Thought for the Month
A Parable Of Old Bricks
Baghdad and Basra are much in the news nowadays, even at the tail end of the Iraq war. We may forget that they are part of an ancient land. The following piece reflects on its history in times long past, yet is itself something that could not be written in our own day, in our era of swift transport by jet and helicopter and the perils of terrorist destruction. In the old days, when the possibility of a railway journey marked progress in the Middle East, the writer was looking back to a much earlier time.
"Fifty miles south of Baghdad, on the railway that runs to Basra, there is a little wayside station, a station set in a wilderness showing no signs of human habitation, a station so unimportant that the trains do not stop there except by special request. There are no station buildings; there is no station staff, no town or village busy with life and activity; only miles of broken brickwork, groups of palm trees, and a few jackals and lizards. The express trains, northbound to Baghdad and southbound to Basra, hurry past the flimsy, desolate platform so quickly that the interested traveller has barely time to read the one word, painted in Arabic and English upon a board about four feet long - "Babylon"!
"How are the mighty fallen! That wooden platform with its painted sign marks the site of what was once the mightiest and most magnificent city on the earth. It was a city that for size and wealth would have compared favourably with the greatest cities today. It was a city that throughout a considerable portion of human history was the acknowledged queen and mistress of all nations. Merchant vessels from Africa, India, and even, it is thought, from far-off China, made their way up the great River Euphrates from the sea four hundred miles distant. They brought the produce and the riches of the four corners of the earth to her quays. Caravans of camels and asses, bearing the wealth of the interior lands of Asia and Arabia, travelled the trade routes. These ran over desert and mountain, through valley and plain, to converge at last on the market squares of Babylon. Here were gathered the rich men and the merchants of the earth, and all in the city shared in their prosperity. Sometimes native kings dwelt and ruled in her palaces; sometimes alien conquerors imposed foreign rule and sat upon the throne, but always Babylon received tribute and remained through all political changes the unquestioned commercial centre of the world. Her palaces and her temples were the admiration and the envy of all who came to see. Her public monuments, her architecture and her many works of art displayed the creative artistry, no less than the mechanical skill, of the people that had created this great city. For two thousand years she remained thus, arrogant in her proud title of the "lady of kingdoms" (Isa. 47. 5). She flaunted herself before the admiring world as the achievement of men who had given themselves over frankly and avowedly to the law of brute force. They proclaimed abroad their determination to live their lives and build a nation that should endure for all time, without God and in defiance of God. Today there is nothing left of all the glory that was Babylon save a few masses of mouldering brickwork and a wayside station through which the trains pass without troubling to stop."
Through how many cycles of power struggle and wanton destruction will the world need to pass before He comes to reign whose right it is?