14But she committed even more fornication. She saw men sculpted on the wall, images of Chaldeans inscribed in vermilion. 15They had loincloths around their wastes and turbans on their heads. They all looked like high officials. They had the look of Babylonians, Chaldeans from the land of their birth. 16She was infatuated with them when she saw them, and she sent messengers to them in Chaldea. — Ezekiel 23:14-16
This short passage comes from a pretty heavy chapter in the Old Testament. Ezekiel 23 uses some pretty raunchy metaphors to describe the history of Israel and Judah. If it weren’t in the Bible we’d choke on some of the language. The passage I’ve quoted is pretty mild.
Now we’re used to the phrase â€œwriting on the wall.â€ It means doom, trouble ahead. â€œThe handwriting is on the wallâ€ means that there’s not much time left. That comes from Daniel 5, in which Belshazzar is having a feast, and a hand appears and writes the words of doom on the wall. Many of us use the saying without any idea where it comes from.
But our passage talks about a different kind of writing on the wall. The Babylonians loved to inscribe images on their walls. They made inscriptions celebrating victories or other powerful deeds. Even Hammurabi’s famous law code which has helped us so much in understanding the ancient near east was inscribed not to inform people of the laws, but to tell people how important the lawgiver was.
Perhaps we could add to the classical saying, â€œBeware Greeks bearing gifts,â€ which goes back to Homer’s story of the Trojan war. The Greeks brought a gift of peace, a large wooden horse. Unfortunately for the Trojans it was hollow, and inside was another â€œgiftâ€–Greek troops ready to attack Troy from the inside. We could add the saying â€œBeware walls bearing inscriptions.â€
You can get an idea of the type of inscriptions I’m talking about at the Metropolitan Museum of Art page on Assyria. Now that’s Assyrian, not Babylonian. In general, the Babylonian was a bit more creative, or perhaps I’m just biased. This is when us moderns scratch our heads and wonder how someone could be so attracted by these inscriptions as to send messengers. That’s because this art isn’t in our style, and Babylon is this almost mythical place, which very few of us can place accurately on a map. (It’s in modern day Iraq.) But for Israel and Judah, this was the great, rich country, the folks with successful armies, economic and political power, and lots of prestige.
That’s what monumental inscriptions and reliefs are for, after all, is to present the person who makes the inscription look important and attractive, awe inspiring, or overpowering as desired. And the Assyrians and the Babylonians were pretty good at it.
We shouldn’t look down on the Israelites for their foolish attraction to this Mesopotamian art. Yes, it was wrong for them to abandon God in favor of the Assyrians and Babylonians. It was wrong, but it was understandable. You see, each one of us not only lives our lives; we also paint a picture. There’s the way we are, and the way we try to make ourselves appear. Integrity has to do with making those two similar. But that’s another topic.
Today I’m thinking about what we allow to attract us. The world paints a picture. The devil paints a picture. Each politician paints a picture. Retail stores paint pictures. I’m a businessman too. I try to paint a picture of what my publishing company is. Some of these pictures will be fairly accurate. I certainly hope mine is. But some of them will not be. Many of them will try to attract us away from what God wants us to do. They won’t do that by being blatantly ugly. They won’t announce, â€œHe look! I’m inviting you to sin!â€
They’ll offer you the power to do what you want to do, but they’ll lead you away from God in order to do it. The Israelites didn’t go to Assyria and Babylon asking to be conquered, driven into exile, and turned into slaves. They went there so they could be secure and prosperous and build better lives for themselves. But the inscriptions told a different story from the one the Israelites needed to see. Instead of security and prosperity they ended up with exile and slavery.
God offers spiritual sight to see beyond the inscriptions and sculptured reliefs that the enemy paints on the wall. Will you accept that sight and look?