This week I want to take you back to the exile of Judah to Babylon. Imagine how it must have been for the families of those first noble young men like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, whose names were changed by king Nebuchadnezzar, in honour of the pagan gods he served, to Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These people knew that is was probable that they would never see their children again. They had no idea as to how they were going to be treated and they were being taken against their wills to Babylon, so very far away. How grief stricken those young men must have been, to be torn away from all they knew, everything they were familiar with, to live the rest of their lives in a land where God was not worshiped.
Daniel, because of his refusal to live as the Babylonians did, to worship their gods, to eat their food, and because he remained faithful all his days to the one true God, prospered. His faith and his integrity shone through. God anointed him and enabled him alone to know the king’s dream and its meaning. He was never passive, he was active, he bloomed where he was planted, despite his circumstances, despite, dare I say, his feelings. He had facts, faith and feelings in their right order. Like Esther, who lived after him, he found himself where he didn’t want to be, but because of his obedience and faith, God prospered him as He did Esther, and he was used mightily against all human expectations.
Sadly it was not so for many of the exiles. They could not , or would not, settle. They kept longing to go back to Jerusalem, they mourned for the temple where God’s presence dwelt; but of course the temple didn’t exist any more, Nebuchadnezzar pillaged it of all its treasures and razed it to the ground. How could they worship God in a strange land? (see Psalm 137).
The exiles were mocked and made a fool of, and their hearts were filled with a desire for the people of Babylon to suffer as they had. Of course eventually Babylon did fall and the people did suffer greatly. God used Nebuchadnezzar to fulfill His plan and purpose for disobedient Judah; but Babylon was judged by Him nevertheless for their cruel and harsh treatment of God’s chosen race and for the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.
All the time that the exiles kept looking back, they were standing still. Yes, there was a time for mourning over their loss, but life had to go on and they were getting nowhere. That is why, I believe, God prompted Jeremiah to write to them.
‘Thus says the Lord of hosts; the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters – that you may be increased there, and not diminished.’ (Jeremiah 29:4-6)
Make the best of it, was Jeremiah’s advice. Don’t stand still, move on, make lives for yourselves. Of course eventually they did just that, they had no choice. It took them a while, but in time they were dispersed throughout the Persian empire, firmly established where they found themselves, still yearning for Jerusalem, but not weeping and wailing as they once had done, and indeed finding that they could still worship God in a strange land. It was during this time that the synagogue system came in to being. Of course Mordecai and Esther were just two of those people.
Many of the Jews never returned to Jerusalem, because after seventy years there were settled, they had good lives. Some however did return and Psalm 137 was written after their return, as the psalmist remembered what it had been like in Babylon.
It is wonderful to think that after all the years since these events, in the main, the Jewish people still have Jerusalem in their hearts. Indeed the last words of their Passover feast each year are, ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’
Since 1948 they have been flocking back to Israel in their thousands from all over the world, and Israel, despite the harassment from the nations surrounding them, is blooming as it has never bloomed before. Beset on all sides, nevertheless Israel is the centre of technology, science, medical discoveries and education. Their fruit and vegetables can be bought in our supermarkets. We still see God’s hand upon His people and upon His land. His will is being fulfilled.
I am sure that you will agree that in our lifetime we have seen great changes in the world and not least in our own nation. No longer is Britain a Christian nation and in some instances Christians are being persecuted by the state system, losing jobs because they refuse to accept the promotion of homosexuality and other gender issues, being arrested for street preaching, being forced to teach evolution to junior school children, and the list goes on. Christians are ridiculed by the media, time and time again. Jesus is mocked and blasphemed openly. There is no fear of God.
Also we are seeing changes in the churches. Biblical knowledge and understanding had decreased even in churches that weren’t too biblically literate anyway; replacement theology is widespread even in some evangelical circles; emergent practices are becoming more and more popular. Many people are being led astray with no good teaching, just tickling of the ears, and we can clearly see the coming together of the one world church as Roman Catholic, Muslim, New Age and even emergent, evangelical leaders get together to supposedly bring about world peace and so solve the world’s problems.
Antisemitism is spreading rapidly and more and more Jews are going home to Israel.What is amazing is to see how God will use anti semitism to bring His people home. 25,000 Jews returned last year, many from France and Ukraine. You can see why! So that is where our focus should be, on Israel, for Israel is the centre of this world.
Now obviously none of us have any idea how things are going to work out for Israel outside of scripture and prophecy in the days to come; but it is certain that Jesus’ return is imminent and things definitely appear to be ‘hotting up’. Even those who do not believe as we do, can see what is happening and I believe that many people are going to get very worried, very soon, as they watch events unfold.
So our chance to bloom where we are planted is now. Our chance to talk to people about Jesus, our chance to stand up and be counted in the place we find ourselves right now. Give out tracts, have conversations with unbelievers when you can, love and serve the Lord and spread His precious word to those who are on the fast track to Hell. Who me? Yes you!
Casting Crowns, a well known Christian band, had an article on their web page a while ago. They have written a song about ordinary people just like you and me, who never wanted to be thought of as heroes, but who are serving the Lord right where they are. Sometimes we have big ideas of how we are going to serve God, sometimes not, and as the article says, David never set out to be a giant slayer, he was following God and a giant got in his way. Peter never planned on walking on water, that’s just where Jesus was. Nehemiah didn’t set out to build a huge wall, he just loved God and his heart was broken for his city.
If we love God so much then we do anything He says no matter how crazy it seems. The writer then cited several people from his church who do things for God right where they are, taking every opportunity to lead others to Christ because their hearts are breaking for them The article ended with these words, ‘Being a hero is blooming where you are planted and loving the people you are with.’
Jesus is coming soon, it won’t be long, time is getting very short.
Come Lord Jesus!
In His love,