I have been taking classes with Christian Leaders Institute, and I am currently finishing up my Old Testament Survey class. Before I took this class, I was already in love with the Old Testament. I actually find it very relatable to the every day struggle we have to do what God has asked of us. This class has really helped bring to the forefront some points I may have been glossing over.
In the Old Testament, God set out some very specific directions for Israel. In fact, it couldn’t have been more clearly stated. It was repeated over and over again. It was even written down. For all intents and purposes, there was absolutely NO REASON Israel should have had trouble understanding what was expected of her. Yet, time and time again, Israel would fall away from those directions and do her own thing.
And, time and time again, God would send someone to set her straight.
To most people, today, they do not see the direction of God very clearly. In fact, an overwhelming number of prayers revolve around people wanting to understand what God’s will is for their life. Praying for his plans to be revealed to them, praying for His will to be done in a situation. And, as Gentile believers, we didn’t get such a specific list of what we should and should be doing as Israel did. This became a point of conversation at a council meeting amongst the disciples and elders. They flat out admitted that they couldn’t expect the Gentiles to keep a law, that they couldn’t even keep as God’s chosen people. So, they went into prayer & came up with a few chosen things.
Even Christ, himself, left us with two commandments. Love God. Love one another.
So… what does that mean about all of those rules? What do we do? How do we follow God? We are left having to work that out with God, one on one…. daily, hourly… minute by minute, at times. Thankfully, we do have the Holy Spirit to convict us and guide us.
But, let’s go back to Israel in the Old Testament for a second. Actually, lets go back to the beginning.
God created everything, including man and woman. He set out some pretty simple rules. Tend to the garden. Name the animals. Have babies. And, don’t eat from that tree over there… or you will die. Adam and Eve were not bound to the rules that would eventually be placed upon Israel. And, the serpent managed to derail them from the most simple set of rules ever given.
They had it easy. They walked with God. They didn’t have the weight of sin upon them yet. They had NO REASON to disobey God. But, they did. And, it would cost them & forever changed their relationship with God. He would no longer walk among them, as he once did.
Over time the burdens on God’s people would grow from this original sin. And God would continually pick people to step up & save Israel from her own doing.
The world would become so wicked, that the only way to make it better would be to send a flood to wipe away all the evil… save a man and his family, whom God favored. All evil was wiped away, yet sin remained and flourished, after the flood waters rescinded.
God would hear the cries of his people, enslaved & oppressed, and rise up a man to deliver them from the hands of their captives. Moses would lead the nation of Israel, making a covenant with God, setting up some very clear directions and expectations. Yet despite their deliverance from captivity, Israel couldn’t keep it together. Every time Moses would step away to commune with God, they’d start doing their own thing again. And even their leader wouldn’t make it to the Promised Land, because of sin.
In the time to follow, when Israel was without a leader or a king, Israel would once again go about doing her own thing. Each man doing what was right within his own eyes, what made sense to him. They would fall under oppression and hard times, and God would hear their cries. He would raise up a judge to bring Israel back into the fold. But, scripture tells us repeatedly, that as soon as the judge would die, Israel would go back to her old ways. Doing what seemed right, in their own eyes. Israel could only keep it together when there was a leader, headship… person of authority, in place. And even then, they were still messing up some.
Then, when earthly kings were raised up…. sin was still abound. Even that king, who was a man after God’s own heart, couldn’t follow the rules. Simple rules, written out, taught by the priests, and with warnings from the prophets.
A theme here in the OT, is Israel’s inability to follow the rules. But when you look closely, you will notice part of that theme is that they did better when they had a clearly defined leader. But, as soon as that leader was out of the picture, they couldn’t keep it together.
Fast forward to Nehemiah. By this point, Israel had really messed up & they were paying the price for it. They had been taken into captivity into Babylon. Jerusalem, the city and the temple both, were destroyed. They were displaced and scattered. They were breaking all sort of rules from worshiping the gods of the locals, intermarriage with people who were clearly on the “do not marry” list, they were not sacrificing for any sort of atonement, and were once again doing their own thing. The law was forgotten. New generations had come, and had no understanding of what God had done for Israel in the past, and what His expectations for them were. In Ezra we learn that God softened the heart of the Persian King (who was now over Babylon) and allowed Israel to return to it’s city & rebuild it (and the temple), seeking favor from God. They get there, come up against some opposition and everything stalls. Then Nehemiah gets wind of what has happened, he is grieved over it, and with the permission of the king, he returns to Jerusalem and takes on the big task of putting it all back together again. Not just the physical city, but also the people and more importantly spiritually. They find the Book of Law and share it with the people. Everyone is reminded of what God had done for Israel, they grieve over their sins, they renew the covenant, and everything looks great.
Then, Nehemiah goes back to the king’s house to do his job. What happens when Nehemiah leaves? In short order, it all falls apart. Once again, without that leader that God raised up…. Israel can’t keep it together.
So…. after all that history lesson (LOL)… how is this relatable to us today?
While we don’t have the same Book of Law that Israel was given, there are some things we do know.
We know that were a supposed to do what is good, noble and true. We know that we are to be honest, hard workers, ethical and moral. We know that we are supposed to submit to God, our spouse, etc.
Yet… when the cat is away, the mice will play.
The boss is out of town? Great, lets toss the required suits and wear jeans and tshirts all week.
Dad isn’t home? Cool, we can bend some of his rules with the kids… right mom?
Not in church today? No problem, go right ahead and overcharge your customer.
Teacher is absent? No big deal, we can skip class or tell the substitute that we were going to watch a movie.
When left to our own devices, when our leadership & authority is out of sight…. we don’t follow rules.
We speed when the cops aren’t looking.
We change or relax the rules when the other parent isn’t home.
We do bare minimum work when our boss isn’t around.
And, we don’t even think twice about it.
Which is exactly why I am glad that the story didn’t end with Nehemiah. I am so grateful for the New Testament, which gives our stiff necked, wayward selves… HOPE. Hope that came in the form of a baby, who would walk this earth sinless, yet pay the price for the sins that had already been committed & the MANY yet to come.
When Christ left, we once again began to falter. In fact, the two rules he left us with… Love God, love others. We have a hard time just following those. We are the same today, as Israel of the Old Testament. Everyone doing their own thing, and what seems right in their own eyes. And, just like they were waiting for a Messiah then…. we await His return now.
The truth is, we really know what we should be doing. In many ways, it is simpler for us now (after Christ) than it was for those in the Old and New Testament during his ministry and just after. The question is, what are you doing about it? Are you accepting that you’ll never be perfect & making excuses and exceptions to what God wants from you? Or, do you have an open mind, heart and soul… wholly surrendered and trying to do what God asks of you to the best of your abilities… at all times, not just when others are present?