by Fr. Tommy Lane
What a mess we would be in were it not for the mercy of God. What a mess our sin gets us into. What a disaster Israel found herself in because of her sinfulness. Six times the Old Testament tells us it was Israelís sins that brought the exile on herself. (1 Chron 9:1; 2 Chron 36:14-16; Neh 1:6-7; Jer 25:8-11; 2 Kings 21:10-15, 23:26-27.) The Old Testament sees the exile in Babylon as punishment for sin. In 2 Chron 36 we read that the people and priests of Judah were unfaithful to God, practiced the abominations of the nations, and polluted Godís temple even though God often sent them messengers.
But they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets, until the anger of the Lord against his people was so inflamed that there was no remedy. Then he brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who slew their young men in their own sanctuary buildingÖ(2 Chron 36:16-17)
The prophet Jeremiah is even more shocking when he says that Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon who captured Jerusalem and destroyed the temple, was Godís servant (Jer 25:9). However there was also a sense that Babylon had gone beyond what God had wished; a few times in the Scriptures we read that Israel had received double punishment from the Lord (e.g. Isa 40:2). Sin only appears to be great fun, it brings its own punishment.
But Israel was not left to wallow in its sinfulness. Just as Nebuchadnezzar was Godís servant, Cyrus of Persia would also be Godís servant when he captured Babylon and allowed the Jews to return home to Jerusalem and end their exile. Second Isaiah beautifully predicts the freedom of the exiled Jews in our first reading today,
I will cut a road through all my
They had been thinking,
The Lord has forsaken me;
But God had not abandoned his people. Through Isaiah he said,
Can a mother forget her infant,
The people would return to Jerusalem and rebuild.
But the work of rebuilding was very slow. Various reasons for the delays are given in the Old Testament. The prophet Haggai says
Thus says the Lord of hosts: This
people says: “Not now has the time come to rebuild the house of the Lord.”...
In Ezra 5 we read that it was the prophets Haggai and Zechariah who got the people to rebuild. Even though Godís chosen people had received the freedom to rebuild, they had grown lazy. They were still suffering the effects of their sinfulness. They had to be whipped into action by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah.
What happened to Israel is a reflection of what happens to us when we sin.
During this season of Lent as we turn from sin to the Lord, we approach the Lord with confidence because as our Psalm today stated,
The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in love.
More homilies for Wednesday Week 4 of Lent