The Perils of Prosperity
A daily devotion for February 14th
Envoys From Babylon
39 At that time Marduk-Baladan son of Baladan king of Babylon sent Hezekiah letters and a gift, because he had heard of his illness and recovery. 2 Hezekiah received the envoys gladly and showed them what was in his storehouses—the silver, the gold, the spices, the fine olive oil—his entire armory and everything found among his treasures. There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them.
3 Then Isaiah the prophet went to King Hezekiah and asked, “What did those men say, and where did they come from?”
“From a distant land,” Hezekiah replied. “They came to me from Babylon.”
4 The prophet asked, “What did they see in your palace?”
“They saw everything in my palace,” Hezekiah said. “There is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them.”
5 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord Almighty: 6 The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. 7 And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”
8 “The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my lifetime.”
Hezekiah received the envoys gladly and showed them what was in his storehouses—the silver, the gold, the spices, the fine olive oil—his entire armory and everything found among his treasures. There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them. (Isaiah 39:2)
Taken in by the flattery of Babylon, the king trusted these ambassadors despite the fact that Isaiah had spoken very clearly of the threat from that quarter: what Babylon represented in spiritual terms, and what Babylon's ultimate fate would be. But the king ignored Isaiah's words, as many today ignore the clear warnings of Scripture.
So Isaiah pays another visit to Hezekiah. The old prophet says to the king,
I see you have had visitors. Who were these men?
Oh, replies Hezekiah,
they are ambassadors from Babylon, the great power to the east. This superpower has recognized our tiny kingdom, and that makes me feel proud and honored. Doubtless he had shown the letter to his wife, exclaiming,
Look, dear, the king of Babylon has now taken note of us. Asked by Isaiah what he had shown these ambassadors, Hezekiah replied,
I showed them everything we've got—all our treasures, all our defenses, everything.
Isaiah goes on to give a prediction of what will result from the king's foolishness:
Hear the word of the Lord Almighty: The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord.
And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon. (Isaiah 39:5b-7)
What this is meant to teach us is that prosperity is a greater threat than adversity. When we are challenged, attacked and insulted, we naturally run to the Lord as our defender. Ah, but when we are offered a new position, with a higher salary, and to take it we must remove ourselves and our families from the influences that have shaped us morally and spiritually; or when our work is of such a nature that we are taken away from time we should spend seeking first God's kingdom, it is then we are being exposed to the subtle trap of Babylon. We have all known people who have fallen into this trap, losing spiritual vitality sometimes for years because they failed to heed warnings concerning the allurements of the world.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn tells of once having a very close friend while he was imprisoned in the Gulag. They saw eye to eye on everything. They enjoyed the same things, they liked to discuss the same subjects. Solzhenitsyn thought their friendship would last a lifetime. To his astonishment, however, when his friend was offered a privileged position in the prison system he accepted it. That was the first step in a change in his friend that ultimately saw him end up as a torturer who devised horrible and cruel torments against Soviet prisoners. Solzhenitsyn described the fear in his own heart when he realized that simple decisions, made in a moment, in the face of an offer of prosperity, could wreck a life, where personal attack and insult had been unable to shake one's faith.
The great test of faith comes not when we receive news that offends us, insults us, or seems to threaten our lives. Rather, we ought to take offers of prosperity and blessing and spread these before the Lord, and listen to his wise words in evaluating what we are being offered.
Thank you, Father, for the clear glimpse of the wisdom of your word regarding the true threats to my life. Help me to remember that I have an enemy who can blatantly attack my faith; or he can come with allurements in what seems an offer of greater prosperity, better conditions, or more honor. Grant me the wisdom to evaluate such threats.
Life Application: Do we measure our worth by worldly gain? What if we were to gain the whole world and lose our own souls? Do we need a radical reassessment of our identity?
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