When A Nation Sins
Structural sin. Ever heard the term? It could also be called cultural, social, or national sin. A good biblical example relates to the captivity of Judah by the Babylonians, which God declared would be a seventy-year captivity because of national sin for seventy years (2 Chronicles 36:21). Judah as a nation had ignored and forgotten the laws of Moses, and because they did not give the land its necessary Sabbath rest for seventy years, God made sure that the land would get it—by sending the Jews away from the land so that it could recover. Jeremiah had warned them that this would indeed happen, but they did not heed the prophet’s warning. One of the captives in Babylon, Daniel, eventually went back to the Word and discovered the reason for the captivity; and he confessed for the nation. Not long afterward, King Cyrus followed the leading of the Holy Spirit and allowed the children of Judah to return. [Wikipedia photo: "This is a depiction of the biblical character, Emperor Cyrus the Great of Persia, who permitted the Hebrews to return to the Holy Land and rebuild God's Temple."]
This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the LORD, “and will make it desolate forever” (Jeremiah 25:11-12). This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. (Jeremiah 29:10)
In the first year of Darius son of Ahasuerus (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom—in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. (Daniel 9:1-6).
In this age of grace, God typically does not deal with us as directly. Further, no one nation now represents the “chosen people.” Instead, his children are all over the world where as the Body of Christ they are to be “salt and light” to the nations—preserving and enlightening them with the truth about the one true God (Israel’s initial responsibility). But just as the Jews were influenced by the idol-worshiping nations around them, we individual followers of Jesus can come under the influence of sinful and idol-worshiping people around us. [Photo: Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford]
An idol, remember, does not have to be an actual false deity like Baal or Moloch. It can be anything we worship as a substitute for God. A helpful definition of idolatry is this: “Finding our security, our safety, our meaning in something or someone other than God.” Know any good candidates for idols in our day? I do. I don’t have to look beyond myself. How about my 401k savings? Money and time spent on trivialities? Carelessness about the way I live and what impact it might have on God’s good earth? Materialism in general, which has been built on the structural sin of covetousness, gluttony, and greed? Jesus told us that we can’t serve both wealth and God. One or the other of the two will be our master. [See Bob Goudzward material re: "Idols of Our Time" and "Beyond Poverty and Affluence"]
Consider spending a few minutes in the next few days to think about the way you and I live and what social, political, cultural, and economic systems tend to run our lives. Think about that old list of “seven deadly sins”: anger, greed, laziness, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. How many of these are built into the structures of our society, our economy? Because they are “just the way we do business and live our lives in the modern world,” we tend to excuse them because “everybody lives that way.” God will probably not send us into literal captivity for our wholesale ignoring of His commands; but we might well find ourselves in captivities of several different sorts. In fact, God may just let us reap what we have sown.
We might seriously consider repeating Daniel’s confession:
“O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.”
1 John 3:1a, "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!"
1 John 4:10, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."