During those 70 years, there was a change of heart among many of the Jews in that a sizable number of them did not have that burning desire to return to their homeland, preferring instead to stay put in Persia. An entire generation was born in Babylon/Persia during the captivity. It’s likely that the Jewish homeland that was so cherished by their fathers didn’t seem like home to younger generations of Jews.
Sometime during those 70 years, the land which had been known as the southern kingdom of Judah was once again identified as Israel. This fact is firmly established in the book of Ezra in which Israel is referred to by name no less than 36 times.
The exile accomplished God’s main purpose. Never again have the Jewish people practiced idolatry, not even to this day. That’s not to say they haven’t neglected the practice of their faith, and this was especially true then. During their 70 years in exile, the majority of the Jews had little knowledge of their own religion. Those who were faithful, like Daniel and his three friends, had learned the basic tenets of their faith before they were taken into captivity. When the Jews who wanted to return to Israel began returning to their homeland, their religion basically had to be restored from scratch. This restoration is recorded in the book of Ezra.
Think also of Jerusalem itself and how it must have changed during those 70 years. Without its walls and gates, the city of Jerusalem was defenseless. It had probably been plundered and pillaged countless times by foreign raiders who harassed the residents of the city at will. This was what led to Nehemiah’s sadness in the presence of the Persian king Artaxerxes years after Ezra’s reforms. Those 70 years had not been kind to Jerusalem.
So in 70 years, there had been a major change in the balance of political power. There had been a change of attitude among some of the Jews which prompted many of them to stay put in Persia instead of returning to Israel, the land of their fathers. Their knowledge of their religion had suffered. And the city of Jerusalem itself had nearly become uninhabitable.
Now let’s fast forward to our own time and our own nation. 70 years ago, the year was 1946. The world had just emerged from the Second World War and much of Europe and Japan were still in ruins. The rebuilding process was just barely underway. Many of our soldiers were still deployed overseas with the occupation forces.
About 20% of rural Americans still did not have electricity. The main means of communication was the telephone, that is, unless you lived in a rural area. If that was the case, you may or may not have had a telephone and if you did, you shared your line with your neighbors on something called a party line. The first working computer would be built a few years later, and it would be about the size of a railroad boxcar.
In 1946, no one had heard of an interstate highway. We still traveled on two lane roads. But at least no one had to get out of their cars to pump their own gas.
In 1946, there was no such thing as McDonald’s, Wendy’s, or Burger King, but there were roadside diners that served burgers that were probably just as good for you!
In 1946, if you wanted to travel cross country and didn’t feel like driving, you most likely took a passenger train. Air travel was sparse and was mostly reserved for the elite.
In 1946, every school day started with the teacher leading the class in prayer. Time was set aside for Bible reading.
In 1946, the divorce rate was a fraction of what it is today. The majority of children were raised in two parent homes. The most dreaded and feared words in any home were, “Wait till your father gets home!”
In 1946, churches were full. In most homes, church was not an option. You went. You went to Sunday school and then to the service afterwards. And you went again on Sunday evening, and in the middle of the week on Wednesday night. When a person openly proclaimed his or her Christian faith in 1946, they did not get funny looks from the people around them. The other people in the room did not start looking down at the floor or shifting their feet in an uncomfortable manner. There were non-believing people in 1946 to be sure, but they seldom mocked, confronted, or cussed you because of your Christian faith. Speaking of cussing, only the most “vulgar” people from the wrong side of the tracks used the sort of language that is all too commonplace today.
In case you think I’m trying to make the case that we lived in a Utopian paradise back then, let me assure that I’m not. We had our share of social problems back then just as we do today. Jim Crow laws and segregation were the norm. No one talked about domestic violence. In fact, that term didn’t exist in 1946. If a couple was heard arguing by neighbors and things got out of hand to the point that the police were called, the official policy was to not get involved in family matters. Sometimes, an abusive husband would get a “visit” from his wife’s brothers and/or her father, and they would straighten him out. My late father-in-law told me a story one time of how he and a group of his co-workers paid a “visit” to another of their co-workers who was the husband of a woman who had shown up at the grocery store and at church a few times with a black eye. But more often than not, no one came to the aid of a wife who was being abused by her husband. It was often kept hidden.
So yes, we had problems back then. But while we have made progress in some areas, we’ve slipped badly in others. Lou Holtz, the former Arkansas and Notre Dame football coach once shared this observation during an interview toward the end of his stint at Notre Dame: Holtz said, “In the 1990s, everyone wants to talk about their rights and privileges. Twenty five years ago, people talked about their duties and responsibilities.”
What Holtz observed was a shift in focus. And I believe he accurately zeroed in on what has happened in America, and to America, in just 70 short years. Anytime the topic of conversation is centered on duty and responsibility, the focus will almost always be on the needs of others, not on ourselves. And when we as Christians talk about duty and responsibility, it goes without saying that we are talking about our duties and responsibilities to God and to the people of God. But when a person begins to say things like “my rights” and “my privileges”, the focus becomes self centered, and this is true even for Christians. When people begin to focus more on self, they just automatically turn their attention away from God.
In the last 70 years, focus on self, me, and mine is probably the leading contributor to the moral decay of America. A self focused person will be a proud person, almost without exception. If you take a close look at famous people who have been caught in a scandal, been through highly publicized divorces, or who otherwise got caught doing something that brought about their downfall, pride is almost always the root cause. Pride is what drives a person to say to him or herself, “I will live however I want. I will do as I please. No one will tell me how to live, or what to do”. And it’s that attitude that leads people to a multitude of sins.
So what will the next 70 years bring? I’m no prophet, but if Biblical history teaches us anything, there’s a better than even chance that America could go the way of ancient Babylon. God will not put up with the moral decay in this country forever. The only reason America or any nation exists is because God allows it. What God raised up, God can bring down. But Biblical history also teaches us that America can change course and turn away from the path it’s on. Jonah spoke one single sentence of prophecy to the people of Nineveh, and they repented. And when they repented, God spared them. Eventually, Nineveh was destroyed, but not in Jonah’s time. It was some 150 years after Jonah preached against that city that God finally did destroy Nineveh after they again fell into immorality. But because they had repented after Jonah delivered God’s message, God’s judgement was delayed for a time. That needs to be our lesson in America.
In the 7th chapter of 2 Chronicles, the Bible says, “…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wickedness, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin, and heal their land.” America needs that healing. The nations of the world need that healing. But as far as America is concerned, we may or may not have another 70 years if Jesus still has not returned by that time. God’s judgment against our nation might come long before He sends His son to gather his church out of the world. It can be argued that our nation is under judgment right now. If that’s the case, well, we know how quickly things can change in 70 years. Time might be running out.