Monday, June 4, 2012

Exile & The Thematic Unity Of Scripture (part 1 of 3)

“When the time for them to be rescued comes,” says the Lord Who rules over all, “I will rescue you from foreign subjugation.  I will deliver you from captivity.  Foreigners will no longer subjugate them.” – Jeremiah 30:8  (NET)

Because we find these words in the prophecy of Jeremiah, we know that their direct application is to the nation of Judah.  The “them” of which the Lord speaks are the exiles of Judah that are in Babylon.  Historically, the exiles began to return under the reign of the Persian king Cyrus, with instructions to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem.  Connecting the Biblical narrative across time and space, we know that the conquering of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians was accomplished because of God’s faithfulness to His covenant promises.  In Leviticus, and again in greater detail in the book of Deuteronomy, God had spelled out the repercussions that would come upon His people if they failed to uphold their covenant obligations that would allow them to shine as a light of God’s glory to the nations.  Those covenant obligations had consisted primarily in avoiding idolatry and idolatrous practices, keeping the Sabbaths that God had ordained for His people, and reverencing His sanctuary---the place of His presence, where heaven and earth met and overlapped.  Success in these areas would result in blessing, whereas failure would result in cursing. 

Because the story of Abraham and the covenant promise to Abraham, which began the movement and mission of God to redeem His fallen creation through a chosen people, itself began with the promise of a land to be possessed (an initially renewed sliver of the wider creation that would point to the eventual renewal of the whole), the gross violation of the covenant would result in a loss of that land.  This is what we see taking place in the removal of Israel (northern kingdom) from the land at the hand of Assyria, and now the removal of Judah (southern kingdom) from the land at the hand of Babylon.  Exile from the land was the greatest of the curses.  The writer of the Chronicles points to this emphasis on the land and exile, as we hear the words of God that are spoken to Solomon shortly after the dedication of the Temple---the same Temple that would be utterly destroyed, marking the exile of God’s people from their land---looking forward to the time when His people, as they would come to realize in the midst of exile that they had been completely unfaithful to their calling---saying “if My people, who belong to Me, humble themselves, pray, seek to please Me, and repudiate their sinful practices, then I will respond from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14)  This followed God saying, “When I close up the sky so that it doesn’t rain, or command locusts to devour the land’s vegetation, or send a plague among My people” (7:13), which are curses lifted directly from the curses of covenant unfaithfulness found in Deuteronomy, which culminate, again, in exile.  Jeremiah will, no doubt, have all of these things in mind. 

Continuing to connect disparate parts of the grand Scriptural narrative that is constantly unfolding and being played out before our eyes, we turn to the book of Daniel, finding him as one of those very exiles in Babylon, experiencing the cursing of God.  Much like Jeremiah is aware of the history of God’s people, and the power and faithfulness of God that is being put on display through the subjugation of Judah, we see Daniel fully reliant on that same powerful and faithful God, trusting in His willingness and His desire to fulfill the promises made to His covenant people in accordance with that covenant that hearkened back to Abraham.  In the ninth chapter of Daniel, we find him praying.  He references Jeremiah, thus linking the stories.  Daniel, interceding on behalf of all of God’s peoples, says, “I prayed to the Lord my God, confessing in this way: ‘O Lord, great and awesome God Who is faithful to His covenant with those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned!  We have done what is wrong and wicked; we have rebelled by turning away from Your commandments and standards…You are righteous, O Lord, but we are humiliated this day...  All Israel has broken Your law and turned away by not obeying You.  Therefore You have poured out on us the judgment solemnly threatened in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against You…  So now our God, accept the prayer and requests of your servant, and show favor to Your devastated sanctuary for Your own sake.  Listen attentively, my God, and hear!  Open Your eyes and look on our desolated ruins and the city called by Your Name” (9:4-7a,11,17-18a). 

These excerpts from a much longer and thematically repetitive prayer demonstrate a clear and unmistakable echoing of that which is demanded by God in the verse which was previously quoted from the Chronicles (7:14), while trusting in the promises of God to be found in Jeremiah, to rescue His people from foreign subjugation and to deliver them from captivity, which would be predominantly accomplished by allowing them to return to their land of promise.  This return from exile, based upon God’s favor, would amount to a healing of the land, indicating that God had forgiven His people.  However, this return from exile would only be a partial return, because we can move forward to the story of the returnees, in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and find both lamenting that the people of God were, in fact, still slaves (Ezra 9:9, Nehemiah 9:36).  The people would be under foreign domination, being subjected to the Persians, the Greeks, the Seleucids, and then the Romans.  It seems that God’s promise that had been delivered through Jeremiah, in this area, had gone unfulfilled.      

No comments:

Post a Comment