“Why Did God Allow This?”Categories: Iron sharpens iron
In last week’s article, we sought to better understand what the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in 586 BC meant for the Jews. It wasn’t only a grave threat to their way of life, but also to their identity as a nation—as God’s chosen people. They were left to wonder, how could this happen? This is symbolized in the Hebrew title of the Old Testament book we call Lamentations, ’Ekhah (אֵיכָה)—“How,” taken from its first line. The book mourns the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, together with its attendant misery, horror, and death.
So, why did God allow his people to suffer so much, and to have their inheritance taken away from them? Two generations died in captivity, before Cyrus gave them the option to return home.
Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel… (Ezra 1.3)
But despite Cyrus’ instructions to his subjects to help the Jews along on their way, this lofty goal of returning to repossess their ancestral homeland and rebuild their nation, was out of reach for most of the Jews. More would return to Jerusalem later, but to this day there have always remained far more Jews dispersed among the nations, than in their ancestral homeland. Why did God allow his promises to be gutted like this? Well, he didn’t. In fact, it was always part of the plan.
God promised them this land, but he also promised to discipline them when they sinned. He told them, “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you” everything needed for not only survival, but flourishing (Le 26.3-4). In the same oracle, he later said,
“But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.” (Leviticus 26.14-16)
He was just getting started. The list of punishments was far longer than the promised blessings, and four times he said something like, “And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again” (v18; cf. vv21, 23, 27-28). The promised punishments culminate with the one most pertinent to our chosen topic:
“And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.” (Leviticus 26.33)
Nor was this the only time God told his people they could choose one of two paths. For just one other example, what did God tell Solomon, after filling the newly-dedicated Temple with his glory and promising, “For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever” (2Ch 7.16)?
“And as for you, if you will walk before me as David your father walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you…, then I will establish your royal throne….
“But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes…, then I will pluck you up from my land…, and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight… (2 Chronicles 7.17-20)
It’s the same thing he’d said back in Leviticus. As he promised, so he did. God showed Ezekiel a vision of his glory abandoning the Temple; it fell to Babylon soon after (Eze 10).
God always keeps his promises. Sometimes he goes to greater lengths to reassure his people of the things he has clearly stated once, as he did when “he swore by himself” to Abraham that he would bless him with a nation of descendants (He 6.13), but this is reserved for only the most exceptional cases. Another of these is visible in Psalm 110, which refers to David in its superscript, but is obviously about the Messiah to come:
The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” (Psalm 110.1)
And later in the same Psalm,
The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110.4)
Unlike the qualified promises he gave to the Israelites, this one stands as an absolute, with no “if” to be found. Unlike the Levitical priesthood that saw its purpose melt away when the Temple burned to the ground, Christ’s priesthood isn’t tied to an earthly dwelling place, or a normal human lifespan. He’s always interceding on our behalf, and ready to help us when we need it most.
The Temple’s fall forced the Jews to question the meaning and purpose of their existence. They wrestled with it, and formed a cautious hope that there was more to the story—that God wasn’t done with them, yet, and the best may be yet to come. They were right! We’ll delve deeper into the hope they found, in next week’s article; but for now, learn from the Israelites’ failure to heed all of the “ifs” attached to God’s promises. We don’t have to worry about Jesus our high priest failing, or his kingdom being conquered; but there are several “ifs” for us to keep in mind, today:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2.12-13)