Suggested Christmas reading…

December 22, 2003

He probably won’t be in the mood for it, but Saddam will have plenty of time to read this Christmas – and no doubt better light than in his secret hiding places over the past few months. So here’s my suggested Christmas reading for him.

Since he has always styled himself as Nebuchadnezzar III, and considered himself a direct descendent (dubious, since his name betrays Bedouin origins), he could start with Daniel chapter 4. The ancient Babylonian king seems to have had many dreams – or rather nightmares. In chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar tells all the magicians and wizards of a dream that appalled and tormented him. Again Daniel was the only one able to interprete the dream of a tall tree that was cut and stripped, leaving only a stump bound with iron bands.

What a dilemma for the Jewish captive-turned-civil servant! How do you tell a Saddam-type tyrant the true interpretation of such a dream? Daniel hesitated for a moment, says the Jerusalem Bible, in embarrassment. “May the dream apply only to your enemies, and its meaning to your foes!” he wisely began, before explaining the dream further.

Within a year, the dream came true. Nebuchadnezzar lost his reason, was banned from society and lived like an animal for seven years, before his reason returned – and he began blessing the Most High:
And now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and glorify the King of Heaven,
his promises are always faithfully fulfilled, his ways are always just,
and he has power to humble those who walk in pride.” (4:34)

Of course, Saddam is not likely to be praising the God of Israel in his cell in the near future … but who knows, after seven years??? …if he is allowed to live that long. As Nebuchadnezzar said, God has the power to humble those who walk in pride.

While many may still have reservations on the American handling of Iraqi situation, few would be sad at Saddam’s capture. Throughout history, God has always been able to hit straight with crooked sticks. After all, he used Nebuchadnezzar himself to chasten Judah!

Isaiah chapter 14 is another passage Saddam would do well to ponder. It is actually a satire on the death of a tyrant – a king of Babylon, no less! Some say it was actually written to celebrate Nebuchadnezzar’s death. Others speculate Isaiah wrote it when Sargon II or Sennacherib died.
v4: What was the end of the tyrant?
What was the end of his arrogance?
Yahweh has broken the staff of the wicked and the sceptre of tyrants –
which angrily thrashed the peoples with blow after blow,
which furiously tyrannised over the nations
persecuting without respite.
the whole earth is at rest, it is calm, shouting for joy…

The ghosts of the dead rulers in Sheol stir to greet his arrival:
v10: Each has something to say, and what they will say to you is this:
‘So you too have been brought to nothing, like ourselves,
You, too, have become like us.
Your magnificence has been flung down to Sheol
with the music of your harps;
underneath you a bed of maggots,
and over you a blanket of worms…

Photos of a subdued and docile Saddam having hair and mouth inspected for lice and – WMD’s? – bring the following verses to mind:
v16: All who see you will gaze at you,
will stare at you,
“Is this the man who made the earth tremble,
and overthrew kingdoms
who made the world a desert
and levelled cities
who never to his captives opened the prison gates?”

The cosmic struggle between good and evil portrayed in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy takes on an extra current affairs dimension with this year’s film, in the light of the global war against terrorism and Gulf War II. Saddam’s collapse into a meek prisoner, a broken human being, mirrors the crumpling and shrivelling of the faceless black riders when dealt the fatal blow. That would be another book I’d strongly recommend Saddam to absorb, to learn the lesson of the triumph of the humble.

And lest we think evil can be identified only in ‘them’, the ‘baddies’, and not in ‘us’, the ‘goodies’, we should all ponder Tolkien’s symbolism of the ring – power and its abuse – and its seductive influence on almost all the book’s characters. There’s a line separating good and evil running through each of our hearts, as Solzhenitsyn came to realise in the gulag. There’s a Saddam and a Nebuchadnezzar inside each of us that needs to be humbled.

That’s why the King came the first time – as a humble, vulnerable babe himself – one day to deal evil itself the death blow and liberate us all.

Ultimately, that’s what we celebrate this Christmas.

So what are you reading this Christmas? If you have a book to recommend (to us or to Saddam), write me and we’ll compare notes in the next w e e k l y w o r d, on 5 January.

Till then,

Jeff Fountain

Till next week,

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