Managing Expectations: Case Studies in God’s Processes
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One of the most colorful characters in the Bible is Samson, the Judge of Israel from the tribe of Dan. His story is in Judges 13-16. It begins like this:
Now there was a certain man from Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had no children. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Indeed now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Now therefore, please be careful not to drink wine or similar drink, and not to eat anything unclean. For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” (Judges 13:2-5 NKJV, emphasis added)
Samson lived in the 12th century BC, at a time that the Philistines oppressed the people of Israel. The reason for that oppression, of course, was because the people had departed from God’s ways, serving other gods in addition to YHVH, or worshipping YHVH using the idolatrous practices of their day (see Judges 17-18 for an explanation of how such a thing could be done). When the people cried out for deliverance, God answered them with Samson, a hero who initiated conflict with the Philistines. Notice, however, that Samson did not complete the work. The Scriptures tell us that he inflicted great damage on the Philistines during the twenty years of his career. However, as the Angel of the Lord prophesied, Samson’s task was to begin the process of deliverance. It would not be completed until well over a century later, during the reign of David, Israel’s second and greatest king. Through that process God raised up Samuel as judge over the people, purged the corrupt Levitical priesthood, let the people experience the results of their lusts and pride during the reign of Saul, the king they wanted, and finally united the people under David, the man God Himself chose, and through whom He promised to bring the Messiah. No one living in Samson’s day, nor anyone in the next three generations, would have guessed what God was doing. All they knew was that the Philistines remained a threat, and that God had promised a deliverer if they would return to Him and be faithful. Only now, with 3,000 years of hindsight and the help of the Scriptures, can we understand what God began in the life of Samson.
Delivering The Deliverer
But look back even further, to the time of Moses, and see what processes God had set in motion when the people of Israel languished in Egypt. The people certainly knew what God had promised their father Abraham:
Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him. God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.” (Genesis 15:12-16 NASB, emphasis added)
By the time of Moses’ birth, the prophesied period of 400 years was nearing completion. Moses may even have been motivated by the prophecy when, at the age of 40, he murdered an Egyptian who was oppressing a fellow Israelite. Some 390 years had transpired to that point. It is possible that Moses, anticipating the imminent redemption of Israel, sought to hasten events by asserting his claim as an advocate and protector of the people. The actual deliverance did not occur until 40 years later, exactly 430 years from the day God spoke to Abraham. Even after that another 40 years would pass before the people were ready to enter and possess the Promised Land. What we learn from the accounts in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy is that the people of Israel had a very hard time dealing with that process. They were expecting a Bronze Age version of instant gratification, meaning that they expected God to transplant them without delay from Egypt into Canaan so that they could live happily ever after.
Things did not work out quite like that. First of all, circumstances had to develop that would render Egypt uninhabitable for the Israelites. That is why a “new king” arose in Egypt who oppressed the people, causing them to cry out to the Lord for deliverance. No doubt their prayers were laced with reminders to God that He had promised to take them out of their foreign exile into the Promised Land. God answered their prayers, but not in the way they anticipated. Moses himself, the great Prince of Egypt who expected to lead his people in triumphant conquest, required a great deal of processing before he was ready to be God’s instrument of deliverance. That was the purpose of his 40 years on the backside of the desert. And even after that, when deliverance happened, it was lengthy and painful. The people had to endure ten grievous plagues as God judged Egypt. Although the Lord protected them from the worst of the plagues, they still had to watch as their friends, neighbors, and even family members suffered immeasurably. Then they had to leave their homes suddenly, enduring grueling marches through the desert to a place of utter desolation, where Pharaoh came close to slaughtering them. But God intervened and baptized the people in the Red Sea, bringing them into the next stage of the process by which He intended to prepare a kingdom of priests who would work with Him to bring salvation to the nations. Sadly, very few survived the process. Of the 603,550 men who left Egypt, only two made it into the Promised Land. Truly the process of the Lord was neither fast nor cheap, but the result was very good.
