“Wait For It”

(Ishtar Gate, eighth gate of Babylon’s inner city: a reconstruction using original bricks in the Pergamonmuseum, Berlin, Deutschland.)

Prophets had their bad days, too — like Habakkuk, from today’s first reading (Habakkuk 1:23, 2:24):

1 How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene.

“Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord.

“Then the LORD answered me and said: Write down the vision Clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily.

“For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.”
(Habakkuk 1:23, 2:23)

This was about 26 centuries back, and not a good era in our Lord’s homeland. Folks who should have known better were misbehaving, badly. It wasn’t the first time, and wouldn’t be the last.

Abraham and Israel’s descendants got a reality check when Nebuchadnezzar II attacked and conquered Jerusalem — returning to Babylon with a substantial fortune in treasure and people. That was in 597 BC.

He was back in 587 to finish the job, burning the temple and destroying Jerusalem.

The Ishtar Gate, on Babylon’s north side, was built roughly a decade later. It was part of a massive reconstruction program started by Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar II’s predecessor. Babylon had gone through some rough centuries by then.

The gate appeared in several Hellenic tourist guidebooks. These days it’s one of the Pergamonmuseum’s indoor displays.1

Built to Impress

My guess is that Nebuchadnezzar wanted to impress visitors, which is arguably why places like the Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport get built with style.

There was quite a bit to be impressed by at the time. Babylon was among the largest cities on Earth by Habakkuk’s day, home to between 125,000 and 150,000 folks.

That’s about half the size of Hillah, a city five kilometers south of Babylon’s ruins and 100 kilometers south of Baghdad.

Alexander III of Macedon, Alexander the Great, planned to make Babylon the capital of his empire. He died in Nebuchadnezzar II’s palace about a month shy of his 33rd birthday.

Alexander’s empire promptly fell apart, and what was left of Babylon was evacuated somewhere around 275 BC. Assorted other empires rose and fell, then Western civilization hit a rough patch, starting about 17 centuries back, but we recovered.

Cyrus the Great and the News

The good news is that archeologists who began excavating the Ishtar Gate site in 1902 kept careful records, so we know where the pieces they pulled out had been.

The not-so-good-news is that some of the mud-brick structure was destroyed in the process. We’re much more careful these days, have better equipment, and that’s another topic.

I’m not sure if what happened to the pieces is good or bad news. They’re currently held by Istanbul Archaeology Museums, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Detroit Institute of Arts, the Röhsska Museum, the Louvre, and other museums.

The reconstructed Ishtar Gate is arguably safer in Berlin’s Pergamonmuseum than it would be in today’s Iraq. Where ‘cultural treasures’ like that should be kept depends on who you listen to.2

I’m forgetting something.

No, don’t tell me: let me think. Habakkuk, hard times, Babylon. Right.

What we call the Babylonian captivity ended when Kūruš/کوروش/Cyrus the Great took over management of Babylon. There’s more about what happened after that in Ezra.

“Destruction and violence … strife, and clamorous discord” are in the news every day. I can’t ignore the mess, since I’m expected to “contribute … to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom….” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1915, 2239)

I mentioned that yesterday. (October 1, 2016)

Waiting — and Working

This is not where I start ranting about returning to the ‘good old-fashioned values’ of yesteryear.

As I keep saying, I remember the ‘good old days:’ and they weren’t.

I say this a lot, too: loving God, loving my neighbor, and seeing everyone as my neighbor, is a good idea. (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640; Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31, 10:2527, 2937; Catechism, 2196)

Getting back to Habakkuk, I’m no prophet: but “wait for it” jumped out at me when I read it earlier:

“For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.”
(Habakkuk 2:3)

About two millennia back, our Lord gave those of us who would listen the best news humanity’s ever had. God loves us, and wants to adopt us. All of us. (John 1:1214, 3:17; Romans 8:1417; Peter 1:34; Catechism, 1, 2730, 52, 1825, 1996)

God’s offer comes with a job that’s not even close to being finished.

It involves respecting the “transcendent dignity” of humanity, and each person — not easy, but necessary. So is building a better world for future generations. The job starts within each of us, within me, with an ongoing “inner conversion.” (Catechism, 1888, 19281942)

We’ve made some progress over the last two millennia: and we have a very great deal left to do.

We Won

I suspect we’ll still be working with people of good will, building a better world, keeping what’s good and correcting what’s not, when folks like Park Geun-hye and Narendra Modi seem as remote as Nebuchadnezzar II does today.

On the ‘up’ side, we’re already in “the last hour,” and have been for two thousand years. The war is over. We won. This world’s renewal is in progress, and nothing can stop it. (Matthew 16:18; Mark 16:6; Catechism, 638, 670)

More about love and other radical ideas:

1 Pergamonmusum website and a virtual tour:

2 ‘Treasure,’ artifacts, and human remains; changing views and rules:

About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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