God’s Presence and the Exile

 

Text: Ezekiel 11

Ezekiel 11 19

This week so far, we’ve talked about creation, the garden, and the tabernacle, exploring how they fit into the theme and story of God’s presence. Today I want to talk about exile, or that feeling you get when you know you aren’t home, and things aren’t right. It’s an ongoing theme for the Israelites. We see it when Adam and Eve are kicked out of the garden, we see it when the Israelites are held captive in Egypt, and now we’re going to see it again as Israel and Judah are given into the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians.

 

Let’s do a quick fly-by to bring us to this point from where we left off in history. Moses and the Israelites wander around in the desert for a while and eventually reach their promised land in Canaan. The Israelites capture the land under the leadership of Joshua. After Joshua, Israel is led by a series of Judges, people who get Israel out of a bind after they have been stupid over and over (and over) again. After that, Israel is brought together under the kingships of Saul, David, and Solomon. David, like Moses, receives plans for a temple from God, and his son, Solomon completes them, the difference being that Solomon’s temple was much more grand and permanent than Moses’s tent. Moving on, after Solomon’s death, the people divide into northern (Israel) and southern (Judah) kingdoms.

 

God’s people at this point have an ongoing problem. They aren’t following their covenant with God. They prostitute themselves to other gods. Even under dire warnings (Dt 29 and Jer 25, among many others), they continue to make their own way. They aren’t even getting along with each other, hence the divided kingdom. They simply do not get the point, and as a result, God, even while being slow to anger (Exo 34:6), has reached a point where he has to serve justice. And by that, I mean allow Assyrians and Babylonians to come clean house on them.

 

And clean house they do. Israel is pummeled and scattered by the Assyrians. Judah is taken by the Babylonians. King Nebuchadnezzar sieges Jerusalem in about 598 BC and 587 BC, taking the people of Judah into captivity. The second time, the temple of Solomon is destroyed, too. You can find a particularly devastating account of this siege in Jeremiah 52. It’s great bedtime reading for all the kids.

 

What. In. The. World. At this point, it would sure seem like God’s people are done for. They had a pretty good run, but this must be the end.

 

But not all is lost. In Ezekiel 11:16-20, God shows Ezekiel a glimmer of hope, and has him relay the message to the others who are in exile. Even though they are scattered and captive, God is still their sanctuary (or their temple, if you will). He is going to give them back their land, and turn their hearts of stone soft. They’re going to be his people, and he’s going to be their God. Yet, in verses 22 and 23, God shows Ezekiel that his presence is leaving the temple, in the form of a strange cherubim-driven chariot. So God’s not even in his temple anymore, but he’s still with a few of his faithful people who are in exile, sustaining them.

 

Through Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, among others, we see God making some pretty big promises about coming out of exile, a new temple, a messianic king, and a renewed rule (kingdom) of God, for starters. But for the time being, exile is the reality for God’s people.

 

The Persians eventually conquer the Babylonians in 539 BC, and Cyrus the Great allows the Israelites in exile to go home if they want. Only a small portion go back. Maybe now things will get better, back to the good old days. We can get a new king, build the temple again, and God will be with us. We’ll have rest from our enemies.

 

And they do rebuild the temple (see Ezra and Nehemiah about all of this), but it isn’t anything near what it used to be (Hag 2:3), and there is no indication that God’s presence ever fills it like the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple. Something is still not right. God’s people are back to their land, but it doesn’t really feel like home. They are struggling to find their identity again. They’re still not following God’s covenant. Where’s God? What is going on? It’s like the exile never really ended. And perhaps it still hasn’t ended. It has, at best, been replaced by new exiles into new Babylons over the centuries, and that’ll likely be what we continue to see until everything is restored.

 

If this whole thing makes you feel a little bummed, that’s just a taste of the exile feeling. The exile was massively painful for God’s people, and so much of scripture is dedicated to wrestling with the questions and emotions brought up by it. According to many, the narrative of scripture is shaped around it. And exile isn’t just the experience of Israel, it is a reality we share in, as well. While we give Caesar his due, really we are citizens of God’s dimension, heaven (Phil 3:20). So we remain faithful to our God, and hold on to a hope that there is something better just around the corner.

