Today’s selected reading continues in the Old Testament book of Nehemiah which describes the second phase of the return of the people of God to the land of their ancestors and forefathers—namely, the rebuilding of the wall and the repairing of the gates. More specifically, today’s passage is found in chapters nine through eleven of this Old Testament book. When you come to this particular portion of Scripture you will find an event which was incredibly similar to what we read and what we find in the Old Testament book of Ezra. Perhaps one of the greatest realities surrounding the return of the people of God to the land of their ancestors and forefathers is when you consider that it was more than simply a return to a physical location in the midst of the earth. As you read the words found in the Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah you will find that their return to the land was indeed a return to the LORD their God—not only through rebuilding the sanctuary and Temple of the LORD, and not only in rebuilding the altar of the LORD, but also through fasting, through prayer, through weeping, through mourning, and through observance and celebration of the feasts which the living God had ordained and spoken through His servant Moses. What is truly remarkable about the words which are found in these two Old Testament books is that after spending seventy years being cut off from the land, and after spending seventy years being cut off from the sanctuary of the LORD, the people of Israel were permitted to return to the land. What’s more, is that their return to the land was about so much more than simply relocating themselves from the land of their captivity and the land of their exile to the land of inheritance, the land of promise and the land of blessing. The return of the people of Israel to the land of their ancestors and forefathers was about a return to the LORD their God whom they perhaps had not even thought about—much less worshipped through sacrifices and offerings while they were living as captives and exiles in the land of Babylon. Pause for a moment and think about the fact that for seventy years—not only were the people of Israel cut off from the house of the LORD, and not only were they cut off from the altar of the LORD, but the freedom their fathers had in worshipping the LORD at His holy altar and in His holy sanctuary had been completely and utterly removed from them. It would be incredibly easy to think that the people of Israel were merely cast out of the land, and forced into captivity and exile in the midst of the land of the Chaldeans, and yet there was something so much deeper than their living as captives in the midst of the land of the Chaldeans, for they were indeed cut off from the house of the LORD. Consider if you will the words which are found within the one-hundred and thirty-seventh chapter of the Old Testament book of the Psalms:
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captives required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy. Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof. O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones” (Psalm 137:1-9).
With and through the words found within this psalm we encounter and come face to face with the incredible and tremendous reality that it was by the rivers of Babylon the people of God sat down and wept. What’s more, is that not only did the people of God sit down and weep by the rivers of Babylon, but they hung their hairs upon the willows in the midst of the land. There in the midst of the land of their captivity their captors required of them a song, and those that wasted them required of them mirth, asking them to sing unto them one of the songs of Zion. Within this psalm you will find the question being asked how those who were living and dwelling as captives in the midst of the strange and foreign land could sing the LORD’s song. Please don’t miss and lose sight of this absolutely tremendous and incredible reality, for it is this reality which brings us face to face with the incredible reality that it would be there in the midst of the land of the Chaldeans that not only did the people of God hang up their harps, and not only would they not sing the song of Zion, but I would also dare say that this is a tremendous picture of how during those seventy years they would be cut off from true worship before and true worship of the LORD their God. It would be during those seventy years living as captives and exiles in a strange and foreign land which wasn’t their own the people of God would be cut off from the sanctuary of the LORD, and as a result of being cut off from the sanctuary of the LORD, they would not be able to freely worship the LORD their God through their gifts, through their sacrifices, and through their offerings. Try and try as you may—you will not find any reference to the people of God offering sacrifices and offerings upon an altar built unto the LORD there in the land of their captivity, and there in the land of their exile. In all reality, I would dare say that during those seventy years in the midst of Babylon all manner of worship, all manner of praise, all manner of sacrifice and offering before the LORD was virtually non-existent, as there was no altar upon which to present and offer their sacrifices. Moreover, I would dare say that during those seventy years—although there were undoubtedly priests and Levites who were carried away and brought up in the midst of the land—the ministry and offices of the priests and Levites was essentially put on hold and put on pause. WHEN THE ALTAR IS PUT ON PAUSE! WHEN ACCESS TO THE SANCTUARY IS PUT ON HOLD! WHEN PUBLIC WORSHIP IS PUT ON PAUSE! WHEN PUBLIC SACRIFICE IS PUT ON HOLD! If there is one thing I can’t help but be absolutely and completely convinced about when I consider the narrative of the people of God living as captives in the midst of the land of their captivity, it’s that for seventy years access to the sanctuary was put on pause, and access to altar of the LORD whereupon they would offer their sacrifices and offerings was put on hold. With this being said, it is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand something greater the LORD was doing in the midst of the land there in the land of the Chaldeans.
