The Exile appears to be the reversal of the Exodus. Previously, Israel left Egypt, freed from slavery, an emerging nation ready to worship God on the way to their promised land. Now, at the beginning of their Exile, Israel leave their land, slaves to a foreign power, a divided nation in disarray, condemned for not worshipping their God. Tragically, God’s promise to Abraham appears to be abandoned. The people of the promise have become a people in chains.
Those who survive the Exile cling together in Babylon. They are left with an extraordinarily large question: how will God fulfil his promises, save his people, and redeem his world now? Consider this question as you read these passages this month.
"Tragically, God’s promise to Abraham appears to be abandoned. The people of the promise have become a people in chains."
God departs the temple
God’s glory departs from the temple. The holy God refuses to stay with a people who have, for so long, deliberately rejected him. This departure of God’s glory is a reversal of the coming of God’s glory to the temple during Solomon’s reign (1 Kings 8:10-11). Israel begins to ask, “Will God ever return to his people?”
For reflection: ∙What has become of God’s promises to Abraham (Gen 12:1-3) and Moses (Ex 29:45-46)?
The Fall of Jerusalem
2 Chronicles 36
The siege of Jerusalem lasts nearly a year. Many die of starvation, mothers kill their children to eat them. God’s messengers are mocked and scoffed at. And when the armies of Babylon finally enter, they kill indiscriminately, carrying off as prisoners the few that survived. For reflection: ∙How does the writer make any sense of this terrible event?
It’s hard to read the last chapter of Jeremiah’s book without noticing the poignancy. After pages and pages of desperate prophecy, we hear of the capture of God’s city. The temple built by Solomon is dismantled, and the people of God are taken into captivity. Yet still Jeremiah ends on a strange note of hope.
For Reflection: ∙Which of God’s previous promises to Israel appear to be overthrown in this passage? ∙What basis for hope do the people of God have now?
Lamentations is a poem of mourning for Jerusalem and her people. It’s full of images of death and destruction; its author had seen terrible things and clearly feels the loss palpably. Yet, there is one important feature of Lamentations not to miss – right at the heart of the poem we are told: “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Daniel and his friends face great pressure to compromise their loyalty to God in the land of exile– but it comes in seductive forms. They decide to make a stand which retains their identity as God’s people, even if now slaves in a foreign land.
For reflection: ∙What are the Babylonian cultural markers imposed upon Daniel and his friends? In what ways do Daniel and his friends define themselves as God’s people? ∙In what ways might the Christian find themselves in an ‘exile’ analogous to that of Daniel?
The Psalms, just like the prophets, contain many of Israel’s songs and poems of mourning over the exile. The author of Psalm 137 asks the question, “How can we sing the songs of God in exile?” It expresses the crisis of faith and dislocation that the exile caused for Israel. In this psalm, what do we learn the faith of God’s faithful, even under severe trial?
In contrast to the false prophets who had promised Israel that their exile would be brief, Jeremiah tells Israel to settle into Babylon – to build houses, have children, put down roots, and to work to bless their new city. And yet, Israel still has the calling to be a light to the nations, even in exile.
For Reflection: ∙How might the Jewish Exiles manage the tension of ‘settling’ in Babylon, while retaining their identity as the people of God?
The complexity of the book of Jeremiah is helpfully explained in the video below.
Isaiah 1-39 is written to warn Judah of the coming Exile, concluding with the final judgment upon Hezekiah’s successors. Isaiah 40-66 is different in tone and addressed to the people of the exile, promising a new work of God on their behalf. Throughout these later chapters, a promised ‘suffering servant’ comes into view– sometimes appearing to be a renewed Israel, sometimes appearing to be an individual representing Israel. Read the following excerpts to build a ‘profile’ for this Promised One: Isaiah 42:1-9; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12.