I was reviewing the Biblical history of Israel, and, frankly, it’s not that pretty.
- 450 years in Egypt: no leader, no record of good leadership or worship
- 40 years in the desert: unnecessary because of unbelief
- 350 years era of the Judges: everyone followed their own way (except for a few interventions)
- 40 years of King Saul: not the highlight of their history
- 40 years with King David: in many ways the highlight of their history
- 40 years with Solomon: in other ways their highlight
- 350 years of divided kingdom, 10 tribes permanently apostate, 2 tribes with ups and downs
- 70 years of exile
- 430 silent years
- 100 years New Testament times
And then Titus invaded Jerusalem, sacked it and dispersed the Jews (again). (All the dates are approximate and rounded, just to give a rough idea of the time scale.)
The nation followed the Lord in unity for only the reigns of David and Solomon — 80 years out of 1,900 (give or take). In all, hardly a stellar record.
But that isn’t what interested me. What really started it for me was the temple. The temple Solomon built, the grand one detailed in several chapters of the Bible, didn’t even last one generation. The Egyptians came in the reign of Solomon’s son (Rehoboam) and ransacked the temple. It was almost as if the paint hadn’t even dried properly yet. When I read this recently, my heart was just so sad. All this money, planning and resources spent on something to glorify the Lord, and He didn’t even protect it for a single full generation. Wow.
I thought about this for quite a few days. Without verbalizing it, I was questioning the Lord, and in particular His not supporting or protecting His beautiful house. I mean, if He didn’t protect Solomon’s temple, what makes me think He will protect His church in our day? And if He’s not even going to protect His house, how can I expect Him to protect my house? The first question is interesting; the last one is personal.
After a few days, I felt the Lord ask me a question back. What about the ark of the covenant? Did the ark last any longer? Did He ever protect it? As I looked into it, the differences were startling:
God commissioned and designed the ark. He never commissioned the temple; that was David’s idea. In fact, the Lord gave the idea a lukewarm reception. David had the best of intentions, to be sure, but God never ordered the temple. He definitely ordered the ark, though, with detailed specifications.
God protected the ark, and fiercely so. We all recall when the Philistines captured the ark and how the Lord made them return it in short order. The Lord dealt well with those who treated it respectfully (Obed-Edom) and harshly with those who didn’t, even among the Levites.
The ark survived intact from the time it was commissioned until God finally gave Judah over to the Babylonian exile. The temple in Jerusalem also survived, but not in the same glory as that which was dedicated to the Lord in that impactful ceremony.
And, finally, consider the usefulness for the average Israelite. People could enter the temple every now and then, but NOBODY ever saw the ark, except the High Priest and that only once a year. So, from a human standpoint, the temple appears to have had a greater utility for worship than the ark. But… the ark was God’s idea and the temple was man’s idea. One lasted a lot longer than the other, and that had nothing to do with how useful it appeared to be for man.
What’s the point of this comparison? God will protect, even prosper, what He ordains, commissions, promises, designs or implements. As for what we build, there is (as noted in the Ishmael post) nothing wrong with that, but it will last only as long as we can protect it.
What’s more, God made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, knowing full well how imperfect Israel was going to be. The imperfection of the national history of Israel is staggering, but God, knowing the future was not looking for perfection in selecting His covenant partner. He was looking for the miracle birth, and that’s all. That tells me that I don’t need to be perfect to be a covenant partner with the Lord. I only need to be of miracle birth, as in born again. Perfection is not required at all, not of myself and neither of my brothers and sisters. Not now, and not in the future. That is just an amazing thought, and so encouraging!
When we serve the Lord, we serve Him best when He sets it all up.