As I sit here this morning and think about and consider the fact that access to the sanctuary of the LORD was put on hold, and access to the altar of the LORD where sacrifices, gifts and offerings was put on pause, I can’t help but be absolutely gripped and captivated by the fact that although access to the sanctuary, and although access to the public altar which once stood in the court of the LORD was put on hold—there was another altar the LORD was looking to establish there in the midst of the land. In all reality, I would dare say that while rebuilding the altar of the LORD in the midst of the land upon their return to the land of their forefathers and ancestors, there was a powerful need for personal altars in the midst of the land of the Chaldeans. It is unclear whether or not the people of God could build altars unto the LORD as Abraham did in the land of Canaan, as Isaac did in that same land, and even as Jacob had done. It is unclear whether or not there in the land of the Chaldeans the people of God would have been permitted to build altars before and unto the LORD, and we in fact know that there were two distinct challenges and tests to their devotion and commitment to the LORD, as during the days of Nebuchadnezzar he would set up a golden image in the plain of Dura in the land of Shinar, and commanded that when the sound of music was heard in the midst of the land, that all peoples, all nations, all languages, all tongues, all tribes were to bow down and worship the golden image. Of course we know and understand that three Hebrews—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego—refused to bow down and worship this image made of gold, and as a result of their commitment to the LORD their God, they were cast alive into the fiery furnace. Despite the fact that they were cast alive into the fiery furnace—not only were they delivered through the fire, but they were also permitted to walk in the midst of the fire with a fourth man whom Nebuchadnezzar described as being likened unto the Son of God. Ultimately, these three Hebrews would be brought forth from the midst of the fire, and a decree would be made by Nebuchadnezzar to worship the true and living God of Shadrach, of Meshach, and of Abed-Nego. A similar experience was found during the days of Darius the Mede, when Daniel’s adversaries tried eliminating him by manipulating the king to sign a decree that anyone who prayed unto anyone other than him would be cast into the den of lions. When Daniel heard that the decree was put into writing, he continued to pray three times a day with his window open unto Jerusalem, and would eventually be cast into the lion’s den because of it. Of course we know and understand that the LORD would deliver Daniel through the lion’s den rather than from deliver him from the lion’s den, and Darius would also issue a decree concerning worship of the God of Daniel throughout the provinces of Persia.
I sit here today and can’t help but think about the absolutely tremendous and astonishing reality that although the people of God were indeed and were in fact cut off from the sanctuary of the LORD, and although they were cut off from the altar of the LORD, there was something much deeper and something much greater the LORD sought to establish among them—namely, the establishing of a personal and private altar in the midst of their homes in the midst of the land of the Chaldeans. It was indeed true that they could no longer come to the sanctuary of the LORD as they once did, and as their fathers had done because the sanctuary had been destroyed, and because they had been cut off from the land. It was true that they could no longer come to the altar of the LORD the way they once did, and the way their fathers did because they were living as captives and exiles in a strange and foreign land. Despite the fact that they were cut off from the sanctuary and cut off from the altar of the LORD, they would not be cut off from the LORD, nor would they be cut off from personal and private devotion before and unto the LORD. If there is one thing the lives and narratives of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego reveal to us in the prophetic.book of Daniel, it’s that even there in the midst of the land of the captivity there was still a praying people, and a people were devoted and committed to the living God. I find it hard to believe that Daniel was the only one who was devoted to the God of Israel during the days of Darius the Mede, and that he was the only one who faithfully prayed unto the LORD his God. I find it hard to believe that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego were the only ones who were committed and devoted to the LORD their God, for I would dare say there were others who were committed and devoted to the LORD their God. With that being said, I can’t help but be reminded of the words which the LORD spoke unto the prophet Elijah at Horeb in the wilderness of Sinai, for it would be there at the entrance of the cave at the mountain the LORD declared unto Elijah that He had personally reserved seven thousand unto Himself who had not bowed their knees before Baal, nor kissed him with their mouths. Despite the fact that Elijah thought and felt that he was alone in the midst of the land, and that he was the only that remained who was faithful and devoted to the LORD, the LORD assured Him that He had a remnant in the midst of the land who would not worship, nor would they serve Baal. It’s important for us to recognize and understand this, for when we think about the time of the captivity of the people of God in the land of the Chaldeans, we must recognize and understand that there would have been those who were committed and dedicated to the LORD their God.
