Would You Avoid Dishonor? Avoid Presumptuousness
A PRESUMPTUOUS person is in grave danger. He assumes certain ideas to suit his desires, then arms himself with an attitude or spirit of resistance to other viewpoints. From there he sallies forth in a presumptuous course that leads into injudicious action and eventually to shame. And there is little that can be done to help him, once he begins, because his presumptuousness makes him arrogant, insolent and unreasonable.
For example, there are those who say there is no God. They would not think of saying that a house has no builder. But when you call to their attention the much more intricate and complicated “nature,” their practical reasoning ends and they assert that there is no Creator, that even the whole structure of natural things, including themselves as intelligent individuals living in it, sprang by the operation of blind forces from unintelligent, inanimate matter.
Yet more presumptuous are clergymen who assume high-sounding titles, even requiring reverence from others, who claim to be religious guides and authorities over their denominational flocks, and at the same time presume to put their words and traditions above the Word of God, the Bible.—2 Thess. 2:3, 4.
These persons would be horrified if told that they are in slavery, slavery to a god, and a false god at that, but they are, for the Bible rule is that one is the servant of whomever he serves. (Rom. 6:16) They are submitting themselves, even though unwittingly, to Satan the Devil, whom the Bible calls “the god of this system of things.” (2 Cor. 4:4) The Bible records how the Devil presumed against Jehovah God in the days of Job of the land of Uz by challenging Jehovah’s right to sovereignty and exclusive devotion. He haughtily charged that no one served Jehovah wholeheartedly, not even the deeply religious man Job. When Jehovah forced the issue toward settlement, the Devil could not present any concrete evidence against Job but, to support his arrogant claim, invented the slander that Job’s right course of action was based on a form of bribery by God and that Job’s heart was just not right. To uphold this presumptuous defamation he took a murderous course and in the end failed utterly and was himself disgraced as a malicious liar.—Job 1:8-22.
BABYLON PRESUMPTUOUS AGAINST GOD
However, one of the most impressive examples of the danger of a presumptuous course is that of the ancient city of Babylon, the seat of Satanic false religion after the flood of Noah’s day. This is not mere assertion, for the pages of the Bible and of secular history, to which anyone can go for proof, record her fallacious and lofty-minded acts toward God, and their humiliating outcome. (An interesting sidelight here is the record at Job 1:17 of the Devil’s use of the Chaldeans [Babylonians] as a tool in his effort to support his slanderous charge against Jehovah and his servant Job.)
In his prophecy against Babylon in the Bible book of Jeremiah, chapter fifty, Jehovah addresses her as “the land of Merathaim” and her citizens as “the inhabitants of Pekod.” “The land of Merathaim” means “the land of double rebellion,” and “the inhabitants of Pekod” means “the inhabitants of the country of punishment.”* Even by these names he gave to Babylon, how nicely Jehovah describes her presumptuousness and the ruinous end that awaited her.
Why was Babylon a “land of double rebellion”? In the first place, it was built by Nimrod who, when he was deified, was called Merodach. This name is understood by some to mean “great rebel.” Nimrod was a rebel against Jehovah, and Babylon had been doubly so in that she had with fire and sword overthrown the kingdom of Jehovah’s people, destroyed his temple, massacred his people and deported thousands of them to the land of Shinar, from which the Hebrew patriarch had come out at God’s command. And O how elated she was in doing it! So she was more than rebellious. She was twofold rebellious. For this reason she deserved a visitation or punishment from God.
Babylon looked to herself as being the world sovereign. Would not Merodach her god maintain her in that sovereign position? Consequently she presumed against the great Universal Sovereign Jehovah, even going so far as having the boldness and rashness to assault Jehovah’s throne, that is, the throne of the kings of the line of David, and to the extreme presumptuousness of desolating Jehovah’s temple. How her pride was lifting her up for a crash! God’s just decree was:
“Let there be a massacre and a devoting to destruction close upon them . . . There is the sound of war in the land, and a great breakdown. O how the forge hammer of all the earth [Babylon had destroyed many nations] has been cut down and gets broken! O how Babylon has become a mere object of astonishment among the nations! I have laid a snare for you and you have also been caught, O Babylon, and you yourself did not know it. You were found and also taken hold of, for it was against Jehovah that you excited yourself.”—Jer. 50:21-24.
