Can the prey of the mighty be taken
Or the slaves of the tyrant restored?
Yet in God none of these are forsaken,
That all flesh may acclaim Him as Lord.
He will lift up His hand to the nations,
And a sign will be raised in His name
So His sons will be borne to salvation
And His daughters, delivered from shame.
Thus the Lord by His manifold graces
From bereavement shall rescue the land;
In the waste and the desolate places,
There the throngs of His children will stand.
In the first part of the book of Ezra, we see an incredible thing. After 70 years of exile, the people of Judah are returning to Canaan. God had predicted this return through His prophets, but human wisdom would never have believed it possible.
After all, the Jewish nation was destroyed after repeated rebellions against the Babylonians. Because the kings of Judah refused to be good little vassals, Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem, destroyed it (including Solomon’s temple), and carried its people captive. Nations simply don’t come back from disasters like that, but the Jews did.
However, as the events of the first half of Ezra reveal, despite their return, all is not well in the promised land. Even though they have returned to Jerusalem, they are still subjects of the Persian Empire. The Persians have no trouble interfering with their lives, to the point of forbidding them to rebuild the temple for decades.
As a result, the fulfillment of God’s promises can only be described as incomplete. Yes, they’re back in the land, but they’re not free, and they certainly aren’t enjoying the golden age that prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah promised. Even hundreds of years later, during the time of Christ, righteous men like Simeon are still “waiting for the consolation of Israel”.
By then, the Jews have exchanged Persian overlords for Roman overlords, but their overall state of bondage has not changed. Even when God fulfills His prophecies through Jesus, many of His people find that fulfillment unacceptably alien. They are so set on a physical understanding of grace that rather than accepting their Messiah, they plunge instead into a doomed revolt against Rome.
Today, we have a much better understanding of Old-Testament prophecies than the Jews did, but it is still our experience that God has incompletely fulfilled His promises to us. Yes, we have life in Christ, but Christians still die. Yes, we have peace in Christ, but we live in a world that is filled with conflict and even persecution. Yes, Jesus is with us always, but no human eye has seen Him for 2000 years.
Like the Jews of the time of Zerubbabel, then, like Simeon, we are still looking for the consolation of Israel. We don’t believe that God has broken faith with us because we recognize that He never intended for us to enjoy the fullness of His blessings in this life. Pop Christianity to the contrary, we are not living our best life now, nor should we expect to. Indeed, if this were our best life, we would be of all people most to be pitied.
Our eyes are not fixed on the here-and-now. Instead, they are fixed on the future. We expectantly wait for the return of Jesus, not because we have already figured out how He will fulfill God’s promises to us, but because we trust that their fulfillment will be better than we imagine. In that day, finally, after thousands of years of waiting, will God’s people enjoy the fullness of His grace.
O arm of God, awake!
Be stirred by Zion’s plea,
As once you caused the earth to shake
And dried the mighty sea.
Awake, O arm of God!
Confirm that you are strong;
Redeem her children from abroad
That they may come with song.
Be strong in Him, and stand;
The Lord will guide your feet and take
Your children by the hand.
You suffered much before,
But hear His word, rely on Him,
And taste His wrath no more.
O Zion, rise! Awake!
Behold, your watchmen see
That God has come for His own sake
With peace and victory.
Awake, O Zion! Rise!
Come out from fear and harm,
For God before the nations’ eyes
Has bared His holy arm.
I am weary, O God, of transgression,
For the tempter has burdened my soul.
Yet by grace, I throw off his oppression
And return to Your gentle control.
I am weary, O God, of my sorrow,
Of the grief that endures day by day,
Yet Your mercy today and tomorrow
Will sustain me and straighten my way.
I am weary, O God, of this dwelling;
In the tent of my body, I groan,
Yet I trust in Your faithful foretelling:
In the heavens, a house of my own.