If the exodus began the journey of Israel from captivity towards their hoped for future, the exile appeared to bring it all to a crashing end. The exile is presented by the writers of Scripture as an ‘undoing of the exodus’, as Israel is dragged to Babylon in chains. God’s promise to Abraham appears to be abandoned. The people of the promise have become, once again, a people in chains.
The shattering of Israel’s hope leads to deep morning and soul-searching. The prophets had warned of potential destruction, but nonetheless the devastating judgement leaves a lasting imprint on Israel’s collective imagination. We see here what human sin can lead to – the emptying of homes, palaces, cities and fields. 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.
The fall of Jerusalem: Jeremiah 52
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.
- 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?
God departs the temple: Ezekiel 10
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?”
- What has become of God’s promises to Abraham (Gen 12:1-3) and Moses (Ex 29:45-46)?
The Lament of Exile: Lamentations 1- 5
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.”
A week of Daily Devotions in the book of Lamentations here.
The Challenge of Exile: Daniel 1
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.
- 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?
Shedding light on the scene
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.
- How does the writer make any sense of this terrible event?
The Lament of Exile: Psalm 137
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?
Build houses in Babylon: Jeremiah 29
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.
- 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.
Hope in Exile: The Promise of a Suffering Servant-King in Isaiah 40-66
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.
A week of Daily Devotionals on the theme of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah is available here.
Looking forward and looking backward
Throughout the Bible, themes of exile, death, wandering, dispossession, homelessness, God’s curse and judgement, echo out as a consequence of the sin in Eden. Yet, paradoxically, it’s in and through the capture, exile and death of his people that God seems to work his plan of redemption, even as the people of God serve the rulers of human empires.
As you read these passages, reflect on the surprising ways of God and consider what encouragement they give us when we face seemingly insurmountable troubles.
Pre-cursors of Exile: Genesis 3:22–24; 4:10–16; 6; 11:5–9
Each of these examples is of God removing people from the place of blessing (the garden, the land, the earth, the city) as part of the curse of sin. Do you notice any patterns developing?
Joseph before Pharaoh: Genesis 39–41
Joseph, sold into slavery in Egypt, and then unjustly thrown into prison, comes from exile to the courts of Pharaoh. He rises to serve Egypt and ultimately save the Egyptian people and his own family. Through his exile, Joseph blesses the nations and establishes that of his fore-fathers.
The death of Samson: Judges 16:23–31.
Even the capture of God’s people is turned into a monument to the glory of God and his rescue of his people. Through Samson’s capture and death, God redeems his people.
Nebuchadnezzar’s Exile: Daniel 4.
Even Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, is called to repentance through a season of exile.
Israel goes into Exile: Luke 23:26-49
As Jesus is led out of Jerusalem to crucifixion, he calls out to the women lamenting, asking them to lament for themselves and not for him. The image of Jesus heading to crucifixion is the image of Jesus going into exile. The cross on which Jesus died was a Roman execution device a symbol of Israel’s exile.
Christians in Exile: 1 Peter 2:11-17
The apostles warn Christians to live very carefully as exiles in this world. Our true citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).
Reading the whole Bible
|June 1: Isaiah 1-4|
June 2: Isaiah 5-7
June 3: Isaiah 8-11
June 4: Isaiah 12-14
June 5: Isaiah 15-18
June 6: Isaiah 19-21
June 7: Isaiah 22-25
June 8: Isaiah 26-28
June 9: Isaiah 29-33
June 10: Isaiah 34-36
June 11: Isaiah 37-39
|June 15: Jeremiah 2-5|
June 16: Jeremiah 6-8
June 17: Jeremiah 9-12
June 18: Jeremiah 13-15
June 19: Jeremiah 16-19
June 20: Jeremiah 20-22
June 21: Jeremiah 23-26
June 22: Jeremiah 27-29
June 23: Jeremiah 30-33
June 24: Jeremiah 34-36
June 25: Jeremiah 37-40
|June 12: Esther 1-4|
June 13: Esther 5-8
June 14: Esther 9-10; Jeremiah 1
|June 26: Jeremiah 41-43|
June 27: Jeremiah 44-47
June 28: Jeremiah 48-50
June 29: Jeremiah 51-52; Lamentations 1-2
June 30: Lamentations 3-5