Posted by: ritagone | February 6, 2013

Sin and Suleiman


This seems to be my week for studying and thinking about sin.  I taught our Monday night Growth Group Bible study on Romans 7, the great story of Paul telling his readers how he constantly finds himself doing what he doesn’t want to do, trapped by the sin living in him.  We went around the room at my request and “confessed” to something that we do frequently that we wish we didn’t do, and it wasn’t a pretty conversation, believe me.  “What a wretched man I am!” was Paul’s conclusion to his state at the end of Romans 7.

That’s the effect sin has on a believer who knows better and who wants to be better.

And then earlier this week I read an interesting excerpt from a book by G.J. Meyer entitled “A World Undone: The Story of the Great War 1914 to 1918,” in which the author discussed empires and history leading up to World War I.

The Ottoman Empire had been ruled for ten successive generations by brilliant and capable leaders, culminating in the dazzling reign of Suleiman the Magnificent (1494-1566), who led the Empire to its cultural and geographic zenith.  Suleiman, a contemporary of Henry VIII in England, was a warrior, personally leading his army in thirteen campaigns.  He was a poet, a student of the works of Aristotle, and a builder who made Constantinople grander and more beautiful than it had ever been.  He had some 300 concubines, as well as a promising young son and heir named Mustafa, when it all went wrong.

Suleiman was given a red-haired Russian girl as a part of his share of the booty from a slave-gathering raid into what is now Poland, and she must have been a remarkable creature.  She came to be known as Roxelana, and almost from the day she arrived into Suleiman’s harem, he never slept with another woman.  He amazingly did something that no sultan had done for centuries: he married.  Their love story would have been one of the great ones if it hadn’t ended up taking the dynasty and the empire in such a sordid direction.

Mustafa, Suleiman’s son and heir, gave every indication of developing into a mighty branch on the family tree.  But he stood in the way of the son whom Roxelana had borne to Suleiman, and so he was doomed.  Roxelana persuaded her husband that Mustafa was plotting against him.  (He was doing nothing of the kind.)  With his father looking on, Mustafa was overpowered and strangled by five professional executioners whose tongues had been slit and eardrums broken so that they would hear no secrets and could never speak of what they saw.  And so, when Suleiman died some years later, master of an empire of almost incredible size and power, he was succeeded by Roxelana’s son, Selim II.

Nothing was ever the same again.

Selim the Sot was short and fat and a drunk.  He never saw a battlefield and died after eight year on the throne by falling down and fracturing his skull in his marble bath.  His son, Murad III, was also a drunk and an opium addict as well; during a reign of twenty years he sired 103 children and apparently did little else.  His heir, Mahomet III, began his reign by ordering all of his many brothers, the youngest of them mere children, put to death, thereby introducing that custom into Ottoman royal culture.  And so it went.  Every sultan from Roxelana’s son forward was a monster of degeneracy or a repulsive weakling or both.

In the post-Suleiman empire, a new breed of craven sultans came to live in terror of being overthrown by rivals from within the dynasty.  Appalling new traditions emerged, to be observed whenever one of them died.  All the women of the deceased sultan would be moved to a distant place and kept in solitude for the rest of their miserable lives.  The rulers erected a windowless building called the Cage in which their heirs were confined from early childhood until they died or were put to death or, having been taught nothing about anything, were released to take their turns on the throne.  The result was as inevitable as it was monstrous: an empire ruled year after year and finally century after century by utterly ignorant, utterly incompetent, sometimes half-imbecilic, half-mad men, some of whom spent decades in the Cage before their release and all of whom, after their release, were free to do absolutely anything they wanted, no matter how vicious, for as long as they remained alive.  They commonly indulged their freedom to kill or maim anyone they wished for any reason, or for no reason at all.

Like the downward spiral of the kings of Israel, and like the downward spiral of sin in our own lives, once we let the enemy in, we can’t control how it takes over and envelopes every aspect of our being.  This is exactly what Paul was talking about in Romans, except that the sultans wanted to do what they were doing.

Sin truly is heinous in anyone’s life.

Back at one point in time, Suleiman the Magnificent had choice to make: listen to the lies his wife was whispering in his ear about his son Mustafa or turn away from her evil whispers and do the right thing.  He chose poorly, he let sin overflow into his Kingdom, and the results were horrific for centuries to come.

You and I – on a much lesser level – make those same kinds of choices every day about sin’s whisper in our ear.

Today I’d like to turn away from Roxelana’s evil whisperings in my ear and listen instead to the soothing, gracious whisperings of Jesus that are always meant to lead me in the paths of righteousness.

How about you?


  1. Great and profound blog today, but they are always good!!

    Sent from my iPhone

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