How Rich is King Tut?
At the end of this summer I had the pleasure of visiting the King Tut exhibition at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. The exhibit is made up of hundreds of ancient Egyptian statues, carvings, jewelry, artifacts, and furniture. Seattle also happens to be the exhibit’s last stop in North America, and it’s anyone’s guess when (and if) it will come back again (the tour before this one was back in the 70s, so that should tell you something). I’m glad I caught it before it left the states. You can’t find an exhibit like this anywhere else outside of Egypt. And man, there was stuff to see! The first room was all statues, most of them missing a few pieces. It was amazing to stare at these works of art and realize that you’re looking at something made thousands of years ago; things that were ten times as old as America back when the Colosseum was brand new.
To think that all those years ago someone, a human like you or me, spent hours painstakingly carving these elegant figures out of solid rock. It made me wonder: did they know their work would last this long? Did they ever think that people thousands of years later would line up and pay just for the opportunity to admire their work? What work of art from our own time will the by lining up to see four thousand years from now? Will anything of ours last that long?
What was even more amazing is that they had a couple non-stone items that somehow still survived. It is mind-boggling how long wood can last if it’s kept in a dark, dry place. I come from the wet woods of the Pacific Northwest so this was especially surprising. I mean, a tree falls in the woods and within a year it’ll start rotting. Ten years later it’s nothing but dirt and bug food. But apparently wood can last through the ages, given the right conditions and a lot of luck. Check out this sweet table.
But the real highlight of the exhibit was the gold room. You know why gold has always been so valuable? It’s too soft to use for tools and it sure is hard to find. However it’s shiny, and it doesn’t rust. It’s incorruptible. Anything made out of copper or iron or even silver would have corroded away to nothing after a few thousand years. Gold however…
…gold LASTS. All those precious treasures look the same now as they did the day they were made. That’s why gold is so precious. You want something that will last? Make it out of solid rock or pure gold. Of course things made out of solid gold tend to get stolen and melted down, but that another matter entirely.
Seeing all this wealth reminded me of something Randy Alcorn wrote in his book The Treasure Principle. It reads as follows:
The streets of Cairo were hot and dusty. Our missionary friends took us down an alley. We drove past Arabic signs to a gate that opened to a plot of overgrown grass. It was a graveyard for American missionaries.
As my family and I followed, Pat pointed to a sun-scorched tombstone that read: “William Borden, 1887–1913.”
Borden, a Yale graduate and heir to great wealth, rejected a life of ease in order to bring the gospel to Muslims. Refusing even to buy himself a car, Borden gave away hundreds of thousands of dollars to missions. After only four months of zealous ministry in Egypt, he contracted spinal meningitis and died at the age of twenty-five.
I dusted off the epitaph on Borden’s grave. After describing his love and sacrifices for the kingdom of God and for Muslim people, the inscription ended with a phrase I’ve never forgotten: “Apart from faith in Christ, there is no explanation for such a life.”
The Thurmans took us straight from Borden’s grave to the Egyptian National Museum. The King Tut exhibit was mind-boggling.
Tutankhamen, the boy king, was only seventeen when he died. He was buried with solid gold chariots and thousands of golden artifacts. His gold coffin was found within gold tombs within gold tombs within gold tombs. The burial site was filled with tons of gold.
The Egyptians believed in an afterlife—one where they could take earthly treasures. But all the treasures intended for King Tut’s eternal enjoyment stayed right where they were until Howard Carter discovered the burial chamber in 1922. They hadn’t been touched for more than three thousand years.
I was struck by the contrast between these two graves. Borden’s was obscure, dusty, and hidden off the back alley of a street littered with garbage. Tutankhamen’s tomb glittered with unimaginable wealth. Yet where are these two young men now? One, who lived in opulence and called himself king, is in the misery of a Christless eternity. The other, who lived a modest life on earth in service of the one true King, is enjoying his everlasting reward in the presence of his Lord.
Tut’s life was tragic because of an awful truth discovered too late—he couldn’t take his treasures with him. William Borden’s life was triumphant. Why? Because instead of leaving behind his treasures, he sent them on ahead.
In that exhibit I got to share in that observation. King Tut had riches beyond compare shoved into that tomb with him. He believed that they would follow him into the afterlife. Instead they’re on display at a museum for people like me to gawk at. How rich is King Tut? Right now he’s poorer than anyone on earth. He doesn’t have a possession to his name. He left it all behind. Just as we will have to someday. You can’t take it with you; the only thing that follows you past the grave is your actions on this earth. So what’s the smarter choice: buying some new toy for ourselves that we’ll inevitably leave behind, or using that money to change someone’s life on this earth?
Something to think about.