“How Did the Hopeless Find Hope?”Categories: Iron sharpens iron
The past two weeks’ articles have examined the fall and destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 BC. In the first, we saw that it was far from a sterile report of a far-off military engagement; rather it was the catastrophic collapse of the Jews’ society, nation, and way of life, along with many of their most fundamental assumptions, and topped off by an incalculably high cost in human life and suffering. In the second, we discovered that, while they had every right to mourn this disaster, they had no right to be surprised. God had told them it was going to happen unless they fixed their behavior, for centuries on end. They ignored his verbal warnings and increasingly severe penalties, imposed in part to encourage them to shape up and avoid this worst one that still lay in store. As they struggled to comprehend all that had happened, they acknowledged they had brought this upon themselves.
The Lord is in the right,
for I have rebelled against his word;
but hear, all you peoples,
and see my suffering;
my young women and my young men
have gone into captivity.
For all of the Israelites’ many—many—faults, there is one significant point in their favor. After being so thoroughly crushed in payment for their sins, and living as they did, in a world so full of polytheism and national patron idols, many in their position would have attributed their capital’s fall, and especially the destruction of their temple, to their god’s inability to protect them. This was, coincidentally, a tactic employed by the Assyrians, during their (notably unsuccessful) siege of Jerusalem more than a century prior.
“And do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you by saying, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’ Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?”
(2 Kings 18.32-35)
Without a doubt, there were Israelites whose faith in God failed them; but on the whole their strong cultural bonds and ancient traditions carried most of Judah’s survivors through their captivity without losing their most basic faith in God. Between a stubborn refusal to attribute failure to God, and their (alas! too late) reflections upon the many warnings he had made to them and to their fathers to this effect, they concluded, quite correctly, that in fact God had not only allowed, but actually caused their fall, and even the destruction of his own Temple!
The Lord has scorned his altar,
disowned his sanctuary;
he has delivered into the hand of the enemy
the walls of her palaces;
they raised a clamor in the house of the Lord
as on the day of festival.
The Lord determined to lay in ruins
the wall of the daughter of Zion…
By finally, belatedly, listening to the warnings issued by God, they also recognized that they had come with a blessing for the future:
In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God.
Since they’d seen the fulfillment of the threats, they reasoned that the blessings were trustworthy, too.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
God brought them back to their ancestral homeland and even had them rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. But considering the grandiose nature of the promises, it always seemed a bit underwhelming, a mere shadow of Israel’s golden age under King David. God repeatedly pictured the period of restoration as a return to David’s leadership.
“I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken.”
And it wasn’t to be just a pale imitation of an old, defunct kingdom, allowed to stand briefly among the surrounding nations.
In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.
The Gentiles would seek this new David, and desire to become subjects in his “kingdom that shall never be destroyed” (Da 2.44).
When God’s people finally stopped focusing on what they wanted and worried about God’s will instead, they found hope. Despite the suffering and despair, the best was yet to come, and they would be the vehicle to bring the Messiah into the world, blessing us all immeasurably. We’ll look deeper into the Messiah and how his work mirrored Israel’s story of destruction and restoration, in next week’s article. For now, learn from their experience—their mistakes—and start seeking God’s will rather than your own, before the time comes for the temple of your body to fall.