What goes up, must come down. That is a principle every bit as elemental in world history as it is in physics. None of us ever really thinks about Canada or the USA one day passing out of existence or falling to some greater world power, but the reality is that nothing is forever. What we must not miss is that it is all within the realm of God’s providence.
There was a time when the population of the world was one nation, with one language, and one purpose. They set their minds to building a city with a tower reaching to the heavens. God had other plans. While they were building, God said “this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they purpose to do will now be impossible for them.” So he confused their languages, so that no one could understand each other. From there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth. (Read the whole story here.)
As we read through the Old Testament in general (the prophetic works in particular), we cannot escape the reality that God is providentially working in all the nations. In order to deliver Israel, he must work plagues on Egypt. He waits till cities and nations have reached their full measure of sin and then executes justice swiftly and accurately. He prophesies blessing, he promises curses; over and over again it is declared that the Lord will work mightily in all the nations of the world to accomplish his purposes. We ought to never forget that politics are within the realm of God’s providence as well, and that no power or nation is more powerful than God.
“Rome will never fall,” they said. Kingdom after kingdom, nation after nation, people after people. One by one they are built up, one by one they fall. We would be foolish to think that this pattern will stop now that we have built a “global village.” Since Babel, the Lord has consistently never allowed a people to attain too much power, too much prestige; they can never build themselves up to him.
No place in Scripture reflects this line of thinking more (I think) than Ezekiel. After deliveing pronouncements of judgment and destruction on Ammon, Moab, Seir, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, and Sidon (25-28), the Lord turns his sights on Egypt (29-32).
My wife and I have been reading through Ezekiel together lately and this passage stuck out to me. In it God makes it plain that he will bring about his purposes in judgment so that he will be made known for who he is. In chapter 31, however, something very interesting happens.
God issues a personal challenge to Pharaoh: “Who do you think you are?” Sure, maybe not in those exact words, but that’s the point. God says, “Take a look at the most powerful people you can possibly think of: Do you think you’re as strong as them? Because I have judged them as well; how do you think you’ll escape?”
God compares Egypt to Assyria. Sure Assyria was great. In fact, it was because it was great that it was judged. “Because it towered high and set its top among the clouds, and its heart was proud of its height, I will give it into the hand of a mighty one of the nations. He shall surely deal with it as its wickedness deserves.”
In that section where God compares Egypt and Assyria, he uses the image of trees to describe the greatness of the nations. The greatest nation is the tallest, most beautiful, most fruitful tree, with branches that other nations can come and find shade under and rest on. Its roots go way down into the earth and it cannot be moved. No other tree can rival the greatness of that tree, and it was God that “made it beautiful.”
One of the most wonderful things that I love about the OT is that consistently, all things are attributed to God and his providence. If Egypt is great, it is because God has made it so, not Pharaoh. If Assyria is brought down, it is God’s judgment, not another nation’s power. God makes the trees grow; God chops them down. No exceptions. How we need to capture that God-centred vision of reality again today!
God is sovereign over all the nations. But more than that, he desires that we know that he is sovereign–that he is the one in control of all of history–that he is the one in whom all things find their meaning. This emphasis cannot be missed in the book of Ezekiel as a whole, or in these chapters in particular (how’s this for a recurring theme?).
We are not those who place our hope in institutions (nations, denominations, churches, organizations, etc.), because all these will rise and fall. The Lord is the one constant, and he desires that we know that. That’s why in all history nations will wax and wane, rise and fall, triumph and fail, but he will always remain.
But that’s macro. What about micro? What about me?
Is the same principal true in my own life? In my spiritual life and my walk with the Lord? Perhaps that is worthy of consideration in another post.
For now though, I think that the point we cannot miss is that God is good and providentially in control of all this crazy world. He has a purpose for it, and we must not miss that. We cannot be afraid to embrace God as the one from whom and through whom and to whom all things exist to his glory.
We may try to build our towers, but the Lord can confuse our tongues. Our nations may prosper high as the cedars of Lebanon (tall as a BC oak), but the Lord wields the chainsaw. And its all to his glory.