Monday, June 4, 2012

Exile & The Thematic Unity Of Scripture (part 2 of 3)

This issue of being subjugated to foreign powers (exile), and being rescued from foreign subjugation (exodus), occupies a prominent place within the Scriptures.  It is an oft-recurring theme that speaks to God’s power and faithfulness.  Because it is a recurring theme, when we read the words of God to His people as presented here by Jeremiah, that the Lord “will rescue… from foreign subjugation” and “deliver…from captivity,” so that “foreigners will… no longer subjugate them” (30:8), we do not necessarily need to apply them strictly to those of Judah that returned to the promised land from Babylonian exile, but still found themselves subject to foreign powers, and thereby see the Lord as being unfaithful or unable to deliver on His promises.  As was said, we find placement in the land, exodus, and exile as a prominent and readily recurring facet of the divine narrative.  Having said this, it is worthwhile here to trek through the Scriptures, so as to recognize the pattern of exile and exodus, that we might gain a greater understanding and trust in God’s faithfulness. 

With Abraham, we find that his story, essentially, begins with him in exile.  Without getting deep into the historical and theological ramifications of that statement, we can just say that Abraham was not in the place for which God had intended him, regardless of the fact that God had not yet revealed Himself and His will to Abraham.  We can confidently assert that Abraham was part of the fallen race of humanity, and therefore, along with everyone else, he was in exile from the ultimate purpose of God for him, which would be (as was supposed to be true for all of mankind) to reflect God’s glory into the world as a wise steward of God’s creation.  Abraham is called out of the land in which he resided in exile, to a land that the Lord promised to give to him.  He experiences an exodus.  While in the land, Abraham finds himself subject to a foreign power, that being a famine, so he exiles himself to Egypt.  Eventually, Abraham returns to the land of promise, being exodus-ed out of Egypt, and thereby ending his self-imposed exile from the land of God’s promise. 

We can look at the story of Lot.  He resides with Abraham in the promised land, but then, due (ironically) to the overwhelming blessings of God upon the lives of both him and Abraham, he separates himself from Abraham---exiles himself---and goes to the land of Sodom.  His time in Sodom climaxes with the well-known story of the men of the city attempting to impose themselves upon Lot and his guests (subjugation to a foreign power), which ultimately leads to Lot’s being drawn up out of His exile (exodus), as if by the very hand of God.  We go on to see Abraham’s son Isaac attempting to exile himself from the land because of another famine, but instead, being reminded by God of the promise to Abraham, as God extends to Isaac the covenantal promise that he had given to Abraham.  God keeps Isaac from exiling himself to Egypt, convincing him to stay in the land, and even this can be thought of as a type of exodus, as God delivered Isaac from the plans that he had been making for himself. 

In the story of Jacob, after obtaining first his brother’s birthright, and then adding to that his brother’s blessing, for fear of Esau, he flees to the land of Haran.  This flight of Jacob is an exile from the land of promise.  There, Jacob becomes subject to Laban, and while under Laban’s power, is treated quite poorly, though it appears that God constantly intervenes on his behalf, counter-acting the poor treatment at the hands of his father-in-law.  After a period of time in Haran, Jacob decides to leave and return to the place from which he had fled.  In defiance of the power of Laban, which is actually referenced by Laban when he pursues after Jacob (“I have the power to do you harm”-Genesis 31:29a), Jacob, with God clearly being the motivating force behind the return to the land of his fathers, experiences an exodus.  Like that which will be experienced by his descendants at their exodus from Egypt to come, before leaving, Jacob amasses a great fortune, effectively plundering Laban’s wealth, with this plundering epitomized by Laban’s concern with the theft of his gods (whom he no doubt looked to as the source of his now greatly diminished wealth) by his daughter Rachel. 

The exile and exodus motif is well demonstrated in the life of Joseph.  He is sold into slavery, and then sold into Egypt, experiencing the subjugations of foreign powers until, by the grace of God, he eventually becomes the second most-powerful man in the empire (and in the world).  In his case, as was the initial case with Abraham, the exile is not self-imposed, and for him, the exodus has less to do with the land, and more about him entering into something of a fulfillment of the covenant promise to Abraham, as he becomes a blessing to all the nations of the world through the provision of grain through the great famine.  In terms of a physical end of exile, and a physical exodus, Joseph makes two returns to the land from which he had been exiled.  The first is when he goes up to bury his father, and the second is when his bones are carried out of Egypt by the Israelites, during the exodus under the leadership of Moses, so as to be buried in the land originally promised to his great-grandfather Abraham.     

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