 

“But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.” -Malachi 4:2

 

I hope that verse made you smile as it made me smile. There’s hope and a new day. There is indeed a new temple for the Israelites, with the presence of God, even. But it’s not the kind they’re expecting. More on this tomorrow.

 

-Jay Laurent

Our Hope in the Wilderness

choose joy

This week, we’ve been taking some time to rest and reflect on what it means to wander through the wilderness. Through the complex stories of the Israelites, Elijah, David, and Jesus, we see both the types of wildernesses that we may face in this life as well as the ways that we can ultimately overcome the wilderness and make it out of those difficult seasons.

As we’ve discussed this past week, these are the four Wilderness Wandering Lessons that we learned from these stories:

  1. The faithful love of God is infinitely more secure than our fractured circumstances.
  2. Remembering past victories can help to steady our heart in the midst of our current despair.
  3. When the desires of our heart lead us away from God, true repentance leads us back.
  4. God’s word sustains us when we are depleted by the trials of the wilderness.

If you find yourself in a time of wilderness wandering, don’t despair. Many have been there before you and have made it out and used that time as a witness for God’s deliverance. Remember, one of Satan’s ultimate goals, as I mentioned earlier this week, is to steal your joy. One of the primary fruits of the Spirit is joy, and that joy should be evident in your life. The Israelites and Judeans knew what it was like to lose their joy when they were exiled from Israel at the end of 2 Kings. But, as we read in Jeremiah 31:2-3, 11-13, God promised that Joy to the Israelites and Judeans and he promises that Joy to you too.

“This is what the Lord says: They found favor in the wilderness – the people who survived the sword. When Israel went to find rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued to extend faithful love to you… For the Lord has ransomed Jacob and redeemed him from the power of one stronger than he. They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will be radiant with joy because of the Lord’s goodness. I will turn their mourning into joy, give them consolation, and bring happiness out of grief.”

By living our life in Christ, our joy is made complete (John 15:11). When you find the hurt, isolation, or pain of life weighing down on you, pause and remember that we can overcome through Christ. Trade your grief for happiness, your mourning for joy. We can celebrate. We can overcome. Because the joy of our Lord is our strength.

~ Cayce Fletcher

***Click on the following link to listen to one of my favorite songs by Rend Collective called the “Joy of the Lord is my strength.” Learning this song can be a reminder to you to choose joy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2B6Yw0zy70

Lessons from the Wilderness: The Israelites

heb.Over the next few days, we’re going to look at four wilderness stories in the bible to learn a lesson about what the wilderness is and what it can teach us. The first Wilderness Wandering Lesson is this:

Wilderness Wandering Lesson #1: The faithful love of God is infinitely more secure than our fractured circumstances.

The most recognizable story of wilderness is that of the Israelites. After 400 years of servitude to the Egyptians, the Israelites kept crying out to God for the deliverance prophecied by Joseph in Gen. 50:25. That help came in the form of Moses, who was commissioned by God to lead the Israelites to the land of Canaan. So this so-called Promised land, part of the covenant promise that God made with Abraham in Gen. 12, was the Israelites’ destination. Even in the Israelites’ time in the wilderness, we can see two purposes in the wilderness. The wilderness in the first year was a time of purification and dependence. It is in the wilderness that the Israelites learned to trust God for direction (Fire and Cloud – Ex. 14) and sustenance (Manna and Water – Ex. 16). In Exodus 16, God even says, “I will test them to see whether or not they will follow my instructions” (v. 4). This testing was his goal for the first year the Israelites spent in the wilderness. Spent mostly at the base of Mt. Sinai, it was in this time that the Israelites received the ten commandments, built the tabernacle, and received the rest of the law (Ex. 15-Num. 10). Though there was difficulty in this time (think Golden Calf – Ex. 32), this time in the wilderness was also full of incredible closeness to God. It was during this time that the Israelites were able to witness the Shekinah glory of God descend on the tabernacle. And, during this time, the Israelites experienced the humbling dependence on God that came from relying on him.

