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In Captivity And Restoration

By the rivers of Babylon the exiles sat down and they wept when they remembered Zion. They hung their harps on the willows and protested to their captors that their songs were for the beloved homeland only. And they vowed, "If I forget thee, 0 Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning ... if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy" (Ps. l37:5.6).

The first group of Judah's exiles probably came to Babylon in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 25:1; Dan. 1:1). The condition of Judah, spiritually and morally, was appalling and the ultimate "no remedy" situation of 2 Chronicles 36:16 was imminent. Yet there were both good and bad figs in the baskets of Jeremiah's vision (ch. 24) and some of the good figs were in the first captivity.

Certain of these were young aristocrats from the court of King Jehoiakim, "even of the seed royal and of the nobles" (Dan. 1:3). The Spirit of God indicates the character and traces out the experiences of four of these young men in particular, and the record in the book of Daniel illustrates powerfully how it is possible to conduct oneself in agreement with the will of God and prosper in the spirit of purposed separation in a heathen land.

The young nobles were Daniel and his three companions Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. They were given Chaldean names, but these were their own Hebrew names; Daniel's, by interpretation, meant God is my Judge. And though the four young nobles were far from the land of the God of their fathers, this was the principle that guided them in determining every problem throughout the long years of their exile: our God alone is our Judge.

They were but youths when they arrived in Babylon, but they had obviously been trained in a strong form of discipline, probably in the court of Josiah. Physically they were in prime condition; mentally they had been thoroughly exercised in wisdom, knowledge and science; in court etiquette they were well versed.

In Babylon the first thing they did was to accept the instruction of the king's advisers that they take a three year educational course, at the nation's expense, in the learning and tongue of the Chaldeans. They would settle down to be useful citizens, prepared to equip themselves for positions in the administrative life of the heathen land. That was no problem. But right away a very real problem did arise. This educational course involved partaking of a daily portion of the king's meat and of the wine he drank.

So the young nobles the issue was immediately clear. To them, the food from the king's table was defiled according to the law of their God. So they purposed in their hearts not to be defiled whatever the consequences. Regardless of personal cost, they courteously asked to be excused. It was their first test in separation. Had they not taken their stand their names might have been handed down in Chaldean history, but they would never have shone in the eternal record. And God greatly honoured their faith. At the end of the three years, not only did they stand before the king head and shoulders above all, but their own communal prayer life was deepened (Dan. 1:20; 2:17,18).

The next test, for some good reason, affected only Daniel's three companions. It was a question as to whether or not they would acknowledge as God the golden image set up by Nebuchadnezzar in the Plain of Dura. The cost of refusal was the burning fiery furnace. The young men knew that it was a sin against their God to comply. The edict came from the world-ruler, but it was contrary to the commandments of the sovereign God of their fathers. So without hesitation they said, "No". Again, no compromise in spiritual things. Nebuchadnezzar could not believe it. "Is it a matter of purpose?", he asked. "Yes", they replied, "a matter of purpose". So these young men "yielded their bodies" though it meant a flaming furnace seven times heated. No wonder all heaven was moved and when the king looked into the furnace he saw "four men loose, walking..." (Dan. 3:25).

And what was the outcome of all this costly faithfulness in separation to God among the idolatrous Babylonians? "Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon" (3:30). Praying together was keeping the young men united in their stand for separation in Babylon from anything that would cut across their responsibility to the will of their God. And this worked in them such a spirit of faithfulness that they were marked out by the authorities for continuing promotion in offices of responsibility as they advanced without compromise. This meant of course that they had enemies, and those of Daniel in particular plotted his downfall when he was a much older man in the reign of Darius the Mede. The plot would have to be in relation to the law of his God, and they decided on prayer. So the decree was passed - no prayer to any god other than Darius the king or be cast to the lions. But the years had brought no change to Daniel's devoted separation to the will of his God. Unheeding he continued with his thrice daily prayers, with windows and heart open to Jerusalem. Loss of national esteem and promotion, death by the lions if his God so willed. No matter the cost, Daniel simply gave thanks and purposed not to alter course. No compromise. And this time the outcome was greater than ever, for it brought forth a universal tribute by the king of Media to the God in heaven.

