Today's Reading: 2 Kings 25:1-30
There are two things that I think the Bible tends to be most-often characterized as: 1) a book of hope and grace, and 2) a book of judgement and destruction. We will often struggle with reconciling the two "natures" and tones of the Bible. But a passage like today's brings both together seamlessly.
Babylon has finally invaded Judah (the southern kingdom) and laid siege to Jerusalem. The city fell, the temple (built by Solomon) was sacked and destroyed, and the people were marched off to Babylon into captivity. Worth noting is that, unlike their time in Egypt, the Israelites were not taken as slaves; they may have been lesser citizens, but they were not slaves. In Babylon, Israel was permitted considerable freedom to makes lives of their own. In fact, through Jeremiah (29:4-7), God actually encouraged Israel put down roots, to work, thrive, and prosper!
Our thinking and perspective is different, but to Israel, what they were experiencing was nothing short of a complete abandonment and rejection by God. The mindset was that gods were restricted to specified territory and only resided in a single house (temple). In Israel's thinking, God lived in the temple in Jerusalem, and his power only extended to Israel's borders. The logical conclusion was that God couldn't help Israel in Babylon even if he wanted to. He wasn't powerful enough.
This is where a text like 2 Kings 25 comes into play. We need to remember that while we are able to read these stories and glean something from them, they were originally intended for the Israelites in captivity, or soon after returning to Jerusalem. The description of the temple being looted and Jerusalem being destroyed is devastating. And yet, after everything comes down, look what Nebuchadnezzar does: he appoints a man named Gedaliah son of Ahikam as governor.
Ahikam was a close advisor of King Josiah (2 Kings 22:12). So the new governor was not a Babylonian, but an Israelite. Jeremiah also refers to him as a good friend. And Gedaliah's advice? "Chill out, serve Babylon, and everything will be fine." Gedaliah would then be assassinated, but he had sought to encourage Israel with a message that many Christian Americans continue to struggle with: it's okay to "serve" your country, whoever is leading it, and still be faithful to God. In fact, serving our country (whatever country it is) might actually be one of the best ways to be a "God-fearer."
Fast-forward 37 years, and the last king of Judah is still alive and in prison. The new Babylonian king breaks "tradition" and frees Jehoiachin, and actually gives him an official position within the empire. There's a taste of restoration taking place.
It's easy for us to become discouraged and maybe even jaded by feeling like God has abandoned us. Maybe our faith is waning, or our church is declining, or we simply feel distanced from God's presence. Often times, there are hints and signs that God is not as distant or that things aren't as bad as we may think. Sometimes, like Israel and the Babylon Captivity, God has just shaken things up a bit to force us to re-descover our zeal and to worship/serve him and the world in a different way. Without a doubt, this is a certain kind of loss...but there's also something to be gained...