transcripts

God I didn’t expect to be here

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You may be in a bad situation you never expected:
the year 2020, divorce, family break up, unemployment, sickness or disability, ashamed that you’ve failed in some way.
We’re going to look at ancient Israel in a place they never expected to be: in exile in Babylon.
Some of those in exile were guilty of actions which helped bring about this desperate situation. Some were entirely innocent.
Similarly our own actions may have contributed to our bad situation or we may be entirely innocent.
Job’s comforters made the mistake of believing that if bad things happen in your life it must be punishment for wrongdoing.
In John chapter 9 Jesus heals a man born blind.
His disciples ask whether this blindness was because the man sinned, or his parents.
Neither said Jesus.
So it’s clearly wrong to say that bad things in our life are always our own fault.
But… it’s possible to make the opposite mistake and believe that we never have any responsibility for bad things in our life.
The Bible is balanced.

And – for those not currently in a difficult situation: it’s highly likely that someday you will be and even if not, there will be those around you in a difficult situation who could use sympathy and support.

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Before looking at the Israelites in exile OUT of the land we need to look at them just as they were coming INTO the land.
Around 1200 BC God brought them out of slavery in Egypt.
They were given God’s law at Mount Sinai.
the book of Deuteronomy records a restatement of the God’s law, just before they enter the promised land.

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God’s promises to Israel just before entering the promised land, Deuteronomy 28:

1If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. 2 All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God:
3 You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.
4 The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.

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But God warns of consequences of disobedience, later in the same chapter:

15 However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you:
16 You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country.
17 Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed.

36 The Lord will drive you and the king you set over you to a nation unknown to you or your ancestors.

49 The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand.

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600 years of (mainly) rebellion, disobeying God’s law. Oppression of the poor, a corrupt justice system, worshipping other gods including child sacrifice, bringing disgrace on God’s name.
600 years of (mainly) ignoring God’s messengers the prophets.
Ignoring the prophet Jeremiah who warned the king & people to submit to the King of Babylon.
A series of deportations where Jews, including the young Daniel and his friends were deported.
Jeremiah, still in Jerusalem, writes this letter to the exiles in Babylon.

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Map of the exile.

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What was the mood of these exiles in Babylon:

Psalm 137
1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?

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What was God’s message, through Jeremiah, to these disorientated and weeping people?

29 This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 (This was after King Jehoiachin and the queen mother, the court officials and the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the skilled workers and the artisans had gone into exile from Jerusalem.) 3 He entrusted the letter to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. It said:

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4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 8 Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.

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10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

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This passage contains the famous verse:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

But…. Much of the value of this verse is lost if we ignore the context of the Israelites in an exile brought about by God in response to the wickedness and stupidity of the ruling classes and of most of the people.

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So what are the lessons today for Christians of the message sent by God to the Israelites in exile in Babylon?
1) We need to take stock, ask God whether we are in any way responsible for the situation and if so repent. If we are not, then there is nothing to repent of.
2) We need to be prepared to accept that things are not going back to how they were, and make the best of our current situation.
3) We need to listen to God’s words, not the words of liars who claim to speak for God but don’t.
4) We need to have faith that God will work this situation out, even though we may not be alive to see it happening.

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1) We need to take stock, ask God whether we are in any way responsible for the situation and if so repent. If we are not, there is nothing to repent of.

The exiles included members of the royal household and officials who had rebelled against God, behaved wickedly and persecuted Jeremiah and others who spoke God’s truth.
The exiles also included Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, some of the greatest servants of God in all history.
If we sincerely ask God whether we have in some way brought about our situation i.e. whether we have anything to repent of He will tell us. If he doesn’t, then the nagging voice ‘This is your own fault,’ is almost certainly the voice of Satan.

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2) We need to be prepared to accept that things are not going back to how they were, and make the best of the current situation.

False Jewish prophets in Babylon were saying that the exile would be very brief and things would soon be as they were.
No, says God, you’re here for the long haul.
For some of you for the rest of your earthly life.
Settle down, says God, build houses, plant gardens, have children and wathc your children have children.
Pray for God to bless the city where you are.
Things are not now as you hoped, but life can still be good and meaningful.
How do we, today, ‘bloom where we are planted?’

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3) We need to listen to God’s words, not the words of liars who claim to speak for God, but don’t.

The Israelites are in Babylon because they listened when God said he was giving him the promised land, but didn’t listen when he said that sin and disobedience would mean expulsion from the land.
Today there are many who preach of God’s love ( which is true,) but ignore God’s holiness, righteousness and judgement. ( Which is unbalanced and leads to disaster.)
The Israelites thought that they could behave in any way they liked, without consequences.
Let us not imagine that we can ignore God’s instructions for how to live and not suffer consequences.

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4) We need to have faith that God will work this situation out, even though we may not be alive to see it happening.
God has promised to bring the exiles back from Babylon to Jerusalem after seventy years.
Many exiles will not live to see it.
God’s promises for now and the future are there for all the Jews in Babylon, whether or not they have contributed to bringing the exile about.
We can know God’s blessing in our own difficult situation if we helped bring this disaster about but also if we are wholly innocent.

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So how does God respond when we say ‘God, I didn’t expect to be here?’

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. ’’