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Oooh Jeremiah: What happened to the seventy years?

May 22, 2013 Leave a comment

Prophets are those who speak the words of God to others. The primary purpose of the prophet is to reveal the will of God to a person or group of people to exhort them to follow Him. Often while speaking the words of God to others, prophets talk about what will happen in the future. Sometimes these predictions are very general, like “I will prepare destroyers against you” (Jer 22:18) Sometimes they are more specific, even including a timeframe for events, like this.

Moreover, I will banish from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the grinding of the millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste.
– 
Jeremiah 25:10-12

The basic idea of this prophecy is that God is going to allow Israel to be sent into exile for seventy years. After seventy years, Babylon, the nation that has the superior strength to take Israel into exile, will be brought down for its own sinful idolatry and mistreatment of others. The implication of Babylon’s destruction is Israel’s freedom. With their oppressor powerless, Israel is free to return to the land of the promise (Jer. 29:10). The people of Israel and Judah who trusted YHWH fully expected to be back in their land at the end of seventy years.

The whole action of the book of Ezra is based on this expectancy of a return after seventy years.
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing… “[The Lord] has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem” – Ezra 1:1-2
The time when this was occurring? About 70 years after exile. In a very real way, YHWH was bringing Israel back to their land that they might be His people and He might be their God. In another sense, this form of return, where a foreign king sends some Israelites to go to their land and rebuild the temple under his authority, appears to be much less than the escape from exile Jeremiah talked about. That’s true too.

In Daniel 9 when Daniel noticed the seventy years had passed, he wondered about Israel’s return to their land, because despite being exile, Israel didn’t repent. Daniel said “we have not entreated the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth” (Dan 9:13). God responds  with news of a delay in Israel’s full return from exile because of their disobedience. It was now no longer seventy years, but 490 years.*

About these 490 years, Daniel is told:
Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks… After the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary… And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.
– Daniel 9:24-27

Guess what events happen in the last few decades of this time period? Yeah. Ministry of Jesus, his death, resurrection, and the destruction of the temple in CE 70 also predicted by Jesus in Daniel-like language. With those events are the end of the sacrificial system, the death blow to sin, atonement for iniquity, an everlasting righteousness, and a new covenant made with many. However, there’s a nagging question that remains after reading the Daniel passage. Jeremiah’s prophecy was about Israel’s return from exile in seventy years. Daniel’s prophecy of 490 years doesn’t come across that way. Wouldn’t the time extension from seventy to 490 mean the exile would end just a little later.

It does. The end of exile was always the people of God being free to live where God is and where God reigns. With the sacrificial system and temple gone and sin deceased, there is no need for a centralized location to atone for sin. With the gift of the Holy Spirit, God is now wherever his people meet and God reigns wherever his people obey him. Home is now wherever the people of God are being the people of God. Jesus not only freed Israel from exile as prophesied by Jeremiah, but Jesus made it impossible for the people of YHWH to ever be in exile again.**

* If you read Daniel 9, it says seventy weeks. It’s a little complex, but the way the book of Daniel as a whole uses days, it’s pretty clear that it uses a day to represent a year (people sometimes call it a “prophetic day”). Seventy weeks is 490 days. 490 days in Daniel represent 490 years.
**Whew!

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The Power of Non-Participation

September 13, 2008 Leave a comment

Being a Christ follower has some significant effects on the way that we love.  We’re at an interesting point in generational thought shifts in the Christian culture of the U.S.  The powerful Christian generation before us has been full of fear, avoiding anything that is associated with the ways of this sinful world.  This older generation has done so to the extreme, making following Jesus about what Christians don’t do instead of what they do.  The generation did this so much that we now have colleges that will kick people out if they consume alcohol, while in the Scriptures we have a Jesus that gives wine to drunk people and church figureheads that tell church leaders to have some wine and stop drinking only water.

