The Patience of the Saints
Before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, there was much fear among the people of Judah. Jeremiah wrote:
“Thus saith the Lord, Behold, a people cometh from the north country, and a great nation shall be raised from the sides of the earth. They shall lay hold on bow and spear; they are cruel, and have no mercy; their voice roareth like the sea; and they ride upon horses, set in array as men for war against thee, O daughter of Zion. We have heard the fame thereof: our hands wax feeble: anguish hath taken hold of us, and pain, as of a woman in travail. Go not forth into the field, nor walk by the way; for the sword of the enemy and fear is on every side” ().
The people directed their eyes to Babylon, whose expansionist program was involving nation after nation. And it was evident that the days of Judah and of its capital city, Jerusalem, were numbered. But were the Jews able to identify their real enemies? No. Their greatest danger was in their midst. Nations, families, and individuals allow themselves to be destroyed by their internal enemies, their unsolved problems.
The prophecy of Jeremiah was finally fulfilled. The fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity were caused by:
Their refusal to repent at the call of the prophets.
Their loss of moral strength due to their apostasy, and their lack of interest in working for the conversion of those who lived all around them.
Their political alliances with idolatrous nations.
The prophet specified their guilt in these words:
“Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore they shall fall among them that fall: at the time that I visit them they shall be cast down, saith the Lord. Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein. Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken. Therefore hear, ye nations, and know, O congregation, what is among them. Hear, O earth: behold, I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened unto my words, nor to my law, but rejected it” (). The Babylonian captivity lasted seventy years (605–536 b.c.).
Several hundred years later, again, there was much fear among the Jewish people prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies (a.d. 70). At that time the religious authorities hired false prophets to calm down the inhabitants of the city through a “peace and safety” message. Many held fast to the presumptuous belief that the Lord would protect Jerusalem through a miracle. Among others, however, there was growing fear.
“Signs and wonders appeared, foreboding disaster and doom. In the midst of the night an unnatural light shone over the temple and the altar. Upon the clouds at sunset were pictured chariots and men of war gathering for battle. The priests ministering by night in the sanctuary were terrified by mysterious sounds; the earth trembled, and a multitude of voices were heard crying: ‘Let us depart hence.’ The great eastern gate, which was so heavy that it could hardly be shut by a score of men, and which was secured by immense bars of iron fastened deep in the pavement of solid stone, opened at midnight, without visible agency. . . .
“For seven years, a man continued to go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, declaring the woes that were to come upon the city. . . . This strange being was imprisoned and scourged, but no complaint escaped his lips. To insult and abuse he answered only, ‘Woe, woe to Jerusalem!’ ‘woe, woe to the inhabitants thereof!’ His warning cry ceased not until he was slain in the siege he had foretold.”1
The Jews feared and hated the Romans, but their most dangerous enemy was in their own hearts, in their minds, in their attitudes, in their actions. They had chosen to serve the devil, who became their father (), and, of course, they could not hide the evidence of their wrong choice.
“Men did not reason; they were beyond reason—controlled by impulse and blind rage. They became satanic in their cruelty. . . . Satan was at the head of the nation.”2
If the trunk of a tree is worm-eaten, a strong wind will easily cause it to collapse. So, while the Jews feared the external enemy (the Romans), there were those who feared the internal enemy (their moral and spiritual decadence) as the main cause of the expected calamity. With reference to the “holy city,” which could be compared to a stem full of wormholes, Jesus prophesied its destruction (which took place in the year a.d. 70).
“When [Jesus] was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation” ().
History teaches that it is wise to learn lessons from the past. In our days, also, there is growing fear among the nations. “Men’s hearts [are] failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth” (). Men of intellect say that the future of the world seems uncertain. Some admit that it looks ominous. Many doomsaying books are calling our attention to a number of events that trend toward a global disaster.
Population growth, dwindling farmlands, soil depletion, changing weather patterns, environmental disasters, energy shortage, economic crises, and the threat of nuclear wars are haunting the intellectual classes with terrible nightmares.
“Rulers and statesmen, men who occupy positions of trust and authority . . . are watching the relations that exist among the nations. They . . . recognize that something great and decisive is about to take place—that the world is on the verge of a stupendous crisis.”3
“Fear, and the pit, and the snare, are upon thee, O inhabitant of the earth. And it shall come to pass, that he who fleeth from the noise of the fear shall fall into the pit; and he that cometh up out of the midst of the pit shall be taken in the snare: for the windows from on high are open, and the foundations of the earth do shake. The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly. The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; and it shall fall, and not rise again. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth” ().
According to a Bible commentator, in ancient Israel, “fear” was a device set up to scare away birds and animals that would destroy crops. It was a stick with many cords with feathers of all colors attached to them. When they fluttered in the air, they would scare beasts into the pitfall and birds into the snare. Whether in the days of old or in our days, the symbolic application should be understood.
Today the “fear” caused by the fluttering cords of motley feathers could be compared to the problems of the growing worldwide crisis. And as the leading men and women of the day seek solutions without being able to come to an understanding, they make it worse for the suffering human race. Millions of people are perishing as a result of wars, terrorism, genocides, diseases, and famine. The leaders of the nations seem to stand helpless before a serious crisis which is growing day by day.
Politicians cannot stop the crises. Religious leaders and philosophers cannot either. The men and women of science are unable to prevent it. And people ask: Where is God? Why doesn’t He help us out of this difficult situation? Listen to His answer:
“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness. None calleth for justice, nor any pleadeth for truth: they trust in vanity, and speak lies; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity” ().
As it happened in the past, so it is today. People cannot identify their real enemies. The great majority are blind to the fact that their greatest danger is in the way they think and act. “The whole world lieth in wickedness” (). Satan has become “the prince of this world” ( ) because men have “voted” for him. So they have to take the consequences of their choice.
In referring to the climax of the growing international crisis, the apostle Paul addresses this last generation of Christians, saying:
“But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you [by surprise] as a thief.” “For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape” (). “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries” ( ).
That will be a fearful time when “the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity” (). When the door of mercy is closed ( ; ; ; ), those who are without God and without hope will not have a second chance.
“Satan will then plunge the inhabitants of the earth into one great, final trouble. As the angels of God cease to hold in check the fierce winds of human passion, all the elements of strife will be let loose. The whole world will be involved in ruin more terrible than that which came upon Jerusalem of old.”4
“Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; prepare war. . . . Beat your plowshares into swords. . . . Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen.
. . . Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the Lord is near. . . . The Lord also shall roar out of Zion . . . ; the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the Lord will be the hope of his people” (emphasis added).
While men are fainting with fear (), there will be a little remnant who will not fear. In one of his prophetic psalms, king David placed himself among them, saying: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea” ( ).
Fear is the result of disobedience to God (; ; ), while absence of fear comes through reconciliation with God ( ; ; ). If we have the assurance of sins forgiven ( ), we will not be afraid, because we will be under God’s protection in the day of trouble.
“For, behold, the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain.” Therefore, He invites us: “Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast” ().
“What are the chambers in which [His people] are to hide?—They are the protection of Christ and holy angels. . . . Everyone must stand the test for himself.”5
At the coming of Christ there will be only two classes of people on this earth—those who, for lack of protection, will be fainting with fear (–17), and those who will have the promised protection and will therefore be singing with joy ( ).
Today, while the door of opportunity is still open, every human being is deciding his or her destiny.
“To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts” ().