For the first time in my life, I can say that I have read through the entire Old Testament. And also, for the first time, I can say that I understand what it meant for Christ to be born here on earth.
Though Israel had continually turned away from God, He continually brought them back to Himself. When I look back over the agonizing story of Israel, throughout the Old Testament, turning away over and over again and longing for deliverance, I start to long for the promised Savior along with them.
I feel their joy when, in the book of Ezra, King Cyrus tells the people that they may build a temple in Jerusalem. Once the foundation was laid, those who had seen the original temple actually wept aloud and shouted for joy. Ezra 3:13 says that it could be heard from far away. Finally, once again, a place for God to dwell on earth. Yet what was to come was far greater.
When Zechariah prophesied, “Shout and be glad, Daughter Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,” declares the Lord (2:10), I wonder if they thought He would come to live in a physical temple once again, one that matched the splendor of that King Solomon had built. Yet his later words seem to say otherwise: “See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey,” (Zech.9:9).
And I imagine that when Esther was appointed as queen, and she was able to save the Jews from annihilation because she held the love of the king – God was giving his people a taste of what salvation would be like, when he later sent His son, whom He dearly loved to do the very same thing.
After Nehemiah had led the people in rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, they all came together and recounted their ancestors’ story. “Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness,” (9:19) they prayed aloud to God.
I imagine that some realized in that moment, what Lamentations 3 says, “His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness,” (v.22-23). Over and over again, the only explanation for God’s goodness to his people was compassion, defined as “a consciousness of another’s distress and a desire to alleviate it.”
And just after Malachi reminds Israel that they have broken their covenant with God, he prophesies these words: “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty, (3:1).
This King, this Savior, has been sent to us because God’s compassions never fail. He came to alleviate the distress of His people, to shower compassion on our sinful hearts, once and for all. He did not build a physical temple, but He did come to dwell in us, in the temple of our human hearts. He came in a way foretold by the prophet Isaiah (7:14), written in the history books, “and they will call him Immanuel”, which means ‘God with us’,” (Matt. 1:23).
His name is Jesus.