Summary: God's faithfulness and action in seasons of change
When I mapped out our sermon series post-Easter, I had an idea that it might lead us into a season of transition coinciding with my forthcoming handing over the leadership of our church to the next person God is preparing already to come and lead us into a new thing. I didn’t know for sure, but I thought it might. So I thought it might be helpful to see and study some of the times in Scripture when change came, when there were “pivotal moments”, and be both encouraged by the faithfulness of God and also challenged and informed and encouraged by what He expects of us, His people, during those seasons of change.
In the great arc of Biblical history, we begin with creation, and then meet Abraham. We began with the pivotal moment in Abraham’s life, where God called him to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering. And we learned that God expects radical, complete, unflinching obedience. And we also learned that God is faithful – He provides for us like He did for Abraham with the ram in the thicket that became the offering in the place of Isaac.
The next great moment in the arc of the Biblical story is Moses and the Exodus, about 250 years after Abraham where the children of Abraham are slaves in Egypt. God meets Moses in the burning bush, and we saw the argument unfold and we saw Moses lose. And we are all very glad he did. We saw that God’s way is always best, and that our job is to obey even when we don’t like it and want to argue with God instead. And we saw that God was, of course, always present and completely faithful.
There are a lot of great stories from that point in history, but the next pivotal time surrounds Israel’s call for a king, and God anointing Saul and then David. This is about 400 years after Moses. Last week we looked at the story of David and Goliath, and once again we saw that God was faithful, and we saw in the text that it was actually God, not David, that killed Goliath – God just used David to do it. And, once again, we can find deep encouragement in the faithfulness of God to His people, in how God “shows up” just in time, does exactly what is needed, delivers His people from huge obstacles like Goliath, and it is very very good. We also saw in the story that David had to obey, David had to step into the path of danger, David had to be himself and use his particular gifts and abilities and not try to dress up in the king’s clothes, and we saw the result when he did. Goliath falls tumbling down and the God wins the battle on behalf of His people, the Israelites.
The time of David and Saul was the high point in the Biblical arc as far as the political prominence of the Jewish people. From that point, there are about 450 years of decline, with a series of kings and all kinds of political changes in the region. It ends with pretty much the complete destruction of the physical nation including the beautiful temple that Solomon had built, and the Jewish people being carried off into exile. Most of the stories from that 450 year period are from the prophets – Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel, as well as the smaller books of the prophets right at the end of the Old Testament. And by the way, just as an aside, those “smaller books” are really great reading provided you do one thing first: familiarize yourself with the history surrounding the writing. Without that, they might not make a whole lot of sense. We also have some great stories from the time of exile, such as the story of Daniel. The story I’ve chosen for today comes at the end of that period, it is the story of Nehemiah.
I want to begin the introduction to Nehemiah with words of a letter that Jeremiah the prophet had sent to Jews in exile, from Jeremiah 29: “5 “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. 6 Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! 7 And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” Jeremiah passed on God’s instruction for the exiles to not live as insurgents, fighting their captors and trying to undermine them, but rather to settle in and be positive, even though they are in exile. A good principle for us still today, especially when we feel at great odds with the values of our society around us – we don’t abandon our faith or renounce our primary citizenship in the Kingdom of God, but we do engage our society and culture and seek its “peace and prosperity”.