The Captivity and the Remnant
Everything in the Bible, whether the Old or the New Testament, is about one subject: Christ. In God’s mind there is no other thought but His Son and matters related to His son. The Bible tells us that the Father’s pleasure is only in the Son. We must keep this truth in mind when we read the Bible. The Old Testament is a brief story of how God’s Son, who was promised to appear in a certain time through the seed of the woman, was presented to this world after his human life was nurtured and passed on from generation to generation of faithful people who in their experiences with God, became chosen channels through whom the divine Seed could come to full manifestation.
We must also remember that Satan was opposing the coming of the Seed because he knew very well that it would result in the termination of his kingdom. So the battle from beginning to end was, is, and will be over this truth: to oppose the Seed, the Seed bearers, and the ground in which the Seed would be planted.
Satan employed two brilliant strategies to combat the Seed. First, with all his power he tried to destroy the Seed by either discrediting the Seed bearer, thus rendering it useless, or by outright destroying the Seed bearer. We see how he orchestrated the murder of Abel, discredited and polluted the human race by involving his angels in forbidden sexual encounters with humans, discredited Noah by his son Ham, raised up the Hamite races and kings to oppress the children of Shem, instigated trouble in the lives of the Patriarchs, hated Israel, specifically the household of David, as the corporate carriers of the Seed.
Secondly, as a back-up plan and in order to prevent the Seed bearers from finding a place to settle down and prepare the planting of the Seed, Satan invaded the land of Canaan with his appointed and demon-possessed races who worshiped him through their elaborate idolatry. Both the land and the Seed were promised by God to humanity. The Seed was Christ, the soil was Israel, and the location of the soil was the land of Canaan. Israel was to replace the demon- infested and corrupt land of the Canaanites with the choice and good soil of the children of Jacob who would be a fertile land necessary for the Seed to be brought forth in Glory. These elements were complementary to each other. The land without the Seed was no better than any other land. Israel without the Messiah had no special privilege over other nations. It was Christ that made Israel a nation loved and cherished by God. It was the promise of Christ’s appearing that made God go out of His way to protect and preserve this nation.
Likewise, the Seed could not be brought to manifestation without the proper soil in which it could find the right environment to grow and bear fruit. So Satan had both ends covered. He fought the Seed and polluted the land. He would prevent the Seed from ever becoming the man that could crush his head, and he would also prevent the land from becoming a fertile soil for the Seed.
Satan fiercely opposed David and his family. He raised brother against brother, son against father, all because David and his family were chosen to carry the Seed. Satan would never leave them alone until he had brought an end to them. The entire history of Israel from that point on was a portrait of a painful assault on the Davidic dynasty in specific, and the nation of Israel in general. These assaults are recorded in the books of I & II Samuel, I & II Kings, and I & II Chronicles, not to mention Nehemiah, Esther, and Ezra.
To a great extent, Satan succeeded in achieving his goal. We read about the heirs of David, starting with Solomon. We see the gradual erosion of their commitment and loyalty to their calling and the welfare of the nation. God had allowed kings to sit on the throne of Israel (His throne in reality) to protect the kingdom and the land of Israel from foreign invasions and the idolatry of neighboring nations. God had also instituted the priesthood in order to keep the hearts and minds of the people nurtured and ready to receive their promised Seed upon His presentation to Israel. Therefore, the kings and the priests played a vital role in the survival and spiritual integrity of the people God had redeemed out of Egypt. These men, anointed by God, were to preserve and protect Israel from all elements hostile to the fulfillment of God’s promise to humanity.
The first victory of Satan was to slowly corrupt David’s son, Solomon. We read in I Kings 11:12, “King Solomon loved many foreign women, as well as the daughter of Pharaoh: Women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonites, and Hittites – From the nations of whom the Lord had said to the children of Israel, ‘you shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods.’”
This is such a sad commentary on the brilliant career of a king who built the most magnificent temple in all history. Never underestimate the Devil! Never think you are immune from falling! Never think you can withstand all temptations! Joseph ran away from them, Solomon ran into them! And the result was tragic. At the end of his life, Solomon had become an active, card-carrying, idol worshiper! Such a great start, with such a disastrous finish! This was the beginning of the downfall of Israel. From this point on and soon after the death of Solomon, the united kingdom of Israel was torn at the seams. Satan’s next strategy was to divide and conquer. So he orchestrated schemes which resulted in Rehoboam (Solomon’s son) dividing the kingdom. Ten tribes moved away from the house of David and formed their own kingdom in the northern part of the country, later to be known as the kingdom of Israel. Can you see the Devil’s master planning? He corrupted and weakened the Davidic dynasty, divided the people against each other, and isolated the tribe of Judah in the south, all for one reason: to finally destroy David’s family. It was a brilliant plan. As long as Israel was united, there were too many of them and Satan could not annihilate them easily. Now that he had divided them into two groups, Judah was all alone and more vulnerable. Judah was a ready prey and David’s family the choice meal for the Devil.
To further weaken the bonds between Northern Israel and the Kingdom of Judah, Satan devised many interesting strategies. First, he caused the people from the north to stop traveling to Jerusalem for the annual feasts of Israel. Jeroboam, the king in Northern Israel, changed the calendar of the feasts and built two calves and placed them in Bethel and Dan and appointed priests to conduct worship services. This gradual but certain corruption of the traditions and beliefs of the people brought a spiritual division between the North and the South.
The Southern Kingdom of Judah no longer accepted the Northern brethren as faithful and loyal subjects of Jehovah, but rather as an apostate and heretical kingdom ruled by corrupt and deviant kings. All form of communication between the Northern and Southern tribes was discouraged. There even came a time they went to war with each other. Brother against brother! How cleverly had Satan divided and conquered the people of God. And how cleverly has he done the same to God’s people of this present dispensation, the church. Satan’s tactics have not changed a bit! He is the same old serpent, the Devil about whom we read in Revelation 12. The title “that old serpent” in Revelation 12:9 tells us that he has been the same throughout all history. His plans and schemes are not new. The apostle Paul tells us that “we are not unaware of his schemes”.
Further to these developments, Satan purposed in his heart to completely annihilate the family of David. As you recall, I stated in the previous chapter that God, knowing the plans of the enemy in advance and anticipating the disastrous condition of Israel, allowed the Seed of the promised king/redeemer to be passed on to Nathan and not to Solomon. Even though from David’s standpoint, Solomon and his heirs were the rightful kings of Judah, the Seed would come through Nathan. The presence of David’s sons on the throne of Israel was not only required by the promise of God to David, but was also a matter of distraction lest Satan identify the carriers, who by this time were ‘hidden’ among the people of the tribe of Judah. Therefore, as far as Satan was concerned, the sons of David on the throne were the target of his vicious assaults. This hatred for David and his seed became so intense, that Athalia, the daughter of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel of the Northern kingdom of Israel, who had married the king of Judah, decided to kill every male child of the house of David living in the Southern kingdom. We read about this in II Chronicles 22:10. “Now when Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the royal heirs of the house of Judah.” Notice that the writer adds the word “royal heirs” to emphasize that other heirs of David who were not from the Solomonic lineage were spared by divine providence. Athaliah had assumed that the Seed must be in the royal family, not knowing that the Seed was being preserved in the Nathanic lineage. Even so, God had to honor His word to David and preserve the throne not only for David and his sons, but for His own Son who would be of the seed of David and rightful king over Israel upon His appearance to Israel both during their period of unbelief (His first coming) and during their period of national repentance and restoration (the second coming). Therefore, God in His great mercy and faithfulness, through the wisdom of Jehoiada the priest and Jehoshabeat the daughter of the king, protected the last heir of David’s house, the baby Joash! For six years, no one, absolutely no one was aware of the existence of a survivor from the house of David except these two individuals. This well-kept secret prevented Queen Athaliah from finding out that her schemes had not completely succeeded. Finally, as we read in the 23rd chapter of II Chronicles, Jehoiada the priest, with the help and protection of the temple guards, brought the young boy out and crowned him the new king of Judah. Seeing this, Athalia began screaming “Treason! Treason!” It was as if Satan himself was screaming and shouting such hopeless words! He had lost to God once again! There was after all a king from the house of David who was alive. Athaliah was murdered by the guards and the evil arm of the Ahabic agents of the Devil was cut short for good. In II Kings 11, we read the same story.
In less than six chapters or in sixty years, Israel would be taken off the map. The kingdom of Assyria, under the mighty hand of Shalmanesser, would conquer Israel, the Northern Kingdom and take the ten tribes of Jacob captive. Satan would finally completely isolate Judah. His plans in destroying the house of David had backfired, so he had resorted to his alternative plan of isolating and destroying Judah in due time. Again, we must remember, that all the troubles and disasters coming upon the people of Israel, had a dual origin. On the one hand, Satan was fiercely pursuing his destructive plans against the promised Seed; on the other hand, God was using these trials and tribulations to prove to Israel where their real safety and security lied – not in Egypt or any other worldly government because all the kingdoms of this world are naturally under the control of the Devil (Matt. 4:8). Israel’s defender, protector, provider, and shield against the assaults of the enemy was Jehovah. Idols were snares that would captivate the hearts of God’s people and would offer no relief. The message remains the same even for us today. Our only hope, protection, provision, and shield against the schemes of Satan is the Lord Jesus and His Spirit who has been given to us without measure as a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.
Israel suffered for two reasons: First, by virtue of their calling and destiny, they were naturally the target of Satan’s attacks. They carried the Seed! Secondly, they suffered because God was disciplining them as a father disciplines his child in order for the child to become mature and responsible in maintaining the testimony of the father’s honor and purpose. Israel was a rebellious son who strayed from the path of truly representing, manifesting, and expressing God’s kingdom and sovereign rule on this earth. That is why they were given over to the heat and the fires of discipline. This principle holds true for all God’s children, whether in the Old or the New covenant, whether individual or corporate. God will discipline His children until they come to maturity and fully realize their calling and destiny. Isn’t this what the writer of Hebrews says in chapter 12:5-6, “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him, for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives”. The chapter ends with “For our God is a consuming fire”. Didn’t Paul tell the Ephesians in chapter 4:1, “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called”?
Israel had to feel the fierce wrath of the Devil on their skins so that they would come to abhor and give up their lust for idolatry and conformity to other images. They desired idols so much that God sent them to the capital of idolatry, Babylon. Their stiff-necked resistance to God’s love and care took them into the land of their enemies where they would be surrounded by so much idolatry that somehow they would come to their senses.
But Paul tells us in Romans 11:5, “Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace”! In the midst of this turbulent history of Israel, starting from the division of the kingdom under the reign of Rehaboam until the captivity of Judah in 586 B.C., God in His sovereign will and foreknowledge maintained for Himself, a very small, yet faithful band of loyal and persevering people who did not conform to the idolatry of the majority and did not compromise their calling and stand before the Lord. The Bible calls these people the “Remnant”. These remnants, who have been there in God’s plan and purpose from the very beginning (e.g. Seth, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the Levites. For an in-depth treatise of this subject, please refer to “Breaking the Silence” by Fred Saleh), were the true carriers of the promised Seed. God would not have allowed the Seed of His Son to be carried by compromising or idolatrous people. Therefore God always preserved a remnant out of the majority to stand before Him and maintain the testimony of the Lord’s sovereignty and kingdom.
The kings of Judah, who were mostly God-fearing kings, could not and did not curtail this insatiable appetite of the people of Judah for idol worship. The spiritual condition of Judah deteriorated over time and they experienced a major national spiritual collapse that resulted in the invasion by Nabuchadnezzar, the king of the Babylonian Empire.
