STREAMS IN THE DESERT
Scrip: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:18-19
All throughout the Biblical history, we see numerous examples of those who had made a mess of their lives, landing in barren wilderness, as it were, experiencing His gracious restoration consequent to their repentance. Virtually streams have gushed forth, right where they were… in the dry sterile desert, whenever they have sought Him sincerely with a contrite heart. The juicy one-liner the good Lord creates a message from the mess His loved ones’ land up in, is not manifested more clearly than in the lives of Shadrach, Mesach and Abednego of the fiery furnace fame.
The image of these faithful men rescued sensationally by their faithful God from the throes of death even as they defied the King by refusing to bow before an imposing idol, would doubtless inspire people of all ages. But if we were to hit the rewind button just for a moment and dig a bit deep, into this thrilling account-by way of some posers’ – a totally different dimension, of this story would emerge.
What were these 3 Jewish youth in the post David era, doing in Babylon in the first place? Did these natives of the kingdom of Judah come over there either in pursuit of higher education or in search of greener pastures, in the same way we see many doing, in this modern era crossing even several seas’ in the process? The benumbing, chilling answer to these questions would be that “they like many of their ilk (the exiled Jews) were in Babylon as a punishment for their sin of worshipping idols.” Yes, for very same sin, they refrained from, now!
A history flashback at this stage would reveal that despite several warnings through prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah the people of Judah who were sold-out to idol-worship, courtesy the wicked reigns of certain kings like Ahaz (II Chronicles 26) and Zedekiah (II Chronicles 36: 11-13) would not turn from their idol-worshipping ways, leaving God with no option but to bring to effect all the warnings, He had issued till then. In a nutshell, He perforce had to execute His judgment of exiling them from the land flowing with milk and honey for they had violated their covenant relationship with Him which demanded that they be allowed to enjoy the choicest portion of planet Earth only on implicitly obeying Him (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). Disobedience would lead to a tragic situation as brought forth in II Chronicles 36:6-21, which too had been prophesied by Moses in his farewell address to his people as recorded in Deuteronomy 28:49-64.
In fact the closer scrutiny of events related to the Judean exile would reveal that it (exile) took place in three phases
a) Political – Daniel 1:1-4- during which the Royals and the political class were exiled in 606 BC. To this group belonged our death-defying terrific trio…Shadrach, Mesach and Abednego
b) Economical-2 Kings 24:16-during which the craftsmen and the business class were exiled in 597 BC
c) Universal-2 Kings 25:8-9-during which everyone including the Judean King were exiled in 586 BC. The prestigious Jerusalem Wall was demolished and the Temple in which many Jews prided ( built by King Solomon) was burnt …very much in conformity with the Lord’s warnings (1 Kings 8:6-9).
The batch-wise exile reinforces’ the fact that God was giving an opportunity to His chosen ones’ to repent and seek Him in order their punishment is limited. Doubtless, a loving God would never want a massacre of His loved ones’ laced with destruction of His either beloved city or His magnificent temple. But was there a reciprocal response from His select nation to His lenience? Was the first comeuppance adequate to make His special people make amends in their lifestyle? NO! His people sadly stuck to their stubborn ways despite several warnings of Prophet Jeremiah of a more serious indictment coming their way. Finally the somber record of II Chronicles 36:14-20 stands as a grim reminder of the fact of what would happen when we foolishly exhaust His patience for in that is a heart- rending account of a ruthless destruction sweeping across of what was once a proud capital of a God-honoring nation, paving the way for yet another exile of those who survived (very few did ) the onslaught of an all powerful Babylonian war machine spurred on by God’s Divine wrath. The lesson within a lesson here. Just as God’s best is reserved for the last (John 2:10) for those who love him (Rev 21-23), His worst too is reserved for the last for those who forsake Him relentlessly (Rev 19:17-21, Rev 20:14-15)!!! Ask the hard-hearted Egyptian Pharoah, who had to bear the ignominy and pain of losing his first-born (Exo 12:29-30), when he did not humble himself after receiving a few divine blows initially…
The tragic account of the Judean exile lends itself to yet another corollary in this study. What happens when Gods people (be it Jews or their New testament counterparts….Christians) sin and reap just punishment? Not only is there a severing of relationship between Him and his people at the time sin is indulged in (at least temporarily) but more seriously when the just punishment falls upon God’s chosen ones’, the unsaved lot are presented an opportunity, on the platter, so to speak of blaspheming God’s Name (II Sam 12:14). Their tongues would wag with impish delight on the perceived inability of God to protect His blessed ones’ from harm, little realizing that He Himself of His own accord had permitted harm to befall His disobedient special ones, in order they turn from their errant ways and seek Him once again.
Now how many of us know that the exultant phrase “Hip, Hip, Hooray” is actually an anti-Semitic cry having originated from the Israeli neighbors who rejoiced at the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonian army???
The wonder of the story of heroic faith of Shadrach, Mesach, Abednego (belonging to the first batch of exiles) is that their matchless act of valor besides bringing manifold blessings to their own lives, also set right the flawed perception of Israel’s neighboring countries on God’s power to save his dear ones’ from harm’s way.
Having landed in the foreign land an account of their own sins and that of their countrymen, it is to their eternal credit that without wallowing in self pity or slipping into despair these three men displayed remarkable resilience in seeking and honoring their Redeemer God in completely alien settings by first abstaining from pagan food (Daniel 1:8-20) – a disposition that brought about blessings in its wake by way of their elevation in civil service- and then (when the situation demanded) publicly putting their very lives at stake for preserving Holy name of their God.
Following the miraculous deliverance from the fiery furnace, one look at the decree of that mighty but fickle Emperor Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3:28-29) extolling the Lord God of these 3 valorous men and warning people of his realm not to take His Holy Name lightly would convey in no small measure the magnitude of the positive fall-out of this dramatic incident on the restoration of God’s Holy Name to its rightful place in the Civilized World of that age. No longer would any pagan nations or its citizens dare to speak ill of His Matchless Name!
Scrip:Then Nebuchadnezzar said, "Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king's command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way." - Dan 3:28-29
And what of the future of these 3 heroic characters? It may never have seemed more rosy than when “the king promoted them to even higher positions in the province of Babylon” –Daniel 3:30. Let’s put ourselves in the shoes’ of Shadrach, Mesach and Abednego for a moment and contemplate. Their future, which had seemed so dark and bleak, without any hope when they landed in Babylon as exiles never held so much of promise, as now. Virtually, their ‘desert’ had been transformed by God’s faithfulness into a ‘locale abounding in life-giving cool streams’. Talk of not only streams flowing but also roses blooming in the desert…
Wouldn’t our promise-honoring God do as much for us, when we seek Him with contrite hearts even while languishing in the ‘deserts’ of our own making…in case we are “there” now? The Good news with capital G is ….. HE WOULD! HALLELUJAH!!!
ps...this message replete with pics is available on the following URL...