Israel and the Promised Land X

December 22, 2010

In retrospect, in my last post, I was a tad over the top on one point: I made a black-and-white distinction that was too drastic in regard to how some key figures in Israel during the Babylonian Exile responded to the wording about the way to restoration to the land in Leviticus 27 and in Deuteronomy 28-30.  Upon further review, in their great prayers in behalf of their people in regard to things having to do with the promised land, both Daniel and Nehemiah do, in fact, refer not just to the requirements of Levitcus 27.  There is also at least an acknowledgement in regard to wording in Deuteronomy 30.

What I am referring to here is the almost identical way in which each of the prayers begins.  In 539 BC, Daniel refers to the Lord as “the great and awe-inspiring God who keeps His gracious covenant with those who love Him and keep His commandments”  (9:4).  Almost a century later–about 445 BC, Nehemiah essentially echoes Daniel in these words: “the great and awe-inspiring God who keeps His gracious covenant with those who love Him and keep His commands” (1:5).

How do we account for the essentially word-for-word similarity here?  Well, one aspect of explanation is likely that Daniel’s prayer had brought about the response of the great “70 weeks” prophecy from the Lord, as well as the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.  Now, since Nehemiah was praying about the rebuilding of the walls of the city of Jerusalem, could he go wrong in praying the same thing?

However, there is a more foundational angle involved: what God required in regard to restoration to the promised land in Deuteronomy 30.  There, the need to love the Lord–no less than the “great Shema” of 6:5–in order to return from exile to the land is stated repeatedly, as is the idea of keeping His commands.

However, we must also pay attention to the fact that there is one very crucial related aspect of what must take in  going back to the land that Israel cannot do in and of itelf.  Only the Lord can do it: circumcie their hearts.  As 30:6 makes clear, it is only then that the pe0ple of Israel will truly be able to love the Lord with all their heart and soul.

From a wider theological persepctive, this is very important.  The circumcison of the heart will only come about with the New Covenant (Ezek. 36).  Presumably, since both Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36-37 were already given before Daniel 9 and Nehemiah 1, the reason Daniel and Nehemiah prayed the way they did is because that is as far as they could go spiritually.  In other words, if they could have appropriately said more to the Lord in behalf of their people and the land promise, they undoubtedly would have done so.

In the case of both Daniel and Nehemiah, it seems that the anxiety-producing possiblility that things might not go as expected drove them to prayer.  That, of course, is exactly what God’s child should always do in such circiumstances (Phil. 4:6-7).

For Daniel, the 70 years of exile predicted in Jeremiah 25 and 29 was almost over and there was no clear way back to the promised land.  Of course, shortly thereafter the Persian King Cyrus decreed that the Jews could return to Palestine and rebuild the temple, even contributing vast financial resources to that project (Ezra 1).

For Nehemiah, it appears that an attempt to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem had been destroyed, with the new gates having been burned (Neh. 1:3).  That prompted Nehemiah to pray that the rebuilding could be completed, even being willing to risk his life before King Artaxerxes to help that cause (ch. 2).

Suffice it to say that, after the exile, even though only a remnant of Israel returned, the land was a very big issue in the minds of those who did.  Even though the visions in Daniel 2 and 7 predict Israel living under a succession of Gentile empires, they would still be in the land.

More on how that is envisioned in Daniel in the next post…

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