God is still God even when everything’s falling apart
Daniel 1: The Master handed King Jehoiakim of Judah over to him.
My devotional journey moves now to the book of Daniel. I’m glad to arrive here. For several months I’ve spent time in some of the hard scrabble writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. I’m ready to enjoy some devotional reading of some of the greatest stories of the Bible. Daniel isn’t above giving us visions and prophecies. In fact, his book is divided almost equally between stories of God’s deliverance and prophecies of God’s sovereignty. For now, though, I’m looking forward to Daniel’s rise to prominence in Babylon, the story of the fiery furnace, and, of course, the lion’s den! The events of Daniel take place around 600 years before Christ. When King Jehoiakim of Judah rebels against his master Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon Jerusalem is attacked and brought to her knees. The Temple is ransacked and many of its citizens are taken captive. Among the captives are members of the royal line. Nebuchadnezzar’s policy is to pick of the best of the people of this defeated nation and indoctrinate them into the ways of his nation. Daniel is one of those chosen for this. Off he goes to Babylon, apparently, under the control of a king and government that has no interest in his Hebrew heritage. In this dark hour of uncertainty it may seem to Daniel and friends that God had lost interest in them, but it isn’t so. Things are just getting interesting!
Take Away: When it seems all is lost the Lord is just getting started!
From generation to generation
Ezra 1: Who among you belongs to his people?
Nebuchadnezzar, it turns out, is the last strong king of Babylon and his destruction of Jerusalem comes near the end of his reign. Before long a new world power rises to swallow Babylon. Cyrus has united the Medes and the Persians, creating a powerful and ambitious kingdom. While it’s probably true that Babylon would have fallen under its own weight anyway, the Persians speed things up to dominate the entire region. For the scattered people of Israel, it appears to simply be a change from one conqueror to another. However, this point of view fails to take the hand of the Almighty into account. This new ruler doesn’t have the negative emotional baggage toward these people that Nebuchadnezzar had. He saw them as a stubborn and rebellious people. Cyrus, on the other hand, wants their God to look on him favorably. A series of events causes him to authorize the rebuilding of the Temple that was destroyed before he was ever born. Because of that he offers these second and third generation exiles permission to return to Jerusalem for that purpose. Many of the Hebrews are satisfied to stay where they were, after all this is the land of their birth. However, some, possibly influenced by the writings in the Chronicles are willing to embark on this challenging adventure. As I work through this material I’m reminded that God is the God of History. From generation to generation he continues to work. People are born, live, and then die, passing from the pages of history. However, God always “is.” There are countless individual stories to be told but through it all, there is just One God.
Take Away: There are many stories to be told, but only one God lives and reigns through them all.
2Kings 25: Judah went into exile, orphaned from her land.
Following its defeat by Babylon Zedekiah is made king of the now subjected Judah. However, in spite of all that’s happened, Zedekiah ignores God and then foolishly rebels against Babylon. This is the final step on the road to destruction. King Nebuchadnezzar personally oversees the final defeat of Jerusalem and then orders its total destruction. Anything of value is carried off and the rest is leveled. Even the Temple is destroyed as the city is left desolate, uninhabitable. For this generation it’s all over. Those who survive will live their lives as exiles, with all the wonderful promises of the now-broken Covenant discarded in the pile of rubble that was Jerusalem. History tells us the human reasons for all this: the rise of Babylon, the defeat of Egypt and Assyria, and the physical location of Judah. However, the Bible tells us the spiritual reason: sin. They rejected God and then, after centuries of patience and renewed chances, God rejected them. It isn’t easy, but it is possible to exhaust the patience of a merciful God. This ought to serve as a warning to both individuals and nations.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for his mercy and patience…yes, thank him, but take advantage of them too.
Out of the frying pan, into the fire
2Kings 24: The threat from Egypt was now over.
Aside from the remaining wealth amassed by Solomon Judah is a minor player on the world stage. The real action has been between mighty Egypt and mighty Babylonia. Egypt is the old power and Babylonia is the new. The small kingdoms that are unfortunate enough to be between the two are mere pawns in their chess match for domination of the region. Babylon wins. Having driven Egyptian forces out of the region, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon now turns his attention to subduing the small kingdoms of the region. Judah has been defeated once, but as Nebuchadnezzar’s attention has been on other matters, Jehoiakim, king of Judah revolted, leading to a series of attacks by other smaller armies against Jerusalem. Judah has been driven to her knees as Nebuchadnezzar, himself, arrives to direct the assault on the small beleaguered country. Jerusalem surrenders and Babylonian forces plunder the city. There will be a few more stories to tell, but the grave is already dug and the end of Judah is at hand. There have been some less than perfect opportunities to Judah to remain a nation. For instance, Jehoiakim didn’t have to rebel and could have continued to pay tribute to Nebuchadnezzar. Still, as we’re reminded several times here, “God said it would happen.” For them, this is Judgment Day. Anyone who thinks God is “too good” or “too kind” to pronounce condemnation on those who reject him should read the final chapters of 2 Kings.
Take Away: Never doubt that the holiness of the Lord means he will judge sin.