Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Faithful in Babylon

In the age after David and Solomon, the kingdom divided. Israel lay to the north, and Judah was in the south with Jerusalem as its capital. Both kingdoms progressively apostatized. Injustice grew until it became commonplace and accepted. The Law was little observed or taught, and therefore eventually was forgotten. Exploitation of widows and orphans by the rich and powerful was widespread. As godly morality declined into depravity, and fidelity to God was cast aside for syncretism and eventual idolatrous abomination, the ministry of the great prophets arose to call the people to repentance.

Israel refused the call and was eventually wiped out. Judah likewise rejected the call and, seven centuries before the birth of the Messiah, was conquered by the armies of Babylon. The rightful king, 18-year-old Jehoiachin, was captured by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, deported, and held in captivity in a foreign land. Not long after, Jerusalem was destroyed, the Temple looted and burned, the nobility and well-educated taken to Babylon in chains, and the poor of the land left to fend for themselves. They suffered and died from hunger and disease. The prophets had threatened this fate to the nation that refused to heed the word of the LORD, and that word was fulfilled.

Question: in spite of the rampant disobedience to God for several generations before the disaster, were there not people in Judah who were faithful? Of course there were. There are many indications in the annals of the books of Kings that there were many faithful, though few were prominent. God himself told Elijah that there were “seven thousand” who had not worshiped Baal—7,000 is the symbolic number “seven” (which means a full, round, plentiful amount) multiplied by “a thousand” (which adds great emphasis to the number). Even in the days of worst apostasy, there remained uncounted faithful in Judah. Most were apparently neither influential nor in positions of prominence—but they were faithful. The apostasies and corruptions surrounded them but they resisted.

Second question: in the conquering of Judah, then, and the subsequent deportations to Babylon, was it not likely that there were many faithful among the exiles—people who did not deserve and had not earned the punishment enacted against the nation? Of course there were.

Is God unfair then, to punish the innocent along with the guilty? Of course not. What then is going on? The destruction and deportations are disaster to the guilty, for they lose everything they had clutched to themselves as of most value. To the innocent, it is a time of suffering, to be sure, but also a time of challenge, refinement, and even renewed vision. They, who had never put their hope in fame, wealth, influence, or intrigue had little to lose, then, when these things were swept away. They, who had preserved their hope in God, in exile found that hope deepened and even made more pointed.

In short, they who could not possibly have “won” the day in a land where all was corrupt and in which they were without influence or power, found themselves in a position where, of all their people, they alone knew hope and knew what hope meant, and therefore lived in hope. And to the exiles who were dragged from what they craved into foreign captivity, it was only to the faithful who retained hope that they could go in any repentance and renewal. It was only the faithful who had hope to show and to give to those who could finally want it! Eventually, at the age of 55, Jehoiachin was released from prison and through him the descendants of David continued in unbroken line to Joseph, husband of Mary.

For fifteen years or more, it has seemed likely to me that the current time of apostasy and all the ills of the misguided Episcopal Church provides an opportunity for the faithful to dig in, strive for continuing fidelity, and hold onto the seeds for the time when the soil shall be ready to receive them and produce a rich harvest. Only God satisfies. Nothing else can. Any genuine hunger for God will lead the searcher to him. People can only live on spiritual snow cones and M&Ms for so long. The real food is always waiting and offered. As the most recent statistics on the Episcopal Church show, membership continues to decline and the money continues to increase—a recipe for spiritual catastrophe.

In the first millennium before Christ the age of rampant disobedience and graspingness was also the age of the prophets. They went together. And the age of the exile was the age of rebuilding the faith on firm foundations. This is the theme of the Book of Daniel, unique in the Old Testament. It is this book that features the famed “handwriting on the wall”.

There are a number of ways today that the faithful of the Episcopal Church can fulfill their calling, and are doing so. Let us not stumble, nor grow tired, nor become discouraged. The handwriting is on the wall.


Watchful Martlet said...

Thank you Father David. The strong and faithful will prevail.

TLF+ said...

Thanks for this gleam of light in the shadowy days. This reflection obviously came from constant prayer and faithful reading of the Scriptures.