Here, Satan continued to play his hand as he had used the Hamite races to systematically destroy and annihilate the Shemites. As mentioned before, up to this point, Satan had succeeded in preventing Noah’s prophecy from becoming a reality. The Japheth races were pacified and under the control of the Hamites and the Shemites were subject to persecution. Satan was attacking God’s promised Seed from all fronts. He had declared open war on God and His people who had harbored the Seed for the past 3500 years. It was finally time to totally eradicate the house of David, the people of Judah, the children of Jacob, and the descendants of Shem, lest there ever be any chance for the Seed of the woman, the Seed of Abraham, and the Seed of David to appear on this planet!
So the people of Judah, like their Northern brothers, were taken into captivity despite all the warnings and tears shed by the prophets who for more than 200 years had spoken the oracles of God and delivered the message of the Lord’s love, mercy, and willingness to forgive and restore Israel faithfully. But to no avail.
The writings of the prophets of the Old Testament are nothing but the cry of God’s heart as He laments over the condition of His people, and promises them great deliverance and blessing should they return to Him. God shows Himself as the Shepherd, Husband, Master, Maker, Lover, Father, and many other illustrative titles, in order to attract Israel back to Himself. But Israel refuses and does not heed His call. Thus the Lord allowed the seventy-year captivity so that Israel would be delivered from their addiction to idolatry and become a nation desiring God for all their needs and wants. Isaiah the prophet said that Israel’s hearing had been dulled a condition that would result in their utter destruction (Isaiah 6:9). He continues in verses 12-13, “The Lord has removed men far away and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land, but yet a tenth will be in it, and will return and be for consuming as a terebinth tree or as an oak, whose stump remains when it is cut down. So the Holy Seed shall be its stump”. Despite the massive and utter destruction of Israel and Judah caused by the invading armies of Assyrians and Babylonians, God kept a faithful remnant who preserved the Seed for manifestation in due time.
Jeremiah, who was a prophet of captivity and witnessed the cruel and barbaric massacre of his people by Babylonians, lamented over the decision of the Lord to allow such a catastrophe to come upon His people. One would think that the Lord would save His faithful remnant from such disaster, but we see that He allowed even the remnant to be taken captive. In chapter 24 of his book, Jeremiah sees a vision of two baskets of figs, one good and the other bad. God tells Jeremiah that Israel, like these baskets of figs, would be taken to captivity, and He explains why in verse 5, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: ‘Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge those who are carried away captive from Judah, whom I have sent out of this place for their own good, into the land of the Chaldeans.’”
God had allowed even His good, faithful remnant to go into captivity to demonstrate two principles: First, when God’s people are viewed corporately, no one is exempt from criticism and judgment. God judges His people as a unit and not in fragmented manner. Even though He allow special blessings and ultimate deliverance for His faithful remnant, He judges all nevertheless. Secondly, the remnant need to experience the shame, humiliation and pain of their brothers and sisters who are truly captive to their own selves and idols, in order to be trained to become a compassionate and empathizing priesthood of God, willing and ready to intercede for the rest of the people. Only through the pains and sufferings of God’s people could the prophets and the priests who themselves were uncontaminated be able to intercede on behalf of their people. Jesus became like us and was subjected to temptations and sufferings in the flesh with our weaknesses to draw us to the throne of grace with boldness in time of need. Therefore, God sent the faithful and the faithless together to Babylon.
God preserved the Seed and the carriers of the Seed even in Babylon. He was showing His people that no matter where they were ended up in their lives, He would be with them and He would provide for them and preserve what He had entrusted to them. The captivity was a great lesson in God’s faithfulness and provision in the midst of the worst and most adverse conditions. Our God is a good and faithful God who will never leave us nor forsake us even when we face the worst moments of our lives. The Seed was safe in Eden. The Seed was safe in the Ark. The Seed was safe in Ur. The Seed was safe in Canaan. The Seed was safe in Egypt. The Seed was safe in Israel. The Seed would be safe in Babylon.
Jeremiah writes to the captives asking them to build houses and plant gardens and eat of their fruits, take wives and beget sons and daughters, take wives for their sons and give their daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters that they may be increased and not diminished (Jer. 29:1-15).
Jeremiah knew very well that Satan would take advantage of God’s disciplinary treatment of Israel and try to make the people so hopeless that they would give up normal family functions of procreation, and thus their population would dwindle and they would eventually become so insignificant that the remnant and the Seed carriers would become extinct. Satan was not letting up. Even in captivity, he was planning to annihilate the people of Israel. But Jeremiah, seeing the potential problem, encourages the people to live normal lives and procreate, all for one purpose: To make the nation increase and thus preserve the Seed carriers and the vessel of God’s planting. What a truly heavenly insight!
The Lord raised various prophets and seers who continued to promise Israel eventual deliverance and return to the Promised Land in anticipation of the appearing of the Lord in the midst of His people.
The captivity and its consequences had served God’s purpose of purging Israel of their addiction to idol worship; but Satan was not satisfied with the results of dislocating Israel away from the Promised Land. He had managed to accomplish a great victory for himself: he had separated the land and the carriers of the Seed from each other. Please remember that that the Seed, its carriers, and the land in which it is planted are all related to each other. As in nature every seed has an inner life enclosed in a shell and is planted in a suitable earth in order to bear the desired fruit, the nation of Israel, specifically the tribe of Judah, needed the necessary components for the divine Seed to be planted and appear in full glory. Satan had succeeded in disconnecting these components from each other. The people who were the carriers were relocated to a foreign land. God’s plan could not be fulfilled in Babylon. It could only be brought to full fruition in Israel’s promised land. Even so, we as believers must realize that God’s full plan and purpose cannot be fulfilled unless we are in the correct realm and domain as far as relating to the Lord is concerned. There is spiritual barrenness in Babylon and fullness in Israel’s territory. We must return to that fullness before we can experience the presence and glory of the Lord. Psalm 137 says, “By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion (the Seed’s cradle). We hung our harps upon the willows in the midst of it. For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song and those who plundered us requested mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” The results of the captivity were truly tragic! The Seed carriers were removed from the land of the Lord. The Seed was in danger of never reaching the land He was destined to be planted in. Remember how from the very beginning Hamites and later Canaanite nations persecuted and planned for the utter destruction of Shem and the Seed hidden in him. Here we see the Babylonians, a Hamite nation, accomplishing Satan’s ultimate desire. We see an outright deviance from Noah’s prophecy which had strictly forbidden Hamites from ruling. But we know that God is faithful to His word even if He sometimes seemingly delays. In 539 B.C., Cyrus the Great, king of Persians, conquered Babylon and freed the Jews to return to Israel and rebuild their temple and the city of Jerusalem. This was a great breakthrough in both secular and spiritual history. Hamite kingdoms finally came to an end and never again were allowed to rise up. Israel was restored to their land to make preparations for the arrival of the person of the Seed, Jesus Christ. However, their troubles were not yet over. More sworn enemies of the Seed and His carriers would come out of hiding just in time to attempt the destruction of the people of Israel and the divine Seed in them. The end of the Babylonian captivity ushered in an era of apparent peace and hope for Israel; and yet the enemy was back to the drawing board, scheming another genocide.