A SURPRISING CRASH
The one commanded to cut Babylon down was Cyrus II the Persian, and he did it expertly. The element of surprise caught mighty, sovereign Babylon off guard and nullified her defenses. Cyrus’ forces encountered practically no resistance when they came as if by a miracle out of the Euphrates riverbed through her unlocked, poorly guarded inner gates. It was exactly as if Jehovah had skillfully sprung a snare or trap on her and caught her before she knew what was happening! Babylon was stunned. Why had she been unable to escape? Why, it seemed impossible that such a thing could happen. Ah, but it was not due to the strength of Cyrus’ armies. No, presumptuous Babylon, there was nothing you could have done about it, for “it was against Jehovah that you excited yourself.” Therefore your fall had to be spectacular. Jehovah reveals that he himself directed your astounding collapse:
“Jehovah has opened his storehouse, and he brings forth the weapons of his denunciation [his war weapons, particularly the Medes and Persians]. For there is a work that the Sovereign Lord, Jehovah of armies, has in the land of the Chaldeans. Come in to her from the farthest part [even as far as Armenia and Mount Ararat]. Open up her granaries. Bank her up, just like those making heaps [heap up her riches outside for the spoilers to take], and devote her to destruction [like something “devoted” to God, no longer for man to use]. May she not come to have any remaining ones [no successors]. Massacre all her young bulls [her imperial leaders]. May they go down to the slaughter. Woe to them, for their day has come, the time for their being given attention!”—Jer. 50:25-27.
But what about those captives in her who had suffered from her presumptuousness? God says: “There is the sound of those fleeing and those escaping from the land of Babylon to tell out in Zion the vengeance of Jehovah our God, the vengeance for his temple.” (Jer. 50:28) This sound came especially when Cyrus the Great, in the first year of his reign, issued a decree (in 537 B.C.E.) for all the willing Jews to return to Zion and rebuild there the temple of their God. (Ezra 1:1-4) They therefore left in an orderly manner and for an approved purpose, but they were so eager, zealous and happy that they left as fleeing from a prison where they had been in servitude and unable to serve their God in a full and pleasing manner.
So while Babylon was ashamed, God’s servants were exultant. Cyrus permitted them to carry back the sacred utensils that the Babylonians had stolen from Jehovah’s temple, and under imperial orders they were able to reconstruct a new temple on the location of the former temple of Solomon in Zion. Back there, they would be able to expose the presumptuousness of Babylon and tell of the vengeance that Jehovah brought upon her for profaning the temple and its utensils of worship. It was, embarrassingly to Merodach, his own temple that had to give up the stolen utensils of Jehovah’s temple. Jehovah goes on to say:
“Summon against Babylon archers . . . Encamp against her all around. May there prove to be no escapees. Pay back to her according to her activity. According to all that she has done, do to her. For it is against Jehovah that she has acted presumptuously, against the Holy One of Israel. Therefore her young men will fall in her public squares, and even all her men of war will be brought to silence in that day.”—Jer. 50:29, 30.
The prophet Jeremiah made this lamentation for Zion when Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E.: “Should the women keep eating their own fruitage, the children born fully formed, or in the sanctuary of Jehovah should priest and prophet be killed? Boy and old man have lain down on the earth of the streets. My virgins and my young men themselves have fallen by the sword. You have killed in the day of your anger. You have slaughtered; you have had no compassion.” (Lam. 2:20, 21) So, in retribution, the Median and Persian archers shot down any Babylonians who tried to escape. They entered the city and actually killed their young men in the public squares and mercilessly destroyed the men of war there.
