Friday, January 7, 2011

New Beginnings and Fresh Starts, Part II

As 2010 has been a year of new beginnings and fresh starts, and once again we are at a New Year, I am once again filled with much of the same hope and excitement that I experienced most of last year.

That's it, really...hope!  Fresh starts give us hope.  Hope that the future will be even better than the present.

As I read through the Bible last year, I couldn't help but notice this theme throughout.  The first place I notice this is with Noah and the flood.  Scripture says, "The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain."  So the Lord decided to wipe them all out and start over, with only one faithful man and his family.    After the flood, when Noah stepped out of the ark, God made a covenant and put his rainbow in the clouds as a reminder of His promise to never again destroy the earth by flood.

The next time I notice this theme of fresh starts is when God has led the Israelites out of Egypt and is giving them the law.  If you read Leviticus (your favorite, I know), God gives the Israelites many instructions on how to live their lives, and a large portion of that law is set in place to ensure that they treat each other fairly and do not take advantage of each other.  One such way of doing this was commanding the people to recognize a Year of Jubilee every 50 years.  If anyone had sold any property to repay a debt, in this year, the property would revert back to the original owner.  Likewise, if anyone had sold himself as a slave to repay a debt, in this year, the Year of Jubilee, he would be set free!  What a blessing to know that their situation would not be permanent!

As the Israelites are ruled by judges, a cycle is seen over and over again, where they fall away from God, but then they have a change of heart.  They call out to God who forgives them and sends a judge to save them.  They eventually ask for an earthly king to rule over them, and that turns out disastrous, for the most part, just as God had said it would.  It is during that time that God reaches His point of anger with His people that He decides that punishment is imminent.

God sends prophets who warn with startlingly powerful language of the punishment to come upon them because of God's wrath.  The people will be taken into exile and their land destroyed.  However, in the midst of all this, we can still see God's promise of a fresh start and a second chance for His people.  He promises that there will be a remnant to return to their homes.  Along with that promise, God also alludes to a time when He will create a new covenant with His people, better than the one He had established with them at Sinai.  Through the prophet Jeremiah, He says,  "The time is coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them.  This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel at that time.  I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.  No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.  For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."

After God has brought about punishment upon His people...Israel and Judah have been taken captive...Jerusalem is completely destroyed...God has abandoned His temple and His altar...His prophet Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, could still pen these words:

"Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.  'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I hope in Him!'  The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.  It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord...For the Lord will not cast off forever.  Though He causes grief, yet He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies."

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