Map-Route-Exodus-Israelites-Egypt

We can think of this first year in the wilderness as the training wheels period where God was showing the Israelites that relying on him was best. That trusting in him was the way to choose life and joy. In Numbers 10, the Israelites break camp and move towards the border of the Promised land. In Numbers 11, the cracks begin to show again as the Israelites complain more and more about hardship, food, and in the case of Aaron and Miriam, the power and relationship with God that Moses had. Based on the tendencies that we see in these chapters, we shouldn’t be as surprised as we generally are that the Israelites get to the border of the promised land and choose to go against God and refuse to take the land because of their fear (Num. 14). The Israelites chose not to go into the promised land because their trust in God was lacking. They didn’t think that God would do what he said he would. Instead, they based their decisions on their circumstances, which seemed too difficult to overcome. It’s this that ultimately angers God and leads towards his judgment against the Israelites: They would wander the wilderness for 40 years (one year for each day they spent scouting the wilderness). In the remaining chapters of Numbers, we see more instances of rebellion and provision as the Israelites do exactly as God says and wander the wilderness for 40 years. It is not until the book of Joshua, that we see the next generation of Israelites rise up and take the land just as God promised his people that they would.

These two tales are frequently told together, but they tell two very different stories of the wilderness. In the first, the Israelites seemed to have done nothing to be put in the wilderness, while in the second, the wilderness was a place of punishment for the past sin of the people. But, the purpose of each wilderness experience is the same. The wilderness is meant for purification and refinement, to make the people of God ‘holy, because [he] is holy’ (Lev. 19:2). Too often, I think we view the wilderness as a punishment, and because of that, we go back to asking God, “Why? Why am I here?” We may even sound like some of my high school students when they get called out, “Why? I wasn’t even doing anything!” (No matter what they are doing.) We need to stop viewing the wilderness as a place of punishment. It can be that place, as we’ve seen with the Israelites. But, more importantly, this time in the wilderness is where God is beckoning us back to him. It’s in this time that all of the Israelites first heard God’s word. It’s in this time that they felt the characteristics of God that Moses spoke in Numb. 14:18. In your wilderness wanderings, instead of focusing on the doubt – the questions of why you are in that experience – focus on who God is:

“The Lord is slow to anger and rich in faithful love, forgiving wrongdoing and rebellion. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children to the third and fourth generation.” (Numb. 14:18)

Rest on God’s faithful love, and in your time in the wilderness, don’t forget to remember who he is. When we trust in him, our circumstances don’t seem so challenging anymore.

~ Cayce Fletcher

Time in the Desert

josh1 9

There are several instances of people in the Bible spending time in the desert.

Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s house but he was an Israelite. When he was a young man he killed an Egyptian who was beating one of the Jewish people. Fearing for his life, he fled to Midian, married and became a shepherd. We don’t hear from him again until God appears to him in a burning bush in Exodus 3. Moses went on to become one of the most famous leaders of the Jewish people and led them out of Egypt and to the brink of the Promised Land.

The children of Israel were at the threshold of the Promised Land but they let fear hold them back, and so God made them wander for 40 years in the desert. In Deuteronomy 8:2 “You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.”

Israel became a mighty nation that proclaimed the name of God to all nations on the earth. The prophet Elijah after his encounter where he defeated the prophets of Baal, feared for his life, and ran away, he was fed by an angel, then traveled 40 days and 40 nights, and ended up in a cave in Horeb. The Lord came to him in the cave and asked in 1Kings 19:9b “What are you doing here, Elijah?” This was right before the Lord showed himself to Elijah in the small whisper of wind. Elijah went on to continue being a bold prophet of God to the Israelites.

John the Baptist was in the desert until his appointed time to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. He preached the gospel of the coming of Jesus to thousands.

Jesus spent his time in the desert when he was going through his temptation. After this, he went on to establish a ministry that would change the world. He became the sacrifice that would save us all from our sins.

