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Living in Between the Bookends of Shalom

April 20, 2015

 

I went into the study of Nehemiah with very little understanding of how it fit into the larger story of God's plan for rescue and restoration.  The book is the last historial writing before an approximate 400 year gap that proceeds the New Testament era.  Nor did I anticipate how my heart would be captured by awe as I delved into the drama of post exile community (following thier 70 years under Babylonian and later Persian rule). 

 

What follows is an exert from my teaching at Community Bible Study (Nehemiah 12:44 -13:31).  It is edited for this blog. 

 

Some describe the Old Testament as sin in the beginning, sin in the middle, and sin in the end.  It doesn't take much reading of the Old Testament to agree with this characterization.  Infact, it seems that even the Israelites recounted their history this way.

 

When the Israelites realized how depraved their lives had become after they forsook the Lord to seek personal pleasures, they would plead for the Lord's favor and goodness.  He would hear.  In mercy, he would rescue them from their plight and restore blessing and kindness.  The people would be overcome with gratitude.  They would renew their commitment to worship him and only him.  Sadly, spiritual amnesia would settle in.  In their arrogance, they returned to doing things their way, loosing sight of the I AM, the Lord of angel armies, maker of heaven and earth.  God, in his loving refusal to leave his people in rebellion, would lead them into experiences that would bring them to a posture of surrender and need.  (See Nehemiah 9)

 

In time, the cycle would repeat. 

 

Disobedience and turning away from the Lord, being met by mercy, faithfulness, and rescue.

Disobedience and turning away from the Lord, being met by mercy, faithfulness, and rescue.

Disobedience and turning away from the Lord, being met by mercy, faithfulness, and rescue.

 

Nehemiah wholeheartedly dedicated more than 12 years of his life trying to break this cycle. 

 

From day one, he led with clarity and precision.  He also sacrificed his personal comforts and luxuries for the benefit of the people he goverend.  He was the type of leader who was first on the ground and last to leave.  He secured both the infastructure (the Jerusalem wall) as well as the social and religious structures to secure a culture of worship in Jerusalem. 

 

After a time of stability in Jerusalem, he headed back to his original post in Susa.  Then about a year or two later, he returns for a visit.  To his horror, he finds the aftermath of disobedience.  People had twisted their conscience to fit their lifestyle.  Their choices were far from revealing God's wisdom, righteousness, and goodness inherent in the heart of the law. 

 

The predictable pattern of the Old Testament is unnerving.  And we in the 21st century are not far from this reality.  But what's true is that cycles can be broken.  They do not have to be permanent fixtures. 

 

While brokenness may pervade our experiences of living in a fallen and tragedy filled world, we live in between the bookends of shalom - things as it should be. 

 

Genesis begins with the absence of sin and the declaration that "it is good."  Revelation ends with a restored fellowship that can never be broken again.  All things will be made new.  And "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." (21:4)

 

Recently, the question "Will you trust me?" came with such clarity as I had been wrestling through some personal dilemmas.  When I ponder on the cross, how could I not?  When I am brought to my knees by the love displayed in Jesus' life as he was emptied and poured out on the cross, trust would be right of Jesus to ask of me.  

 

While living in the in between world, may my response ever be "Jesus, I trust you."    

 

 

 

 

 

 

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