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If someone were to ask where you’d find the words, “this note is legal tender for all debts, public and private,” what would you say? If your answer is, “On the front of paper money printed in the U.S.,” you’d be right. And it’s common knowledge that on the back you’d find the words, “in god we trust.” In a disturbing twist of irony, too many of us worship money as “God,” and “trust” explicitly in it! Realistically, you can’t pursue spiritual values and material wealth simultaneously. It’s as the Lord Jesus said: “No matter who you are, you cannot report to two bosses who issue you conflicting orders and be completely loyal to both. Sooner or later you’re going to prefer one over the other, and you’re going to side with one and disregard the other. Well, it’s the same way with spiritual things as opposed to material things. Ultimately, you cannot work for spiritual treasures and material wealth at the same time.” (Matt. 6:24; Carr’s Christian Bible) The fact of the matter is when Judgment Day comes, your valuables will vanish; your cash will be trash; and your gold will be worth mold.
“Into the streets they will throw their very silver, and an abhorrent thing their own gold will become,” is the prophetic warning of God’s servant Ezekiel. “Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to deliver them in the day of Jehovah’s fury.” (Ezekiel 7:19) Skeptics and naysayers may dismiss these words as the ramblings of a sanctimonious calamity howler. But is this really the case? Well, what Ezekiel prophesied has happened. The Los Angeles Times (Sunday, June 4, 2000) gave this chilling report about one prosperous ancient city: “Coins and jewelry scattered in the streets and ruins testify to the opulence of the residents’ lifestyle and to the haste with which the city was abandoned.” The connection between what Ezekiel said and the Times story can only be described as eerie; which brings us to the story of Pompeii, another ancient city.
What happened to the pompous people of Pompeii is further proof of Jesus words when he said: “Believe me, where your treasure is—whether material or spiritual—your heart is also. In reality, they share the same space.” (Matt. 6:21; CCB) Now, whether God’s vengeance was visited via a volcano named Vesuvius upon the city of Pompeii (and the nearby beach city of Herculaneum) may very well be a matter of debate; and neither was all in Pompeii pompous. But the words of Ezekiel’s prophecy cannot be ignored when observing the behavior of many of Pompeii’s residents who didn’t heed warning signs. And see if certain parallels between our affluent society and their opulent culture don’t register with you. Then ask yourself: “Is there a lesson in this for me?” Here’s the story:
According to the February 2006 Smithsonian magazine article, “Resurrecting Pompeii” by Doug Stewart, over 1,900 years ago, on August 5, 79 CE, a volcano named Vesuvius erupted near Pompeii, a bustling city with running water, indoor fountains in private homes, famed wall paintings, a 22,000-seat amphitheater, and even graffiti like Auge Amat Allotenum (“Auge Loves Allotenus”). Yes, there were prostitutes aplenty. And like poor athletes from the ‘hood who go on to claim fame, “Gladiators came mostly from the region’s underclass—many were slaves, criminals or political prisoners—but charismatic victors could rise to celebrity status. Celadus the Thracian was ‘the ladies’ choice,’ according to one [graffiti] inscription.” But a fiery eruption ended their world so suddenly that they didn’t have time enough to throw their money in the streets!
The volcano “blasted out of the earth with supersonic speed” with a column that reached “nearly 20 miles” into the sky. What came out of the volcano overtook the residents so fast that it caught them between blinks, breaths, and footsteps. “By encasing objects almost as tightly as an insect trapped in amber, the fine-grained volcanic ash that smothered Pompeii proved a remarkable preservative.” Scientists discovered cavities in the 10-foot solid “ash” and poured plaster casts to bring figures back to life, so to speak. So we know exactly what they were doing at the very instance they died! What did the casts unveil? Check out these five brief episodes. (There are more!)
Episode 1: ‘A middle-aged man carrying gold jewelry, a sack of coins and the keys to his house. Close behind is his wife, scrambling frantically through the rubble with her skirts hiked up. She clutches an amber statuette of a curly-haired boy, perhaps Cupid, and the family silver, including a medallion of Fortune, goddess of luck.’
Episode 2: Another family of four, in the luxurious three-story beautifully decorated House of the Golden Bracelet, died in an instant. “Coins and jewelry lay on the floor of the house. Among the finery was a thick gold bracelet weighing 1.3 pounds (the source of the building’s name) in the popular shape of a two-headed snake curled so that each mouth gripped one side of a portrait medallion. Pompeii’s serpents were unsullied by biblical associations; in ancient Italy, snakes meant good luck.”
Episode 3: “In a small room at an inn on the southern outskirts of Pompeii, a woman of about 30 died wearing two heavy gold armbands, a ring and a gold chain. In a handbag were more bracelets and rings, another gold chain, a necklace and a long catena of thick, braided gold. Roman jewelry was rarely inscribed, but inside one of her armbands, shaped like a coiled snake, are the words: DOM(I)NUS ANCILLAE SUAE, ‘From the master to his slave-girl.’”
Episode 4: “Pompeii’s victims often died carrying the objects they valued most. A woman fleeing through one of the city gates clutched a gold-and-silver statuette of fleet-footed Mercury, the god of safe passage…[G]old chains up to six feet long that wrapped tightly around a woman’s waist, then crossed her chest and shoulders bandoleer-style” were also found among the dead, frozen in their tracks.
Episode 5: “Also discovered there were the remains of a woman wearing lots of expensive jewelry, inspiring speculation that she was a wealthy matron secretly visiting her gladiator lover at the time of Vesuvius’ eruption. More likely, considering the 18 other skeletons found in the same small room, she was simply seeking refuge from the deadly ash.”
Vesuvius hit the smaller, richer seaside resort of Herculaneum—where there was a villa with a swimming pool over 200 feet long, an “immense library of scrolls, frescoes, mosaics and more than 90 statues, and where senators had terraced homes—with a ‘pyroclastic surge of superheated (1,000-degree Fahrenheit) ash and gas traveling with the force of a hurricane.’ One scientist said you can’t outrun it, and neither are you given much warning. Citizens were simply incinerated. One eyewitness lamented: “You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men,” 15 miles away. The remains of 300 residents ‘carrying satchels filled with cash, jewels and amulets, crowded into boathouses on the beach. The sudden torrent of searing gas and ash was so hot that a cache of bronze and silver coins in a wicker basket were fused into a solid block of metal.’
The lesson to be learned? “Valuable things will be of no benefit on the day of fury, but righteousness itself will deliver from death.” (Proverbs 11:4) So, keep money in its place, and strengthen your relationship with God and your fellowman. Think about it. Amen.
Word for the Week (or is it “Weak”): exegesis: “an explanation or critical interpretation of a text.”