Sometimes the stories in the Bible become so familiar to us that it’s easy to forget the details.
For example, in the story of Jonah, we remember Jonah running away and God using a storm and being swallowed by a fish to convince Jonah that he has to go to Nineveh. But then we forget that Jonah sits outside the city waiting for it to be destroyed, and when it isn’t, he gets angry with God that He had compassion! (We also forget that Nineveh is later destroyed, but that’s a different story.)
We forget that after Elijah defeats the prophets of Baal in rather epic fashion, he goes and hides in a cave because he is afraid of Jezebel. We forget that King David is kind of a bad father. We forget that Peter has to be confronted by Paul. It’s easy to forget these things because we get caught up in the fun stories, the stories of triumph or intrigue. We think the Bible is made up of heroes that we should emulate, when actually we are Ninevites in need of a compassionate God. We have received compassion in great abundance!
There’s another story we probably know really well with a detail — less dramatic than the ones above — that we often forget. In the book of Daniel, God has allowed Nebuchadnezzar to carry the Israelites off to exile in Babylon. In exile, certain young men have been taken into the service of the king where they have been stripped of their identity. Their names are taken away, they’re made to learn the gods and the history of Babylon, and yet they hold to the true God. In many ways, Daniel 1–4 is the story of God revealing Himself to Nebuchadnezzar through the actions of these young men in exile.
The detail we’re looking for is in Chapter 3. Nebuchadnezzar makes a huge golden image and commands everyone to bow down and worship it when the music was played. Then the story we know says three Israelites in the service of the king — Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego — didn’t bow down, and they were thrown into a blazing furnace where God rescued them.
But we often skip over the detail that Nebuchadnezzar had to be told that they didn’t bow down. He listens to the voices of some people who come forward to maliciously accuse the Jews. He knew Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. He had put them in their position. They had helped Daniel interpret his dream, and he had found them “in every matter of wisdom and understanding … ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom” (Daniel 1:20).
Yet, when these voices came along, Nebuchadnezzar believed them. Isn’t that just like us? Even though we know the character of someone or the truth of a matter, when we hear the voices that we have long listened to, we believe them.
Sometimes the voices we listen to become so familiar to us that it’s easy to forget why we listen to them.
Today this is especially true. Fifty years ago, there were three main news stations, the local newspaper and the people in your community. One hundred years ago, there were just the newspaper and the people in your community. Five hundred years ago, there were just the people in your community. When the Israelites were in exile, the king listened to people because they told him he was great! They praised him and told him what he wanted to hear. In the age of social media and the internet, we have in a lot of ways, reverted to being kings of Babylon. Algorithms track what we like and what we’re more likely to click on to the point where we only see things that make us feel good or affirm our worldview.
We have opinions on national leaders, international policies, climate change and the economy! Each of us reads that sentence, and a different emotion is evoked, but we still have voices we listen to about these things. Fox News, CNN, NPR, Facebook, Twitter and dozens more, all significantly impact our views on these topics, but we have stopped asking why we listen to them. Why is our world so intent on filling up the space in our lives with entertainment, entertainment news, and stories about dogs that can skateboard?
Sometimes the world becomes so familiar to us that it’s easy to forget that we are in exile.
We are in exile in a world that wants to do everything it can to drown out the voice of God. Our lives are so filled up with noise that we forget who we are supposed to listen to! We filter the voice of God, the goodness of God and the love of God through all of the voices we hear, the news stories we read, and the brokenness of the world. We have it backward! We should be filtering the voices of this world and even the pain and sadness of this world, through the truth, goodness and love and hope and sacrifice of God. That is where we need to begin.
Sometimes we need reminding that the Word of God is powerful to change lives.
Sometimes we need reminding that though the voices tell us we are the center of the world, we need to center ourselves on Christ.
Sometimes we need reminding that we carry the faith, hope and love of God into exile with us.
Sometimes we need reminding.
Mark Crawford is a pastor in Tucson, Arizona. He previously served as Light + Life’s staff writer and content strategist.3