This is one of the reasons I find the Bible so fascinating.
It’s also one of the reasons that thousands of people consider the Bible good literature–in spite of its claims to being redemptive history.
I’ll take redemptive history any day over good literature, but fortunately I’m not forced to decide.
The text in question at the moment is Isaiah 14:9-11:
Sheol beneath is stirred up
to meet you when you come;
it rouses the shades to greet you,
all who were leaders of the earth;
it raises from their thrones
all who were kings of the nations.
All of them will answer
and say to you:
‘You too have become as weak as we!
You have become like us!’
Your pomp is brought down to Sheol,
the sound of your harps;
maggots are laid as a bed beneath you,
and worms are your covers.
An underground region where disembodied souls have a dull and gloomy existence. It’s the place where the good and the bad go. The good receive reward and the bad receive punishment.
Yet Psalm 139:8 tells us that God is there. He is in the depths. And it is an open book to him where the wicked never escape his judgement and the righteous remain under his constant care. David said, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.”
The Ugly Carnival
The Isaiah text tells us that Sheol is also the fate of those who try to be like God, a habit earthly kings are prone to develop, the Babylon king being no exception.
He said he would ascend to heaven and raise his throne above God’s. He would sit on the highest mountain above the clouds. He would make himself like the most High.
On earth he may have approached the epitome of military might. He may have scaled to the top of political authority. He may have sat upon the highest altar of worship.
His death changed all that.
The other kings who were brought low by death waited for him. We are not sure how they knew, but they knew he was coming. And wanted to welcome him.
Each king in Sheol no doubt had been in his position. Great earthly power. Monstrous pride. Ruthless conquest. But all that bravado wilted before death. In an instant they were brought low.
They were wise to knowledge he was not: human distinctions are meaningless among the dead, and pride vanishes from a corpse.
You don’t get the sense that this will be a fun reunion. It won’t be like a hero returning from war.
More in line with the French treatment of women who collaborated with the Nazis: heads shaved, swastikas burned on their faces and barefoot as they were forced to parade through the streets.
It will be an ugly carnival for the Babylonian king.
Death is not the only means which God can level a man’s pride. He can devastate arrogance with mental illness as he did with Nebuchadnezzar.
More than likely you won’t experience mental illness on that scale. Death, on the other hand, is your certain fate.
Are you ready to die?
When David said, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption,” he could not know what he was predicting.
Peter took it to me the resurrection of Jesus Christ, an event that forced Paul to proclaim in yet another elegant section of the Bible: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
Thank God for redemptive history.