16 Those who see you will gawk at you, they will gaze closely at you: ‘this is the man who made the land tremble, who caused kingdoms to shake, 17 who made a world like the desert and destroyed its cities, who would not let his prisoners return home?’ 18 All kings of nations, all of them, lie in glory, each one in his house. 19 But you, you are thrown away from your grave, like a repugnant shoot, clothed with slain, those pierced by the sword, those who go down to the stones of the pit, like a corpse that is trampled. 20 You will not be united with them in a decent burial because you have destroyed your land, you have killed your people. A descendant of evildoers will not be celebrated for eternity! 21 Prepare a place of slaughter for his sons because of the sin of their fathers. Let them not rise and take possession of a land or fill up the face of a world with cities.”
Thrown away from your grave
On my many trips to Cebu, Philippines, I often visited and walked about in a Chinese cemetery. In stark contrast to the poverty and disorder that one could see everywhere else, this cemetery was ornate, immaculate and orderly. It was the only place that I have ever seen air conditioning and a Christmas tree – in someone’s grave. At the root of this kind of practice is the idea that the dead should be treated well, and that doing so will ensure that the living will fare well in life. Babylon had similar ideas in its culture. That is why Isaiah’s words bit so hard. He predicted that the kings of Babylon would not be treated well in death. Their corpses would be thrown away from their graves. Their soldiers would not be able to protect them, because they will be slaughtered, and thrown into a mass grave. Their sons would be killed as well, so the dynasty would not continue. What a fate to anticipate for the rulers of the world’s superpower!
Isaiah was telling the well-off that they will not experience their grandeur and fame forever. Death will show those wealthy tyrants who ruled the world by their oppression and violence that their power was a sham. They were in reality no better off than the slaves they mistreated.
Isaiah is also telling us something here. He’s asking us who we are stepping on in our race to the top. He is encouraging us to look beyond the power and fame of the present and seek a relationship with God now. He reminds us that nothing is more important than a relationship with the LORD, because only that will outlast our mortality. Jesus promised to raise those who believe and trust him on the last day. That commodity (faith in Christ) is the most precious of all things. It is worth surrendering all the wealth and fame the world has to offer, because those things will not survive. God’s kingdom will.
LORD, when we are tempted to put wealth or fame ahead of your kingdom, remind us of the fate of the Babylonian kings.