October 8, 2007

No Playing in the Street!

‘Don’t ride your bike in the street.’ Those words of my mother still ring in my ears today. It was just too dangerous to leave me out there unsupervised. I didn’t like the rule. I wish I would have known Zechariah 8.5 back then: “The streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in the streets.” Actually, maybe I don’t wish that! I don’t think my interpretation of it would have been all that great. Plus, I probably would have been in real danger of getting run over, just like mom said. And, more importantly, I might not ever have played in the street again if I’d have whipped out that verse in my usual smart-aleck tone!

So, if it’s not a zinger to pull out on your mother, what is Zechariah 8.5 about? Well, the book of Zechariah was written during a time of disarray in ancient Israel. Yes, the people had returned home from seventy years of exile in Babylon. But Jerusalem was still in ruins. The ancient walls were just a smattering of blocks and stones laying around the edge of town, looking more like a garden-edging than a fortification. Furthermore, the Temple had yet to be rebuilt. So sacrificial worship, the people’s daily reminder of their need for a Savior, had yet to be appropriately reinstituted. These were the big, obvious craters in the Jewish landscape.

There were other things missing, too. There weren’t many old people (8.4). Most of them must have died in exile or been physically incapable of making the return trip. Neither was there the familiar and healthy sound of playing children. The streets were just too dangerous for children. With the protective city walls down, the streets of Jerusalem were fair game for wild animals and for foreign agitators. More significantly, perhaps, the spiritual walls had been broken down. The people had left the Temple languishing—a sign of their spiritual apathy. They weren’t all that interested in getting the gospel message that the Temple and its sacrifices would have daily afforded them. And when a culture’s spiritual walls are broken, the streets are no place for children. Kidnappers, pedophiles, and uncaring travelers all posed a threat to playing children. So mother’s had to keep them close by their sides, not letting them play freely for fear of what might happen to them. Sound familiar?

Can anyone debate that modern American cities are much like ancient Israel? What responsible city mom feels comfortable turning her little ones into the front yard to play unobserved? Tobey and I sure don’t. Our rules are stricter than my parents' were! That is the one thing we lament about living in the city—we will likely never be able to allow Andrew and Julia to play outside in the yard unsupervised—and this isn’t even a ‘dangerous neighborhood’! So what is the solution? Neighborhood Watch? A privacy fence? More police and less crime? All of those may be stop-gap measures. But I believe the real answer lies in Zechariah 8.3: “Thus says the LORD, ‘I will return to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem.” And then “The streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in the streets.” When we have a real spiritual awakening—when the LORD Jesus comes to Cincinnati—then all sorts of things will change, first of all lives! And what will be a happy (albeit minor) sign that lives are changing? The sound of “boys and girls playing in the streets!”

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