Though the Fig Tree Does Not Bloom

Today I read Jeremiah 39-43 about the events that happened in Judah after the fall of Jerusalem.  One of the Babylonian officials told Jeremiah to go live with Gedaliah, who had been appointed to be governor of the area for the king of Babylon.  Jeremiah did so.  But Gedaliah’s downfall was that he didn’t listen to advice.  One of the army officers, Johanan, told him that someone with royal blood, Ishmael, was being sent by the king of the Ammonites to kill him.  Gedaliah didn’t believe him, and subsequently was murdered, along with the Jews and Babylonian officials who were with him. Ishmael took all the rest of the people in Mizpah captive.

It was up to Johanan to be the hero and rescue the captives.  He gathered an army and fought Ishmael’s group, aided by the captives.  Perhaps the captives could have rebelled before, but the presence of the army officers gave them courage and a rallying point.  They defeated Ishmael, who escaped with 8 of his men.

Then Johanan and the army officers approached Jeremiah and asked him to inquire of God what they should do.  They made a strong statement, “May the LORD be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the LORD your God sends you to tell us.  Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the LORD our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the LORD our God.”

But the people did not live up to their promise.  Jeremiah warned them to not go down to Egypt.  Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you now fear. Do not be afraid of him, declares the LORD, for I am with you and will save you and deliver you from his hands. I will show you compassion so that he will have compassion on you and restore you to your land.  However, if you say, ‘We will not stay in this land,’ and so disobey the LORD your God…then the sword you fear will overtake you there, and the famine you dread will follow you into Egypt, and there you will die.  Johanan and the other officers were arrogant and told Jeremiah he was lying.  They led the remnant of Judah down to Egypt in spite of what they said about obeying the word from the Lord.

It is so easy to be fearful.  It is so tempting to find our own solutions to our problems.  Johanan was a good leader.  He warned Gedaliah.  He rescued the captive people.  But then he followed common sense wisdom —  that fleeing to Egypt would be safer than staying and trusting in the Lord.  All of their lives were in shambles.  Jerusalem had been sacked.  Their people had been carried away.  The surrounding kingdoms plotted against them.  It certainly seemed expedient to move somewhere else.

Contrast this with Habakkuk’s approach, “I have heard, so there’s trembling within me….a rotten feeling has entered me. … I wait for the day of trouble to come to the people who will attack us. Even if the fig tree does not bloom and the vines have no grapes, even if the olive tree fails to produce and the fields yield no food, even if the sheep pen is empty and the stalls have no cattle- even then, I will be happy with the LORD. I will truly find joy in God, who saves me.”  (Hab 3:16-18)

Habakkuk knew he would face the same situation that Johanan and the remnant faced.  He knew that they would be sacked and carried into captivity.  He knew the future was grim, therefore there was trembling within him.  Yet he wrote a beautiful song honoring God for the way He rescued the Israelites from Egypt.  That remembrance helped him to have faith that God would continue to take care of them.  He could be joyful, even if the deliverance was years and years down the road.

Doing the right thing and trusting God, as opposed to implementing a common sense solution, is one of the toughest things to do.  It is hard when you jeopardize your finances by arranging your work so that you will have time to attend church services.  It is hard when you jeopardize the relationship most dear to you because you know something about is not pleasing to God.  It is hard when you are deeply unhappy in your current situation, and God seems to be silent.  It is hard when your children are having problems and the things you are doing aren’t having an effect.

And so we find our own solutions, and we rationalize the compromises we make.   We tell ourselves that we’re just doing what needs to be done to survive.  We’re just trying to be happy.  We’re just trying to provide for our families.

When I wrote a musical about the book of Ruth, I felt like Naomi’s situation could be due to rationalizations.  She moved away from Jerusalem to find food.  She allowed her sons to marry foreigners.  The following is part of a song I wrote for her to sing:

I didn’t mean to compromise

There seemed no other way

We needed to be practical

The situation was grave

Every cloud seemed to be dry

Every hope seemed to dismay

I was lost before I realized

That I had gone astray.

At this point in writing this blog, I took a break and went for a run.  As I was doing my “slog” (slow jog), I was thinking I would end this article with the concept I’ve been planning to highlight in last scene of the musical I’m writing about the story of Jericho — that it takes a little bit of faith and a lot of holding on.  They had to march around Jericho for 7 days.  They had to be patient and keep their integrity.

But as I spent some time with God on the run, I was inspired to think that it is so much more than that.  I felt that as the Israelites marched around Jericho 7 times on the 7th day, they would use that time to focus on God, and how big He is, instead of the looking at how intimidating the walls were or how strong the Canaanite warriors were.

It’s all about what we focus on in the waiting room of God, when we don’t see God acting.  Johanan saw the lost battles and the threats.  He didn’t envision the awesomeness of God.  Habakkuk saw in his mind the mighty works God did in the past, and believed they would be repeated in the future.

Our battle is to fight the good fight, “holding on to faith and a good conscience.”  We can’t let the problems in front of us blind us to God.  We can’t rationalize.  We can’t compromise.  Instead, we put our hand in the hand of the Beloved Father and joyfully trust in the one who will save us.

 

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