There are many moments in life when I feel a sense of accomplishment, pride over what I’ve done. Moments of success, praise, etc. However, there are some very special moments in my life that have a unique satisfaction attached to them: the moments when I do something I consider to be “holy”.
So, I started to wonder. What is more important to God? A “successful” mission trip or a completed homework assignment? Leading a bible study or washing the dishes? Volunteering at church or sleeping well?
For the longest time, I would have confidently stated that God wanted me to do more as a Christian to bring Him glory. Mission trips, in my mind, would be way more important than homework. Although I thought it was important to work hard at everything, at the end of the day, I believed that the greater “good work” an action results in, the more important it is. That is until I read the book of Jeremiah.
To understand the book, I had to learn some Old Testament history. It begins with the Israelites, God’s chosen people, asking for a king. God allows them to crown kings, although that results in dire consequences. After Saul (a terrible king to begin with), David, and Solomon, the kingdom splits into Judah and Israel. Both of these kingdoms have many disastrous kings who hurt the people. However, in the line of Judah, there are a few kings who actually follow God. Ultimately, though, most of the kings still disregard God and the people are taken into captivity.
At the very end of this unfortunate kingdom of Judah comes King Zedekiah. By his time, the Babylonians had taken many of the people into exile. King Zedekiah and his brothers before him all “did evil in the sight of the Lord” by allowing idols and following the kings of other kingdoms. King Zedekiah was even called Mattaniah before Nebuchadnezzar changed his name to Zedekiah.
After nine years of ruling as king, King Zedekiah rebelled against the Babylonians and so they laid siege to Jerusalem. During this time, King Zedekiah sought out Jeremiah and asked him to ask God to deliver Judah. However, God firmly speaks through Jeremiah in announcing the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.
Realization #1: False Positivity: God Accepts Negatives
With every test, there are always limitations. If you take a lie detector test, for example, the test could sometimes say that you are telling the truth when you are, in fact, lying. The reverse could also be true. Getting a “false positive” or a “false negative” on such a test can be very misleading. The same was true during King Zedekiah’s time.
Since King Zedekiah didn’t like what he was hearing about the destruction of his nation through Jeremiah, he turned to other prophets. These prophets told of freedom that would come to Judah through God. Unfortunately, they were false prophets and tried to mislead the people by promising hope for a future that was not in God’s plan.
In times of struggle, it can be easy to hold onto our optimism and hope for the best. It can even seem like we are trusting God by doing so. We always think that God works through blessings. He does give us good things. Although God is faithful and gracious, He still often works through struggles, instead of blessings.
God does open doors, but He also closes doors. Both are important. The good times and the bad. Often, the growth that comes from the negative moments in life and in learning to trust God through them can be unparalleled. Although God does work in mysterious ways and He does not try to hurt us, He does always prioritize our holiness and our relationship with Him.
I wonder when I am in a difficult moment if I reach out to my Father for hope or reach out to an imaginary happy future for hope. The imaginary future is futile. It is not as beautiful as the real future God has in mind. And, just like the false prophet Hananiah failed the people (and so was punished with death), my imaginary future will fail me.
Realization #2: Restoration: God always restores
King Zedekiah refuses to trust God and believe God’s words until the very end when Zedekiah tries fleeing but is still captured. King Zedekiah witnesses the death of his own sons and lives in Babylon until he dies. It’s a tough life without God.
However, King Zedekiah’s story is barely the first part of the actual story. King Zedekiah was the last king of the kingdom of Judah. After the fall of Jerusalem, the temple there was destroyed by the Babylonians. The people are in captivity for 70 years. Until King Cyrus.
Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem. – Ezra 1:2-4
King Cyrus is clearly familiar with God and His work. Surprisingly, however, this is not the first mention of King Cyrus. Over a hundred years before King Cyrus’ reign, his very name was prophesied by Isaiah.
Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him
and to loose the belts of kings,
to open doors before him
that gates may not be closed:
“I will go before you
and level the exalted places,[a]
I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
and cut through the bars of iron,
I will give you the treasures of darkness
and the hoards in secret places,
that you may know that it is I, the Lord,
the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
– Isaiah 45:1-3 [ESV]
This entire chapter in the book of Isaiah actually speaks of King Cyrus of Persia. Although King Zedekiah failed along with many of the other kings of Judah, King Cyrus, who was not even from the kingdom of Judah, learns of God and His plans and successfully sends people to rebuild God’s temple.
God always planned to restore His temple and His people. He spoke of this restoration from the beginning. However, the absurdity of having a foreign king save God’s people made even God’s obvious clues be ignored. God was still faithful to His plan.
What I found most interesting was the path that God took to restore Israel. He could have chosen to make Zedekiah a great king who led the people to victory. Just as God gave His people the victory multiple times in the past against various enemy nations, even the great nation of Egypt, God could have saved them. However, on top of allowing struggles, God also made the struggles the path to beauty.
God didn’t use a perfect king of Israel to save His people. He used terrible kings. And yet, He saved His people. He even used foreign kings and reached foreign nations through Israel’s captivity. In the long run, God didn’t need Zedekiah’s obedience to accomplish His grand plan of restoration.
Realization #3: Temples: God Accepts the Broken
Ultimately, in this narrative, God rebuilt His temple. By doing so, God continues to prove His ultimate power. Building a temple might seem like a meager use of God’s power. However, in Old Testament times, the temple was very important. It was the only space where God would directly interact with His people.
Without a temple, the people could not offer sacrifices to God and so keep the law and keep their relationship with God. Basically, people would not be able to repent at all without a temple. In light of what repentance means to us today, this makes the temple very important.
As Jesus says:
No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. – Luke 13:3
Repentance is the act of turning to God. Without repentance, we could not have a relationship with God. There was one issue with repentance and temples though. In temples, only pure and holy people and objects could enter. Therefore, there was a long list of rules when it came to being cleansed before entering. Only after being cleansed could one enter God’s presence. In fact, even the high priests would fear going into the deepest parts of the temple as any impurity could result in God killing them on the spot.
Although we no longer have temples, we often act as if we do. Before Sunday mornings, we try to cleanse ourselves. I am not talking about preparing ourselves to worship God, but rather about us trying to clean up our acts. We wear nice clothes, speak kind words, and pretend that our lives are better than they are.
So, we begin to separate our lives into the “holy” and the “unholy”. The “holy” is obvious. It consists of the moments when we read our Bibles, pray to God, go to church gatherings, and share the gospel. The “unholy” is basically everything else. There are moments in the “unholy” where we may not be sinning, but we aren’t actively participating in “holy” acts. In the regular (or “unholy”) moments of life, it is often difficult to understand where God is.
Reading the story of King Zedekiah left me dumbfounded. God was different from who I thought He was. I always kind of knew that God used broken people but I saw it clearly in the story. I saw that God used imperfect circumstances and imperfect people. It struck me then. God does not need my meager good works to accomplish His good works as a part of His plan.
God’s ultimate “good work” has already been accomplished in Christ. Ironically, Christ even came from a line of brokenness. Christ’s genealogy even lists King Zedekiah’s nephew. After the imperfect King Zedekiah ended the line of the kings of Judah, Jesus entered the scene many generations later as the perfect king.
When Christ died, the curtain in the temple that separated the “holiest” parts was torn. Christ said “it is finished” and the hostility between unholy man and holy God broke down. God allows us now to come to Him as imperfect people and an imperfect church to allow Him to daily and weekly restore ourselves to Him.
I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. – Luke 5:32
God now calls us to go to Him always. Wherever we are we don’t need to try to become “holier”, but just to become closer to Him. We will encounter a faithful God in ALL of our lives’ circumstances, not just the “holy” ones.
When I now do little things in life, I know God is there too. He isn’t waiting for me to finish the dishes and start preaching His Word, but is rather wanting me to call out to Him as I do the dishes, as I finish my homework, as I rest daily. So, church, let’s stop only looking for happy and “holy” circumstances and people, and let’s start running to our Father, especially in our brokenness.