|HE YOUNG MAN PACED RESTLESSLY
like a caged animal in the yard of a Nazi concentration camp. The cold wind made him shiver as he pulled his thin, ragged clothes more tightly around his emaciated body. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed movement. A girl his age walked briskly outside the fence, her head down against the wind, her warm coat pulled tightly around her. She saw him, smiled briefly, looked cautiously around, pulled an apple out of her pocket, and threw it over the fence. His cold fingers grasped the apple as she continued quickly down the path and out of sight.
The next day found the young man walking in the same area of the camp. This time he moved more slowly, and his eyes kept glancing toward the corner of the trail. There she was again!
For seven months they met almost daily where the path came close to the fence. They hardly ever spoke, and never exchanged names, but they smiled, and she threw him an apple.
Then one day he came to the fence with his hands balled into fists, a knot in his stomach. Angrily he blurted out, “Don’t bring me an apple tomorrow! I won’t be here. They’re transferring me!” And with that he turned and stumbled back toward the barracks, hot tears stinging his eyes.
Why, God, why? It’s hard enough to live and die in a concentration camp. But why bring a bright spot into a young man’s life, only to let it be cruelly snatched away with the stroke of a commandant’s pen?
Have you ever been through an experience that just doesn’t make sense? We all have. Sometimes life just doesn’t seem fair. In fact (and we can hardly bring ourselves to say it out loud), sometimes God doesn’t seem fair.
The Haves and the Have Nots
Take the case of Solomon, for instance (1 Kings 3:5-15). In a dream God asked the young king: “What can I give you?”
We know the story: Solomon asked for wisdom to lead his people. And, in addition to wisdom, God gave Solomon everything anyone could wish for. But later in life the ungrateful wretch turned his back on God and did all kinds of terrible things.
A friend of mine worked his way through college in a hospital emergency room. One night a young woman came in with her boyfriend. They signed in at the desk and sat uncomfortably in the waiting room for a few minutes before she got up and went to the restroom and stayed and stayed and stayed. Several times the staff knocked on the door, but she always called out, “I’m OK; I’ll be out in a minute.”
Finally she came out, glanced apprehensively around the waiting room, whispered something to her boyfriend, and they left. A few minutes later the staff found she had delivered a baby, tried to kill it, and stuffed it in a trash can.
While some weep into their pillows at night because they can’t seem to have a baby, at least a few others are having them and killing them. While some plead with God for a successful pregnancy, thousands of abortions take place every year. While some long to get married, others are trying to get unmarried. While some pray for a job—any job—others bellyache about the one they have.
It Isn’t Fair!
Things had gone from bad to worse for the Jews. One king after another had led them deeper and deeper into sin—to the point where what Solomon did didn’t seem all that bad by comparison.
Then a new king came on the scene; a young king, a very young king. In fact, Josiah was only 8 years old when he began to reign (see 2 Kings 22:1–23:30). At first no one paid him much attention. Oh, he was king all right; they played fanfares and bowed low, but his counselors largely did what they wanted. After all, he was only 8.
By the time Josiah turned 18, however, he had grown; he was bigger, more mature, and finally able to do what he had been longing to do for years: command that the Temple be cleansed and the worship of Yahweh be reinstated in Jerusalem.
Then, in the midst of the repairs and cleaning an old scroll was found. Reverently they carried it to Josiah and asked if he wanted them to read from it. Did he! This was the Book of the Law that had been lost for generations. Of course he wanted to hear it!
But as they read, the young king went into a state of shock. He had always loved God and endeavored to serve Him faithfully. But what he heard now showed that he and his people really had no concept of what it meant to be loyal to God. Suddenly Josiah tore his clothes, called his most trusted counselors, and sent them with a message to Hulda, the prophet.
His message was much the same as Solomon’s had been: “Lord, what do I do now?” Solomon had prayed for wisdom, and that’s what Josiah asked for: wisdom to know how to lead his people in God’s ways.
In this story we find a king who loved God, who was doing all he could to restore the worship of Yahweh, who was brokenhearted at how far he and his people had strayed, and who was asking God what he should do. But God sent back the message: “I will remove Judah also from my presence as I removed Israel, and I will reject Jerusalem, the city I chose, and this temple, about which I said, ‘There shall my Name be’” (2 Kings 23:27).
Think of it: God had answered Solomon’s request for wisdom with wealth and every material blessing imaginable. And when Solomon turned away from God, he kept it all. But when Josiah asked the same thing, God didn’t promise him anything except ultimate destruction.
