The Arc of History bends toward God’s Kingdom

I have been reflecting on my 2016 visit to the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. And on visions that Daniel interpreted to Nebuchadnezzar II (604–562 BC) of Babylon. And on God’s words that Jeremiah brought to the Jews exiled in Babylon.

Jerusalem fell to Babylon c. 587 BC. God’s Temple was destroyed. The Jews were sent into 70 years of exile, chastened by God. C. 575 BC, king Nebuchadnezzar built the Ishtar Gate in the city walls of Babylon, in full view of the Jewish exiles. One of the original Seven Wonders of the world, the
Ishtar Gate and its Processional Way are reconstructed and seen today in the Pergamon Museum.

Babylon’s gods were put on full display at the Ishtar Gate: the chief god
Marduk (depicted by snakes), Adad (depicted by ancient cows), and Ishtar (depicted by lions, the goddess of beauty, sex, protector of military and political power). These gods were celebrated each year, to affirm the supremacy of Marduk and Nebuchadnezzar as his political ruler on earth. At the Gate, an inscription reads, “Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, the pious prince appointed by the will of Marduk, the highest priestly prince …”

So how could the Jews — and how can God’s people —
“sing the songs of Zion” while sitting “by the waters of Babylon?” (Psalm 137) Or while watching the military and ceremonial parades through the Gate of Ishtar to celebrate the gods of Babylon?

The late Sen. John McCain once said, “Our values are our interests, and our interests are our values.” But now, as Peter Bergen observes, our national
interests trump America's traditional values. Even some religious commentators argue that America's economic interests are more important than traditional morality. So, the ends justify — or at least ignore — the immoral means.

America’s gods are money, sex, military and political power. The land of our sojourning either ignores, mocks, or despises the values of Zion. But Jeremiah and Daniel offer Jesus’ followers restored perspectives — both short term and long term.

For present perspective: In Jeremiah 29, God tells his people to live as Babylonian exiles — “Build houses … plant gardens … multiply … seek the welfare [shalom] of the city where I have sent you … pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare [shalom] you will find your welfare.” Or, as American exiles, “Seek the shalom of your country, pray for its officials, build healthy institutions, pursue commonwealth, and vote your conscience (the Jews in Babylon could not vote).”

For future perspective: In Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzar learns through a dream that God “changes times and seasons … removes kings and sets up kings.” Mighty Babylon was destined to fall to other kingdoms. Finally, a stone not cut by human hands, God’s kingdom, would break all earth’s kingdoms into pieces — and become a great mountain that fills the whole earth. In Daniel 4, Babylon’s king goes mad: an object lesson that rulers with arrogant hubris can become like beasts [as illustrated by English poet, painter and printmaker William Blake]. Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity only returns only when he acknowledges God’s sovereignty: “the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.”

I am thankful for restored perspectives for this present and the future. Because
“… my steps had nearly slipped … when I saw the prosperity of the wicked … when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.” (Psalm 73)