Babylon Transcript

Once upon a time, God began to author an epic narrative about Himself.  Because it pleased Him, he spoke existence into being…His creating crescendo’d all the way to the pinnacle of His work: humanity.  As He painstakingly crafted the shape of the human beings, He included His very image within…and then He exhaled…and the inanimate became animate…they woke up into a Story that was already in process.  A Story that wasn’t about them. In that moment, they knew that everything that they were, and would become, everything that they would ever need would come from the One who had just exhaled into them….but then that didn’t work for them anymore.   They wanted to become the Main Characters so they dropped His plot, and drafted their own fantasy.  They convinced themselves that their fantasy was better than the Creator’s Story…and then they chased it.  As soon as they did, they realized that their Fantasy couldn’t produce what it promised.  Rather than finding themselves as the Main characters, they found themselves isolated, hiding, pointing their fingers and blaming.  They heard themselves fabricating tragic stories about God, themselves, and each other.  All the while, God kept asking “Where are you?”  The relationship between the human and the divine was broken.

And God hated it.  But what He saw didn’t cause Him to put His pencil down.

The story would continue…Grace was marbled into the experience of life as the blood of animals was shed to cover the shame of their sin.

As time went by, the community of humanity became progressively intolerant of the Story being about One other then themselves.  Their intolerance resulted in a calcified resolve to draft and then to chase their own fantasies.  Dissatisfied with the Author and Creator as their God, they crafted gods in their own image…gods that they could control…because it made them feel better.  Idolatry of the carved image gave way to idolatry of the carver…the human being.  They worshipped themselves while God continued to ask, “Where are you?”

Eventually, pluralistic, polytheistic Abraham answered, “Here am I!”…and because He did, the Author decided to establish a blood-covenant with him.

God said: “I’ll give you a land.  I’ll give you a people.  And your people will bless the whole world…IF…you allow Me to be your God…IF...you listen well and live what you hear.”

That was it.  A Promise with no road map.  The Author neither specified how nor when He would make good on His Promise.  But that was okay with Abraham.

Three animals, each cut in two…their blood filled a freshly dug trench.  The covenant ritual was set to occur: 2 representatives were to walk the blood path, committing to their promise at the cost of their own life.  “If I break my end of the deal…I die.”

But God did a remarkable, unconventional, unheard of thing: He passed through the blood path twice.

“If I break my end of the deal, I die.”

“If you break your end of the deal, I die.”

God began to make good on His promise.  Abraham had some sons who had some sons who had some sons.  His family, re-named Israel (Wrestles with God) eventually found themselves intertwined with and then enslaved by the Empire: Egypt.  Generation of slavery gave way to generation after generation of slavery…no end was in sight.

But generation after generation after generation, a story was passed down.  A story about the God who had chosen and named their people.  A story about that God’s promise to father Abraham…A story about a God who heard the cries of His people and who entered in to creation to make wrong things right…A story about a God and His Promise that meant that an exodus was coming…A story about a God who sealed His Promise in Blood.

And then, the moment of exodus came.  God had heard their cry and had come down to do something about it.  Israel was already dressed for a journey, their stomachs were full, their imaginations were piqued from hearing the story of the Promise again…and there was blood on their doorposts…blood of an innocent lamb.  That night, whoever was covered in the blood of the lamb would live.  Israel lived and tasted freedom for the first time in 400 years

Generations of slavery meant that the people lived an oppression narrative: no one knew what it meant to live free.  Pain, suffering, oppression, and despair had been their constant companions as, day after day after week after month after year after decade after generation they suffered at the hands of the powerful.

God was going to have to teach His people how to live.  He began by identifying Himself by what He had just done: “I am God the Liberator, Redeemer, Freedom-giver…understand this, and you understand everything…miss this and you miss everything.”  Their humanity was directly linked to their ability to remember their liberation.  If they forgot God, they would forget their own story.  If they forgot their story, they would forget that they were once slaves.  If they forgot that they were slaves, they would find themselves once again enslaved.

Living free, therefore, depended on Israel’s understanding of whom the Author was and whom the Story was about.  If they lived as faithful, free participants in His Story, then the whole world would discover the truth about who He is.

Living as faithful, free participants meant that they were to live lives of worship of the One true God by loving others, practicing justice, mercy, and compassion, especially for the widow and orphan, and by forgiving the other.  They were to remember their oppression so that they would never become the oppressor.  They were to have faith that the God who had redeemed them would finish the work He had started.  And when they lost their way by chasing foreign fantasies…when relationship was fractured by sin…they were to shed the blood of an innocent animal.  The dripping blood would remind them that sin deserves death.  The sight and sound of dripping blood not their own was the sight and sound of grace.

Very quickly, His Way didn’t work for His people anymore.  Just as in Eden, they wanted to become the Main Characters so they dropped His plot, and drafted their own fantasy...and chased it.  They insisted on a king that looked like them, a king who would become a tyrant.  They built large armies to provide the safety that God had previously promised and provided.  They built cities with towering walls…walls that were built with the blood equity of slaves.  The oppressed had become the oppressor…they convinced themselves that they didn’t need God anymore.

…and God hated it.

…but they built a really nice house for Him, a house that He neither wanted nor needed.  As soon as the house was built, the God it intended to house was forgotten.  God was replaced by a land, a building, and a religion.  He was replaced by the accomplishments of the people.    Idolatry of the self with its practices of self-sufficiency, individualism, consumerism, injustice, and oppression stained the people with the blood of others.  They had turned their back on God and had become the embodiment of everything God was against.  God got a bad name because His people had become indifferent to the work of blessing the world… therefore, the blood of the sacrifices that was intended to wash them clean didn’t work anymore.

