Running the race in the last days Bible study
The Home Stretch – Looking and longing for Beulah Land

by I Gordon
 

You possibly have noticed that I have been doing a series on ‘Running the race in the last days’ and in terms of this series (and the age in which we live for that matter) we are getting very close to the end. You could say we have rounded the last bend and are running down the home stretch. In the last study we looked at how a runner should concentrate on what is ahead, where they are going, and the approaching finish line. This was based on a (now hopefully familiar) verse in 1 Peter:

1Pe 1:13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit…fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Previously I concentrated more on the sideways and backwards gaze and strangely enough we found that it is very hard to run forward while not looking where you are going! And those that are always looking around at other people and even worse, continually looking back at past hurts or failures, do not run well. But the Bible tells us something different – fix your eyes, your gaze and hope on that which is ahead.

So that is what I want to do in this study. I want to take a little bit of time to look forward. My primary motive is not really to challenge or convict you. Not in this study anyway. You get a break! My primary motive is to simply do what Peter where we fix our hope on the grace to be revealed to us at the coming of the Lord. All going well, It should bring you hope and encouragement.1

So how will we do this? Well I want to illustrate the future for the believer through a story from the past. We will look at an experience relayed in the Psalms of the Jews finally going back home after the Babylonian exile and from that glean something, just a wee taster, of what it may be like for us to finally go to our heavenly home. So we have to do a little bit of work first. We’ll start with the past and then zoom between the past and the future. Saying it another way we need to eat our meat and veges first and then comes the dessert! Broccoli and Brussel sprouts (eeek!) before the Pavlova (yum!)!

A history lesson (the meat and veges)

The background to this Psalm I wish to explore is the return of the Jews from exile in Babylon. You will remember that the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, destroyed Jerusalem and Judah in 586BC. At that time, all the prophetic warnings of Jeremiah and others came upon Judah and they were taken as slaves to Babylon. There they remained for 70 years just as the Lord had spoken. Life was not easy at all. The ways, customs, religion and gods of Babylon were all in direct opposition to what they knew and desired. The Jews didn’t want to be there. They wanted to be home, back in their Promised Land. This is captured in another Psalm.

Psa 137:1-6 By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down, yea, we wept When we remembered Zion2. (2) We hung our harps Upon the willows in the midst of it. (3) For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song, And those who plundered us requested mirth, Saying, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!" (4) How shall we sing the Lord's song In a foreign land? (5) If I forget you, O Jerusalem, Let my right hand forget its skill! (6) If I do not remember you, Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth-- If I do not exalt Jerusalem Above my chief joy.

This Psalm portrays the profound sadness of the Jews as they lived in exile in Babylon. On the one hand they sat down by the rivers of Babylon. So that sounds quite nice! And yet as they sat down, they just wept. They remembered what had happened to Zion, their home. Burnt. Destroyed. Loved ones killed. To make matters worse some of the Babylonians were now taunting them saying ‘hey, why don’t you play us some of those joyful songs from your homeland?’ But they wouldn’t. They couldn’t. They could only reply ‘How can we sing the Lord’s song while we dwell in a strange land and Jerusalem lies in ruins? Oh Jerusalem! May we never forget you!’ Their hearts desire was to one day be back home.

cyrusBut for now they were stranded in Babylon.

This went on for decades. But in the course of time the Babylonian empire was defeated by the Medo-Persian Empire and after 70 years of captivity a Persian King by the name of Cyrus arose who passed a decree that the Jews could return to their homeland. Amazingly, the 70 years of Babylonian rule over Judah had been announced before hand by the prophet Jeremiah. King Cyrus, whp gave the decree for the Jews to return home, was also specifically named by the prophet Isaiah 150 years before he was even born!

Isa 45:1-4 Thus says the LORD to Cyrus His anointed, Whom I have taken by the right hand, To subdue nations before him… "I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars. (3) "I will give you the treasures of darkness And hidden wealth of secret places, So that you may know that it is I, The LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. (4) "For the sake of Jacob My servant, And Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor Though you have not known Me.

The 1st Century Jewish historian Josephus records that the Jews at the time took the prophetic scrolls of Isaiah to Cyrus and said (in so many words) ‘Look! You are mentioned by our Lord, in our holy scriptures. And you have been there, by name, for 150 years! Let us go home!’ And the Lord Himself was stirring the heart of Cyrus as scripture reveals: 

2Ch 36:22-23 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia--in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah--the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, (23) "Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, 'The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up!'"

So after all the longing and waiting, it was time to go home.

A Psalm of homecoming (the pavlova)

So this is where Psalm 126 comes in. It is a Psalm of homecoming. It expresses their wonder and rejoicing as they were finally able to go home. Let's look at it with the eyes of a believer today, longing for their heavenly home.

