I just sat there staring at text message not really knowing how to reply.
It had been 3 weeks since we had seen each other. I had not planned on being MIA for that long. In fact I had not planned on being missing at all. Over the last 6 months it had been our routine to get together 4-5 times a week My absence was just one of those things that came up slowly. After I missing the first couple of days having to work late and take care of some things at home the next few days was easier. Before I knew it a week had passed. I had no excuse. No reason except that I was embarrassed for missing so long. Ashamed of the fact that I was slacking, that I was falling back into my old habits. I didn't want to face the ladies that had spent months encouraging me and helping me along the way. Those feelings not only kept me out the second week but also on into the third. Yesterday, I decided to face the awkwardness of missing all those weeks and return to my Zumba class. It was so good to be back. Once I heard the first note of the first song a smile came across my face. By the end of the class I was enjoying it again. I could not believe that I had spent so much time away.
My self imposed exile made me think about the children of Israel. Our ladies bible study has been reading through the One Year Chronological Bible for the last couple of years. It has really opened my eyes to how little we really know about the Old Testament. As children we hear the miraculous stories of Moses leading the children out of Egypt, going through the desert and finally into the promised land. However, once they get in the land of milk and honey we tend to just leave them there and up forward to the New Testament.
The Israelites had everything God had promised them yet they still turned away away from Him and to the idols of others. After generations of this downward spiral in 586 BC Israel was sent into exile. Then in 538 BC a few of them begin coming back with Zerubbabel, then Ezra brought back another group, and finally Nehemiah asked the king if he could return. He had been greived that the wall of protection had fallen and not yet been rebuilt. The king granted his request. Once he returned he organized the people and the wall was rebuilt in just 52 days. After the task was completed the people all gathered together.
Nehemiah 8:1 -- "all the people assembled with a unified purpose at the square just inside the Water Gate. They asked Ezra to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had give for Israel to obey."
Moses had commanded that every 7 years the Book of the Law be read however, that had not been done for quite some time. We know that for a period of time the Book was lost because a servant of King Josiah had found it somewhere in the Temple. This means that Moses' instructions to read the word as a reminder of who God was and why they should follow Him had not been done since even before the exile. There were a few like Daniel and his friends that continued to follow God even through their time in Babylon, but we can assume that there were some in the crowd with Nehemiah had never heard God's word before. The people stood and listend intently as Ezra read the word from daybreak until noon. So for 5-6 hours they listened to God speak to them. Remember I told you that my groups is in the process of reading through the Old Testament for the second time and I have to tell you that listening closely is not an easy thing to do. Especially to Leviticus. Yet these people sat and just soaked it up. They were so thirsty to hear from God. After Ezra had finished reading :
It is here that we see the mercy of the exile. Before exile, the people had not just become rebellious but they were really just indifferent to God and his laws. The time spent in exile that retenderized their hearts toward God. They began seeking after Him. Now they are responding in agreement with God by bowing down and worshipping Him.
Put yourself in their shoes. Think of all the emotional baggage that the Israelites brought back with them: on one hand they are excited but on the other hand nervous, proud to be going back yet ashamed that they ever had to leave and thankful that God is returning them but wondering if He will still accept them. In the mist of all these emotions they just begun to weep and worship. In the reading of God's word their eyes were opened as to how far they had pulled away from the Lord.
Do you have the same emotional baggage as the Israelites? Are you afraid you have been in exile for to long or to far away to come back ? Do we allow the word to bring us to a point of recognizing where we have fallen?
Nehemiah 8:6 -- "Then Ezra praised the Lord, the great God, and all the people chanted, 'AMEN!! AMEN!!' as they lifted their hands. Then they bowed down and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground."