In teaching my class this week at Roxboro Christian Academy, I was struck by a pattern in the Old Testament. I was talking about the results of the Babylonian Captivity. This was the time the Lord sent His people into exile for 70 years because of their disobedience. They had worshiped idols, intermarried with Gentiles, and continued to go to the Temple in the midst of their in ward disobedience.
After their captivity, there were some changes in the lives of these Israelites. First, they would no longer worship idols. Second, they would follow the Law as closely as possible. Third, there was an emphasis on the coming Messiah. And fourth, they separated themselves from the Gentiles. All of these, except the last one, were good things in and of themselves. However, they pursued them with a diligence and fear that caused the pendulum to swing too far in the other direction.
The Israelites were so afraid of being forced out of the Promised Land, they took a long look at what brought God’s judgment and they decided to never go down that road again. They reacted with some good things. But so often we as people tend to react so firmly, that we miss the point. In the Bible, there was 400 years between the Old and New Testament. God didn’t speak to His people through a prophet for 400 years. In the days of Jesus, we see that the Israelites had moved far away from God. They followed the Law closely, too closely (read: Pharisees). They were careful not to mix with the Gentiles (read: look how they treated them at the Temples). They swore to never again worship idols (they had a problem with Jesus being the Son of God). And finally they were expecting the Messiah with such fervency that they missed Him when He came since He was not what they were expecting.
The Israelites returned from Babylon in a good way. They set themselves up to serve God more faithfully, yet they again fell into the routine of an external religion. That’s what got them in trouble the first time around. We are so much like them. We do good things as Christians. We go to church, read our Bibles, pray, give money, do nice things, etc. But often we are no better than the Israelites because we have done “good” things for so long that we now only do them because it is routine. Our hearts can often grow cold toward the Lord, even though we haven’t missed church in 10 years!
Jesus was clear in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) we can do many good things with the wrong motives and God is not impressed or moved by such empty practices. Let us not go from good to bad, but from good to better.