This evil conspiracy was on two fronts: one focusing on the Jews who had already left Babylon and were en route to the promised land which lay in a dire condition; the other from inside, for those who were left behind in Babylon and Persia and would need to deal with the madness of kings who would be aroused by Satanic enticements to destroy the Jews.
By reading the books of Nehemiah, Ezra, and Esther we get the full picture of what happened to God’s people following the captivity. Complement these books with the prophecies of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi to see the disastrous spiritual condition of the remnant of the people and their total lack of understanding and preparation for the task they were called for. Let us now briefly cover some of the main points of these books with the development of the Seed in mind.
The Book of Esther was written primarily to show the great deliverance God provided for His people who were on the verge of total annihilation. The king of Persia lost interest in Queen Vashti for certain reasons, and subsequently chose Esther, a young Jewish girl from the province of Babylonia, as his queen. Thus Esther, a Jewish woman, enters the scene and ascends to the throne of the most powerful empire of the time, all for one purpose: In due time, God would raise her to be the instrument of salvation for the Jews who lived in the Persian Kingdom. Mordechai, her uncle, under the leading of God’s Spirit, becomes aware of a conspiracy, orchestrated by Haman, a Hamite, who desires nothing but the utter destruction of the Jews in order to secure his position in the king’s court. Mordechai quickly informs Queen Esther and pleads with her to do something about it. Now, why was Mordechai so concerned and why was Haman so eager to destroy the Jews? The answer is crystal clear. Satan, through Haman, wanted the utter annihilation of the Jewish race because they harbored and carried the promised Seed. Time was running out! Satan knew that very imminently, the Seed would take flesh and defeat him, and would put into motion the ultimate and final destruction of his kingdom and sovereignty. Jews had to be destroyed! There was no other way. And Mordechai, this wise and noble man, who must be more often remembered and recognized, asked Queen Esther to plead with the King to end this Satanic conspiracy. “Do not think in your heart that your will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14).
God had raised Esther for such a time to rescue the Seed bearers. Had Haman succeeded, no Jew would have been left to carry the Seed of the Messiah and the entire plan of God would have collapsed. Of course, we know that God was and is always ahead of Satan. He would never allow himself to be defeated by the enemy. As Mordechai said to Esther, should Esther fail in her mission, God had backup plans. God is never indebted to or at the mercy of anyone, even though He chooses to make His plans subject to the developments of history. Nevertheless, He remains the master of history and the sovereign of all eternity. Esther acted quickly. Through a brilliant scheme, she exposed Haman and had him executed for his treason. Thus Esther rescued the carriers of the Seed as a nation, in earnest expectation of their deliverer to appear.
Next, we review the books of Ezra and Nehemiah where we find the same spirit at work. In the book of II Chronicles, we saw Satan using the captivity as his tool of frustrating God’s plan and the future of the Seed and His carriers. Whereas in the book of Esther, Satan attempts a massive genocide to end the lineage of the Seed and the Seed bearers, in Ezra and Nehemiah, he uses other more subtle tactics in delaying the appearance of the Seed on the scene of the world.
Ezra was a scribe whom God raised to rebuild and repair the altar of the Lord in Jerusalem and to lay the foundation of the second temple. Nehemiah on the other hand, was raised to repair the walls of Jerusalem that were left in rubbles. The remnant of Israel had returned from captivity to secure the land for the nation and to restore their identity and ability to once again be the vessel of the promise of the divine Seed. Let us not forget that God had given Israel certain national identities: the Law, the sacrifices, the feasts, the priesthood, and the temple. Without these, Israel was not Israel. The peculiarity of Israel was in being a nation under the direct command of God Himself. They were to preserve God’s sovereignty and grace through the above emblems and offices. When Israel went into captivity, the temple had been completely destroyed. The absence of the temple meant the absence of the teaching of the Law, the offering of sacrifices and the observing of feasts, because these were all performed by the priests and Levites who were in the service of the temple. The temple was crucial to the well-being of the nation and their identity as the people of God. Further, the walls of Jerusalem defined the abode of God’s people and the realm of God’s presence. It was where God ruled over His people and the throne of grace was erected for them to draw near in time of need. The walls were protection from hostile forces which did not recognize the peculiarity of Jerusalem and all it stood for. The walls spoke of the testimony of God’s people and their conduct in relation to God as they lived in His presence and worshiped Him in the prescribed manner. [T. A. Sparks has an excellent treatise on this subject, Doing a Great Work, which I highly recommend for an in-depth understanding of the message of the book of Nehemiah.] In any event, the return of this remnant of Israel under the generous allowances of the king of Persia was for one major reason: the Seed was only about four-hundred years away from appearing and the time was drawing near for the release of the Seed into the soil of this world. God’s Son was about to appear on the scene of this dead world and produce an abundant harvest of life and fruit. Malachi the prophet warned the remnant of the sudden and imminent appearing of the Lord. “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple…” (Mal. 3:1). It was necessary to rebuild the temple so that the Lord could come to it. Israel knew that the coming of the Lord to His temple meant the beginning of a new era as it would end the total captivity and misery of Israel. The Lord would set up His kingdom once again and free Israel from the bondage of foreign powers and fulfill His promise to David, who was destined to rule over God’s people, thus returning mankind to the path of their original destiny: “Let us make man in our image and in our likeness and let them have dominion”. Israel was called for this universal mission. Israel was supposed to be the starting point, both geographically and nationally, where God would restore the kingdom to Himself through mankind.
