Like them that dream
God promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan (Gen 12:7, Gen 13:14-17). The Lord also told him that his descendants would be afflicted in another nation four four hundred years, after which they would return to Canaan (Gen 15:13-16). That nation was Egypt and their departure is called the exodus (Ex 1-14). After Abraham’s descendants (the nation of Israel) left Egypt they were warned that they were to take heed not to copy the idolatry and sins of the nations God was going to remove from the land. If they did, they would eventually be led captive into other lands. If they repented there, God would have mercy and bring them back home (Lev 26, Deut 4, Deut 28). They repeatedly fell into sin and idolatry and eventually they were conquered and taken captive (Jud 1-2, 2Ki 17, 2Ki 25). Jeremiah prophesied that the captivity of Judah would last seventy years and after that they would return (Jer 25:11-12, Jer 29:10).
There were probably very few if any adults still alive when the Jews began to return from exile. To the young people who were born during that captivity it was just a story told by the old people. They had never even seen the promised land, let alone lived in freedom and prosperity under the blessings of their national covenant with God in their homeland. All they knew was the difficult times of their captivity in a foreign land and culture.
When the time came for the prophecy of Jeremiah to be fulfilled, someone wrote psalm 126. The first sentence of that psalm is, “When the LORD turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream (Ps 126:1).” When Cyrus the Persian gave the order causing the Jews to be liberated to return home, it almost didn’t seem real to them. It was like they were just dreaming. Dreams are curious things. They are not real. They only happen in our minds. Our minds simultaneously create the dream and live in it. Often things in our dreams are strange and impossible in reality. They sometimes have a combination of things that could be really happening and things that could not. Although part of our mind recognizes the strangeness, another part embraces it. It is not until we wake that we fully realize it was just a dream. That was the state of mind of the Jews when the word of God finally came to pass for them. They knew it was real but it seemed impossible to believe it was actually happening at that time.
The apostle Peter had a similar experience. King Herod was persecuting the church and had James killed (Acts 12). Then he had Peter arrested and assigned sixteen soldiers to guard him. That night Peter lay asleep in the prison in two chains guarded by two soldiers. The doors were also guarded by others. The angel of the Lord appeared to him, hit him on the side, and woke him up. The chains fell of his limbs. The angel told him to get his clothes and shoes and follow him out of the prison. Peter did not realize this was actually happening. He thought it was a vision. As they arrived at the prison gate that opened to the city, it opened by itself. The angel led him out and down one street and left him. Finally, Peter realized that the Lord had delivered him from his enemies and he went to a disciple’s house where there was a prayer meeting going on. They may have been praying for Peter. He knocked on the door but they did not believe he was there at first.
Have you ever been in this state of mind and faith? Have you ever been waiting on a promise of God, especially if it has been a long time and/or the circumstances are impossible for man? Sometimes God does this on purpose so we can understand that we cannot make it happen on our own and that we must trust Him. He wants to build our character and relationship with Him and not just bless our circumstances. He also wants the miracle to be a testimony to others for His glory. We get used to circumstances that continue for a long period and we even come to accept them. Then when God reminds us of His word and lets us know it’s coming soon or the time is now, it seems like it’s just a dream. That happened to Abraham. He had been waiting twenty four years for God’s promise and when God told him it was about to happen he and his wife laughed because they were old (Gen 17). We must be careful not to let our hearts become hardened in unbelief because of the circumstances we see with our eyes (Heb 3-4). The generation of Israel that left Egypt with Moses quickly forgot what God had already done for them and that they were not meant to stay in the wilderness forever. They were supposed to be just passing through, but they forgot where they were headed and only focused on their current circumstances. It cost them to miss out on God’s promises for them. Let us learn from their mistake and not fall into the same error. God knows best. His promises are yea and amen to them that believe (2Cor 1:20).