Ichabod! The Day Glory Left Israel
Zion: The Splendid City of Rubble
There’s a certain gloom when prosperous cities experience mass-migrations, and only a few souls remain in dilapidated structures of once-industrious man. There’s a grief felt more keenly when bright futures are wasted. When Disney’s “happily ever after” could have been and was willed to be but was pointlessly squandered, a sadness of a keener sort is felt. Miranda hates when movies end sadly; I often prefer them—not because I like sad endings but because sad endings are usually the quality of a true story. I like true stories because I learn from them.
Yahweh, the Mighty God of the universe chose a people and a city for his name. The people descended from Abraham, and the city was Zion—Jerusalem. No venture could have been more secure, for God said, “You shall inherit [the] land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples.”
To the Jews, the land of Canaan was their heritage; it was their namesake; it was their haven. Zion signified the essence of the holy land, the capital city in whose presence was God.
In Psalm 132:13-16, it says, “For the Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling place: ‘This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it. I will abundantly bless her provisions; I will satisfy her poor with bread. Her priests I will clothe with salvation, and her saints will shout for joy.’”
In Psalm 147:12-14, it says, “Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion! For he has strengthened the bars of your gates; He has blessed your sons within you. He makes peace in your borders; He satisfies you with the finest wheat.”
Hear another Psalmist speak of Zion, the holy city of God: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God. The holy dwelling places of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns” (Psalm 46:4-5).
And another: “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised in the city of our God! His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King. Within her citadels God has made himself known as a fortress” (Psalm 48:1-3).
And another: “Those who trust in the Lord are as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people from this time forth and forever” (Psalm 125:1-2).
Among the people of God, there was a steady flowing river of exuberance, of delight, as they considered the city whose God is Yahweh, whose fortress is His very name, whose prosperity is his word to make bread appear from thin air. Zion! The Psalms, the songs of Israel, are filled with praises and glad tidings built on Zionic themes.
God’s temple stood in the midst of Zion. His presence was there. Jerusalem was the place to approach the Creator of all matter. Every year for Passover, hundreds of thousands of men and women flocked from all over the ancient world to bring to God sacrifices in festal remembrance of their divine origin; for once they were not a nation but a nameless people, working slavishly to build a fleeting empire for Pharaoh. Through a miraculous set of events, however, God made slaves into citizens; he made farmers into priests; he made rejects chosen. And through a painful wilderness baptism, the people learned holiness and were led into the promised land.
Fast-forward 1500 years, and for the first time in history, God isn’t merely a pillar of smoke billowing from the tabernacle; he isn’t merely a thunderstorm on a mountain; he isn’t merely a distant deity represented by an angel; he isn’t merely a God with a man for his mouthpiece; he isn’t a merely a voice in a dream; he isn’t merely a vision; he is a man like you and me.
Never had the God of the universe been more tangible than when Mary birthed him on earth. Perhaps Israel’s persistent rebellion for those 1500 years was due to their not really understanding God. I mean, all they knew of him was secondhand. It was imperfect men relaying the word of a God they’d never seen. Some lack of faith in such an instance is pardonable, right? Perhaps the majority were rebellious against words of prophets because the prophets themselves were merely human and therefore had human tendencies to be dismissed.
To know for certain, God sent his exact likeness, his son, Jesus. And what did the people do when, for the first time ever, they saw the comprehensive totality of God’s likeness and nature? When he was no longer a distant figure none had seen, and the people could look upon God face-to-face, what did they think? They said, “He has a demon, and is insane” (John 10:20); they said he was the prince of demons (Matthew 10:25); they called him a blasphemer; they said, “He deserves death” (Matthew 26:66); they said, “Let him be crucified!” (Matthew 27:23).
They didn’t rebel for a lack of knowledge; they rebelled because they hated God. In their deepest parts, they hated God. They took God in the flesh outside the gates of the city bearing his name and pinned him through with nails on a tree, knowing such was a sign of being cursed by God (Deuteronomy 21:23).
So Jesus, for a final moment of grief, beheld the illustrious city of God and said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matthew 23:37-39).
The Psalmists sang joyously of Zion, the immovable city, the city whose very fortress was God. But what would happen if God was forcibly (please understand my rhetoric) removed from its walls and murdered outside the city by its occupants? As Jesus said, her house would be left desolate. In verse 39, Jesus explains in what way she was left desolate, “For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Now, keep in mind, the original Greek suggests a great improbability of this happening. It’s more like, “You’ll never see me again UNLESS you were to bless my arrival.”
