In captivity and exile
Earnest religion is not the same thing as true religion.
The Israelites in the time of Isaiah worshiped sincerely. They came to the temple every day. Made the prescribed sacrifices. Gave their tithes and offerings. They prayed the right prayers and even fasted. Yet God rejected their worship.
Isaiah told them the problem was that, in the midst of all their pious religious activity, they were living for themselves. Workers were oppressed. The weak were wrongly imprisoned. People were hungry and inadequately clothed. The poor wandered homeless.
The children of Abraham weren’t honoring God with their lives. They weren’t loving their neighbors as themselves. They turned a deaf ear to the cries of the oppressed. God expected his people to yield a crop of justice, but instead he heard cries of oppression.
Another prophet of the time, Habakkuk, relayed word of God’s judgment on a people who didn’t care about oppression and injustice:
“Look at the nations and watch – and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own.”
Wave after wave of Nebuchadnezzar’s mighty armies laid waste to Jerusalem and dragged off almost all the people to Babylon.
The Land of Promise was left desolate, and a generation that cared nothing about the poor and oppressed died in a foreign land.
In a similar way, the Western Church has ignored the cries of the poor and oppressed, and today finds itself in captivity and exile, though not in a faraway land.
We are self-indulgent hedonists for whom “life’s little pleasures” matter more than children dying from bad water and bug bites. We are celebrity-worshipers who idolize the charismatic speaker, entertaining musician, and glamorous star – and thereby diminish the only one truly worthy of glory and honor. We are individualists who think the sins of our neighbors do not affect our standing before God. We are subjectivists who think faith is a leap, rather than a stand on proven truth. We are consumerists who shop for a church that “meets our needs” and think we can do justice by buying a “fair trade” trinket. We are racists who can’t see past the skin color of “those people.” We are tribalists more passionate about our doctrinal faction than the cause of Kingdom justice.
As our children are carried off into the captivity of an ungodly culture, we refine our systematic theologies and tinker with missional methodologies. We have lost our fear of the God of Justice, and he raises up ruthless Babylonians to lay waste our Jerusalem.
The Israelites were sent into captivity because they were not doing justice and loving mercy. Perhaps we are in exile today for the same reason. Do you long to see revival in your church? Perhaps the solution is not just more earnest religion – heartfelt worship, prayer, time in the Word – but also obedience to the command to love our neighbors the way we love ourselves.
As he promised, God rescued his people from Babylon, just as he redeemed them from Egypt. And the Land of Promise is still there – for a people who will love God with every fiber of their being and love their neighbors the way they love themselves.
Think about it
Do you see similarities between Israel’s complacency about injustice and the attitude of the Western Church toward the poor and oppressed?
In what ways might God’s judgment be on the Western Church for shutting its ears to the cries of the poor?
Sierra Leone: War Widows for Christ
Dirt works its way into the pores of calloused hands, pulling weeds on a three-acre hillside under a hot tropical sun. Day after day, the women work up and down this hillside, struggling to keep the weeds from choking out their crop. War widows work the hillside near their homes in Grafton, Sierra Leone. They are grubbing weeds from among the peanuts they planted, to improve the quality of their harvest. It is backbreaking work, but soon there will be peanuts to eat, peanuts to sell – and peanuts to plant next year. Click here to read more.
Next chapter: Living in Babylon