April 10, 2018
|By the Waters of Babylon, Arthur Hacker, 1888|
I loved listening to radio personality and newscaster Paul Harvey. He is famous for his segments called “The Rest of the Story.” The Rest of the Story consisted of stories presented as little-known or forgotten facts on a variety of subjects with some key element of the story (usually the name of some well-known person) held back until the end. The broadcasts always concluded with the tag line "and now you know the rest of the story."
These stories came to mind recently when I learned a bit more about a verse from Scripture that is listed among the favorite verses for many people.
But let’s start at the beginning. The prophets in the Bible had one basic job: receive the word from God and deliver it to the people. If you read through the prophets in the Bible you see that the message they bring from God is often a warning to turn away from their sinful actions or God is going to lift his protection and the nation will fall.
In 720 BC when the Northern Kingdom fell to the Assyrians, the people realized that God was serious, so they repented and returned to the ways of God. But that only lasted a while and soon enough the people of God resumed their sinful ways. Once again the prophets delivered the message that the people needed to repent or God would remove his protection. In 580 BC the Babylonians conquered the Southern Kingdom and took all the priests, wealthy, and anyone else of influence into exile in Babylon.
This was a huge blow to the Jewish people. For them, God resided in the Temple and Jerusalem was the City of God. Now both Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed and with them, their connection to God. Their distress is captured in Psalm 137:
By the rivers of Babylon there we sat weeping when we remembered Zion. (Psalm 137:1)
So, picture a people weeping by the river, longing for home and the way things used to be. Now envision them receiving a letter from Jeremiah the prophet. There is a good chance they were hoping for good news, that it was time to come back to the City of God, that their mourning could cease. But this is what the letter said:
Thus says the Lord of Hosts, to all the exiles whom I exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their fruits. Take wives and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters. (Jeremiah 29:4-6)
When the prophet says to take wives, have children, find spouses for your children so they too can have children, he is saying you are going to be there for a couple of generations and some of you will die in exile. This was not the news they were hoping for. They wanted to be rescued, not left for dead.
But the next verse, Jeremiah 29:11, the verse favored by so many people for centuries, says
“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.”
While this is a nice and hope-filled message I am not sure it was a comfort as they wept in Babylon. But then the chapter continues and reveals a bit about the plan God has in store: “When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me and I will change your lot.” (Jeremiah 29:12-14)
In these verses God is saying to His people: I am not just in Jerusalem and in the Temple. He is saying: I am with you, just call to me, look for me, I am with you!
But the story continues with each of us. We all sin and turn away from God. And yes, even in this Easter season when we celebrate the risen Jesus, many of us are still in the exile of our daily struggle, sinful patterns, spiritual sluggishness, and any number of other issues.
The words of the prophet are still true for you. Call out and seek Jesus with your whole heart. For God has a plan for you too, and it is a plan for a future full of hope.
And now you know the rest of the story.
I loved listening to radio personality and newscaster Paul Harvey. His broadcasts usually concluded with the tag line "and now you know the rest of the story."