|The Vision of Ezekiel by Francisco Collantes, 1630|
In my year-long read-through of the chronological Bible, I've been covering the Babylonian exile. Interesting in many ways to me, given that I've already written one book set not so long after that (Jewel of Persia) and I have a few other ideas that tie in with it. But this week I've been reading Ezekiel, and one of the historical notes got me thinking.
The commentators introduced this section of Ezekiel by saying how this period of time became a huge shift for the Jewish faith. Up until the exile, Israel and Judah--long since fractured--identified their religion by their place in the world. The knew when God was angry because the tides would turn against them. They knew when He was pleased because they flourished. Yahweh set them apart from the other nations. His promises kept a Davidic king on the throne without fail. As long as Israel or Judah were a nation, then they were the beloved of God.
But suddenly that nation was nothing but crumbled stone. They were destroyed. Ripped to shreds. No Davidic prince sat on the throne. Their God, it seemed, had forsaken them. The other nations would mock them. Would revile their God and say He was nothing but another of the pantheon, weak and worthless. And if He was weak and worthless, then they were even less. They were exiles. They could do nothing but sit by the waters of Babylon and weep.
Yet in this destruction came a hope that redefined them. A hope that took faith from a cultural level to a personal one. Prophets like Ezekiel led the way in helping Israel redefine itself. He spoke of hope. He spoke of trusting in God to preserve them even amid the heathen nations. He spoke of a future Israel that would be united, and of a people stronger than ever.
I love watching this change unfold. I love seeing how faith had to go from a set of rules more often forgotten than obeyed to a belief to be written on the heart.
And as I read these sections the last few days, I felt that resonate. I look around me today and I see a world that has forgotten what the point of morality is. We've forgotten why we should keep sex sacred. Why we should put God first. Why we should not speak His name in vain. Why we should honor our parents.
That's where Israel was, in a lot of ways. Rereading the Old Testament has shown me how often the Law and the Prophets were utterly forsaken. Forgotten. How many times they had to be rediscovered in some hole in a temple wall for even a semblance of obedience to be restored. How a king or prophet would try to get the people to follow His ways again...for a while...until it got too hard and they gave up.
Because it's easier to live how the rest of the world lives. It's so, so much easier. It's more fun.
Until destruction comes, and God calls us to accounts. Then He finally gets our attention. But how many times did He call Israel to repentance before it came to that? Frankly, I lost count. He gave them so long. Hundreds of years. He would hold back His wrath when they made a small effort, perhaps sparing them for the sake of a few. For the sake of His covenant with David.
But the people...the people just wouldn't learn. Because it's more fun to sleep around, and really, what's the point of abstinence? Why in the world should they release their Israelite slaves every seventh year? Keep the Passover---pssh. Maybe when it was convenient. So what if the next thing they knew they were under a siege so bad that time and again it's reported that women were eating their own children? Surely it was worth it. Surely.
Where are we now? How many times has the Lord already called us to accounts, called for repentance? How many times have we ignored Him, because it's easier to live however we want?
I pray He holds off His wrath. I pray the faithful's prayers are enough for now. I pray enough are turning to Him. And yet I look at the rebirth of Israel, at the giant leap faith took because of that exile. And I know that no matter what may come, He'll use it. He'll use it for His glory. He'll use it to show the nations He is God.
He'll use it to bring His people to new levels of faith in Him.
I know in my heart this will still hold true today. Not just for nations where Christians face persecution, but in individual lives. No matter the siege we're under. No matter the destruction we face. Maybe sometimes it's a result of our decisions, maybe sometimes we're caught in the world's crossfire. But no matter what, He's there. He's there in the exile. He's there in the battle. He's there on journey, when we sit by the waters of Babylon and weep.
And He has something new waiting for us even then. We might feel like the dry bones Ezekiel saw in the wilderness. But He is the God who breathes new life into us.
Breathe on me, Lord. That is my constant prayer, whether I'm sitting by the waters or soaring through the clouds. Breathe on me.