“And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing” (Nehemiah 8:17).
Imagine Jerusalem 400 years before John the Baptist walked his dusty path. The road to Jerusalem is crowded with people returning home. For 70 years, they have been exiled in Babylon. They were taken away from their homes, the temple and the presence of God. They finally returned to Jerusalem, but their homes are destroyed, the city wall is torn down, and the temple is ruined. Where is God?
It is a question we all ask at some time in our lives. The path is long and dusty. We are burdened by work, by debt, by stress, by the world. And sometimes we feel like we are in exile. Where is God? Why does he not hear our cries for help?
But in Jerusalem, in the days following the return from Babylon, the temple, the city wall and the Israelites’ homes were all rebuilt. Knowing this could not have happened without God’s help, the people celebrated. They built Sukkahs all over town, and celebrated their thanksgiving with great joy. The writer of Nehemiah tells us that it had not been so joyful since the days of Joshua, when the Israelites first came to the promised land.
Just as God was with the Israelites during 70 years of exile, God is with you, and does hear you. He comes to you in His Word, and Sacraments. He knows your trials, and He has suffered trials himself. When Jesus stood before his persecutors, He stood for you. He suffered for you. And He died for you. God restored Him, and God restores you. Praise Him with joyful thanksgiving.
Prayer: Dear God, You are indeed the God of restoration. Thank you for the gifts of your Word and Sacraments, which bring healing and strength. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.
Ponder the path: When it feels like you are in exile, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).