History offers a unique opportunity to look back at God’s interactions in our world. This study represents the beginning of a four-part series. First, we will look at how God used Babylon as His agent of judgment against Israel for their sins of idolatry and rebellion against Him. The time, (607-586 BC), is when Jews were taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. Subsequent studies will include the return and restoration of the Jewish nation that were the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. These studies will look at three men; Zerubbabel who rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem, Ezra who restored worship and the Word of God in the nation, and Nehemiah who rebuilt the city’s walls.
God’s promise to Israel was never unconditional and always depended on the obedience of the people to God’s Law.
(Deuteronomy 28:58-64)1NIV New International Version Translations – “If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law, which are written in this book, and do not revere this glorious and awesome name—the Lord your God— the Lord will send fearful plagues on you and your descendants, harsh and prolonged disasters, and severe and lingering illnesses. He will bring on you all the diseases of Egypt that you dreaded, and they will cling to you. The Lord will also bring on you every kind of sickness and disaster not recorded in this Book of the Law, until you are destroyed. You who were as numerous as the stars in the sky will be left but few in number, because you did not obey the Lord your God. Just as it pleased the Lord to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods—gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your ancestors have known.”
As early as in the time of the Judges (350 to 450 years earlier), things were not going well between God and His people. The people worshiped idols and were hopelessly sinful. After a brief time of prosperity during the reign of David and Solomon, it worsened again under the successive kings of Israel and Judah. In 722 BC, Samaria was conquered by the Assyrians and ten tribes of Israel would be lost to history. Two tribes lasted longer. Judah lasted 150 years longer and had some good kings like Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah. But most of the people sinned grievously against God and their neighbors. This happened despite the continuous warnings from God’s prophets.
Finally, after so many years of warnings, God brought the people of Judah to the judgment which Moses had warned them about. The people were sent into exile in Babylon because of their sins.
(2 Chronicles 36:14-21) – “Furthermore, all the leaders of the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful, following all the detestable practices of the nations and defiling the temple of the Lord, which he had consecrated in Jerusalem. The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians, who killed their young men with the sword in the sanctuary, and did not spare young men or young women, the elderly or the infirm. God gave them all into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. He carried to Babylon all the articles from the temple of God, both large and small, and the treasures of the Lord’s temple and the treasures of the king and his officials. They set fire to God’s temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem; they burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there. He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his successors until the kingdom of Persia came to power. The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah.”
This story within our history would have no value if we did not overlay it over our world to see whether the risks of angering our God are comparative to society today. Has God been warning us about our sinfulness? Unfortunately, idolatry remains alive in our society. An idol can be anything that gets between us and God. Whatever we worship more than God or instead of God can be considered an idol. It could be money, family, shopping, sports, fame, education, sex, and this list goes on and on. When did all of this become a concern between humankind and God? A long time ago, the very first commandment and written on stone and given to God’s people:
(Exodus 20:3) – “You shall have no other gods before me.”
Examples of modern idols we worship today:
- Wealth/Consumerism – Wealth or spending are not necessarily wrong. However, when life becomes a full-time pursuit of money and/or the acquisition of things at the expense of honesty, charity or service to our God, the question then becomes whether people trust their money more than they trust God?
- Sex – The obsession with sex permeates our culture. It is everywhere. It might be the only thing people think about more than money. Our world has taken a gift from God and made it into the god of their lives.
- Entertainment – Entertainment comes in many forms. Sports, media, movies, TV, video games, even worship can fall victim to one’s desire for entertainment. The danger is that we begin to lose the real sense of who God is and the gift of Grace that we have been given. Worship of our God is intended to be a humbling and transforming experience. There is nothing that should ever replace it. As we will learn with Ezra, worship is a key part of any human restoration.
- Technology – Smartphones, smart cars, smart appliances, smart homes can quickly become an addiction. With increasing connectivity to the world, there is less and less time for connectivity to God. This also extends to the entire online experience of social media. If the overwhelming list of a person’s activities are connected to the Internet and not God, that could be as dangerous to one’s soul as worshiping a stone statue of Baal was to the Israelites.
- Power – It is easy to place our identity in something or someone other than God. Whether it be our social followings, our position at work, our abilities/skills, or the achievements we are after, the lust for power leaves our identity wrapped up in the wrong things. It is also wrong to pursue authority for the sake of control and power over others. Jesus tells a vastly different story to His followers. He says that there will be trials, persecution, and difficulty for those who believe in Him and for those who are servants of the “sheep, ” there will be the greatest of honors. “The last will be first!” The test is whether those around us recognize us as God’s people through our actions.
God’s trustworthiness did not allow Him to abandon His people forever. After seventy years, God arranged for them to return to their land and start again. However, the problem of sin in the history of Israel was still not solved. It remained an open question in the Old Testament on how God would dwell with incorrigible sinners. The seventy-year period of the Babylonian captivity remains an important part of Israel’s history, and all Christians should be familiar with it. Like many other Old Testament events, this historical account demonstrates God’s faithfulness to His people, His judgment of sin, and the dependability of His promises.
The Babylonian captivity had one significant impact on the nation of Israel. When they returned to the land, they would never again be corrupted by the idolatry and false gods of their surrounding nations. A revival among the Jewish nation took place after their return and the rebuilding of the temple. We see those accounts in the studies of the next three weeks.
- Are there still prophets today sent by God to warn His people?
- Ideas to Explore: Who might they be? Do the people listen to them? Are they treated like prophets of old? What is their message?
- Do you believe that God still punishes people who do not follow His laws?
- Ideas to Explore: What is the basis for your belief? Is there evidence behind what you believe and what is it? Do you think God will use other countries like He did with Babylon to punish His people? What about catastrophic events?
- Do people still care about any of the world’s problems, enough to listen to God?
- Ideas to Explore: God used exile long ago, but what is going on now that could be assigned as God’s punishments? Instead of exile, would God use economic collapse, internal strife, war to do the same thing?
- What is so appealing about idolatry?
- Ideas to Explore: Media and advertising make people love stuff. What are the sources of covetousness and jealousy.
- What are the impacts of the habits of parents on the beliefs of children?
- Ideas to Explore: How easy is it to lose the concept of God from one generation to the next? How do we raise our children so they do not pursue “stuff” for stuff’s sake?
- 1NIV New International Version Translations