The Birth Of A New Hope
There is one other example to consider: the advent of Messiah Yeshua. As with the deliverance from Egypt, the timing of Messiah’s birth was a subject of prophecy. The Prophet Daniel had received word from the Lord that Messiah would come 483 years (69 “weeks” of seven years) after the decree to rebuild Jerusalem. Cyrus the Great of Persia issued that decree in 538 BC, the first year of his reign. Construction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem began in 535 BC, but the Temple was not dedicated until 516 BC. Yet the walls of Jerusalem remained in ruins until 445 BC, when Artaxerxes I authorized Nehemiah to rebuild them. Which of these dates do we use to calculate the time of Messiah? And does the calculation bring us to the birth of Messiah, the maturity of Messiah, the end of His career, or what?
Such questions have rattled the brains of many brilliant Jewish and Christian thinkers over the last 25 centuries. None, perhaps, has presented the complete answer. Nevertheless, people living in Judea during the reign of Herod the Great anticipated the imminent arrival of Messiah, which is why Herod was greatly troubled when a princely delegation of magi from the Parthian Empire arrived at Jerusalem looking for that promised Messiah. It is no surprise that the religious authorities could answer quickly from Scripture when the king asked where Messiah would be born, nor is it surprising that Herod slaughtered innocent children in the region of Bethlehem in the expectation that one of them would grow up and threaten his dynasty.
But what other expectations were there in Judea at that time? What was it that those who were looking for Messiah wanted to see, and what did they actually see? The answer comes in the account of two saints of God who saw the infant Yeshua:
And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus [Yeshua, Salvation], the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ [Messiah, Anointed]. And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed—and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:21-38 NASB, emphasis added)
Simeon and Anna understood the Scriptures and believed God’s promises that He would redeem Israel. They rejoiced to see the consolation of Israel and the redemption of Jerusalem which He had spoken by the Prophet Isaiah:
Awake, awake, clothe yourself in your strength, O Zion; clothe yourself in your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; for the uncircumcised and the unclean will no longer come into you. Shake yourself from the dust, rise up, O captive Jerusalem; loose yourself from the chains around your neck, O captive daughter of Zion. For thus says the Lord, “You were sold for nothing and you will be redeemed without money.” For thus says the Lord God, “My people went down at the first into Egypt to reside there; then the Assyrian oppressed them without cause. Now therefore, what do I have here,” declares the Lord, “seeing that My people have been taken away without cause?” Again the Lord declares, “Those who rule over them howl, and My name is continually blasphemed all day long. Therefore My people shall know My name; therefore in that day I am the one who is speaking, ‘Here I am.’” How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices, they shout joyfully together; for they will see with their own eyes when the Lord restores Zion. Break forth, shout joyfully together, you waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared His holy arm in the sight of all the nations, that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God. Depart, depart, go out from there, touch nothing unclean; go out of the midst of her, purify yourselves, you who carry the vessels of the Lord. But you will not go out in haste, nor will you go as fugitives; for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard. Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted. Just as many were astonished at you, My people, so His appearance was marred more than any man and His form more than the sons of men. Thus He will sprinkle many nations, kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; for what had not been told them they will see, and what they had not heard they will understand. (Isaiah 52:1-15 NASB, emphasis added)
This is the full purpose of Messiah: returning the captives of Judah and Israel, rebuilding the ruins of Jerusalem, and making the way of salvation for all nations to come up to Zion, where Messiah will reign as the righteous judge and king of the earth. It is the message of consolation and redemption which Simeon and Anna believed. They did not expect to see the complete fulfillment in their day, but rather the beginning of that fulfillment. That is the reason behind Simeon’s words, “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation”. Those aged saints knew that the infant before them could not complete the task instantaneously. He would have to grow up first, which meant that it would be at least another generation before He could accomplish His God-appointed task. And now, with 2,000 years of hindsight, we know that even then the task was not complete. Yeshua made it possible for Judah to bring the message of salvation to the world and begin the promised regathering of Ephraim and his many companions from the nations. But the Kingdom is not yet complete. That task is still in the process. It awaits not only the coming of Messiah to complete it, but the readiness of His people to fulfill their calling as a holy nation.
And so the question remains: how much longer before the process is complete?
Part VIII concludes this series by reexamining the promised restoration of all Israel in light of current events and of God’s Appointed Times of the Shemitah and Yovel.