MOURNING FOR THE NATION
Isaiah the prophet of the Lord was sent to encourage the people of Judah, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry out to her that her warfare is ended, that he iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isa. 40:1-2). Mourning precedes comforting; hence, Isaiah had to pass on this message, “Stop bringing, meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations – I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice and encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow” (Isa. 1:13-17).
Isaiah’s message was tailor made for our age. Mourning can awaken a nation from indifference, procrastination and stupor. A nation that has strayed from God and His laws has an immense reason to mourn. Without God and His laws, a nation is like a ship without a rudder that cannot be steered. It was what Jesus tried to tell the women that mourned for him, while he was led to the cross by the Roman soldiers: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, weep for yourselves and for your children. For, behold the days are coming when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nourished.’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains: ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills: ‘Cover us'” (Lk. 23:28-30). A week earlier he had wept over Jerusalem and mourned, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to thee ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (Lk. 19:41-44). The Jewish leaders did not mourn over their rapidly deteriorating relationship with Rome and the nation was disbanded.
Biblical history is very definite on mourning as a corrective discipline. Wearing sackcloth and sitting in ashes or spraying ashes on heads symbolized mourning. It expressed guilt and remorse. Kings that humbled themselves before God, and their own people, were remembered as having pleased God. King Saul was made king against God’s will (I Sam. 12:17) and shortly after he became king and disobeyed God, Samuel was sent to inform him: “You have done foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which he had commanded you; for now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel for ever. But now your kingdom shall not continue; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart; and the Lord has appointed him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you” (I Sam. 13:13-14). Hereinafter, every king was measured by the way David obeyed God and his laws; except the one on adultery that would end in losing ten tribes to Jeroboam, after his son “Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done” (I Ki. 11:1-13).
All the kings of Israel from Jeroboam the first to Hoshea the last did what was evil in the eyes of the lord and did not mourn over their wrong doing; even Jehu who removed briefly all the evil gods and sacrifices did not part with Jeroboam’s calves. The historian concluded, “The Lord warned Israel and Judah through all his prophets and seers: ‘Turn from your evil ways. Observe my commandments and decrees, in accordance with the entire law that I commanded your fathers to obey and that I delivered to you through my servants the prophets’” (II Ki. 17:13). At that time, Shalmaneser king of Assyria removed the Israelites from their land, ended their kingdom and resettled the land with people of his choice. Tiglath-Pileser, his predecessor, had an agreement with Ahaz for Judah’s gold and silver from the temple and the royal treasury, to be protected from Aram headquartered in Damascus (II Ki. 16). Ten years after Israel was taken into exile, the next king of Assyria, Sennacherib, captured all the fortified cities of Judah, except Jerusalem. Hezekiah apologized to the Assyrian king and paid whatever silver and gold he could find by stripping the temple and his palace (II Ki. 18:1-16). However, he removed the Assyrian gods, altar and sacrifice Ahaz ihis father had installed in the temple and angered the Assyrian king. Hezekiah was a true believer in the God of his fathers and in the Law of Moses. His reform was more thorough than any king before him and after him. “He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had burned incense to it” (II Ki. 18:4).
Sennacherib sent his commander and army to take Jerusalem and Zedekiah and his officials put on sackcloth and went to the temple to pray. They sent messenger to Isaiah the prophet and informed him of the mockery of the Assyrian commander, in a letter, insulted and blasphemed against God and Jerusalem. Isaiah comforted Hezekiah with assurance that Sennacherib himself will fall and not Jerusalem. An evil spirit would send him home, where the sword shall await him (II Ki. 19). Hezekiah became ill and Isaiah was sent to extend his life for fifteen years. He disclosed his fortune to false comforters from Babylon. Isaiah had the sad task to inform the king that the envoys were spies and Babylon would destroy Jerusalem. His son Manasseh restored all the pagan gods, idols and sacrifices. He sacrificed his own son in the fire. His son Amon continued to do evil (II Ki. 20-21). Amon’s son Josiah was eight years old when he was crowned king. He leaned on Hilkiah the high priest and did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. In his eighteenth year as king, the Law was found while the temple was being repaired. Josiah immediately tore his robe, wept and repented with the people and removed all the idols, including the calves of Jeroboam. He renewed the covenant with Yahweh and held the Passover. Josiah’s efforts could not make up for the sins all the other kings had committed. Pharaoh Neco of Egypt invaded Judah and Josiah was killed at Megiddo. The people chose Jehoahaz his son as their king, but he did not follow his father. He displeased Neco who put him in chains and took him to Egypt. Neco installed his brother Jehoiakim as king and he too did evil (II Ki. 22-23). He was the king that became a vassal to Babylon, rebelled and died before Nebuchadnezzar could exile him. His son Jehoiachin surrendered and was taken to Babylon with the elite people of Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar made his uncle Zedekiah king and he incited the Babylonians and they returned, destroyed the temple and Jerusalem, and took more exiles to Babylon. Gedaliah was set over those people that were left in the land of Judah (II Ki. 24-25). There was too much evil and not enough good in the two nations, except a remnant needed to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. Both Israel and Judah had blasphemed God and disobeyed his Laws. There simply were not enough people that mourned for their nation’s redemption.
Israel and Judah were and still are examples of what happens to a nation or a people that does not follow the God of all creation and his universal law. The Commandments are universal laws. Human laws are too partial and too expensive. The first commandment alone prohibits the elaboration and complication of God and religion or any system that is too costly and too difficult to sustain. The simple faith of Abraham, Moses turned into an elaborate and complicated religious observance, and Solomon enlarged and turned religion and the monarchy into economically unsustainable systems. Solomon took religion out of the heart and put it into materialism and wealth. God was identified with power and success instead with the human conscience and morality. The cost of the dedication of the temple alone was staggering (I Ki. 8:62-66). The maintenance of the king was even more staggering (I Sam. 8:10-18). By the time of Solomon, Samuel’s prediction had become real. “When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king (dictator or president) you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day” (I Sam. 8:18). Solomon’s kingdom crumbled when the people began to serve God with sacrifices instead of obeying his law.
Christianity was to be a kingdom that was not of this world, but became, for a time, the greatest power on earth under popes, reformers and kings. Today, their cathedrals and memorial monuments have become tourist attractions. In America, the Church has been separated from public life and confined to their places of worship or ghettos. Could it be that Jesus’ Spirit has rejoined small groups where two or three meet rather than with masses which praise him with their lips but do not obey his commands? Instead of mourning for their wayward ways, they twist and circumvent his commands as being impossible for man to keep and practice. What is there so difficult to under stand by what a human being should not do? God cannot be duplicated, idols are inanimate human products, both men and animals need a day to rest, parents need to be honored, murder, adultery, stealing, lying and coveting or robbing are wrong. These are impartial and just laws for saints and sinners, for rich and poor, and for all human beings. Jesus said that not an iota could be changed, if men or nation want to survive (Mt. 5:18). It is high time for serious mourning for the loss of God’s blueprint for pleasing God by returning to his laws. Could it be that God has moved his remnant elsewhere and we are left behind? It is a shuddering thought!