The more I stop and consider the narrative of the captivity of the people of God in the midst of the land of the Chaldeans, the more I can’t help but think about the fact that although they were cut off from the public altar of the LORD in the court of the sanctuary, and although they were cut off from the sanctuary as a whole, the LORD would look to establish a personal and private altar of prayer, a personal and private altar of worship, and a personal and private altar of devotion before and unto the LORD their God. This is indeed evident—not only through Daniel’s praying before and unto the LORD three times a day as he prayed with his window open toward Jerusalem, but also through his prayer of repentance when he discerned and understood through books in the writing of the prophet Daniel that the LORD had decreed seventy years for the people of God to live and dwell as captives in the midst of the land of the Chaldeans. It would be in direct response to Daniel’s understanding of the seventy years of captivity ordained and appointed for the people of God that he would devote himself to prayer before the LORD his God. It’s necessary for us to recognize and understand this truth—particularly and especially during the days and times in which we are living right now—for although men and women have been cut off from the physical building of the sanctuary, and although men and women have been cut off from houses of worship, and have been cut off from a public altar in the midst of the house, men and women have never been cut off from a personal and private altar in the midst of their homes. What if I told you that you could worship the living God in your home, or in your car, or in the open field, or at the beach, or in a park, or anywhere else you can think of, the same way you worshipped the LORD in His sanctuary and His holy house? What if I told you that you could pray before and unto the LORD your God in your home the same way you would pray unto the LORD in the midst of His sanctuary and in the midst of the church building and house of worship? In all reality, I would dare say that if you cannot pray before and pray unto the LORD your God in your home, or in your car, or in the open field, or by the ocean, or by a lake, or in a park, or anywhere else you might be able to think of—I would strongly consider and think about your relationship with the LORD. If you need the sanctuary, and if you need the four walls of a church building for your relationship with the LORD, and you cannot have relationship without and apart from the sanctuary and house of the LORD, then there is something seriously and drastically wrong. Although the people of God would indeed be cut off from the sanctuary of the LORD their God, and although they would be cut off from the altar of the LORD their God, that did not mean they were cut off from the LORD their God. What’s more, is that this didn’t mean that they would be cut off from their own personal and private worship, their own personal and private worship of the LORD their God. Oh I can’t help but be reminded of the words which the prophet Jeremiah prophesied in a letter he wrote unto the captives and exiles in the midst of the land of the Chaldeans, which is recorded for us in the twenty-ninth chapter of the prophetic book bearing his name:
“Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem unto the residue of the elders which were carried away captives, and to the priests, and to the prophets, and to all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon…Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon; Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace. For thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Let not your prophets and your diviners, that be in the midst of you, deceive you, neither hearken to your dreams which ye cause to be dreamed. For they prophesy falsely unto you in my name: I have not sent them, saith the LORD. For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the LORD; and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the LORD; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you be carried away captive” (Jeremiah 29:1-14).
We dare not be too quick to move past the absolutely wonderful truth that is found and contained within these words, for what we find and read within this letter which was written by the hand of Jeremiah and sent unto the residue of the people of God which were living as captives and exiles in the midst of the land of the Chaldeans is an appointment of seventy years of captivity for the people of God in the midst of the land of the Chaldeans. What’s more, is that within this passage we also find Jeremiah instructing them to seek the peace and welfare of the land and city in which they dwelt, for in the peace of the land and city in which they dwelt, they themselves would have peace. Moreover, Jeremiah would instruct them to give themselves unto marriage, to give their daughters in marriage, and to give their sons in marriage, that they might bring forth sons and daughters there in the midst of the land. Furthermore, Jeremiah would also go on to instruct them to build houses and dwell in them, and to plant gardens and eat the fruit of them there in the midst of the land that they might be sustained during these seventy years of captivity. As if all this weren’t enough, Jeremiah would go on to declare unto them that it would be there in the land that they would call upon him, and would go and pray unto the LORD, and the LORD would hearken unto them. They would seek the LORD there in the midst of the land, and would find Him, when they searched for Him with all their heart. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would declare unto them that He would be found of them, and would turn away their captivity, and would gather them from all the nations, and from all the places into which He drove them. The LORD would once more bring them into the place from which He caused them to be carried away. What adds even more weight to this reality, is that if you read the words which Solomon the son of David prayed at the dedication of the Temple of the LORD, you will find him speaking of the people of God in the midst of a strange and foreign land of captivity, and if they would call upon the name of the LORD and cry out to Him in prayer. When dedicating the Temple of the LORD Solomon besought the LORD concerning His holy Temple and concerning the house which he had built, and asked that if while the people of God were in captivity—if they turned their hearts toward and unto the LORD their God, and sought Him in prayer, He would hear from heaven. Consider if you will the words which are found within the sixth chapter of the Old Testament book of Second Chronicles beginning to read with and from the thirty-fourth verse:
“If thy people go out to war against their enemies by the way that thou shalt send them, and they pray unto thee toward this city which thou hast chosen, and the house which I have built for thy name; then hear thou from the heavens their prayer and their supplication, and maintain their cause. If they sin against thee, (for there is no man which sinneth not,) and thou be angry with them, and deliver them over before their enemies, and they carry them away captives unto a land far off or near; yet if thy bethink themselves in the land whither they are carried captive, and turn and pray unto thee in the land of their captivity, saying, We have sinned, we have done amiss, and have dealt wickedly; if they return to thee with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their captivity, whither they have carried them captives, and pray toward their land, which thou gavest unto their fathers, and toward the city which thou hast chosen, and toward the house which I have built for thy name: then hear thou from the heavens, even from thy dwelling place, their prayer and their supplications, and maintain their cause, and forgive thy people which have sinned against thee” (2 Chronicles 6:34-39).