Catastrophe was on its way…and thus, the warnings of the prophets began.

The role of the prophet was truth telling…they were to bring an unsparing message of judgment and a call to repentance to Israel.  Like master physicians, they were to expose the wounds of corruption that characterized the people so that they could be cleansed, bound up, and healed.  They had powerful voices that both called Israel to embrace her destiny as a blessing to the world and that warned of the inevitable consequences of Israel’s infidelity.

Amos exposed Israel’s economic injustice: some people were being neglected while others stockpiled resources in their reserves (Amos 3:1, 9-10).  He called people who oppressed the poor and crushed the needy “cows of Bashan”: likening them to a specific set of cows who grazed gluttonously while others starved.  In so doing, he exposed the sin of selfish mismanagement of resources: when eating, drinking, and owning came at the expense of other’s having their basic needs met.

“If it doesn’t change,” cried Amos, “Jerusalem will be destroyed!” (Amos 3:15)

Isaiah exposed Israel’s military-industrial complex: God saw their military bases, chariots, and warhorses for what they were—unacceptable costs of empire.  “We have blood on our hands!” cried Isaiah (Isaiah 1:15).  “And because we do, God hides his eyes from us.”

But Isaiah reserved his harshest critique for Israel’s idolatry of a religious system that looked deceptively like faithfulness.  To the shock of the prideful pious, Isaiah exposed that God hated their religion with all of His being. (Isaiah 1:13-14)

Why?  Because it was nothing more than a religion that enabled self-sufficiency, legitimized indifference, tolerated injustice, and inspired indulgence.

The most passionate rants of Amos were also focused at Israel’s religion.  “God hates it! Your songs are noise-pollution to Him.  Stop the music and start the justice!”  (Amos 5:23; 8:4, 6)

But Israel didn’t listen.  So, out of pity, God kept sending them the prophets (2 Chronicles 36:15).  He wanted to dance the divine dance with them again.  He wanted to liberate the entire world through them…but they weren’t interested.

And so Amos, a simple shepherd turned prophet, stood in front of the king and offered this crushing blow: “You will be among the first to go into exile.  Your days of lounging and feasting will end.  The empire is over.” (Amos 6:7)  But the king mocked Amos…and kicked him out of the palace.  The people ignored Isaiah, laughed at Hosea, and beat up Jeremiah.  They didn’t repent.  They didn’t remember.  In their comfort, abundance, and privilege, they had forgotten their God, their story, and their slavery.  They no longer heard the cries of the oppressed…so the oppressed, again, they became.

Just like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Amos had said, the Babylonians came to town.  And when they did, they massacred everyone they saw, looted Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and crumbled the city walls.  Those who survived were chained together, death-marched to the north, and enslaved in Babylon for 70 years (2 Chronicles 36:17-20)…

They used to be on top.  Now, they found themselves in chains…again.  They had it all going for them, wealth, influence, peace, blessing, but they forgot their God, their story, and their slavery.  They neglected the widow, orphan, and refugee, and everything fell apart.

Their Freedom led to Idolatry…that led to Injustice…that led to Slavery…they were in chains again.

And in slavery, they cried out…just like they had in Egypt.  They cried out to the God Who had redeemed them once to redeem them again.  In exile, they remembered who the Author and Main Character was.  In exile, they remembered that the Story was not about them.  In exile, they remembered the story about a Promise of a God who walked the blood path twice.

Freedom led to Idolatry that led to Injustice that led to Slavery that led to Remembering that led to Cries.  And their cries kick-started redemption.

Again, the prophets rose up in the midst of captive Israel’s despair: their message proclaimed the beginning of something new…

A new exodus was coming.  It had to because the first exodus wasn’t big enough.   “Look at us!” the people cried… “we’re in chains again!”

It was in the hearing of their own cries that the people understood, for, perhaps the first time, the link to what went wrong in Eden.  Even in their external freedom, they were enslaved to sin, violence, and death.  It was in Babylon where the people first understood that the chains around their wrists were nothing compared to the deeper, more insidious kind of chains that had warped their heart.

A new exodus was necessary…a new, once-and-for all freedom from powerful chains unseen…a new freedom that would allow them to embrace their vocation as God’s ambassadors to the whole world. (Isaiah 66:18).  The new exodus would have to be about something more than the people returning to Israel; it would have to be a holistic return of all humanity to the way things were created to be.  The new exodus would be a return to the divine dance of Eden.

But a new exodus would require a new Moses.  Isaiah prophesied that the new Moses would be born shrouded in scandal and obscurity.  This new Moses would use power to bless and empower the poor and oppressed.  He would reject violence…He would reject palace-building with slaves…He would be called “The Prince of Peace” and would reign on King David’s throne forever (Isaiah 9:6-7).  He would be a powerful leader who Isaiah paradoxically called a “servant” (Isaiah 42).  The spirit of God would be on Him and He would “break the chains of prisoners” and “proclaim good news to the poor” (Isaiah 61:1).

In the streets of Babylon, the prophets spoke of a new exodus led by this new Moses, a son of David, whose blood would liberate humanity once and for all.

And as they did, the exiles remembered a Story about a God and a Promise with no road map.  They remembered a Story about a God who walked the blood-path twice…and they began to envision a grace so big that it would repair the fractured relationship between the human and divine.