If you were to seek to summarize Scripture’s long story in but a few words, I believe you would find that exile and restoration would be central to its theme and message. God’s wisdom about recording for permanent record that which would teach us of both our need for and our hope for redemption brought us a long account of lives, not a theological dictionary, and I have found that this core element of the story - that hope was held out after exile - has been a substantial encouragement to the men of my weekly fellowship at the in California State Prisons near Fresno.
That centrality of theme, though, has also brought to mind the fundamental sameness of need and hope I share with them. No, my sins have not led to incarceration, but my need is not different-in-kind from theirs. My hope being also the-same-in-kind, I have found rich encouragement in the theme. May the Lord encourage you today.
What are Scripture’s prison ministry verses? In saying it that way, I don’t mean “What are Scripture’s prison ministry proof texts?” (I knew it would sound that way.) I mean, “Which texts bring out the principle of restoration after exile?” Allow me to share three that have become dear to me. These are each Gospel hope for your own soul, especially as the Lord stirs in you sorrow for sin.
The dark atmosphere in Psalm 102’s opening plea is poignant in its poetic images, with the writer describing the days of his life as dissipating like smoke, his inner agony described with the image of bones burning to coals in a fire on the hearth, heart wilted like withered grass, forgetting even to eat, so that atrophied flesh clung to his frame, a sense of desperate isolation, being taunted, having his name used as a curse.
But why the writer’s distressed circumstance? God’s discipline.
The inspired author declared to the Lord in vs. 10 that his sufferings (and, it seems, that of his people) had come because of the Lord’s…
Psalm 102:10 “…indignation and anger…”
It was then, though, that the writer called to mind truths about God’s promise of hope...
Psalm 102:13 You will arise and have pity on Zion; it is the time to favor her; the appointed time has come.
That mercy-after-discipline would be glory for God!
Psalm 102:15 Nations will fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory. 16 For the Lord builds up Zion; he appears in his glory; 17 he regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer.
Of this sure hope of restoration for the repentant, even after exile, the author wrote…
Psalm 102:18 Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord: 19 that he looked down from his holy height; from heaven the Lord looked at the earth, 20 to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die, 21 that they may declare in Zion the name of the Lord, and in Jerusalem his praise, 22 when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship the Lord.
Prisoners are mentioned here, but not in a proof-text manner. Psalm 102 has quite a broad scope, belonging to the whole story of God’s dealings with the people associated with Zion: There was reason for God’s indignation, discipline by exile and imprisonment, hope held out for restoration, an appointed time for mercy, and a glorious gathering of even many nations to worship the Lord.
There are really very many passages that touch this scenario. I’ll just mention two more. The first is God's word to the people through Isaiah...
Isaiah 54:8 “In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord, your Redeemer.
And the second is the one quoted in the photo at the head of this article - God's word the people through Zechariah...
Zechariah 10:9 … I will bring them back because I have mercy on them.
THEY SHALL BE AS THOUGH I HAD NOT CAST THEM ASIDE;
For I am the Lord their God, and I will hear them.