Babylon had been the very personification of presumptuousness. Jehovah says: “Look! I am against you, O Presumptuousness, . . . for your day must come, the time that I must give you attention. And Presumptuousness will certainly stumble and fall, and it will have no one to cause it to rise up. And I will set a fire ablaze in its cities, and it must devour all its surroundings.” (Jer. 50:31, 32) Babylon had not learned a lesson from the experience of her most powerful king Nebuchadnezzar at the hands of Jehovah God when he suffered seven years of madness, then on recovery and restoration to his throne acknowledged the King of the heavens and said: “Those who are walking in pride he is able to humiliate.” (Dan. 4:1-37) No, she had to learn the hard way the truth of the proverbs: “Everyone that is proud in heart is something detestable to Jehovah,” and, “Pride is before a crash, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” (Prov. 16:5, 18) They became hard reality to his grandson King Belshazzar, who was made to stumble and fall at the very time he was lifting himself up against Jehovah by desecrating the temple vessels in a drunken celebration.
Babylon’s stumble was so great that she could never come back to world dominion. Though later Babylonian kings, Nebuchadnezzar III and Nebuchadnezzar IV, revolted against Persian domination, they failed. Why? Because God’s anger continued to blaze against her until she had become like a “burnt-out mountain.” (Jer. 51:25) But before she would become completely burned out, she would be forced to loose her hold upon God’s people and to see Zion and her temple rebuilt, as part of God’s vengeance: “The sons of Israel and the sons of Judah are being oppressed together, and all those taking them captive have laid hold on them. They have refused to let them go. Their Repurchaser is strong, Jehovah of armies being his name. Without fail he will conduct their legal case, in order that he may actually give repose to the land and cause agitation to the inhabitants of Babylon.”—Jer. 50:33, 34.
PRESUMPTUOUSNESS, IDOLATRY RESULT IN INSANE ACTIONS
Babylon forgot that though God had “sold” his people, Babylon had paid nothing to him. He was actually giving Israel into bondage for their sins. (Isa. 52:3) But, acting in his right as the Repurchaser, as the Owner of all creation, he did give a payment to the nation delivering them. God gave to Persia another people in exchange for his people, and that was Egypt, which came under the domination of Cambyses, the son of Cyrus the Great. The painfulness of Babylon’s agitation at God’s execution of justice in conducting his legal case is described by Jehovah’s next words:
“There is a sword against the Chaldeans, . . . and against the inhabitants of Babylon and against her princes and against her wise ones. There is a sword against the empty talkers, and they will certainly act foolishly. There is a sword against her mighty men, and they will actually become terrified. There is a sword against their horses and against their war chariots and against all the mixed company that are in the midst of her, and they will certainly become women. There is a sword against her treasures, and they will actually be plundered. There is a devastation upon her waters, and they must be dried up. For it is a land of graven images, and because of their frightful visions they keep acting crazy. Therefore the haunters of waterless regions will dwell with the howling animals, and in her the ostriches must dwell; and she will nevermore be dwelt in, nor will she reside for generation after generation.”—Jer. 50:35-39.
In fair warning to the Babylonians Jehovah said, in effect: ‘Yes, you presumptuous Babylonians, brag about the permanence and continued greatness of Babylon for time indefinite. Empty words! Puff up your courage, you mighty men. It will turn into terror. Horses and chariots—useless they will be. You mercenary soldiers—like weak women you will become. Treasures—they will be for plunder. The Euphrates, turned aside, will be valueless for protecting the presumptuous city. Your graven images cannot save you, for idolatry does not impart sanity to any people. Frightful visions will be all you can get when these images fail you in your sudden trouble, until you are driven into craziness.’
BABYLON FINALLY TO BE COMPLETELY DESOLATED
For adding to her sin of idolatry the sin of presuming to fight Jehovah, Babylon’s punishment would keep burning until it brought complete and everlasting destruction to her organization: “Just as with God’s overthrow of Sodom and of Gomorrah and of her neighbor towns, . . . no man will dwell there, nor will the son of mankind reside in her as an alien.” (Jer. 50:40) Jehovah paints a fearful picture of her conquerors as the prophecy continues:
“Look! A people is coming in from the north; and a great nation and grand kings themselves will be roused up from the remotest parts of the earth. Bow and javelin they handle. They are cruel and will show no mercy. The sound of them is like the sea that is boisterous, and upon horses they will ride; set in array as one man for war against you, O daughter of Babylon.”—Jer. 50:41, 42.