In all of these instances, God was with them and so they had no reason to fear. Fear is a natural emotion for humans but when we give in to fear instead of trusting in God, it is a bad thing. My daughter painted this picture for me a few years ago, because she knew that Joshua 1:9 was one of my favorite verses “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord, your God, will be with you wherever you go.”

When we feel like we are in the desert, due to circumstances in our lives, we need to relax and let God give us some rest and then get out of the desert and let God use our lives in an incredible way. In all of these instances, they came out of the desert a better person. All of these people allowed God to use them for what he had planned for their lives. I pray that we all let God use us to fulfill His plans for us. We can always rest in the knowledge of Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Sherry Alcumbrack

What Do These Stones Mean?

Joshua 4

Joshua 4-24

Thursday, October 12

As of yesterday’s devotion we left the Israelites consecrating themselves in preparation to see amazing things the Lord would do for them the following day.  And, when the people were prepared – God was certainly ready to do His part.  The last part of chapter 3 reads:

Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge,  the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho.  The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.   Joshua 3:15-17

What emoji would you choose if an Israelite just texted you that update on how their day was going?  Surprise!  Shock!  Awe!  It is an incredible account, isn’t it?  When I read it I was sorry to hear that the Israelites crossing didn’t get to gaze upon the water that was “piled up in a heap” as that was about 20 miles upstream (NIV text note on 3:15).  Wouldn’t that have been awe-inspiring!  Why not, I thought.  Perhaps God had planned to share this awesome display with those outside of the Israelite community – “so that all the people of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful.” (Joshua 4:24)

In chapter 4 we also have the rest of the story on the waters of the Jordan that had instantly dried up when the priests’ feet touched the waters’ edge.  Could have been coincidence, someone might try to argue.  Lots of busy beavers just upstream?   But then Joshua 4:18 helps clear up any doubt: “And the priests came up out of the river carrying the ark of the covenant of the LORD.  No sooner had they set their feet on the dry ground than the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and ran at flood stage as before.”  This wasn’t the work of beavers or tides or circumstance.  At just the precise time needed the flood waters unexplainably stopped – and then re-started, also, at precisely the correct time.  This was the work of the Maker of Heaven and Earth and He was having fun doing amazing things for His consecrated people who had decided to be bold and courageous rather than cowering in fear and discouragement as their parents had.

Joshua followed the LORD’s direction to have each tribe take part in creating a rock tower to commemorate what the LORD did at the Jordan.  This was done to keep the memory alive and spark conversation, down through the generations, of how Almighty God had provided just what they needed at just the right time.  Joshua said their children would ask, “What do these stones mean?” (Joshua 4:6,21).  It would be a great opportunity to tell of God’s power and provision for His people.

In what miraculous ways have you seen God at work?  Perhaps on your own behalf, or someone you know, or even someone you read about – Biblical miracles still count today! What reminders do you have displayed for you and your family?  What opportunities do you have to overflow with stories of God’s power and faithfulness?  We must not forget God’s power.  We must remember – and tell others.   When we fear Him, we can be strong and courageous.

-Be Strong and Courageous – Marcia Railton

 

Dedicated to a Sacred Purpose

Joshua 3

Joshua 3-5

Wednesday, October 11

601,730 – that was the number of fighting men counted in the second census conducted in the wilderness, just before Moses passed along leadership to Joshua (see Numbers 26).  Add to this number: women, children and older men.  Now, picture yourself in this massive crowd.  Three days ago you all travelled the very last leg of a trip that has lasted more than 40 years!  At last, here you are at the shores of the Jordan River – the boundary of the Promised Land you have heard so much about.  This is the same Promised Land that your parents aren’t here to see because their fear, discouragement, and lack of trust in God led to their death in the wilderness.  What are your thoughts and feelings as you stand on the shore?  How big is your faith in God?  What are your greatest fears?  How do you combat them?   Are you ready to see amazing things?

