Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rebuilding Foundations - Part III

David had been a dynamic leader for the nation of Israel, driving out armies and capturing territory for the nation while he ruled from a throne blessed by a holy God. Under the direction of a faithful God, he had insight into the enemy’s weaknesses, preparing God-directed battle plans that would dethrone even the toughest of kings and secure the richest of all the surrounding lands for the Israelites. This had been the promise of God given through Israel's leaders since their deliverance from Egypt many years before.  Even more importantly, God had intended to build upon the foundation of their deliverance FROM bondage by giving them a new foundation to build UPON.  That new foundation required a new form of worship.  A directing of their hearts, their passions, toward the God whom they served.

King David's passion for God’s right placement in the hearts of the people he was given leadership over led to God's revelation of a vision to establish a center of worship for the nation of Israel in the city of Jerusalem. He received the vision of the temple that would ultimately be erected by his son, Solomon. David was a worshipper.  He worshipped heartily and he worshipped often. His was a heart commended by God because it was passionate in its pursuits, purposeful in its plans and pointed in its focus - he was "founded" on a good foundation.

Foundations of worship so carefully designed by a loving God were central to the daily life of the Israelite. Feasts, seasons, offerings and sacrifices were common themes of the Old Testament stories. Each pointed to the ultimate purpose of God calling a people out of captivity, establishing a method for their redemption, and creating a deep-seated sense of his presence in their midst. All designed that he might have fellowship with them and they might have intimate fellowship with him.

Israel did not maintain those foundations well, though. Foundations are subject to the destructive forces of time, environment, and purposeful upkeep. Neglecting the influence of any of these creates an opportunity for foundations to become dry and brittle, leading to their decay and ultimate collapse.

Israel became complacent in their pursuit of their God. In their complacency, they were easily enticed into the sins of the land, embracing gods of the land who had visible form and tangible existence. They allowed the people of the land to inter-marry into their families, further embracing the culture that God had warned would lead to the destruction of the foundations he had so carefully laid for their protection and safe-keeping. The kings that they had once defeated, the lands they had once occupied, and the riches they had once possessed all began to be influencing forces in their lives. Each taking a toll until one day they found themselves again captive to an enemy greater than their ability to resist.

Such is the plight of the nation during the times of Ezra and Nehemiah – prophets raised up by God to rebuild the foundations of the temple in Jerusalem. In fact, these two men are called to raise up Jerusalem’s crumbling walls and restore the foundation of the city of their God, and then the center of his worship. In order for worship to be restored to its fullest, the foundations had to be rebuilt. In the recorded stories of Ezra and Nehemiah, we find the plight of a nation that had ignored their foundations. Israel had stood as one nation during the reign of King David, but over the course of time and the influence of the nations around them, they had compromised their foundations and divided into two distinct nations – Israel and Judah.

Israel was the kingdom to the North of the land, Judah to the South. The kings of the Northern region embraced the gods of Baal (a false god of the region) and it was not long after the separation of the nation into these two separate “kingdoms” that God raised up Assyria to come against the Northern kingdom of Israel, taking them captive and invading their lands. Assyria was a strong nation, but not as strong as Babylon. One Babylonian king ascended to the throne and began to devastate the nation of Judah, as well. His name was Nebuchadnezzer. It was his armies that burned the temple of God to the ground, taking all the sacred items of worship into their coffers, and capturing scholars of Judah to be held in captivity in their courts. Both the Northern and Southern lands of Israel and Judah were in complete ruin; captive to an enemy they had little hope of ever overcoming.

Their foundations had been destroyed – their lives were in ruin. Hope looked bleak and compromise had taken its toll. Oh, but don’t lose heart. As we continue to explore this story tomorrow, we will see the power of God to use even the least likely instruments in our lives for the very purpose of rebuilding the foundations! See you then!