Psa 126:1 When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed.

Firstly we see that the day of going home was like a dream! It was too good to be true. The Jews had dreamt of this day many times when they had closed their eyes at night.. Yet they would awake and the reality of their actual situation still being in Babylon would kick in again.

But now... now it was different. The dream had now become reality!

You can times that by 100,000,000 when the Lord returns to take his own home! Like the greatest dream come true all the promises that believers have waited 2000 years for will finally be reality. For the Jews, after 70 years in exile, the vast majority would never have experienced the Promised Land for themselves. They had only heard the stories past down from their elders. Yet they were returning to a land and cities that lay in waste and ruin after the Babylonian siege. How much greater for us! We are going to a land, a heavenly city, specifically prepared, by our Lord Jesus, for those that are His. Now we haven’t experienced this yet. We know so little.3 We are like the little girl walking with her granddad at night and starring up in awe at the magnificent stars. “Grandpa” she said, “if the bottom side of Heaven is this beautiful, just think how wonderful the top side must be.”

Psa 126:2 Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, "The LORD has done great things for them."

For the Jews, even the surrounding nations could see that it is the Lord that has done this! After many years of difficulty, it was now a time of laughter, joy and gladness! This looks forward to the full restoration of Israel in faith at the end of the age when they will experience full salvation. But it also reminds of what lies ahead for us! The nations may not know what has become of those “backward Christians” when the Lord comes for His own, but all of heaven will be amazed and rejoicing when the complete body of Christ is united in Heaven. Scripture tells us that all of creation awaits the sons and daughters of God to be revealed! Oh the joy! Oh the rejoicing of that day!

Psalm 126:3 The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.

Here we see the same points emphasized again. If the Bible repeats itself it is so you don't forget it! On that day you will know that He has done it all! He has done it all! You will not have one word of boasting or self-praise in your mouth. You will simply stand, or more accurately, bow, in complete wonder and awe. You will look back and realise there was a reason for everything you went through. And in His presence will be pure, unadulterated joy! Have you had a time when you were filled with joy? Maybe you felt that on your wedding day? Maybe at the birth of your first child? I asked my Mother if she had joy at the birth of any of her children. Nope. Too exhausted!4 But have you had a time of being filled with joy?

As I thought about it for myself my mind went back to a time when I was at University. I had been telling a friend about the Lord for quite a while when finally, about 1 year later, he believed and gave his heart to the Lord. And I remember the night I heard just being so filled with joy. This was not something you could work up. It was just a God moment and I was incredibly thankful, oh so happy, overflowing, unable to stop thanking the Lord. Maybe you can think of a time when you were filled with joy? These times we have are a tiny foretaste of what is to come. The Psalmist said of the day to come:

Psa 16:10-11 You will not abandon my soul to Sheol… You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy5; In Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 126:4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev.

Now for the Jews their prayer is that more would return and it would become like a stream, a flowing river of returnees. They wanted more of their family and friends to return and be united back in their homeland. For us, we will all return at the same time. None will be left. There is no partial rapture if you are familiar with that teaching. From the weakest to the greatest believer, all those that are true believers, in Christ, will be caught up together, We are taken home together and changed at the same time. Christ is coming for his entire body, not a part. And what a reunion that will be! Imagine seeing the Lord for the first time with your eyes! 1st Peter tells us that

1Pe 1:8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.

Imagine what it will be like when our faith actually becomes sight! Who else would you like to see? Think of the reunion with parents, grandparents, friends that have gone to be with the Lord. For me, I look forward to seeing my Grandmother who only became a Christian in her last few weeks of life. And I want to see my Dad again. He had a difficult life due to epilepsy and a lifetime on drugs (to try control his epilepsy) that had a profound effect on his life (and not for the better). It changed who he could have been. So I can't wait to see him finally free from all his burdens and at the very best version of who he is because of Jesus! What about you? Who do you want to see again?

Psalm 126:5 Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.

Now I like this because the Psalmist has the benefit of looking back now from his home in Israel. He can look back with a different perspective on the difficulties he faced while stranded in Babylon. He can remember the uncertainly, the worries, the tears. But now he has the benefit of hindsight! He now knows how it all ends. Yes there were tears then… but it ends with laughter and joy. Yes they had refused to sing and play while in Babylon… but it ends with songs once again. The Lord turned it around for His people and they reaped in joy. But how much more so for us? Every difficulty, every problem, will be sorted.

Gone... Forever.

Think of the worries you carry. The burdens. The tears. The doubts. Even the sin that entangles. It will all be gone. Forever. The old order will pass and the new will come!

Psalm 126:6 He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.