Solomon was very specific and very clear when entreating the LORD on behalf of His people—particularly and especially when he referenced their being carried away and taken into captivity in a strange and foreign land far or near—for he asked and besought the LORD concerning His people, and if while in the midst of their captivity they would turn and pray unto Him in the land of their captivity, and repent of their sin, repent of their iniquity, repent of their transgression, and if they returned unto the LORD with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their captivity, and if they prayed toward their land, and toward the city and house which He had chosen, then would the LORD hear from heaven their prayer and respond to them. Such a reality is found and manifested in the midst of the life and narrative of Daniel the prophet in the midst of the land of captivity and exile, for not only do we find Daniel praying three times a day with his window open toward the city of Jerusalem and toward the place of the LORD’s house, but we also find Daniel praying a powerful prayer of repentance before the LORD—a prayer which I am convinced is in direct alignment with the words which Solomon the son of David prayed at the dedication of the Temple of the LORD. It is necessary that we recognize and understand the prayer of Daniel in the midst of the land of the Chaldeans, for not only do we find Daniel doing exactly what Solomon prayed and asked the LORD for, but we also find a powerful picture that although the people of God were cut off from the sanctuary and although they were cut off from the altar of the LORD, they could still pray and seek the face of their God. During these days in which we are living, I would dare say that the living and eternal God has caused us to be cut off from the house of worship, has caused us to be cut off from the physical sanctuary, and has caused us to be cut off from the public altar in the midst of the sanctuary. In all reality, one of the greatest realities I am convinced is being accomplished in the midst of the days in which we are living right now is the living God establishing personal and private altars in the midst of homes, in the midst of families, in the midst of the cars of His people, and quite honestly—even in the open fields, at the shores of our beaches, in our parks, and the like. There is not a doubt in my mind that during these days the living and eternal God has in fact caused us to be cut off from houses of worship, and to be cut off from a physical building, and yet even though we have been cut off from a physical building, and even though we have been cut off from worship and prayer as we know it—we have not been cut off from seeking the face of the living God, we have not been cut off from worshipping the LORD our God, we have not been cut off from a personal and private altar before the LORD wherever we are, we have not been cut off from offering ourselves as living sacrifices holy and acceptable unto the LORD, and we have not been cut off from the LORD our God. The sanctuary, the houses of worship, and the four walls of a building have never defined, nor should they ever define our relationship with the true and living God, for we must never allow ourselves to be dependent on any building for our relationship with the LORD. Consider if you will the words which are written and recorded in the seventh chapter of the Old Testament prophetic book of Daniel, as well as the ninth chapter of the prophetic book of Daniel, as well as the words which are written and recorded in the second chapter of the Old Testament prophetic book of Joel:
“The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORd, saying, Stand in the gate of the LORD’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, hear the word of the LORD, all ye of Judah, that enter in at these gates to worship the LORD. Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD, are these. For if ye throughly emend your ways and your doings; if ye throughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor; if ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever. Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit. Will ye steal, murder and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye known not; and come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations? Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the LORD. But go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel. And now, because ye have done all these works, saith the LORD, and I spake unto you, rising up early and speaking, but ye heard not; and I called you, but ye answered not; Therefore will I do unto this house, which is called by my name, wherein ye trust, and unto the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh. And I will cast thou out of my sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim. Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession fo me: for I will not hear thee. Seest thou not what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger. Do they provoke me to anger? Saith the LORD: Do they not provoke themselves to the confusion of their own faces? Therefore thus saith the LORD God; Behold, mine anger and my fury shall be poured out upon this place, upon man, and upon beast, and upon the trees of the field, and upon the fruit of the ground; and it shall burn, and shall not be quenched” (Jeremiah 7:1-20).
