Babylon is one of those empires that doesn’t suffer from obscurity like others (the Ottoman Empire, for one) in human history. In many formal studies, including anthropology, agriculture, and believe it or not, mathematics, Babylon shines. Its historical significance echoes in our culture today. Entertainment references it (2008’s Babylon A.D. starring Vin Diesel). It appears most profoundly, however, in none other than the biblical narrative.
Babylon plays a major role in Israel’s covenant relationship with God. King Nebuchadnezzar, who had conquered the Holy Land, demanded that his imperial subjects revere him as a god among the gods. In short, he had an ego. In reality, however, God used a circumstance of the king’s own glorification to manifest a most profound moment in which the spiritual real intersected with our physical realm.
This moment in the biblical corpus is famous because of how God chose to reveal himself. Regarding the broader biblical narrative structure, God set the moment up as a reminder to his people that, even in exile (far from the Holy Land), he was with them. God’s patience with his chosen people far surpassed human expectations, and Israel had reasons to fear that God had abandoned the covenant. Jerusalem, their holy city where God’s presence ritually dwelled for hundreds of years, was stripped of its former glory and reduced to ruins. The one place where everyone knew God dwelled was no more.
Far from home and surrounded by offensive pagan practices in Babylon, the people wallowed in despair. Offering little comfort, Jeremiah, the prophet, spoke for God, saying Israel would be in this foreign land for 70 years. Jeremiah’s words made all hope of returning to the Promised Land for the current generation vanish. With seven decades to live on pagan soil, the people felt alone with heavy hearts. A glorious sign of God’s faithfulness was outside their wildest hope.
Enter King Nebuchadnezzar’s lust for glorification. A crown wasn’t enough. Being king of the highest human empire in the known world wasn’t enough. Nothing short of a gold statue carved in his likeness would satisfy his own ego. The man had a taste for opulence. To instill fear in his subjects, he had a firry furnace to objectify the manifestation of his wrath if someone showed the slightest disregard for his claim to “divinity.”
I captured this moment in short story form as part of a writing contract with a non-profit. Of the 30 short stories I wrote for the devotional book Kingdom Story Ministries planned to print, this story was the easiest to adapt. It also ended up being the closest to a final draft out of all the others. Writing short story adaptations of biblical turning points is not at all easy.
While the complete devotional book has yet to manifest for mass-market publication, this story is available now. So, enjoy In the Flames of Exile below.