Nehemiah 9: In your great compassion you heard and helped them again.
One result of the reading and study of God’s Word is a powerful reconnection by the returned exiles to their history. Nehemiah 9 is made up mostly of a song written to tell this story. In it, God’s grace and mercy is highlighted. The Lord is good to them, from Abram of Ur to the day when they occupied the Promised Land. However, there’s great spiritual failure as their ancestors reject God and his Law. There’s a lot of repentance in this song, but there’s also great hope. God is still their God and they rely on him to deliver them from their enemies and re-establish them in this place that was promised to Abraham so long ago. This song is not only a song of history but is a hymn of invitation as well. As it ends, the heads of the families are challenged to come forward to sign a binding pledge. From this moment forward they’ll be a faithful people of God. They’re sure of God’s grace, now they commit themselves to that grace. It’s a powerful moment. Without it, the story of Nehemiah is just about rebuilding a wall. With it, we have a story about God rebuilding a people.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for his patient, merciful, transforming grace.
The End…well, not quite
2 Chronicles 36: …he wanted to give them every chance possible. But they wouldn’t listen.
The intended audience of the Chronicles is the descendants of those in the story that’s told here. The original readers live in exile, hundreds of miles from Jerusalem. These people have never seen the City of David and are in danger of becoming disconnected from their rich heritage. However, there’s more. These books tell why they are where they are. The passage before us gives the final word. God had warned their ancestors again and again that if they continued down the road they were traveling it would end in destruction. The mercy and grace of God in reaching out to them was disregarded. His repeated overtures to them were rejected and because of that rebellion God gave up on them and all was lost. Now both Israel and Judah are gone and the holy city of Jerusalem is destroyed. The End. However, the Chronicles author can’t let it end like that. After writing the obituary of Judah he ties the old story to their current lives. The God who gave up on their ancestors is now reaching out to them. There’s the possibility of rebuilding the Temple they’ve read about in this story. The God of Second Chances is still at work even in their lives. This story tells us a lot about the descendants of Abraham but it tells us even more about God.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.
Better late than never
2 Chronicles 33: As he prayed, God was touched.
Manasseh’s father, Hezekiah, made some mistakes, but his leadership of Judah was, by and large, pleasing to God and to his people. Now it’s Manasseh’s turn. He messes up – “royally!” Under his leadership the descendants of Abraham turn back to the idol worship of the past. He even brings disgusting idols right into the Temple his father had so carefully restored. It’s as Manasseh’s doing these stupid things that we find a chilling statement. The Scripture reports: “And God was angry.” Tell you what; if you’re doing your own thing and ignoring God you really don’t want to hear these words! The result is that God allows Assyria to accomplish what they were kept from accomplishing before. Jerusalem falls before this regional power. Manasseh, himself, is led off like a farm animal to distant Babylon, likely destined for execution. To Manasseh it seems that this just might be a good time to pray! Well, to be honest about it, it is way past time for him to pray; but pray he does. He falls on his knees and cries out to God, repenting “totally” of his sins. If one thing you really don’t want to hear about yourself is that “God is angry” the sweetest sound that can fall upon the ear is what we read here: “As he prayed, God was touched.” Manasseh shouldn’t have messed up in the first place. His life would have been vastly better had he been true to the God of his father. However, once he messed up, the next best thing was to pray a prayer of absolute, from-the-heart repentance. Such prayers always touch the heart of God. It’s true for Manasseh. It’s true for you and me.
Take Away: Better to not mess up in the first place, but if you’ve messed up it’s time to pray like you’ve never prayed before.
The last ray of light
2Kings 21: And God was angry.