“In the first year of Darius the son of Ahuasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, which was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans; In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the LORd came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. And I set my face unto the LORD God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: and I prayed unto the LORD my God, and made my confession, and said, O LORD, the great and dreadful God, keeping the old covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments; we have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments; Neither have we harkened unto thy servants the prophets, which spake in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. O LORD, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces, as at this day; to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the countries whither thou hast driven the nation, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against thee. O LORD, to us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee. To the LORD our God belong mercies and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against him; neither have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. Yea, all Israel have transgressed thy law, even by departing, that they might not obey thy voice; therefore the curse is poured upon us, and the oath that is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, because we have sinned against him. And he hath confirmed his words, which he spake against us, and against our judges that judged us, by bringing upon us a great evil: for under the whole heaven hath not been done as hath been done upon Jerusalem. As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us: yet made we not our prayer before the LORD our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand thy truth. Therefore hath the LORD watched upon the evil, and brought it upon us: for the LORD our God is righteous in all His works which he doeth: for we obeyed not his voice. And now, O LORD our God, that hast brought thy people forth out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and hast go teen thee renown, as at this day; we have sinned, we have done wickedly. O LORD< according all thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain; because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us. Now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the LORd’s sake. O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name: for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousness, but for thy great mercies. O LORD, hear; O LORD, forgive; O LORD, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God: for thy city and thy people are called by thy name” (Daniel 9:1-19).
“Therefore also now, saith the LORD, Turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: For He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil. Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him; and even a meat offering and a drink offering unto the LORd your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet. Let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O LORD, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over the nation: Wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God? Then will the LORD be jealous for his land, and pity his people. Yea, the LORD will answer and say unto his people, Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied there with: and I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen: but I will remove far off form you the northern army, and will drive him into a land barren and desolate, with his face toward the East Sea, and his hinder part toward the utmost sea, and his stink shall come up, and his ill savor shall come up, because he hath done great things. Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the LORD will do great things. Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field: for the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree beareth her fruit, the fig tree and the vine do yield their strength. Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God: for he hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month. And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the fats shall overflow with wine and oil. And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the Palmer worm, my great army which I sent among you. And ye shall eat in plenty, and be sat I fished, and praise the name of the LORD your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed. And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed. And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaid s in those days will I pour out my spirit. And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call” (Joel 2:12-32).
When you read and consider the words which are written and found within each of these passages you will find that even before the captivity, and while the people of Judah and Jerusalem were still in the midst of the land, the prophet Joel called them to a place of repentance, to a place of brokenness, and to a place of fasting and weeping and mourning before the LORD. Of course we know that the people of Judah and Jerusalem would ultimately be carried away captive into the midst of the land of the Chaldeans, however, what is so absolutely beautiful and captivating about the narrative of Daniel is that not only was he a man who prayed with his windows open toward Jerusalem three times a day before the LORD his God, but when he discerned and understood according to the writings of the words of Jeremiah that seventy years had been decreed for the captivity of the people of God, he immediately engaged himself in a prayer of repentance before the LORD. It would be through the prayer Daniel prayed that we get a powerful picture—not only of the type of repentance the prophet Joel spoke about when prophesying to the southern kingdom of Judah, but also the type of prayer and repentance Solomon prayed at the dedication of the Temple. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this, for Daniel is a wonderful and powerful picture of a repentance and turning to the LORD in the midst of the land of the Chaldeans, as his prayer was undoubtedly one of intercession as he would place himself in between the LORD, the land, and the people of the living God. Daniel would enter into a place of prayer and repentance before the LORD on behalf of the people of the living God whom He had cast out of the land, and whom He had cut off from the sanctuary and holy altar in the court of the Temple. Daniel’s prayer is absolutely remarkable and astounding when you think about it, for through his prayer we find one who was willing to cast himself in a place of intercession—much like Abraham did on behalf of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and much like Moses and Samuel did on behalf of the people of God. We cannot and must not quickly move past and dismiss the prayer which Daniel prayed, nor even the fact that he ignored the decree of the king, and continued to pray three times a day before and unto the LORD, for his prayer is essentially a key that unlocks the prayers which Ezra and Nehemiah prayed during the time of the captives returning to the land which they had been cast out of. Both Ezra and Nehemiah prayed prayers of repentance and prayers of turning back to the LORD—and this AFTER the people had been returned to the land, after the people had been restored in the midst of the land, and after the Temple had been rebuilt, after the wall had been rebuilt, and after the gates of the city had been repaired.