Eric Sauer, in his excellent book called The Dawn of Man’s Redemption, proposes that when God brought Israel out of Egypt, while they were still an infant and immature nation, in order to protect them from the hostile powers of Satan and his agents, God established that they be separate and distinct from other nations, not mingling with them or adopting their customs. In that distinctiveness, they were to develop and mature to the task at hand which was the drawing of all nations unto Jehovah, the one and true God. We find this expectation in the early history of Israel as a nation. Up until the time of the captivity, Israel was guarded and tutored by God and His appointed men for the task of maturity and maintaining the purity of the Seed. After all, Israel could only win the world back to God if they delivered the person of the Seed, the Messiah, and were faithful to Him and their calling. The kings were there to protect Israel from alien forces, the priests were there to protect Israel from enemies within and to direct the people’s spiritual maturity, and the prophets were there to be the conscience of the nation to prevent the kings and/or the priests from deviating from the task. The Seed had to be protected and nurtured as were the carriers and the land. Once Israel learned the lessons they needed to learn through the bitter experience of captivity and were delivered from the sickness of idolatry, God asked them to become centrifugal meaning outward-looking and out-reaching, inviting people to faith in the Messiah and to the destiny for which God had created all mankind.
It is interesting, as Eric Sauer so rightly observes, that Israel did everything exactly in reverse. When they were called to be inward-looking, they sold themselves and mixed with other nations, thus losing their distinctiveness and purity. When they were commanded to be outward-looking, Israel became self-centered and self-absorbed, focused on their own interests, thus becoming arrogant, nationalistic, and spiritually blind. One reason the Jews hated Christ and the church was this outward look the church had developed under the leadership of the apostle Paul. This inward-looking and national pride of Israel was so strong that it even affected the early church in Jerusalem who was mainly Jewish in composition. In violation of Christ’s command in Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:14-16, Luke 24:47 and Acts 1:8, they simply were not willing to take the good news of Christ’s universal redemption and restoration to all nations, When opportunity knocked at their door, they went hesitantly, not really willing to step out in faith and in an outreaching spirit to win the world for Christ. The apostle Paul saw this danger, as God raised him in response to the failure of the church in Jerusalem, to faithfully discharge this grave responsibility that was taken away from Israel and placed on the shoulders of a new entity, the body of Christ, the Church!
Let us now go back to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, where we see the subtle plans of the enemy in thwarting the coming of the Seed. Satan resorted to mocking as a means of discouraging the people from building the walls (Neh. 4:3). Then he resorted to conspiracy to attack the builders in an ambush attack (4:7-9). Then he plotted to kill Nehemiah by calling him to a private meeting outside the city walls (6:1-2). Next, he spread gossip about Nehemiah having plans to take over the kingdom (Neh. 6:6-7). Finally, the enemy conspired to frustrate God’s plans by slowly and secretly infiltrating the ranks of the masses and enticing the people to rebellion and revolution against God’s appointed leaders, thus weakening the nation from within (6:17-19). This last tactic is particularly interesting because Satan connected with Tobiah, one of the leaders of the opposition to the tribe of Judah, the Seed carriers. “Also in those days he nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah, and the letters of Tobiah came to them” (Neh. 6:17). What a master plan! The enemy was using God’s chosen tribe to eventually destroy them.
The passage continues, “For many in Judah were pledged to him (Tobiah) because he was the son-in-law of Shechaniah the son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah”. Amazing! Satan even bound his agents in marriage to some very prominent people in the tribe of Judah. The language and context of Nehemiah give the impression that these leaders of Judah were very well-known figures in the community. Satan had gone for the heart of the nation and the Seed bearers! The Seed was in danger of contamination by the fiercest enemies of God who had for so long and through so many devices tried to paralyze the Seed bearers. The enemy was no longer outside – he was now within! He lurked in the streets of Jerusalem and sat at the same table and ate food with the very people who were to be protected from this demonic scheme! God’s people have often, in both the New and the Old Covenant, blindly harbored Tobiahs in their midst, people who have no other intention but the utter destruction of the life of the Seed and His testimony among His people. Paul often wrote about this fact with tears as he referred to the enemies of the cross who were not outside the church, but in its very core, lurking to destroy the message and the testimony of the Lord. Invariably, in every one of his epistles, Paul makes mention of certain people, whether by name (like Alexander the coppersmith), or by their heresies and practices (such as the Judaizers and those who promoted Gnosticism and other pagan philosophies). He agonized over the blindness of the church in not recognizing these trends and individuals and instead being preoccupied with trivial issues that really did not matter in the long term. John named them Anti-Christs, and rightly so. There are Anti-Christs in the New Testament, opposing the relation of Christ’s life and message to the world, and there were Anti-Seeds in the Old Testament who wanted nothing but to prevent the Seed from ever taking flesh. This was Satan’s last hellish idea in the book of Nehemiah. And Nehemiah, the man of the hour, raised by God out of a deep concern for the welfare and future of the Seed and His carriers, wisely detected the enemy’s subtle plan and prevented it from ever taking root among the nation. The Tobiah principle should always remain in paramount view of the individual believers and the church of Jesus Christ who is the new carrier and revealer of the life and the fruit of the Seed. Nehemiah 6:19 completes the trickery of the Devil by showing that “also they reported his good deeds before me, and reported my words to him. Tobiah sent letters to frighten me!” Satan’s last efforts will always be intimidation and fear-mongering. He hoped that the threats he sent to Nehemiah, through his connections within the tribe of Judah, would deter him from his persistent task of separating Israel from hostile elements. But Nehemiah was determined not to give in because he was filled with a vision and a mission that would sustain him in the worst of conditions. This principle should be our guiding light also. A person and a people who have caught a vision of God’s intentions according to the counsel of His will and pleasure, will not be intimidated nor frightened into retreat and defeat. Nehemiah succeeded and so did God’s people. The Seed was thus saved from another very dangerous situation.
