We have covered a lot of ground since May 15th when we started on this journey through the Bible. We looked at how stories govern our lives and influence the choices that we make.
We looked at the differences between God’s Story and the American Dream, the Dream of Novelty and entertainment, the “White Picket Fence” story, the “John Wayne” self-sufficient-me-against-the-world story, the “Retirement Story”…
We have seen the passion of God to draw all people to Himself. We have seen how the theme of Leviticus 26:11-12 has guided the mission of God from the very beginning:
I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. -Leviticus 26:11-12
As part of this mission, God invited humanity to join Him – to join their story into His; to change their story to one that impacts the entire world. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Elijah, and so forth all decided to join with God versus trying to do it on their own.
Yes, they messed up at times…but they got back up and kept on walking with God. Just like we are to do today – we also have, are, being invited to join with God in His mission right here in the Payette River drainage. There may be days, minutes or week when we are slightly off…but this doesn’t mean that we are ‘out’… NO! We are to get back up and keep on walking!!
Learning about the Story…
As we learned about God’s Story we have seen how He created a nation out of a family of slaves. How He joined this family with other slaves and outcasts in the area to start one of the best nations in the history of humanity.
Sadly this nation did not continue to walk with God.
They allowed the pressures of the world – the fame, the wealth, the habits and stories of the people around them to derail them from following God. There were some times when they tried to get back up – some kings of Judah who tried to get back to their first love….but somehow, someway their efforts failed and the nation was plugged back into darkness.
Yet God was not left without a witness; no matter how dark the land got or how much injustices there was in the land, God always had a remnant of men and women who stayed faithful to Him. They followed the King of Kings regardless of what was going on around them.
Finally God had enough. No longer was He going to keep blessing and protecting a rebellious people – a people who, while claiming to be His children, were not living according to the love, mercy, and justice that embodies God Himself.
So after numerous warnings, the Lord uses the nation of Assyria to conquer the northern 10 tribes (i.e. the nation of Israel). You would think that this action would wake up the southern nation of Judah…but it did not… so God sent the Babylonian Empire to destroy both the nation and the temple in Jerusalem.
It is at this point in history that we are going to focus our attention today.
• Will the mission of God continue without a nation or a temple?
• Is all lost? Or is God still in control?
• How will the Hebrew people react to the punishments of God for their disobedience?
Destruction of Jerusalem
To answers questions we must first look at the destruction of Jerusalem. In 2 Kings 24 we see Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, conquering the nation of Judah and turning it into a puppet kingdom under Jehoiakim. After his death, Jehoiachin became king of Judah and ended up angering Nebuchadnezzar – who then came to Jerusalem and hauled him and a bunch of the Hebrew people off to Babylon.
During this time the prophet Jeremiah and Ezekiel told the Hebrew people that the course of events was God’s punishment for rejecting Him. The people, however, believed that since the temple of God was in Jerusalem and because God said that a descendant of David would always be on the throne then they were guaranteed to be safe. In other words, they thought that they were safe from God’s punishment because of the faith of their forefathers.
Visual Prophecy: Ezekiel made a picture of Jerusalem on a tile and mimicked a siege against it (4:1-3)
Meaning: Jerusalem would be overthrown by a foreign power.
Visual Prophecy: Ezekiel lies on his left side for several hours a day for 39 days and then on this right size for several hours a day for forty days (4:4-6)
Meaning: An illustration of the iniquity of Judah and Israel.
Visual Prophecy: Measured out food and water during the coming siege on both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms (4:9-11)
Meaning: An example of the insufficiency of food and water during the coming siege on both Hebrew nations
Visual Prophecy: Cut his hair and divided it into three equal parts. He burned 1/3. He struck 1/3 with a sword and scattered 1/3 to the wind (5:1-4; 12)
Meaning: An illustration fo the three ways Judah would be handled in its capture. 1/3 of the people would be burned. 1/3 would be killed by the sword and 1/3 would be carried away to Babylon.
Visual Prophecy: Ezekiel was instructed to dig a hole in his house and carry his household goods into the street.
Meaning: The breaking down of the walls of Jerusalem and the carrying away of its inhabitants.
Let this be a lesson to all of us –each of us, ever generation must choose to walk with Jesus. Yes, we do and have reaped the blessings of the generations before us – but just because those before us walked with Jesus does not mean that we can continue in sin without any consequences.
Finally after years of dealing with different kings of Judah who continued to rebel against him, Nebuchadnezzar took his army to Jerusalem and leveled the place. Nothing was sacred – the palace, the temple, the Holy of Holies, all of it was destroyed…. Just like God said it would be.
As the people in Babylon tried to understand what was happening, God provided them with a letter from Jeremiah (who was writing in Jerusalem before its final destruction):
4 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 8 Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the LORD. –Jeremiah 29:4-9
Can you image this? God is telling the Israelites to settle down and bless the nation that destroyed their country. What would you do if the USA was conquered by another nation and God told you to bless and honor this invading country? Would you do it?
Well, Daniel did.
Daniel was a young man when he was taken to Babylon in the first wave of exiles. When he arrived in Babylon, he was chosen along with various others of his age and social rank (he was a member of the royal family and nobility) to serve Nebuchadnezzar as a government official.
Not long after he and three of his friends – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – entered into politics, Nebuchadnezzar had a bad dream. This dream was so bad that Nebuchadnezzar sent for his chief wise men and advisors to help him figure out what it meant. The crazy part was that Nebuchadnezzar decided not to tell anyone the dream as he did not want them telling him lies or ‘feel good’ stuff.
As one would expect, none of these jokers could tell Nebuchadnezzar what his dream was nor what it meant. So Nebuchadnezzar decided to kill all the government advisors and wise men – including the four Hebrew young men who just joined up. Having a persuasive tongue, Daniel was able to talk the chief guard into letting him take a crack at Nebuchadnezzar dream before he killed him.
Having been granted the request, Daniel gathered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego together for a prayer meeting. That evening God told Daniel the dream and what it meant – saving everyone from death and propelling Daniel into a career that spanned three kingdoms and multiple kings.
The book of Esther provides us with another example of what the happened to the Exiles. This book tells the story of Esther who becomes the queen of Babylon under the Persian rule of King Xerxes. Some scholars say that Xerxes was the father of Darius the Mede, who threw Daniel into the lions dens… but we don’t know that for sure.
Either way, the important part of Esther for us today is that Esther and Mordecai, the two main characters, are working to keep Bablyon great. They were not trying to destroy or hurt the empire that conquered their nation – nor did they try to use their influence to leave Babylon and going back to Jerusalem. They had decided to stay there and build houses like Jeremiah told them to do so.
As you can imagine these actions caused a ton of different results…but here are three that impact us today:
1) God is bigger than Judah, Israel, Jerusalem or the temple. Just like Solomon said during the building of the temple,
“But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” -1 Kings 8:27
2) God will bring them back ‘home’ after 70 years – plus He would do a new thing in their lives:
26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. – Ezekiel 36:26-27
3) Spirit vs. the Law – since the temple was destroyed, the Hebrew people had to figure out how to worship God. This lead to the rise of the synagogues as the place where one went to read the Bible.