Manasseh wasn’t even born when Hezekiah received the 14-year extension on his life. He assumes the throne at just 12 years of age and rules Judah for 55 years. His record as king is that of total failure. All the reforms of his father are reversed. He’s as committed to sin as his father was to righteousness. Over time he moves heathen idol worship right into the Temple of God. The result, according to the Bible, is that, “God was angry.” Now, decades after the fall of Israel God says he is sending the same, and worse, upon Judah. He’s put up with their evil long enough. Still, in spite of the dire words of doom, the Almighty does not act, at least not yet. Manasseh finishes his life and is buried in peace. His son Amon doesn’t fare as well and is assassinated within two years of assuming the throne. In these accounts I’m overwhelmed by the patience of mercy of God. Even when he’s “fed up” he waits a bit longer. That doesn’t mean that I can assume that God will always give me one more chance but it does mean that God’s patience is beyond my comprehension. In each generation he reaches out with a new and old message of hope. Even as the door of his mercy is closing he extends a final ray of light, one last opportunity to receive that light. This is what sometimes happens on a deathbed where a merciful God gives a person who has rejected him again and again one last opportunity. It works in lives that are, so far as the world is concerned, ruined beyond repair. Even as the darkness descends, there’s one last glimmer of hope for the one who will reach out and grasp it. And it works for people who are reading the Internet desiring some word of hope when they stumble upon a mostly unread blog.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.
A trophy of grace
2Kings 13: He never gave up on them, never even considered discarding them.
In spite of God’s patience and blessings and in spite of the difficulties the nation faces, Israel continues down a destructive path. When things are terrible they temporarily turn to God but before long they’re back in the old God-ignoring rut. Their future could have been bright, but that’s not how things are going to turn out. I know what happens over at the end of 2Chronicles when the twin kingdoms come to their official end. Then again, I know what happens on the next page after that where I see God’s faithfulness through the priest, Ezra. In fact, looking into their future as I can by simply turning the pages of my Bible I’m taken by the truth of this statement: “He never gave up on them.” Oh, the grace of God who clearly sees our failure yet declares, “I won’t even consider discarding you.” I’m a trophy of such grace. And so are you.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances…and third…and fourth…and….
The God of Second Chances
1Kings 18: Reveal to this people that you are God…and that you are giving these people another chance at repentance.
The “god-contest” is about over. Baal’s priests have prayed for hours. They’ve cried out and they’ve offered their cruel god their own blood. But there’s been no answer. The lone prophet of Jehovah God steps up. Now, it’s his turn. There’s no shouting and Elijah doesn’t cut himself to get his God’s attention. Instead, he cries out for God’s mercy: “Show them that you are giving them another chance” he prays. I am glad today that God is the God of Second Chances. Even when we mess up in stupid ways, God offers us second chances to repent and turn. Note that this isn’t about God turning a blind eye to their sin, offering to take them back on their own terms. The “second chance” is the chance to repent and change their ways and return to him. It’s a great offer that gives those of us who’ve crossed over the line away from God the opportunity to return. In this story, the falling fire on the sacrifice is a minor thing in comparison with the mercy of God that falls on these backslidden Hebrews.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances and that’s good news because we desperately need a second chance.
Simply doing the right thing
2 Samuel 15: Absalom…stole the hearts of everyone in Israel.
Permitted back into Israel and King David’s presence should have humbled Absalom. He should be grateful for the kindness of his father in restoring him after had murdered one of his own brothers. It doesn’t work that way though. Absalom wants more. To be exact, he wants the throne of Israel. With that in mind, he implements a patient plan. First, he begins to play the part of the king, making a regal procession wherever he goes. Then, he sets up shop at the city gate, the place where the community leaders meet to deal with issues under their jurisdiction. Absalom plays the part of the kind, caring friend to all who come. He suggests, ever so gently, that his father, the King, doesn’t care about the common man enough to grant justice. The impact isn’t immediate, but over time Absalom rises in popularity to the point that he can challenge his father for the throne of Israel. It shouldn’t be this way. Absalom ought to be the greatest and most committed supporter of David. Instead, he sets himself up to be his father’s greatest enemy. Sadly, this is how life is sometimes. We befriend people, forgive them, and make ourselves vulnerable to them and then they let us down. It happened to David, and, with Judas, it happened to Jesus too. Frankly, I can’t control what other people do, right or wrong. All I can do is the right thing and demonstrate the gentleness and mercy of God in my life. It would be better if the result of that were blessed and solid relationships. Sometimes, though, I have to settle for knowing that the Lord is pleased with me for trying. That, of course, is extremely valuable in itself.