The citizens of Babylon were forced to observe the defeat of Nabonidus and his armies outside Babylon, and Nabonidus’ flight toward Borsippa. The armies from remote parts, even from north of Babylon, came with the one purpose of taking her. Nonetheless, the citizens of Babylon were still so proud they felt safe. But as to King Belshazzar, as he was feasting in the palace Babylon’s doom was certainly brought forcibly to his attention when Daniel interpreted the words of the handwriting on the wall. (Dan. 5:25-28) The full force of the prophecy of Jeremiah 50:43 must then have struck him: “The king of Babylon has heard the report about them, and his hands have dropped down. There is distress! Severe pains have seized hold of him, just like a woman giving birth.” No wonder Belshazzar’s knees turned to water when he found that the city had been taken by surprise and saw his mighty warriors become as women and flee in their drunkenness that night. Babylon had treated Jehovah’s people cruelly and therefore he likens his appointed conqueror, Cyrus, to a Jordanian lion when he says:
“Look! Someone will come up just like a lion from the proud thickets along the Jordan to the durable abiding place, but in a moment I shall make them run away from her. And the one who is chosen I shall appoint over her. For who is like me, and who will challenge me, and who, now, is the shepherd that can stand before me? Therefore hear, O men, the counsel of Jehovah that he has formulated against Babylon and his thoughts that he has thought out against the land of the Chaldeans. Surely the little ones of the flock will be dragged about. Surely on account of them he will cause their abiding place to be desolated. At the sound when Babylon has been seized, the earth will certainly be set rocking, and among the nations an outcry itself be heard.”—Jer. 50:44-46.
Since Cyrus acted for Jehovah, nothing could stand in his way any more than it could have stood in Jehovah’s way. So those in Babylon were so foolish in thinking that they could halt the Jordanian lion whom Jehovah had ordained, and put him to flight. They should have listened to the counsel of Jehovah: “Surely lambs of their flock shall be destroyed; surely pasture shall be cut off from them.” (Jer 50:45, LXX, Bagster translation)* Yes, the Babylonians were like lambs before the symbolic Jordanian lion, dragged out to destruction. Their capital city that seemed so durable would finally be reduced to a desolation. The earth, particularly the land of the Chaldeans, was set rocking at the tremendous sound when Babylon fell—wounded beyond healing, as later articles will discuss. Babylon’s outcry of amazement and distress was heard among all the nations among whom she dominated as Third World Power—the distressing outcome of her presumptuousness against God.
This should serve as a warning to all persons who claim to be servants of God to be very careful about following their leaders in any presumptuous course of action and relying on the words of men and their traditions, which are contrary to God’s Word or which express or indicate disbelief in it. It should also make us realize the suicidal course that it is to place reliance in the boasts of men, be they philosophers, scientists or clergymen, as to what man will be able to do to preserve this present-day wicked system of things, which is ruled over by the great false religious empire Babylon the Great. We appreciate the point made by the wise writer of Proverbs:
“Has presumptuousness come? Then dishonor will come; but wisdom is with the modest ones.”—Prov. 11:2.
This thought is confirmed in the translation of Jeremiah 50:21 in the Twenty-four Books of the Holy Scriptures, by the Jewish scholar Isaac Leeser: “Against the land of twofold rebellion—even against it go thou up, and against the inhabitants of the country of punishment.”—Edition of 1853.
Jeremiah 50:45, as rendered in The Bible—A New Translation, by Dr. James Moffatt, reads as follows: “Hear, then, the Eternal’s plan against Babylon, his purpose for the Chaldeans: their shepherd lads shall be dragged away, and the farm appalled at their fate!” Compare with this the reading by the RSV, also George Lamsa’s translation from the Aramaic Peshitta.