Lastly, let us glance at the three prophetic books of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. These books show us that the last attempt of the enemy in stopping the Seed was no longer from outside, nor was it a physical enemy within, but an inner spiritual condition that became perhaps the most difficult of all challenges God’s people had to face. And God in His mercy and grace raised three prophets of post captivity to rectify the situation.
First, let us look at Haggai. This minor and seemingly insignificant prophet of the post captivity points to a major pitfall, a cunning and crafty scheme of the enemy very difficult to detect and prevent: DISTRACTION! The remnant had returned and begun rebuilding the temple; and yet, for some unknown reason they left the work of construction undone and started building their own houses. The prophet opens his book with a strong rebuke and reminder of the calling these people had received: “This people says, ‘the time has not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built’”. They had abandoned the rebuilding of the most important symbol of their existence and identity, the temple. The temple was where the Lord would suddenly appear. The temple was where God incarnate, Jesus Christ, would step in and proclaim the good news of man’s destiny and the end of his slavery to sin and Satan. But, the people, because of their distracted hearts and minds justified their actions. Isn’t this pretty much the same condition we find ourselves in with all that the world can offer in order for us to leave the work of the rebuilding of the testimony and pursue our own plans and interests? These people’s spiritual temperature was so low they had managed to justify their actions to themselves and to each other. Apparently, they discussed this amongst themselves, perhaps in the markets and homes. And they came to the conclusion that “The time has not come!” But the time had come to build their own homes and create successful business enterprises! So the prophet continues, “Is it time for yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins? Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts, consider your ways” (vs. 4-5). The Lord is sharply critical of the attitude of the people and warns them! The people of God were distracted. They were no longer focused on the goal of their return to the promised land. How true is this of us believers of the New Testament too, who, soon after we are saved and redeemed by the blood of the Lord Jesus, we begin justifying why it is not time to allow the Holy Spirit to build His temple in us and amongst us, the community of believers as a powerful testimony to the sovereignty of the Lord. We get distracted by the pressures and attractions of this world and become entangled in their pursuit. Distraction by attractions! A new home, a new job, a new wife, a new friend, etc… Isn’t this the same warning Jesus gave in the parable of the great banquet where the invited (the Jews) brought excuses, some saying they had bought a land, some having recently married, and some having started a new business? This is a very subtle and destructive virus that can enter believers and destroy their focus and attention on what the Lord has called them for. The Lord has not saved us so we can leave the restoration of His testimony in our lives half done and begin pursing the desires of flesh, legitimate or illegitimate. We are not saved to just escape the fires of hell and return to the same foreign and compromising fires that Peter found himself standing by, when he was forced into denying his Lord three times!
These people were distracted and the Lord was going to shake them up. Through the mouth of the prophets God proved to them how futile their efforts were in finding security and prosperity apart from His corporate and all-encompassing plan of rebuilding His testimony and enhancing His presence on earth! Haggai 1:6-11 shows how these people were running away from God’s work, only to run into God’s disciplinary net! We must either cooperate with God, or we will experience holes in our bags!
Distraction is a major internal weapon the enemy uses to derail the believer and the people of God. The message of Haggai focuses on this inner spiritual sickness. And the Lord promises that the glory of what is about to be revealed in us will be greater than our starting point. What started with ruins will end with glory (2:9). Do you know what that end is? The apostle Paul, in his letter to Colossians said, “Christ in you the hope of glory!” (1:27). So we see that the Seed bearers were in a great danger by having become distracted from the goal of their salvation. We, likewise, as the followers of the Lord Jesus, must pray and prevent anything from distracting us from the goal of our salvation: complete conformity and restoration to the image of Christ, who is in us as our hope of glory!
Satan knows how effective the tool of distraction is in derailing God’s plans and purposes from ever taking shape. Distraction is deadly to God’s work in and amongst us. Let us be on guard lest we fall into the same trap and abandon the work and arouse God’s disciplinary action. The word of the Lord to us is: “Consider your ways!”
The book of Zechariah deals with another deadly weapon of Satan: DISCOURAGEMENT. Yes, this book contains many visions and prophetic utterances referring to future events, but another theme remains the underlying message: encouraging God’s people to go on and remain faithful despite very difficult conditions. Zechariah 1:13 says, “The Lord answered the angel who talked to me with good and comforting words….” The mission of the High Priest Joshua was to reassure God’s people, to let them know that God would deal with Satan’s opposition and that they should not lose heart. “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him. And the Lord said to Satan, ‘the Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?’”(Zech. 3:1-2). The Lord, through the mouth of the prophet, encourages the High Priest Joshua and the people not to listen to the disheartening accusations of the Devil and to go on. Revelation 12:10 says, “The accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death”.
Next the Lord shows the vision of the lampstand and the olive trees. The beautiful verses in 4:5-6 herald, “Do you not know what these are (the Olive trees)? And I said, ‘No, my Lord’. So He answered and said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel, not by might nor by power but by My Spirit says the Lord of Hosts’”.
What wonderful and magnificent words of encouragement to a people who had suffered much! The Lord was comforting them and encouraging them lest they be overcome by the spirit of discouragement.
