Uni and I have been reading through the book of Ezekiel. We’ve also been receiving pictures or the damage done by hurricane Ike along the Texas Gulf Coast. We both noted the eerie similarities between Ezekiel’s tirades against Tyre and the pictures of Galveston and Bolivar that we saw.
“How you have perished, O inhabited one,
from the seas, O renowned city,
which was once mighty on the sea,
she and her inhabitants …
Now the coastlands will tremble
on the day of your fall;
yes the coastlands which are by the sea
will be terrified at your passing.”
“ … When I shall make you a desolate city,
when I shall bring up the deep over you,
and the great waters will cover you. …” (Ezekiel 26:17-19),.
“ … I will scrape her debris from her
and make her a bare rock” (26:4).
In chapter after chapter, verse after verse, Ezekiel describes the coming doom of this city. Of course, Tyre is not the only one; other cities, nations and empires are to be destroyed.
The book of Revelation picks up the language in its 18th chapter, to describe the destruction of the city of Babylon, “the great whore” (17:1), in the last days.
Now I’m not saying, even implying, that these prophecies have anything to do with Galveston or hurricane Ike. But it does get me to thinking.
America has suffered some horrible calamities in the last few years: the devastating hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2006; Gustav and Ike in 2008; horrible forest fires; droughts; floods. And on top of these “natural” disasters, there are the man-made ones: the destruction of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11/2001; the following unending and unendable wars in the Middle East; the collapse of many parts of our market economy.
In Ezekiel and all the prophets, in fact in all of the Old Testament, we’re told that God, the LORD, is behind calamities like these. All are “acts of God,” sent for various reasons, often, though not always, as judgment for specific sins and crimes.
Is America, then falling under the judgment of God? Can we tie these disasters to specific sins, as the prophets often do? There are some, both on the right and the left, who would say yes to that question and have given their opinion quickly after each disaster.
Those on the right tell us that God is smiting American for her sins of homosexuality, abortion and generally “forgetting God,’ etc.
Those on the left give more “secular” causes: hurricanes are due to our failure to do something about global warming; terrorist attacks due to our arrogant foreign policy, etc.
Perhaps both sides have some element of truth in their rants; perhaps neither does. Maybe nothing was done to deserve these disasters.
Interestingly we find some close similarities, In Ezekiel’s tirade against Tyre (Ezekiel 26-28) and John’s against Babylon (Revelation 17-18). While both are accused of various sins, which we could list, the descriptions of both are very modern sounding. They are cities of trade. And they trust in their wealth! They have become arrogant. Three times the prince of Tyre is told, “ … your heart is lifted up” (Ezekiel 28:2, 5, 17). Babylon herself is quoted as claiming, “I sit as a queen and am not a widow, and will never see mourning” (Revelation 18:7). Sounds a lot like the good old USA, doesn’t it?
As I read in the Bible the descriptions of the wealth and trade of these two cities and of the destruction that falls on them, I have pictures in my mind: the destruction of New Orleans, the planes slamming into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center; the panic and grief on the faces of many who have lost so much in these events and in the market failures. I see our leaders and presidential candidates making promises of how they’re going to fix everything.
Is this the same kind of arrogance?
However, in Luke 13:1-5, Jesus gives a different interpretation of disasters and demands a different sort of response from His hearers.
When some report an atrocity committed by Pilate on some Galilean worshippers, He gives this comment: “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all the Galileans because they suffered this? I tell you no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (verses 2, 3). Then He picks up the story of 18 who were killed when a tower collapsed and comes to the same conclusion.
He seems to be saying that we should not immediately leap to false conclusions about the reasons for disasters. We should not assume that those on whom disaster falls, in some way deserve it. We should rather take a lesson from these events. We all need to repent, to change our minds. About what? I believe we are being told to recognize that we all are under the judgment of God, and without Him we will face tribulation, whether in this life or the one to come.