I’m from an overreacting generation to these extremist standards of living that aren’t better because they’re extreme for Christ, but worse because they look less like Jesus in forbidding what God has made holy.  However, in my generation that wants to be known for what we do and what we accept rather than for what we don’t do, there is a danger.  We are in danger of accepting too much.  We are in danger of living a life that looks just like the world around us, with a little bit of social activism thrown in.  In Scripture, we see that a lot of the power of the kingdom of God comes from what people reject and not just from what they accept and do.

As for myself, I’m a little scared of accepting people where they are at as their life takes them into hell.  I’m scared of loving people in a way that doesn’t actually contribute to their life changing.  I’m scared I’ll be one of many in our Christian culture that lives like the culture, accepting it as my own.  A story in Daniel  shows us both the difficulty and power of non-participation.

Shaddy (Shadrack), Meesha (Meshach), and Ben (Abednego) were exiles militarily forced to live in Babylon, aliens living in a foreign land.  While under this foreign king, they became officials in the kingdom.  During their time as officials, the king made a huge statue of himself and decreed that everyone in the land had to bow down before it and worship his image.  The whole of Babylon, men from every nation and tongue bowed down to the king’s image.  These men wouldn’t do it.  They  simply refused to do anything that put someone else or some other god above their YHWH, even when other Israelites bowed to the statue.  Shaddy, Meesha, and Ben had nothing to gain by their refusal and everything to lose.  Not only would they lose their powerful positions in a powerful kingdom, but they would lose their very lives.  They stood when everyone else bowed.  They were given a second chance knowing a fiery furnace awaited them if they did not kneel; they stood when everyone else bowed.

Will we do this?  Will I do this?  Or will I become a part of the culture around me, indistinguishable from the bowing masses?  It’s easy to do.  There are so many gods in our culture and so many towering idols.  The god of money.  The god of safety.  The god of fame.  The god of lust.  The god of politics.  The god of stuff.  The god of selfishness.  The god of impressing people.  The god of belonging.  These things are not as physically obvious as a ninety foot tall statue, but if one looks for them, they are overwhelming large idols that people bow down to.  Often  I want to bow down to them.  I won’t be killed for not doing so, but often when I take stands I face social persecution, ostracism, and aloneness.  And there’s this part of me that feels like I am missing out on what I am choosing not to take part in.  These men faced death and still refused to bow to the idols of their time.  When I, facing so much less than death, am faced with the great idols of my time, will I bow or will I stand?  Will you?

Obedience to God opens our lives to His power.  When we are recognized not only by what we do (our relationships with God and how we relate to people) but by what we don’t do, God moves.  We have to trust that obedience to God is the best thing for us, that what we are missing out on by giving deference to idols is much less than what we would be missing out on if we chose not to give deference to our Creator.  We have to trust that because God asked us to stand while the rest of the world bows, He and His power will stand with us.

When the three God-fearing Israelites stood alone in Babylon, God didn’t come down and keep them from being thrown into a blazing hot furnace.  The king asked the rhetorical question, its answer obvious, “what god will be able to rescue you from my hand.”  The men responded that their God could.  But God let them be thrown in.  The three men that stood went into the furnace and faced the inevitable melting of their flesh, bones, and organs.  It was so hot the soldiers that threw them in were killed.  But as the three were in the furnace a fourth man that looked like a son of God showed up inside, YHWH there to support them and keep them from harm.  Their hair was not even singed.  YHWH was with them, because they stood for Him.  The story of Shaddy, Meesha, and Ben ends with the king acknowledging YHWH as Lord and decreeing that anyone who said anything against this Great God was to be killed.  And the three Israelites got a promotion.

Who has the power today?  Is it the powerful rulers or the powerful masses?  Or is it God?  While presidents, dictators, kings, moviestars, media, and society all have power, they only have power because God on high has allowed them to have it.  It is God alone that we should bow to.  He is not only the most powerful, but the most rewarding.  Those that would hurt us in any manner don’t have power to unless God has first allowed them to have it.  Let us, then, rend our wills to God’s, set only on glorifying Him through what we do and what we are deliberate about choosing not to do.  There is power in non-participation – through God, the power to change the world’s most powerful nation.

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