As I sit here this morning I can’t help but think about the absolutely incredible and astonishing reality that the return of the people of the living God did more than simply return to the land, for the land was in all reality a secondary return to the true and ultimate return, which was a return to the LORD. It would be very easy to allow ourselves to get caught up in the return of the people of God to the land and completely and utterly miss the point that the people of God were doing more than simply returning to the land, for in their returning to the land there was a call and an invitation to return to the LORD of the land. Even the very reality of rebuilding the altar of the LORD and rebuilding the Temple and sanctuary of the living God is a true and powerful picture of the LORD inviting the people to return to Him through their gifts, through their sacrifices, through their offerings, and through their worship before Him. Please don’t miss and lose sight of the absolutely incredible reality of the people of God rebuilding the Temple of the LORD together with the altar, for the simple fact that they rebuilt the Temple of the LORD not only suggested the LORD was willing to dwell among them once more, but it also suggested a return of the people to the LORD. After being cut off from the sanctuary, and after being cut off from the altar of the LORD, the people would now be able to worship before the LORD at His holy sanctuary and at His holy altar—perhaps once more after being cut off from it all those years earlier, or perhaps for the first time as they had been born and grew up in captivity. Stop for a moment and think about the fact that when the Temple of the LORD was rebuilt in the midst of the land of Israel once more—not only would there be those who saw the former Temple in its glory and splendor, and perhaps worshipped the LORD their God in the courts thereof, but there would also be those who had never seen the former Temple which Solomon built. There were some who entered into the land who had neither seen the land of Israel before, nor who had known the LORD before, nor who had even seen the Temple of the LORD and the altar therein. It’s important for us to recognize and understand when reading and considering this reality that there was indeed and there was in fact an entering into the land as much and as surely as there was a return to the land. There were those who would return to the land after being cast out all those years earlier, and there would be those who would enter into the land—much like that first generation which entered into the land of Canaan for the first time during the days of Joshua the son of Nun. Pause for a moment and think about this tremendous picture and this tremendous unity that was found in the midst of the journey the people of God took to the land of Israel, for while it was a return for some—it would be a journey and an entering for others.
IN RETURNING AND ENTERING THERE IS AN INVITATION! IN RETURNING AND ENTERING THERE IS A CALL AND CRY OF THE SPIRIT! It’s truly something remarkable to think about and consider the fact that when the people of God made the journey from the land of the Chaldeans to the land of Israel, there were those who remembered the land from before the captivity, and who indeed return to the place of inheritance, to the place of promise and blessing. Oh I can’t help but wonder if there was even a return to individual inheritance, and individual possession in the midst of the land, as personal inheritance and possession would be passed down to generations. I can’t help but wonder if those who entered into the land would not only enter into and see the land for the first time, but would find and discover that there was an inheritance waiting for them in the midst of the land. AN INHERITANCE WAITING FOR YOU IN THE LAND! THERE’S AN INHERITANCE WAITING FOR YOU WHEN YOU RETURN! THERE’S AN INHERITANCE WAITING FOR YOU WHEN YOU ENTER! There is not a doubt in my mind that one of the greatest reasons and purposes for the genealogical records which were found in the opening of the book of Second Chronicles, as well as in the Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah, is not only to prove and demonstrate lineage as people and children of Israel, but also to demonstrate an intrinsic link and connection to the land and the inheritance therein. The genealogical records not only spoke of identity, but it also spoke of inheritance, for when you think about it—the genealogical record would speak to one’s identity as a son or daughter of Abraham, as well as speaking to an inheritance that was waiting for them in the midst of the land. It’s important that we understand that not only did the LORD preserve the inheritance(s) which was present within the land as He preserved the land itself, but the LORD would also preserve the identity of His people in the midst of the land of the Chaldeans, for think about what genealogical records would mean for those who returned to the land of Israel, as not only would their identity as a son or daughter of Israel be confirmed and validated, but so also would it confirm and reveal an inheritance that was waiting for them in the midst of the land. Oh, I can’t help but get the strong sense that in returning and entering into the land there would be a profound sense of identity and inheritance in the midst of the people of God, as men and women would understand their identity as the people of God, and as men and women would recognize that in the midst of the land would in fact be an inheritance waiting for them. Perhaps the single greatest reality that demonstrates this point even further is the parable of the prodigal son who not only asked for his inheritance and departed from his father’s house, but upon returning to his father’s house after living a life of debauchery, revelry and the like, would find that there was still an inheritance and Idenity waiting for him. Stop and consider the fact that this son never lost his Idenity, nor did this son ever lose his inheritance—even though he departed from the father’s house, and even though he squandered his father’s inheritance, there would still be an inheritance waiting for him. Consider if you will the words which are found in the fifteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel narrative of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ as written by the beloved physician Luke:
“And He said, A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father, Father give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a fairy country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: but as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:11-32).