Discouragement is the cancer of the soul. It paralyzes the person. Discouragement makes us evaluate our condition as irreversibly hopeless and continue in a tailspin down towards the pits of self-pity and pessimism. Discouragement is deadly! These people who were supposed to look up and see the great deliverance of God in their lives and begin to rebuild with the hope and anticipation of the promised Seed, had lost all strength and desire to go on and be valuable to God. They were once again in danger of resorting to earthly and man-made means to resolve their dire condition. They were poor, vulnerable, humiliated, and hurt. They had nowhere to go. There was no strength in them to do anything for God. That is precisely why God tell them, “Not by might, nor power, but by my Spirit says the Lord of Hosts”. They needed encouragement because they were discouraged. How often do we as believers of the New Covenant also find ourselves in such a state! Individually and corporately we feel we lack strength to go on and we are overcome by the spirit of discouragement which results in inactivity, despair, self-pity, and resignation. Our churches are full of discouraged people. The Word of the Lord is clear to us, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord of Hosts!” We must throw ourselves at the throne of His grace and ask for help in time of need, for we have a High Priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses.
Did you know that the order of these prophetic books is divinely arranged? They start with Haggai who warns against a distracted spirit. Distraction leads to discouragement. Once we are distracted, our desire for spiritual matters and the affairs of the Lord begin diminishing. This will ultimately result in us considering the Lord’s work monumental and ourselves insignificant and worthless. The message of Zechariah is a preventive antidote to discouragement in the face of severe external and internal pressures lest believers lose heart and stop half way on their journey of faith. These people were the carriers of the promised Seed and they could not afford to fail again. Their history was filled with failures. This time they were too close to the coming of the Seed and had to remain faithful to their calling and persevere in the face of mounting difficulties. Likewise, we who are the carriers of the revealed Seed ought to remember that we are too close to the appearing of the Lord a second time and we can no longer afford to fail. The history of the church, like that of Israel, is filled with failure. This time the Lord has called a remnant, “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord of Hosts”. This is our moment of glory!
Finally, as the old Testament comes to an end with the writings of the prophet Malachi, in preparation for the coming of the Lord, we encounter the third and the last of the three deadly cancers that can grip an individual believer and the people of God: THE SPIRIT OF DISREGARD AND DISHONESTY for the welfare of the Lord and His plan and purpose.
This short book which has only four chapters, begins with God reassuring Israel of His love. Malachi picks up where Zechariah had left off. “I have loved you,” says the Lord. The Lord compares Esau and Jacob, and says, “Yet you say, ‘in what way have you loved us?’ Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? says the Lord. Yet Jacob I have loved but Esau I have hated, and laid waste his mountains and his heritage for the jackals of the wilderness.”
God brings such a powerful testimony in defense of His love for Israel. Israel was questioning God’s love by looking at their history which was filled with blood, shame, death, and loss, and was wondering where God was in all these. The answer the Lord gives is really a question. What He was asking Israel was, “Would you have preferred that I treat you like Esau, who has been pretty much at ease all his life or would you have wanted me to treat you as I did Jacob? Don’t you realize that anyone who wants the inheritance and the birthright of my fullness and kingdom must be purged and purified in the furnace of afflictions and tests? Don’t you know that those whom the father loves He disciplines or do you want me to treat you as illegitimate children? Don’t you realize the immeasurable difference that exists between Jacob and Esau? Don’t you know that I have called you to be my sons and heirs whereas there is no such calling for Esau? Don’t you realize that the proof of my love for you is the stripes on your back, even though you may think that I have been cruel and merciless, but in reality I have taken you from childishness to maturity?” God vindicates Himself and His plans for Israel lest they attribute evil to Him. God is the God of goodness and everything in Him and of Him is light and life. Israel was on the verge of disregarding this truth and becoming dishonest in their thoughts and conduct.
Through Malachi, the Lord warns Israel of the consequences of distraction and discouragement as being the defilement of His person and image among God’s people. In chapter 1, verses 6 to 8, Malachi shows how the priests had polluted the sacrificial offerings which were a type of Christ and His offering of Himself. The Lord can and will never permit His people to tarnish His honor (6) by offering Him dishonest and imperfect sacrifice. These people were offering blind, lame and sick animals on the altar, keeping the healthy ones for themselves, thus considering the table of the Lord as something contemptible! They were approaching the Living God with no fear of His holiness and righteousness and were offering sacrifices half heartedly and dishonestly. Distraction and discouragement will invariably lead to disregard for the principles upon which the Lord has built His testimony, and to a conduct dishonest and contemptible to the Lord. That is why Paul discusses the matter of the table of the Lord. He warns the believers of the spirit and attitude which had crept into the church, telling them that the Lord would stand for His honor and testimony and would not let them be marred with divisions and factions coupled with a complete disregard for the principles of the body of Christ. Here is what Paul says, “Therefore whoever eats this bread and drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner [offering blind, lame, and sick offerings] will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves we would not be judged. But when we are judged we are chastened by the Lord that we may not be condemned with the world” (I Cor. 11:27-32).
In Malachi 1:7-14 we see a similar pattern and pronouncement of indignation and warning by God to His people of the Old Covenant. Disregard and dishonesty with regards to the Lord are the most presumptuous sins a person can commit. Neglecting God’s holiness and wrongly assuming that grace will cover every sin and will not result in severe discipline are contemptible in relation to the Lord’s Kingdom.
Chapter 2 outlines the effects of dishonesty. The Lord rebukes the priests who had disregarded their real duties and engaged themselves in trivial and unimportant tasks relating to temple worship. They were more preoccupied with the external and superficial rather than with their real calling. “And now O priests this commandment is for you: If you will not hear and if you will not take it to heart to give glory to My Name, says the Lord of hosts, I will send a curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Yes I cursed them already because you do not take it to heart.” (v. 1, 2) Malachi goes one step further: “For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge and people should seek the law from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts” (v. 7).
The real duty of the priests was to maintain the truth of God’s word and revelation and to be a source of learning and knowledge for God’s people. But they had disregarded this most important task and spent their time and efforts on trivial matters of the priesthood, issues such as the washing of hands, fasting, and other external and irrelevant matters.
God indicts them by saying, “You have departed from the way. You have caused many to stumble at the law. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi” (2:8).