How do you combat your fears?  The people were told to watch the ark of the covenant and follow it.  This was their physical connection and tie to the Almighty.  Inside the ark was the precious Word of God as well as evidence and reminders of just some of the miracles God had already performed on their behalf.  How well are you following the Word of God and remembering His miracles.   God’s Word has the power to take you where you have never been before – into a deeper and deeper relationship following the Almighty.  And remembering His miracles deepens your faith and combats your fears.

How do you prepare yourself to see amazing things?  “Joshua told the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you’ ” (Joshua 3:5).  Consecrated – to be dedicated to a sacred purpose.  What purposes are you dedicated to?  Work, family, friends, vacation, finances, fun, fame?  What consumes your time and your thoughts throughout the day?  Those are the purposes that you are dedicated to.  In Joshua’s day they proved they were consecrated by following ceremonial laws for washings and other outward evidences that they were set apart for God’s purposes first and foremost.  Do you have evidence that you are consecrated to Him?  Is your bank account, your calendar, your thought life dedicated to Him?  Is your Bible well worn?  Does your family, neighbors, co-workers, and peers know that you are consecrated to Him?

God has some amazing things waiting for those who are dedicated to His purposes.  Prepare yourself to see them – CONSECRATE yourself to Him.

Go With God – all day long – Marcia Railton

A New Week – A New Chance to be Courageous

Sunday, October 8

 

Joshua 1-9

Numbers 13-14

Greetings!  This week we are going to be looking at the life of Joshua and the often-repeated refrain in his life – BE STRONG & COURAGEOUS!  Just as strength and courage was needed in the days of Joshua as he led the Israelites into the Promised (but Occupied) Land; so too,  Christians today are living in a land occupied by evil and Godlessness and a large dose of strength and courage is needed to effectively stand against Satan’s schemes.

Our memory verse this week comes from Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  It is easy to become terrified or discouraged when we see evil and lawlessness alive and well.  But the world doesn’t need any more terrified or discouraged Christians whose God is too small.  It is our opportunity – just as it was Joshua’s – to step out in courage to show our world a great big God who can do more than we could ever hope or imagine.

Before jumping into the book that bears Joshua’s name – we need to begin this week in Numbers 13 & 14.  Here we find the Israelites who had recently been miraculously delivered from Egypt on the front steps of the Promised Land.  Go ahead and read these quick chapters.  They provide such a great parallel of terrified and discouraged versus strong and courageous.

In Numbers 13 (as in life today, perhaps), the large majority is definitely panicked and defeated.  They have seen a scary reality and they quickly forget what God has already done for them.  Rather than concentrating on their great big God and the blessings he has in store for them just over the next hill; they crumble.  They “spread … a bad report about the land” (Numbers 13:32), they weep and grumble (Numbers 14:1&2), they blame others and they blame God (14:2-4) and they are even on the verge of great violence towards God’s faithful people (14:10).  They allow fear, discouragement, self-pity and negativity to overflow and it quickly becomes evident that their view of God was much too small.

Meanwhile, the faithful two – Joshua and Caleb – who had seen the same scary looking giants and large fortified cities – ALSO saw the land flowing with milk and honey and a great big God who could deliver His people.  They plead with their terrified and discouraged countrymen: “If the Lord is PLEASED with us, he WILL lead us into that land …Only do NOT rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land.” (Numbers 14:8,9).  If only the people would have listened.  They could have saved themselves from 40 years of wandering and early death.  They could have reaped the blessing instead of the punishment but they allowed their fears to reign.

Where are you right now?  What is your view of God?  Are you remembering all the good things He has already done for you or are you actively blaming Him instead?  Are you too busy spreading a bad report and grumbling to pursue a courageous act of following God?  Are you allowing a scary reality to shrink your view of God?  How can you spend time today magnifying your view of God to remember His greatness and the power He makes available to those courageous enough to put their full trust in Him.  Pray for eyes and a heart like Joshua and Caleb’s that will see not only the giants and fortified cities ahead, but also the exciting direction that God would have us go – the plan that requires that we be Strong and Courageous with a great big view of God.

-Marcia Railton