So what did Jesus mean when he said to God’s people, “You will not see me again?” He meant, you will not see God again. Terrible. And what might happen to a people if they were totally bereft of God? The text goes on, “Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, ‘You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down’” (24:1-2).
Jesus, in AD 33, looked forward 37 years to an event that would forever haunt the nation of Israel. Under the leadership of Titus, hoards of Roman soldiers surrounded Jerusalem and entered its gates to slay everyone. In this massacre, 1,300,000 Jewish men, women, and children were slaughtered.
Men, women, and children were hulled up in the temple, hiding from the invaders. But history records such a slaughter in the temple that blood flowed like a river down from its steps. The people were helplessly shouting, “Ichabod!” a Hebrew word, meaning, “The glory has departed!” Ichabod! What an awful, horrible image.
And yet, when Christ humbly entered the city on a donkey to show his plans for peace, for prosperity, and not to bring harm, the crowds quickly turned against him and demanded his death. The horrible events of AD 70 are no more than the product of telling God, “We don’t want you here anymore.”
Never forget, if God leaves, so does provision! If God leaves, so does counsel! If God leaves, so does protection! If God leaves, so does life! What transpired in AD 70 is the most salient event in the history of the world to showcase the darkness to follow after a total and utter rejection of God.
Now, let’s draw three applications from the text…
Rejecting God Means Rejecting His Message
Did Israel ever say to God, “God, we don’t want you here anymore?” No. So in what way did they reject him? “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!”
A prophet was a mouthpiece for God. Those sent to Jerusalem came with a message from God. Israel told God they didn’t want him in their borders when they outright rejected his message.
The world is, right now, rejecting the message of God in many ways. Once-Christian assemblies are making their message agreeable to godless pagans. The hard teachings of Scripture which threaten the feminist agenda are rejected. The pure teachings on Biblical sexuality which threaten the sexual revolution are rejected. The hard sayings concerning marriage are rejected. And in hearts of men and women in every church, every week, messages from God’s holy word are rejected.
What will happen to our existence if we say to God, “I don’t want you here anymore,” or “I don’t like that message?” Ichabod! The glory will depart. And our bodies will no longer have the promise of immortality and resurrection. We will begin the slow decay to our eternal demise.
God is Patient, Not Wishing for Any to Perish
Even when his people were “unwilling” to flock to his protection, he gave them countless chances. The history of Israel is a history of rebellion. It is no coincidence that God, prior to their development, named their father, Jacob, Israel. Israel means, “wrestles with God.” Israel, from her birth to her demise, wrestled with God. And God pursued her for 1500 years, never ceasing to send a new prophet.
And even in Matthew 24, when Jesus promised his disciples what would happen to Jerusalem, he gave 37 years to repent. The invasion didn’t happen until AD 70. Again, this is the forbearance of God. He is patient, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:8-10).
The book of Acts outlines the history of the church for the many years before Jerusalem was destroyed; and therefore, even after the crucifixion of Jesus and the promise of future destruction, God was showcasing his patience again. He sent to Israel—before any other nation—the apostles and prophets, all of whom preached the saving gospel of Jesus to the very people who killed and rejected the Christ.
God is Grieved by His Own Hand of Judgment
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”
Can you hear the sorrow in his voice? Do you sense the lament? In Luke’s gospel, it says Jesus wept for the city.
God saves; God heals; God forgives; God creates; God defends; God prospers; God sustains; but the one thing our God never does is forcibly make his home among a people who reject him. He stands, ready to receive any and all, but he never forces allegiance or obedience. So Jesus says, “I wanted to gather you, but you were not willing!” As a matter of fact, when the people crucified Jesus, they said, “His blood be on us and our children!” They cursed themselves by rejecting God.
There is nothing good in the absence of God—nothing. Therefore, when somebody pushes God out of their home, they forfeit his protection, provision, and power. And when this happens, they are laid bare, and God is greatly grieved.
Despite God’s long-suffering and eternal will for Zion’s blessedness, the story for the Jews did not end happily. I am so bold as to say what happened in AD 70 is the most tragic event in world history.
As Jesus looked forward to that day in prophecy, he said, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.”
So as we learn lessons from real stories with sad endings, learn this one. If any sad ending makes an impression on you, let it be this one; because, your story hasn’t ended yet, has it? I’ll close with a hopeful word from Peter:
“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame’” (1 Peter 2:1-6).
© Finding Canaan. All rights reserved. "Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another" -- Jeremiah 23:30
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