The words which you find written and recorded within this passage of Scripture is absolutely remarkable and astounding—particularly when you consider it in light of the people of Israel returning to and entering into the land—for when you think about the people of God taking their journey unto the land of Israel, you will find that not only was their an identity that still belonged to them, but there was also an inheritance that was waiting for them. AN IDENITY BELONGING TO YOU, AN INHERITANCE WAITING FOR YOU! I feel compelled to pause here and ask you who might be reading these words whether or not you recognize and understand the reality that not only do you have an idenity in Christ in this life and in this world, but you also have an inheritance that is waiting for you. We dare not, we cannot and must not miss and lose sight of this absolutely tremendous and astonishing reality, for not only do we have an identity which is found in Christ, but we also have an inheritance that is also found in Christ. This reality is expressed in perhaps an even greater degree and measure in the first chapter of the New Testament epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the Ephesian saints. If you turn and direct your attention to the words which are found within this first chapter, and if you begin reading with and from the third verse, you will encounter powerful language—not only concerning being blessed with all spiritual blessing in heavenly places, but you will also get a truly wonderful picture of the inheritance we have in and through the person of Jesus the Christ. Consider if you will the words which are found in this first chapter beginning to read with and from the third verse of the first chapter:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our LORD Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the LORD Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of your in my prayers; that the God of our LORD Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understand being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all” (Ephesians 1:3-23).
With these words in mind, I would also like to invite you to consider the words which the apostle Paul wrote in his epistle to the saints which were at Colosse. Consider if you will the words which are found within the first and opening chapter of the epistle written unto the Colossian saints beginning to read with the third verse:
“We give thanks to God and the Father of our LORD Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints, for the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth: as ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellow servant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ; who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit. For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the LORd unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long suffering with joy fullness; giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his deer son: in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church: whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God; even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily” (Colossians 1:3-29).
As I consider the words which the apostle wrote—not only in the epistle which was written unto the Ephesians saints, but also the epistle that was written unto the Colossian saints—the more I can’t help but be absolutely astonished at the fact that in both epistles he speaks of our identity that is found in the person of Jesus Christ, as well as an inheritance that we have in Christ, which was secured by His blood and sacrifice, as well as through the seal and promise of the Holy Spirit. This reality is especially intriguing and powerful when you consider the journey the people of God took to the land of Israel, for both in the returning to the land, as well as the entering into the land, there was a profound sense of Idenity, as well as inheritance for the people. We dare not, we cannot and must not miss this—particularly and especially when we consider the tremendous truth surrounding the genealogical records which were meticulously kept by the scribes of Israel. Within and through these genealogical records we encounter and come face to face with the reality that not only did those who returned and those who entered into the land discern and understand their Idenity as sons and daughters of Abraham, but they also understood that there was an inheritance waiting for them in the midst of the land. Consider what it must have been like for those who were cast out off and cast off from their inheritance seventy years earlier, and now they were permitted to not only return to the land, but also return to their inheritance within and in the midst of the land. Consider what it would and could have been like for those who were born and who grew up in captivity and exile as they would not only understand their Idenity as a son or daughter of Abraham, but also would come to find an inheritance waiting for them in the midst of the land. How absolutely wonderful and powerful it is to think about and consider this reality, for it has such a tremendous truth contained within it that the journey from the land of captivity to the land of promise would have at the very heart of it a return to the LORD, and in that journey to the LORD there would be a sense of Idenity, as well as a sense of inheritance. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this truly remarkable reality, for the return of the people of God to the land, and the entering of the people of God to the land would not only signify a journey to the land itself, but also a journey to the LORD as they would rebuild the Temple and would rebuild the altar of the LORD. More specifically, we find the people of God entering into a profound sense of inheritance and Idenity, as they would come face to face with the reality of their being the people of God in the midst of the land of God. Oh how truly incredible it is to think about the fact that not only was there an Idenity that was preserved for them, but there was also an inheritance that was preserved as well. How truly wonderful it is to think about this reality, for in the returning of the people of God to the land, and in the tinkering of the people of God into the land we find them entering into a profound sense of Idenity and inheritance that was undoubtedly missed in the midst of the land of captivity and exile.