The Psalmist, again with the benefit of hindsight, can say something else as well. All those times of sowing seeds into people’s lives, encouraging those that need encouragement... speaking truth to those that were struggling and wandering... teaching and reminding others of the true God of Israel... telling and even pleading with people to return to the true God - these seeds would produce fruit. The Psalmist could see that as they returned to the land they came back carrying sheaves with them. The joy would not be there’s alone.

We, as believers today, also return with the fruit of our labour. We carry sheaves with us. Can you imagine what it would be like to get to heaven and have someone say 'thank you - you helped me get here! You helped me stay and walk on the right track… thank you!' Is this not an important verse? Is it not an important thought?

Gal 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Conclusion

A couple of year back I wrote a study for my website about why I’m looking forward to the rapture. It encapsulated 8 simple (but important) things to look forward to. Here they are again (in brief):

1. We get to meet and see Jesus face to face!
2. We will get a new body!
3. We will get a new nature!
4. We will be united with those that have gone before us
5. We will get a new home, a real home.
6. We will know even as we are known 6
7. We will experience unrelenting joy... and peace... and love... and...!
8. We will set sail on the most incredible future!

1Pe 1:3-5 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (4) and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you, (5) who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

Where we are going has been called 'Beulah Land'. This comes from 'Pilgrims Progress' where John Bunyan used the name from the following verse:

Beulah LandIsa 62:3-4 You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD's hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. (4) No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married.

The word 'Beulah' means married. Bunyan writes:  

“Now I saw in my dream that by this time the pilgrims had passed over the Enchanted Ground and entered into the country of Beulah, whose air was very sweet and pleasant… In this country the sun shone night and day. Beulah was beyond the Valley of the Shadow of Death and also out of the reach of Giant Despair, nor could they even see Doubting Castle from this place… In this land also the contract between the bride and the Bridegroom was renewed: “As the bridegroom renewed over the bride, so did their God rejoice over them.” Here they had no lack of bread or wine, for in this place they met with an abundance of what they had sought during all their pilgrimage.”

Let me leave you with a song (sung recently by Casting Crowns, called Beulah Land. As you read it, think of the lyrics and your soon home-coming!

Beulah Land, I'm longing for you. And some day on thee I'll stand
There my home shall be eternal. Beulah Land -- Sweet Beulah Land

I'm kind of homesick for a country. To which I've never been before
No sad goodbyes will there be spoken. For time won't matter anymore

Beulah Land, I'm longing for you. And some day on thee I'll stand
There my home shall be eternal. Beulah Land -- Sweet Beulah Land

I'm looking now across the river. Where my faith will end in sight
There's just a few more days to labor. Then I will take my heavenly flight

Beulah Land, I'm longing for you. And some day on thee I'll stand
There my home shall be eternal. Beulah Land -- Sweet Beulah Land



  1. Though, personally speaking, I always find it interesting that when I spend time focusing on heaven and what is to come, I immediately start thinking of what I am doing, and how I am living, now. It seems, for me at least, that this is a natural by-product of the forward eternal gaze without it even having to be said. So if that happens for you, great.  

  2. These verses may bring to mind a song that was popular in the late 70’s. Boney M sang ‘By the rivers of Babylon’ which went to number 1 in New Zealand, Australia, the UK and many other countries.

    “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, Yeah, we wept, when we remembered Zion
    By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, Yeah, we wept, when we remembered Zion
    There the wicked, Carried us away in captivity, Required from us a song
    Now how shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?”
     

  3. Heaven has been described as "an unknown region with a well-known inhabitant!" The Puritan Church leader Richard Baxter expresses this writing:

    My knowledge of that life is small, The eye of faith is dim.
    But it's enough that Christ knows all, And I shall be with him.
     

  4. Although I found out that when she had me, the doctor said ‘Congratulations Mrs. Gordon, you have a 9 pound 6 ounce baby boy!’ And Mum said... ‘oh no!’ After one unnamed, somewhat cheeky boy (my brother!), she was hoping for a girl!’  

  5. As I pondered this I thought of the phrase 'exceeding joy'. Where in the New Testament does it use this phrase I thought? I looked it up and there were two references:
    1Pet 4:13 Rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.
    Jud 1:24 Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy…

    What I like about this is that the first is a reference to our joy at His coming. That is what we have been looking at. But the second reference, in Jude, alludes to HIS joy as well as ours. He will have exceeding joy when the bride is set before Him, pure and without fault. This is the joy that was set before the Lord that enabled Him to endure the cross! (Heb 12:2) It is also worth noting that the age to come is called 'the joy of the Lord':

    Mat 25:23 His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.'

  6. Here we are very guarded. I am very guarded. There we will truly know each other! I like what J. Vernon McGee writes on this:

    You have never seen me. It is possible you may think you have seen me, but what you saw was a suit of clothes with a head and two hands sticking out of it. You didn't really see me. And I have never really seen you because we just see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face. Now I know only in part, but then I shall know even as also I am known.