JUST IN TIME
by Mike Sorenson [download printable PDF version]
ďThe Lord is not slow in keeping His promises...Ē
I stumbled across an interesting truth recently as I was reading my Bible. Actually, it was more like I was slapped across the face with it. There are times in Scripture when God obviously draws attention to a particular person, doctrine or event. He highlights it repeatedly, making sure that the reader sees the significance of it. How I have managed to overlook the importance of Cyrusí decree to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem I am not sure. It is an event predicted, described in detail, and called upon in remembrance in several places, including Isaiah, 2Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah. I think He draws so much attention to that event because it so clearly illustrates certain aspects of His character to a hurting world that constantly needs a reminder.
The story of Israelís rise and fall is painfully real and remarkably relevant, even to readers thousands of years later. While God brought them into a land and prospered them, they gradually took for granted their relationship with Him, eventually turning their backs on Him to chase after other things that offered more immediate gratification. Like a loving father, God had to intervene to stop their ever-increasing wickedness. All of Israel knew of Godís promise to prosper them forever in the land they had been given. That is why it came as such a shock when He chose to allow them to be overtaken by foreign enemies and taken into captivity, away from the land of their inheritance. The temple was destroyed, scores of people were killed, and the best of those who were left were forced to serve pagan kings in unfamiliar lands. How could Godís promise be taken back? Had He turned His back on them and given them over to destruction? There was certainly plenty of reason for despair and hopelessness.
God was not unaware of this consequence. He knew His people would begin to question and doubt His faithfulness to His promises when such suffering came upon them. That is why, before the first invasion of Jerusalem had even begun, He spoke through the prophet Isaiah to announce the restoration that He would bring to Jerusalem. Not only that, but He named the ruler who would issue the decree, well over 100 years before he would even take power. Godís call to Cyrus in Isaiah 45, then, is a statement of hope in the midst of despair. Many probably overlooked the prophecy when it was first written, as it did not make a lot of sense without the historical context. However, to a Jew in 586 B.C. who was watching his home, temple and life being destroyed while being carried away to Babylon, that promise suddenly became very relevant. Things looked bleak for many years for the Israelites, but if their faith could endure, they knew that their Father had been very specific in His promise to bring them back to their home. Even while He was disciplining them, He was promising to protect them. Even before He allowed their home, work and place of worship to be destroyed, He promised to rebuild it when the time was right.
The fact that Godís prediction through Isaiah came true in exact detail is a miraculous testimony to His power and sovereignty on the earth. However, it is also a remarkable statement of His faithfulness and mercy, even to those who have squandered the blessings He has given them. To a Jewish contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah, the fulfillment of this prophecy brought tremendous joy hand hope. It showed them that their God had neither forgotten nor forsaken them. His plan to rebuild Jerusalem had not been derailed or revised. It was just waiting for all of the pieces to fall into place so it could be done as God intended it. The resolution of this period of time must have felt incredibly slow to the Jews. From the time of the first invasion of Jerusalem, they had to wait roughly 70 years for the decree of Cyrus to begin the rebuilding process. From the time of the decree it was nearly another 100 years of political change and local resistance before the temple was finally completed and worship restored. Generations came and went during this time and reasons for discouragement were everywhere. But, to those who would look to the promises and fulfillments given to them, there remained a certainty of their Fatherís faithfulness. As you read the accounts of Ezra and Nehemiah rebuilding the temple and restoring worship to war torn Jerusalem, you cannot help but see that there was hope, energy, and life in those people. They were taking part in an amazing show of Godís grace in restoring the very people who had rejected Him to His face. A generation before, these people were sacrificing babies in worship to pagan idols. Now they were putting the temple back together with their own hands. Their commitment and love for Him had been largely circumstantial and unstable. However, His love and commitment to them never wavered. Even through the harshest of judgment and destruction, He showed His character, that He follows through on His promises to the letter and never forsakes those he loves.
While nearly 3,000 years have passed since these events transpired, we can still identify with the struggles of the Israelites and their despair. Most of us in this country have not felt the terror of being ripped from our homes and taken captive by foreign enemies, but we know well the fear that comes when it seems like life as we know it is falling apart. Those feelings can be overwhelming and can lead to great despair. It seems as if God has shown Himself to be unfaithful. It seems that there is no hope when the most important relationship, source of income or future plan lies in ruin before us. To those in the midst of destruction in their lives, God reminds that He has already planted the seeds of restoration, just as He did with Cyrus in the days of Isaiah. It may seem far off, but His plan has not been diverted. To those in the midst of rebuilding the rubble of a disrupted life, He gives them the hope that the worst is over and they are privileged to see the beauty of His restoration. The rebuilding process, too, can be lengthy, but the joy that comes in the end is far greater when we have taken part in the tearing down and the building back up. During the process, He loves to leave signs of His presence and faithfulness. We should be looking for the decrees in our life that show He is in the process of doing a mighty work with us. However, when those signs are hard to see, we often need a reminder of His character. Sometimes the signs donít make sense until we see the restoration. That is why God points so glaringly to historical events like the decree of Cyrus. He wants us to know and trust His character, even when the events in life are confusing and destructive. Our experiences may disorient us and lead us to despair, but His ways have not changed. He is the same God who, thousands of years ago, carried the Israelites through a decade of captivity and He is doing the same thing in the lives of countless Christians today. If we hold on to Him, He will no doubt prove Himself faithful, merciful and abounding in grace. It is just a matter of time.