There is something absolutely profound when you think about the entering into the land of promise, as well as the returning to the lane of promise, as there would be some for whom this journey would in all reality be a homecoming for them—a return to the place of their inheritance, a return to the place of blessing, and a return to the place of promise. There were others who would find this journey as the means to enter into something they had never known and had only heard stories—perhaps even whispers about—during their time in captivity in the land of captivity. Despite and regardless of whether this was a homecoming or a first-time experience—both groups who would make the journey into the land of Israel would find themselves experiencing the awesome and tremendous reality of Idenity and inheritance. How absolutely remarkable it is to think about the fact that regardless of this journey being a returning or entering there would be an inheritance waiting for them in the midst of the land. What’s more, is that regardless of whether or not this would be a returning or entering there would be a profound sense of Idenity, as both groups would find themselves encountering an identity that was not only directly linked to the land, but also to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. How absolutely wonderful and powerful it is to think about the fact that two things captivity and exile could never touch or destroy would be the Idenity and inheritance of the people of God. When they entered into the land—not only would they be returning to Idenity, but they would also be returning to inheritance. It is absolutely necessary that we recognize and understand this, for it shines a great deal of light onto the journey that would be made from Babylon to Israel. Think about what great joy and excitement the eternal and Heavenly Father would be as Jacob whose name would become Israel—His son—would come home. WE know from Scripture that there is a dual prophecy concerning the LORD calling His Son out of Egypt, for on the one hand it directly applies to Israel being brought forth from the slavery, bondage and oppression of Egypt, while on the other hand it would apply to His only begotten Son who would be called forth out of the land of Egypt after the death of Herod. Just as the LORD would call forth Israel out of the land of Egypt, so also would the LORD call forth Israel out Babylon, and would once more call him to the place of inheritance, the place of promise, and the place of blessing. It is truly remarkable to think about and consider the amazing reality that in returning and entering into the land of Israel there was a powerful reality of Idenity and inheritance that was not only wrapped up in entering into the land, but also in the genealogical record and the name you possessed, and the house you were a part of. Oh that would consider this within our own hearts and lives and understand the inheritance that is before us, as well as the Idenity that is before us—both of which are not found in ourselves, but in Jesus the Christ. Our Idenity and our inheritance is entirely and altogether bound up and consumed in who our Father is, as well as in the person of Jesus the Christ and the promise and seal of the Holy Spirit.
As I bring this writing to a close, I feel compelled to draw and call your attention to the absolutely wonderful and astonishing reality that when the people of God made the journey to the land—not only were they entering into and returning to identity and inheritance, but they were also returning to the LORD of the land who brought them up out of their captivity and exile. The fact that the Temple of the living God was rebuilt among them in the midst of Jerusalem, and the fact that the altar once more was rebuilt are two powerful symbols of a people who were indeed and were in fact returning to the LORD their God. What’s more, is that within both the book of Ezra, as well as the book of Nehemiah you will find the people further demonstrating their return to the LORD by observing the feasts which the LORD had commanded and instructed them. Both Ezra and Nehemiah bring us face to face with the absolutely astonishing reality of the people of God returning to the land, and in the process of returning to the land they were also returning to the LORD. We dare not, we cannot and must not miss and lose sight of this absolutely wonderful fact, for it brings us face to face with the fact that in their returning to the land and in their returning to the LORD they were a people returning to Idenity and inheritance. What a truly wonderful and powerful testament and testimony this is when you take the time to think about it, for the people of God were returning to a wonderful and powerful sense of identity as sons and daughters of Abraham, as once more as the people of Israel, while also at the same time stepping into the inheritance that was waiting for them when they returned and came unto the land. Stop for a moment and think about the fact that despite the seventy years of captivity—neither their Idenity was lost or forfeited, and neither was their inheritance lost or forfeited. There was still an inheritance that was waiting for the people of God in the midst of the land, and their return to the land and their entering into the land was a truly amazing entrance into life entirely new and completely different from the previous seventy years they lived as captives and exiles in the midst of the land of Babylon. Oh what a truly wonderful and amazing thought it is to think about the people of God returning and coming back to, as well as entering and coming into a place of inheritance before the LORD, as well as entering and coming into a place of worship before the LORD as they would return to the LORD with fasting, with prayer, with sacrifices, with offerings, with gifts, and with the celebration of feasts which were ordained and appointed by the living and eternal God. What’s more, is that within both the Old Testament book of Ezra, as well as the Old Testament book of Nehemiah we find two powerful prayers of repentance and returning to the LORD which were prayed by these two mighty men of God who were used for the glory, the honor and the purposes of the living God in the rebuilding of the Temple and altar of the LORD, as well as in the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem, and in repairing the gates of the city therein. Please don’t lose sight of this truly incredible reality, for with the return to the land, as well as the entering into the land we find a powerful return to the LORD, and a powerful return to a place of worship, a place of celebration, a place of gifts and offering before the LORD.