would give the divinely intended meaning, "A rebel, not Lord"; which, thus applied, is surely suggestive enough!
But at once we say, What parent would give such an opprobrious name, or indeed any part of it to his own child, especially a proud dweller in Babel? That is certainly a very natural question; but the point for us is primarily not what the parent might mean by the word, or such a dweller in that city might understand from it, but what would the sound of it convey to the ears of the people of God in those days? And that seems quite clear as above. No doubt there are alternative meanings, and to a Babylonian they would convey quite an opposite sense in accord with these, as is by no means unusual in such terms. To him "Merodach" would stand for, and recall, Babel's supreme deity (as it is written, "Merodach is broken in pieces,"Jer. 1:2), who corresponded with Bel, or Baal, or the Greek Zeus, or Jupiter, the prince of all the false deities, and the scriptural "prince of the demons," the Devil! Thus, behind "Merodach" the Jew might be reminded of Babel's founder, Nimrod; and behind Nimrod the Christian may discern the founder of all the "confusion" that has come into this distracted scene, that mighty creature, now called Satan or Devil, who would fain be "Lord," "as the Most High" (Isa. 14;Ezek. 28); but who, in this very name, is reminded that he is now but Merodach, a rebel; and Baladan, not the Lord—that supreme dignity which he, by robbery, would grasp (contrastPhil. 2:6).* But it was thus the Babylonians deified their founder, made him a god, and the devil secured their worship, according to1 Cor. 10:20. That condition has not passed away. Still is he "the god of the world," and still men, called Christian, unconsciously worship him behind their mad coveting for this world's name and fame, its wealth and possessions.
Hezekiah was evidently flattered by such attention from a people who had come from so far. He "was glad," and apparently of his own initiative exposed to them all his precious things. This vain-glorious display is made the basis for the announcement of captivity, not to frowning Assyria, but to smiling Babel, not to the threatening, but the flattering Power, not to the dominant, but to the State still to be defeated, and defeated, and again defeated. How utterly improbable must it have appeared, how far away!
We do not get the true force of this exposure if we stop at the mere externals. Of course, that was all those ambassadors of Babel would see or care for; but Israel's wealth was not only the token of divine goodness, it always symbolized truer riches that are not so evanescent as those of earth. Let us accompany Hezekiah and the messengers through the house, and seek to look with anointed eye on the treasures thus exposed. They evidently are in three pairs, of which the first mentioned comprises the precious metals, "Silver and Gold." These were just what the Christian apostle lacked altogether; silver and gold had he none (Acts 3). But they are symbols of God's own love-gifts to us, the "silver" speaking always of atonement (Exod. 30), the price at which we have been purchased, the precious Blood of Christ; and the "gold" speaking of that divine nature communicated in the new birth. The "silver" telling of the work for, the "gold" of the work in every saint. These are very precious treasures. The next pair, "spices and precious ointment," both speak of the work of God, not for, nor in, but on every believer. And as the atonement, of "silver," is peculiarly the work of the Son; and the "gold," or regeneration, may be peculiarly attributed to God as Father; so these "spices" and "ointment" speak equally clearly of the Work of the Spirit who puts the fragrance of Christ on all the Lord's people (Exod. 30). Thus in these two pairs we have the "precious things" with which the divine Trinity endows every member of Christ.
In the third and last place Hezekiah shows, "All the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures." This seems to be added to indicate, first, that Hezekiah appropriated all the divine gifts as if they had been intended for his own glory: and, next, showing the completeness of the exposure of all his personal possessions, whether as provision against external aggression, or indicative of the internal prosperity of his house; as though he would thus say: "See how rich and increased with goods I am, and have need of nothing." Our Lord has blessed us also with "precious things," along these two lines of armor and treasure. May we not see the former inEphesians 6:11-18; and the latter in the same Epistle (4:10-18)? A little faith will find wonderful treasures too inchapter 1:3-14, a casket filled with spiritual wealth.
But what could those visitors from Babel know of the real worth of these treasures? They were indeed, in the point of view in which we have considered them, "pearls"; but in that same point of view the men were but "swine," who should in a future day turn and rend their possessors. But for that we must see Isaiah again coming to the king, and we will listen to the ensuing colloquy:
Isaiah: "What have these men said? And whence came they?"History tells us of the fulfilment of this prophecy, and the prophet Daniel writes of that part of it that refers to the children of the king. That punishment was not simply a penalty for the display of wealth by Hezekiah; had it been so, it would have fallen on him alone, but personally he escapes. The nation was corrupt, the whole community was honeycombed with pride and apostasy under a fair exterior, and the incident narrated in this chapter afforded the occasion for the judgment pronounced upon the people as a whole. Again Hezekiah's word has become true, "Jehovah hath spoken, and hath brought it to pass," for after its capture by Nebuchadnezzar, nevermore to this day has Jerusalem been free—she has been down-trodden of the Gentiles and will so continue till the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
This captivity to Babylon then is really the beginning of that series of four monarchies that have followed one another; God overturning and overturning, replacing Babylon with Medo-Persia; that by Greece; that in turn by Rome; and this last has still to be revived, although, as I now believe, not at all according to its geographical boundaries, as many of us have thought, but rather by spiritual limits, in accord with the character of this day. We are standing at the verge of that revival, for it is clearly shadowed in the League of Nations; almost impotent as that attempted Confederacy appears as yet to be.
But has not this sad history repeated itself? Has there not been something analogous to Hezekiah's error among us today? Have we not received many precious things in the way of "truth"? Have we not looked upon it as ours, to glorify ourselves therewith? Have we not in heart said, "I am rich and increased with goods"?
Have we not personally too often spread it out and made it common, before the eyes of those who care nothing for it save only as a means of self-exaltation? So the condition of Laodicea—proud and lukewarm—has been, and is being, formed, and we, too, have become captive to the falsely-friendly Babylonian spirit that governs the day, as Samson to the Philistine through the wiles of Delilah. Oh, who can estimate the danger of dealing with God's gifts, whether the precious things of old, or the more precious truth of today, without penitence, without fear, but in order to display our wealth, or to gain the esteem of the religious Babylonian world. As that led to the captivity of Israel, so shall this to the Lord's spewing the professing Church out of His mouth; nor, if I err not, is that even as far off as the reviving of the fourth world-empire, which is surely near.
Hezekiah—dear man of God, as he really was—shows his divine birth by bowing submissively to the Word of the Lord, which he owns to be "good." It is just that genuinely lowly spirit that ever characterizes all that is truly of God in this world, through all dispensations, and will evidence the remnant of faith to this very day. He recognizes, too, the great mercy that has promised to keep him out of that time of temptation or trial. Both of the members of this final verse we can surely make our own. We, too, own the coming judgment on the faithless witness, the Church (in which we have our part, as did the Jewish king in the failure of his day), to be just and good; and we, too, may be humbly but sincerely thankful for that sure and sweet promise to be kept, "out of that hour," and to be "forever with the Lord" before it comes.
Thus, with human failure met by divine grace, this second part of our book (so like our own lives in this) is brought to its close.