Take Away: Sometimes we do the right thing and the results are everything we hoped for. Other times, it doesn’t work out, but there’s still great value in doing the right thing.
God provides a way back
2 Samuel 14: God does not take away life. He works out ways to get the exile back.
After avenging the terrible thing done to this sister Tamar by murdering his half-brother, Ammon, Absalom has fled, fearing for his own life. Now three years have passed and David’s general, Joab, thinks it is time for David to reconcile with his son. Earlier, Nathan brought to David a made-up story and confronted him with the memorable words: “You are the man!” Now, Joab sends a woman from Tekoa to do a similar thing. She pretends to be the mother of two sons. In her story, one son has killed the other. Now her family is out for revenge by taking the life of her remaining son. David rules compassionately saying he’ll take care of it. It’s then that the woman challenges David for doing the same thing concerning Absalom. She points out that God seeks ways to bring the exile back and that David should do the same thing. David sees the hand of Joab in this but agrees to at least open the way for his son’s return. This incident is a mere snapshot taken during a fast moving flow of events, but I’m taken with the wisdom of the woman from Tekoa. Before Jesus ever tells the famous parable, she pictures for us the forgiving mercy of God for the prodigal. She’s one hundred percent correct: “He works out ways to get the exile back.” We serve the God of Second Chances.
Take Away: Never give up on God – after all, he never gives up on us.
Close encounters of the Third Kind
1 Samuel 24: There was a cave there and Saul went in to relieve himself.
I know this isn’t the most inspiring statement in this story, but it is attention getting. David and his men have retreated to En Gedi, an area with lots of good places in which to hide. Saul has received a tip concerning David’s location, so he and his army are working through the region, searching for David. Saul knows he’s closing in on David, but has no idea of how close he actually is. Then, as happens at inopportune times, nature calls. There are no rest stops in the area, so Saul picks a convenient cave for privacy, dismisses his aids, and enters by himself, never guessing that David and his men (likely a patrol and not the whole 600) are hidden farther back in the cave. Talk about catching a man with his pants down! At this point it will be very easy for David to strike Saul down. His men see this as a golden opportunity to kill Saul, but David sees it as a chance to show mercy and to prove his respect for the person God placed at the head of the nation of Israel. David cuts off a piece of Saul’s laid aside robe. Then, as Saul rejoins his troops, David appears at the mouth of the cave Saul has just departed. The fringe of the robe proves that David has spared Saul’s life and, temporarily at least, Saul’s heart melts. Centuries later one of David’s descendants will declare the principle that directed David’s action that day. He said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” Before the Sermon on the Mount was ever preached David illustrated it at the cave in En Gedi.
Take Away: Doing the right thing sometimes means we let a golden opportunity to force the issue pass by.
The God of Second Chances
Judges 16: But his hair, though cut off, began to grow again.
Samson, lacking both self-control and common sense, has ruined everything. His undisciplined behavior with women and specifically his inability recognize Delilah for the traitor she is has cost him everything. His pride, strength, freedom, and eyesight are gone. The phrase “his hair began to grow again” is powerfully symbolic of what’s happening in Samson’s heart. As he does the work of an animal, grinding out grain, somehow, through his darkness, he begins to see God. However, a word of clarification is needed here. This isn’t a Samson story; rather, it’s a God story. We aren’t to focus on Samson’s strength or his stupidity, but on the marvelous grace of God. Samson had been raised up to be a deliverer of his people and even in his miserable state the Lord’s still willing to work in his life to that end. “His hair began to grow again” is a hopeful word in a terrible situation. This is a picture of our God of Second Chances at work. Samson’s end is not the conclusion to the glorious story as it could have been. In the exercise of his free will Samson sabotages his own life. However, even when everything’s messed up we find God at work salvaging even this destroyed life. That’s the kind of God I serve.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances, full of grace and mercy, offering us undeserved restoration.