Would you serve a God like that?
Josiah did. He followed God anyway, and not just for a year or two. For 21 more years Josiah faithfully did all he could to bring his people back to God. One of his sons became king when he died, and three months later all the idols Josiah had removed were back.
It makes me want to cry out: That’s not fair, God! What a wasted life! After 31 years of faithfulness, everything he achieved was gone within three months.
The Rest of the Story
I’ll admit it: I’ve shared only part of Josiah’s story. I’ve let you see only a portion of the facts.
And isn’t that the way life is? We see only part of the picture, and it makes us think God is unfair. But if we could see things as God sees them, we would agree with Him, wouldn’t we?
Remember I said all the idols were back within three months of Josiah’s death? That’s true. And I left the impression that because of it Josiah’s life had been wasted. And yet the rest of the story tells us his life was far from wasted.
One of Josiah’s sons, Jehoahaz, reigned for three months and did all the evil of his ancestors. Then Pharaoh Neco came from Egypt, put Jehoahaz in prison, and placed his brother on the throne.
Josiah’s second son, the one Pharaoh Neco made king, was Eliakim, and his name was changed to Jehoiakim. Daniel 1:1 records that Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem during the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign. And it was during that siege, three years after Josiah died, that Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael were taken captive.
We don’t know how old those young men were when they were taken captive, but they were likely in their teens because they were soon enrolled in the University of Babylon. If they were, on average, 18 years old, it would mean they had likely spent 15 years under the reign of King Josiah. Fifteen years with a king who served God faithfully, even when he had no special promises or assurances from God about the future. Fifteen years when the worship of Yahweh was practiced throughout the kingdom. Ponder this: for more than half of that apparently wasted reign, Josiah had a profound impact on the lives of the four young men who went on to have one of the greatest witnesses this world has ever known.
Josiah died without knowing what impact his faithfulness would have. But imagine the difference it would have made if these boys had grown up during the reigns of any other king of Judah. Our God doesn’t make mistakes!
When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (their Babylonian names) stood between the king and the fiery furnace, they probably remembered the example of King Josiah, who had obeyed God faithfully—even without a promise of blessing. It gave them the courage to say, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it. . . . But even if He does not, . . . we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Dan. 3:16-18).
Was Josiah’s a wasted life? Not when you see the whole picture.
In 1957 Herman Rosenblat reluctantly accepted a blind date with a young immigrant named Roma. As they sat in the New York City restaurant making small talk, Roma asked a question common among immigrants in the 1950s: “So, Herman, where were you during the war?”
“Oh,” said Herman as he picked absently at his food, “I was in a concentration camp in Germany.”
Roma’s voice became soft, her eyes misty as she began
to talk more to herself than to Herman. “I used to live near a concentration camp. I felt so sorry for those poor people. One day as I walked past I saw a boy my age and threw him an apple. We met almost every day at the fence for the next several months. I never knew his name, but, well, we were in love. I’ve always wondered what happened to him; probably killed with all the others,” and she reached up to wipe tears from her eyes.
So lost in her own reveries, Roma didn’t notice Herman sitting across the table from her with his mouth agape. Finally getting control of his voice he said, “And Roma, did that boy ever
tell you not to bring him an apple tomorrow because they were moving him?”
“Why yes,” she gasped, her mind snapping back to the present. “But, but, how could you know?”
Herman beamed through his own tears as he reached across the table and took her hands in his. “Because, Roma, I am that boy! I lost you once, and I don’t ever want to lose you again!”
Valentine’s Day, 1996: Herman and Roma Rosenblat celebrated their anniversary on the Oprah Winfrey Show, almost 40 years from the time they were reunited in that little café.*
We may not know God’s plan, or why He allows certain things to happen until later; we may never know at all. But we can know He is in control.
Is God fair? From our perspective it may not always seem that He is. We may not see the whole picture. We may never find out about the Daniels, Shadrachs, Meshachs, and Abednegos who are watching us. But we can live with that.
It’s enough to know that God knows and cares about what happens in our lives. And, like King Josiah and the four young Hebrews, we can choose to serve a God like that—even when we don’t understand.
*Adapted from “Hungry for Your Love,” by Herman and Roma Rosenblat as told to Barbara De Angelis in Chicken Soup for the Couple’s Soul (Health Communications, Inc., 1999), pp. 11-15.