Your History, His Mercy

Allow me to bring to you some thoughts on the passage that each of the chapel groups with whom I work has been considering this week.

Daniel chapter 9 is a landmark in a book of very great scope, and it is all about God holding out hope to those in exile under His discipline.  The parallel of experience in the men’s imprisonment is keenly felt, and with it, by God’s grace, the hope of the message. I’ve seen the look of wonder, of hope, and of soul refreshment in the eyes of many this week, and I have myself sensed the kindled hope in my spirit.  May that knowledge of God’s grace stir in you as well; it is not only they who need it.

As the chapter opens, we are encouraged to see Daniel having in his very hands the written work of Jeremiah, which he counted to be the “word of the LORD”.  We see it dawning upon Daniel that the season of the people’s exile was coming to an end. Perhaps the very words he was considering were what God said in Jeremiah 25 and 29.  Yes, there would be discipline – servitude under the oppression of that vile nation – but God pronounced Babylon’s reckoning…

Jeremiah 25:12 …after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the Lord…

The hope lay, though, not only in the judgment of the oppressor.  God’s word had in it also this…

Jeremiah 29:10 …When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.

More than a century and a half prior to what is described in Daniel 9:1, Isaiah had spoken of the downfall of Babylon, even declaring the name of a particular nation that would be instrumental in its overthrow (Is. 13:17). Isaiah had also been given to reveal the proper name of a later ruler who would decree that Jerusalem be rebuilt and the temple’s foundation again laid (Is. 44:28).  Jeremiah’s prophecy revealed WHEN the mercy would occur!  By the time referred to in Daniel 1:1 Babylon had been overthrown.

The time for the promised grace had come.

We might expect Daniel’s response to have been feasting and celebration.  It was, instead, fasting and sackcloth and ashes.

Daniel 1:4 I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession…

For the next 11 verses, Daniel poured out a litany of how God had been righteous and faithful to covenant, merciful in character and forgiving,  and powerful in acts of rescue from oppressors all through Israel’s history as a nation.  And yet, with every mention of God’s righteousness, Daniel acknowledged his people’s faithlessness, which characteristically continued even into the exile days.

How long would their season of transgression and discipline continue?

They were on the threshold of a very significant event of restoration, and Daniel would soon observe God’s good answer, but from all that Daniel had seen in his visions, he had been overwhelmed to know that his people’s rebellion would continue to manifest itself even in coming generations.

Daniel 9: 19 O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”

On that very occasion, the LORD chose to hold out hope not only in terms of the immediate events of the coming year, but in ultimate terms.  God spoke to Daniel of a period of time…

Daniel 9:24 … decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness…

Could persons belonging to the nation Israel, who had such a history of rebellion against God, still turn to him with hope?   They could.

As I reflected on this with the men in my chapel groups, my thoughts turned also to the parallel prayer of the returned exiles a century later in the days of Nehemiah.

Once again they were in desperate need of revival.  Once again in their prayer there was grave acknowledgement of the rebellion of the people across the whole of their history.  What was also traced with such power in their prayer was God’s persistence with them, never forsaking them.

1.     God had compassion on His people in their sufferings under Egypt’s oppression and when they feared disaster at the edge of the Red Sea.

Nehemiah 9:9 …you saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt and heard their cry at the Red Sea…

2.     Even after such dramatic miracles, the Israelites sought to appoint a leader to take them back to their slavery.  But

Nehemiah 9:17 …you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.

3.     At Sinai the Israelites made an idol, saying that the idol was the god who brought them out of Egypt.  The people committed atrocious blasphemy on that occasion.   Yet

Nehemiah 9: 19 …you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness.

4.     The Israelites would not believe the promise that God would enable them to conquer the land of Canaan, but

Nehemiah 9:21  Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.

5.     Though Israel was enabled to enter the land because of God’s faithfulness and they indeed received bounty there, they turned toward disobedience and idolatry, even killing the prophets sent to them.  There was discipline and suffering at the hands of the nations around them, but

Nehemiah 9:27 … in the time of their suffering they cried out to you and you heard them from heaven, and according to your great mercies you gave them saviors who saved them from the hand of their enemies.

6.     When the people of Israel experienced relief and rest, they rebelled again, they suffered again at the hand of their enemies, yet

Nehemiah 9:28 … when they turned and cried to you, you heard from heaven, and many times you delivered them according to your mercies…

7.     Across the whole season of Israel’s and Judah’s kings, even though prophet after prophet was sent, and even though discipline was sent, Israel and Judah never seemed to learn.   Nevertheless...

Jeremiah 9:31 … in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.

Could persons belonging to a nation with that kind of history of rebellion against God, still turn to him with hope?   They could.

Through these accounts in Daniel and Nehemiah, we have become acquainted with essential things about God’s nature.  In Daniel 9:24 we heard also of His determined plan to see the season of transgression come to an end.

Can we entrust ourselves to His mercy in Christ?  We can.

T. McKracken

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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