These people were to prepare for the coming of the Lord, the promise of the Seed uttered from the mouth of God in Genesis 3:15, formed in God’s mind before the foundation of the world (John 1:1). When God’s people are distracted and discouraged, they will ultimately disregard the things of he Lord and will behave dishonestly. God wants a people who will carry His testimony in utmost sincerity and obedience to the principles upon which God has built His honor and kingdom.
There are two other proofs of Israel’s disregard for God’s affairs and their utter dishonesty. One has to do with the matter of marital and sexual relations and the other with the matter of money! Both hot topics even by our standards today!
The prophet knew that a grave danger was awaiting the Seed bearers in the matter of sex and marriage. Apparently the men of Judah were divorcing their wives for no valid reason. In chapter 2:11, 14-16 we read, “Judah has dealt treacherously and an abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the Lord’s holy institution which he loves: He has married the daughter of a foreign god… between you and the wife of your youth with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the spirit? And why one? He seeks Godly offspring [seed]. Therefore take heed to your spirit and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce. For it covers one’s garment with violence says the Lord of hosts. Therefore take heed to your spirit that you do not deal treacherously”.
In one last desperate attempt, Satan resorted to the oldest and the most basic instinct of man: sex and marriage. If the men of Judah were to abandon their Jewish wives and marry gentile women, then the lineage of the Seed would be polluted and unusable by God to bring forth His Son into this world. This was a crime of violence against God and against these poor Jewish women who were supposed to be the wombs for carrying the Seed of God’s life to fruition. In God’s eyes, this was an act of violence because the source and the originator of it was none other than Satan himself. This reckless disregard of the men of Judah for their wives was detestable to God. After almost four thousand years of struggle and battle, the Seed was at the threshold of becoming the redeemer and the ruler of the world, and these men were in utter disregard for their calling, leaving their wives and marrying foreign women.
Verse 16 is very controversial in the Christian church because it tells us outright that God hates divorce. The Church of Jesus Christ has been divided over the interpretation and application of this verse to the realities of the New Testament. The context of this verse indicates very clearly that the reason God hated divorce as a practice by Judah was that it endangered the Seed. It had apparently become a very common and widespread practice in the Israel of that time. The women who were destined to ultimately give birth to the generations of John the Baptist, Jesus Christ and His disciples, were abandoned. The fact that God hated divorce in this very specific and historic context does not make divorce an unpardonable sin in other contexts and dispensational realities. I am not an advocate of divorce, but I do not wish for this verse to be taken out of context and cause many God-fearing and Bible-believing people to carry mountains of guilt and shame because they had a bad marriage and the only advisable course of action happened to be divorce. Let us be very careful how we understand the Old Testament words of the Lord and how we transport them into the New Testament reality and realm of grace and mercy.
Regardless, one thing was certain. Satan was attempting with all his powers to stop the Seed from appearing and divorce became his pièce de résistence. Divorce was Satan’s tool for delaying the development of the Seed carriers and their subsequent generations.
Finally, the prophet exposes the greed and the materialistic lust of the people of God in the matter of giving of tithes and offerings to the work of the Lord. Giving was a sign of their remnant status and their willingness to be the people God had called to be the vessel of the Messiah! God asks these people to be first and foremost committed to Him and to His work despite their seemingly harsh and poor conditions. And in return for the faithfulness, He would bless them with the abundance of every perceivable blessing from heaven. In 3:8-12, we see God’s challenge to His people to test Him in the matter of giving and see the results. All the problems that gripped Israel and kept them from becoming the nation for and through whom the Seed was promised are not uncommon to us: distraction, discouragement, and ultimately dishonesty and disregard for the Lord and His plan and purpose.
Even today, in the 21st century church, the same thoughts and attitudes prevail. We who are perhaps the generation closest to the coming of the Lord, are also gripped by these deadly and Satanic cancers. Jesus warned His disciples about the result of such trends when He said, “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life and that day come on you unexpectedly” (Luke 21:34). This verse is quite similar to what Malachi told his people in chapters 1-2 and then in chapter 3 he said, “And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly [unexpectedly] come to His temple….” Jesus is returning to His temple once again. His church is to view and assess the state of things. Will He find the same attitude that prevailed in Israel prior to His first coming? Due to distractions, discouragement, and dishonest conduct and disregard for the Lord and His work, the people complained and uttered the ultimate dishonoring words, “It is useless to serve God” (3:14).
How tragic and how pathetic can one’s spiritual life become to the extent that one would exclaim, “It is useless to serve God”. We hear it every day from countless dear children of the Lord, who start well, but due to distractions, discouragement, and dishonest conduct end up in the quicksand of passivity and lack of spiritual progress! Even if we do not vocalize it, we certainly entertain the thought in our minds!
The state of the Seed bearers is such just before the coming of the Lord. Satan has accomplished a master work. He has distracted believers and buried them in themselves and their own interests; discouraged them from walking with the Lord and being sustained by His might and grace; and led them to a mindset and conduct that is dishonest and void of regard for the Lord, resulting in the saddest and perhaps most detrimental words ever uttered by human beings, “It is useless to serve God”. This is how the Old Testament ends: Failure of the majority! The masses of Israel shout loud and clear in the ears of their God, “It is useless to serve You!” Almost all is lost. Even the remnant of God’s people has succumbed to the power of Satan. The Seed seems to be all but a dream! Is it really so? Praise God for Malachi 3:16-17: “Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another. And the Lord listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and will meditate on His name. ‘They shall be mine’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘on the day that I make them my jewels and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him….”
God found a remnant within the remnant of His people who were willing to come back to Him and become the vessel He needed to bring forth His Son, the promised Seed. There will always be a “remnant according to the election of grace” within the masses of God’s people who will recognize the gravity of the situation and understand the purpose of God and act in obedience to their calling.
Distractions, discouragements, dishonesty and disregard, all formed the mindset of God’s people approximately four hundred years before the coming of our Lord, the Seed. However, God still had His elected remnant within the remnant and by His grace He used them to defeat Satan at his game and continue the lineage of the Seed, to whom Mary gave birth in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Caesar Augustus!
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