This is how you made the pleasant land desolate

Devotional thoughts for January 2022

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... where I discuss the thinking that led to this article.)

In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah because the people asked the Lord, should we mourn and fast in the fifth month as I have done for so many years? The Lord said, “When you fasted and mourned for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? Do this instead: administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.”

But as they had in the past, they refused to listen. They made their hearts as hard as flint. So the Lord was angry and said to Zechariah, ”When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen. Instead, I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land they left behind them was so desolate that no one traveled through it. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.” (Zechariah 7:1–14, selected and edited for story clarity by the author.)

Is your life going south... and you can’t put your finger on why? If so, it’s time to get back to basics. It is easy for those of us who understand that our salvation is by grace — and not by works — to get out of the habit of doing good works... even good works of the most basic kind... like applying mercy while we uphold truth and justice.

Jesus taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves — and our enemies as well! This sounds nuts... especially to us who are  “stakeholders” in the economic world… where eternal vigilance is the price of a robust portfolio! But we must ask ourselves, did our gains come through oppression... and is that oppression catching up with us... making our pleasant land desolate?

I was ahead of the curve as a white American male when I “owned” our national sin, the slavery of African people… as much as a grandchild of immigrants can. I understand that my relative prosperity is tied to that sin in more ways than I could possibly unpack. I see them statistically... but I feel like a cork in a stream… and a cork has no control where it lands. Should the cork be punished for landing in the pleasant land? I say no... but in America, mine is not the only voice.

The thing is I cannot go back in time. I cannot prevent my country from having used slaves. Nevertheless, I should not be surprised when we — as a nation that has sown the blood of slaves — reap the whirlwind of systemic racism. I pray that God will heal our land... but I also understand part of the healing may be that he is making our land desolate.

American Christianity has the same problem as did the Jews of Zechariah’s time. We have “high toned” piety and sophisticated sacerdotal activities that miss the point of the Judeo-Christian ethic. It is not a sin to prosper, but it is a sin to ignore the downtrodden or the disenfranchised in the process. The test of “true religion” is how we treat these people (James 1:26-27).

Now, God is not writing any more Scripture. We have all we are ever going to get! But God continues to reveal information about himself through the things he has made. We see his transcendence and divinity through the cosmos. But we see his morality in the souls of human beings. Jesus taught that when we serve people in his name, we serve the King of kings.

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:37–40, NIV))

 

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20211227 First things first).

(For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com)