Sunday, January 24, 2016
Babylonian Slave Market
Would you allow me to share with you some thoughts that came to me as I was preparing for a message I shared this weekend in a nearby church, as well as our little Saturday night group? It kind of begins with a passage that includes a verse that is a favorite for many, but starting a little earlier, out of Jeremiah 29—
10 “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfil to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
Jeremiah 29:10-14 NASB
As I was trying to develop a sense of context for the lesson, it occurred to me that we have a modern day parallel that might help us understand the impact of what Jeremiah was saying.
According to reports I have seen on the news this week, the ISIS terrorists have captured and are holding upwards of 3,500 Yazidi women, children and some men as slaves (I double checked the recent reports for the numbers).
Could you imagine being sent to tell the Yazidi people that if they will be patient and wait for 70 years, then God will come visit them and deliver them out of their oppression? I’m not sure they would find that message particularly encouraging; I wouldn’t if I were them!
Today, we observe the things ISIS has been doing, and are horrified at the barbaric behavior and atrocities they commit. But realize, their atrocities are not any worse…and maybe not even as bad…as they kinds of things the ancient Babylonians did to those they captured and enslaved. And they, too, bragged about their vicious nature!
It was into that context that Jeremiah proclaimed that God knew the plans he has for them, the plans for good and not evil, and that those plans included 70 years in captivity to the barbaric Babylonians. It was a message so horrific that Habakkuk was repulsed at the thought that God could possibly allow the Babylonians to have dominance over the Jewish people for any time at all. Seventy years! That’s a lifetime. In captivity, it might be more than one lifetime, for that matter. Jeremiah even goes so far as to suggest that the people need to accept this situation, plant vineyards, build houses, settle down and wait.
Only then, after the 70 years had passed, would the promise be fulfilled for God to show them the good he has planned. After the 70 years in captivity, they would find God, God would hear them, God would restore their fortunes and bring them back to the Promised land. And that is the plan that is meant to give them hope! A miserable time was coming upon them, but God’s promise was that it wouldn’t last forever. As the unnamed old preacher who used to say that his favorite phrase in the Bible was “and it came to pass,” because “it came to pass,” instead of saying “it came to stay.”
The point of this was for us to try to approach things with a bit of God’s perspective in terms of time. What may seem like a lifetime to us, is but a brief moment in eternity. When it seems like God is slow to answer, it is that we do not realize God’s timing is perfect. The end of Hebrews 10 challenges us in the face of such adverse circumstances, to endure. Endurance is highlighted as an essential character trait for believers; we are to hang on to our faith for God’s ultimate good purposes to come to us in God’s perfect timing.
For many dealing with divorce and its aftermath, there are plenty of opportunities to “endure;” too many in fact. For many in grief, there are opportunities to endure. For those who face devastating illness and financial reversal, there are opportunities to endure in faith. Or given this weekend’s news reports, even if the hardship is due to a blizzard paralyzing traffic and threatening electrical power!
It is hard not to believe in the midst of those kinds of hard times that something has gone awry, or that God has abandoned you. But feeling that way does not make those beliefs true. Truth is found in the scriptures, which clearly state that God will never fail us or forsake us, and that when we go through hard times God will be there with us to help us through.
It doesn’t say IF we go through hard times, nor does it say everything will feel okay and we will feel like God is really close, because we may not. But no matter how we feel, God remains faithful to his character and his promises, and we can count on him to bring things to the good resolution he has in mind for us. Even if it takes 70 years of slavery along the way.
Tonight, I just want to encourage you to wait for God’s timing and trust that he DOES know what he is doing, and that his plans really are the best for us, even if we can’t quite fathom them. Endure, reader friends, endure.