Recently, I watched a story about the California wildfires. A man named John, his white hair disheveled and his clothing covered in dust, stood amid the ashes of what once had been his home. Speaking with a reporter, John tallied up his possessions: a high school class ring and a few small pieces of china. Everything else was gone, destroyed by a devastating wildfire. Looking over the landscape, he remembered the 2000+ homes that once stood strong around him, the neighbors with whom he communed for some 30 years.
But on that day, John was standing in a place he didn’t recognize. The treelined landscape that once was so familiar now looked like a barren wasteland, and his once thriving neighborhood now appeared dead.
Thousands of years ago, the people of Judah experienced similar emotions. Unlike John and his neighbors, their disaster had come at the hands of an enemy king. With only the effort of a spoken word, King Nebuchadnezzar ordered his troops to lay siege to the people and land of Judah, forcing its citizens into slavery and demolishing their homeland. Their exile lasted 70 years, and when they returned home, the surroundings appeared dismal. But were they really seeing things as they were?
Through the prophet Malachi, God met the Israelites in the midst of their pain and dismay. With just a few words, He not only diagnosed their heart condition, but restored what their enemy king had taken.
“I have loved you,” says the LORD. “But you say, ‘How have You loved us?’” (Malachi 1:2)
In that declaration, God shone His light on the hearts of His people, exposing their blindness to His love. In their shattered state, they saw only destruction and unfulfilled expectation. They were unable to see all that He had done and would continue to do:
- Centuries of being their covenant God
- Rescue from exile multiple times
- Restoration of their temple, their worship practices, and their city wall
- A promise for greater redemption yet to come.
Up to that point, the Israelites feared that a few words from King Nebuchadnezzar had sealed their doom forever. They forgot that they belonged to the King of kings! The King who opened the borders to include you and me!
Friend, I have never endured the devastation of a wildfire or an enemy attack. I can’t even fathom what our ancestors in Israel experienced, let alone what our own countrymen in California are living through this very day! I have, however, stood in the midst of crushing circumstances that rendered the landscape of my own life unrecognizable. I have wondered how on earth beauty could arise from the muddy mess I was beholding. Through those times—including some that have yet to be restored—God has reminded me that He has extended His covenant of love far beyond the Israelites to us. And with that covenant of love, we can trust that God is causing all things to work together for our good. We might not be able to see the full picture, but we can carry His message of love beyond our borders, to others who need to hear it, as well. For we know that even when life’s landscape looks desolate, we serve a loving God who always is in control. As we watch Him work—and oh, we will—may we also declare, “Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!” (Malachi 1:5)