Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Isaiah 46) transports me to an imperial theatre of war where the emerging Iranian (Persian) superpower conquers Iraq (Babylon) and carries the burdensome Babylonian idols into captivity. God’s chosen people, caught square in the crossfire of this clash of giants, stop what they are doing long enough to observe the conquered empire parade by on their way to Persian prisons. Israelite eyes are watching gods tumble and crumble over the desert sands, borne by the beasts of burden. The gods had formerly been the symbols of arrogant strength; Iraqi expansionist overlords Nebuchadnezzer and Belshazzar proudly assumed divinity by taking names from the gods Nebo and Bel. Now the idols are dead weight, causing weary mule knees to buckle.
Alice Walker, referencing Zora Neal Hurston in Their Eyes Were Watching God, said that black women are the mules of the world. It certainly is true that in the developing countries of Africa black women can still be seen bearing basket-filled burdens on top of their heads, and doing the majority of the heaviest field work. The prophet Isaiah might say that any subjects of idolatrous imperial power become the mules of the world. The idols of power are heavy weights indeed – overgrown in illusions of giant strength, but in reality nothing more than dead weight that will eventually buckle weary knees. Give your allegience to the idols of worldly power, and the curse of a song will ring in your ears, Boy, you gotta carry that weight, carry that weight a long time.
Isaiah would prefer the Stones over the Beatles when singing to empires that want to lay idolatrous claims on our hearts: I’ll never be your beast of burden. The prophet contrasts the carriage of these heavy idols with the living God who carries people of faith throughout life. Isaiah gave inspiration to the Footprints poster poem – except in the prophetic imagination there never would be a second pair of footprints. Isaiah would say that God carries us through the good and easy times as well as the troubling and trying times. For people of faith who find themselves living in the crossfire of world power clashes and crashes, Isaiah’s words are timely. Don’t place your hopes in these world systems. You won’t be able to bear the dead weight of the idols for long. When your eyes are watching the living God, you realize that you can’t see much more than the back of the Divine neck, because you’ll be riding piggyback through the world. Enjoy the ride.
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. Each week takes its guiding theme for the daily posts from the gospel reading on Monday, the “Primary Passage.” This week’s theme is “Burdens.” As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.