Columnists > Judgment Calls

Valley of the gods

Milosevic or Caesar: All tyrants face defeat-sooner or later

Issue: "Here we go again," Nov. 11, 2000

Scripture is a book of echoes. You are not imagining it. When the end came for Slobodan Milosevic last month, and when you then remembered the ignominious fall of Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, Ezekiel 26 to 32 may have flashed through your mind, though you knew that was about sixth-century B.C. fertile crescent kings and not 20th-century Eastern European despots.

"In the pride of your heart you say, 'I am a god.... But you are a man and not a god.... I will cause many peoples to be appalled at you, and their kings will shudder with horror because of you ... on the day of your downfall" (Ezekiel 28:2; 32:10).

Bad as they are, when mighty men of the earth fall, the "shouts of joy" (Proverbs 11:10) always come mixed with a twinge of betrayal: "You promised you were a god! How dare you be only mortal, and slink away like a mouse!" Admit it, were you not betrayed many years ago when Toto pulled aside the curtain and the wizard was just a simpering, whimpering man? Was not admiration and sorrow tinged with a sense of betrayal as the ruler of the known universe lay in a pool of his own blood on the Roman senate floor: "O mighty Caesar! Dost thou lie so low? Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils, shrunk to this little measure? Fare thee well" (Mark Antony in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar).

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"Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against His Anointed One. 'Let us break their chains,' they say, 'and throw off their fetters.' The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then He rebukes them in His anger, and terrifies them in His wrath, saying, 'I have installed My King on Zion, My holy hill'" (Psalm 2:1-6).

Step this way, Mr. Milosevic; your escort awaits. Join the throng of those who have preceded you. You did nothing original. You thought you were unique. The military deserted you, the Tanjug news agency and Politika ran for cover. Perhaps you will live in Belarus-if they will have you-and there live out your days in some dingy apartment, fading into obscurity, writing your memoirs, dreading the midnight knock on the door, the extradition warrant, or the assassin's bullet.

"The grave below is all astir to meet you at your coming; it rouses the spirits of the departed to greet you-all those who were leaders in the world; it makes them rise from their thrones-all those who were kings over the nations. They will all respond, they will say to you, 'You also have become weak, as we are; you have become like us.' All your pomp has been brought down to the grave ..." (Isaiah 14:9-11).

Emperor Ch'in Shih is there. He once built a wall 1,700 miles long across northern China, on the backs of a million men. Herod the Great is there. He built the Temple of Jerusalem and other splendid projects. Attila the Hun is there, "The Scourge of God." He made an empire that stretched 4,300 miles, from the shores of the Pacific almost into Europe. Genghis Khan ("Mighty King"), "Il Duce," and "der Führer" are there. What did you build? "Bambiland" amusement park in Pozarevac, already overtaken by weeds and a haunt for jackals.

You forgot about Haiti's "Baby Doc" Duvalier, now living on handouts in France; Ethiopia's Mengistu Haile Mariam, under tight security in Zimbabwe; Chilean dictator General Pinochet, an old man hunted; Paraguay's General Alfredo Stroessner, hiding out in Brazil; Uganda's Idi Amin, forgotten somewhere in Saudi Arabia; Jean Bedel Bokassa, who once crowned himself Emperor of the Central African Republic, dressed in robes and shoes of pearl, perched upon a gold-plated throne shaped like an eagle, living in a marble palace lit by chandeliers. His extravagance ruined his country and he was overthrown, and fled.

Tremble for the tyrants who come to a bad end and tremble for those who don't-for both cases point to the same terrible truth: "When any one crime calls forth visible manifestations of His anger, it must be because He hates all crimes; and, on the other hand, His leaving many crimes unpunished only proves that there is a judgment in reserve, when the punishment now delayed shall be inflicted" (John Calvin's Institutes).

Through the corridors of time the sound reverberates, the echo of the toppling of men who would be gods, fallen in the valley of the gods. The man of iniquity is here, and is not yet, and will be no more. A final future contest awaits, a final anguished betrayal.

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