It is impossible to assess the effect which the separated life of Daniel and like-minded men of God in Babylon had on other Jews there. Hearts were opening, like Daniel's windows, towards Jerusalem. Then God opened up the way, and Cyrus the Persian king, conqueror of Babylon, made a proclamation authorizing exercised Jewish exiles to return to Israel their homeland. First of all some 50,000 returned under the leadership of Zerubbabel the prince and Joshua the priest. They had in view the restoration of the Temple and the service of God, the building of Jerusalem, and in due course the development of the land. So they began by building the altar and reestablishing its services. Then they proceeded to lay the foundation of the Temple, all as in Ezra 3.

Then circumstances began to develop which called for a stand in national separation, just as an individual stand had been called for from the God-fearing young men in Babylon. There were already mixed races in the land when the exiles returned. They had been brought there by a former king of Assyria. They were not of the stock of Israel, but were known as Samaritans, and the utter confusion of their understanding of the ways and claims of God is well described in 2 Kings 17:24A1. Thus they were basically the adversaries of Judah.

These people had no standing in Israel's national covenant with God. Not only had they no previous vision of the house of God, but there was no reason why they should, for they had no covenant relationship with the God of the house. Nevertheless they approached the leaders of the little remnant of Israel under Zerubbabel, expressed a similar faith in the same God, and requested the opportunity to associate in the restoring of the Temple. Without hesitation the leadership of Israel gave an uncompromising No. Those outside the covenant of the kingdom could have no part or lot in the building or subsequent service of the house. Nor had they long to wait to witness the justification of the separated stand, for forthwith "the people of the land", as the adversaries were called, came out in their true colours. They proceeded to do all in their power to weaken the hands and trouble the hearts of the builders, and then by subterfuge secured an authorization from Persia that the work of rebuilding should cease.

Some 18 years passed. The seeming victory of Judah's adversaries was eroding the faith of the one time exercised and separated hearts of the little remnant of God's Israel. Then the prophets arose, and then through the

ministry of Haggai and Zechariah came the vigorous resounding call to the people to finish to the glory of God what the vision of faith had begun. And they did so as summarized in Ezra 6:14.

In due course another little group in Babylon was exercised to go back to Israel under the leadership of Ezra the priest, authorized by the Persian king to beautify the rebuilt house of God in Jerusalem. Their remarkable journey is outlined in Ezra 7 and 8. Ezra was a man of a prepared heart, determined "to seek the law of the LORD and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgements" (Ezra 7:10). He was God's man of destiny for that particular time in Israel. For when he reached Jerusalem he was approached by the powerless princes, who confessed that the priests, the Levites and the people had broken down completely the condition of separation which should have nationally, uniquely characterized them. They said, "The holy seed have mingled themselves with the peoples of the lands" (Ezra 9:2). They had compromised on marriage. It took an Ezra to handle the problem, and Ezra 9 and 10 give a profound insight into the divine mind on a human problem which can ruin His house and people.

Nothing will maintain a person in God's house today in uncompromising separation from what is contrary to God's will like exercised purpose of heart such as that of Daniel and his companions. And nothing will maintain those in the house of God in separation from, unscriptural ecclesiastical associations and worldly practices like God-fearing leaders who will not stand for compromise, but will guide and minister vigorously and courageously on the subject.

There is no opportunity here to develop the value to God and to Israel of Ezra and Nehemiah in their respective ministries. But the whole area of thought in the books of Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah is worthy of prayerful consideration by the Lord's people, and thorough outworking by elders in the churches of God.

Note:The record of the carrying away of Israel and Judah is as follows:

(a)Israel (the ten-tribe kingdom) carried captive to Assyria.

(i)There was a partial carrying away in the reign of Pekah, king of

Israel (2 Kin. 15:29).

(ii)The final carrying away was in the reign of Hoshea, king of Israel (2 Kin. 17:6)

(b)Judah (the two-tribe kingdom) carried captive to Babylon.

(i)The carrying away of some of the royalty and the nobles in the third year of Jehoiakim (Dan. 1:3; 2 Chr. 36:5,6).

(ii)The carrying away, eight years later, of Jehoiachin and other captives (2 Kin. 24:8-17).

(iii)The carrying away, after a further eleven years, of most of the people and the destruction of Jerusalem (2 Chr. 36:11-21).