Tuesday, June 5, 2012

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

This progression of the Scriptural exodus narrative brings us to that which is referred to as “the exodus.”  The story of the exodus of Israel from the land of Egypt actually begins with an exile, as Jacob and his sons leave the land of Abrahamic promise to join Joseph in Egypt.  They are initially treated quite well in Egypt, having been received in an altogether grand manner and given the finest part of the land in which to reside.  However, this positive situation is turned on its head when “a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power over Egypt” (Exodus 1:8).  This would be the first of many subjugations to many foreign powers to be observed throughout the history of this chosen nation.  This is when their exile from the land truly begins. 

This can actually be viewed as something of a secondary exile, this time involuntary, whereas the first “exile,” which was their leaving the land of promise and traveling down into Egypt, was completely voluntary (they could have stayed there and Joseph could have supplied them with grain throughout the duration of the famine).  In addition, when they came to Egypt, and were introduced to the Pharaoh, the king, by way of Joseph, “gave them territory in the land of Egypt, in the best region of the land” (Genesis 47:11b).  Though they had departed from the land that God had set apart for them through His promise to Abraham---that promised land that was to be the first part of the creation to be renewed, prefiguring the whole, and thereby could be considered to the best part of the land itself---through this gift of Pharaoh, God made provision for the bearers of His covenant promises, giving them a good and bountiful land. 

Returning to what it was that marked the true beginning of their Egyptian exile, as Egypt began to oppress Israel upon the coming to power of the new king that did not know Joseph nor, more significantly, Joseph’s God, we can observe a connection with the later exile under Babylon.  That observation and connection is something of a divine reversal, as we shall see.  When Judah (Israel) was in exile in Babylon, they were awaiting an exodus.  The thirtieth chapter of Jeremiah, in addition to other places in his prophecy, certainly speaks to that hope.  What was it that brought about the end of their physical exile in Babylon, though they were still subjected to a foreign power?  It was the coming of a new king, that being Cyrus of Persia.  Contrary to the new Pharaoh of Egypt, to whom we are introduced in the first chapter of the book of Exodus, it appears that Cyrus knows Israel’s God.  In the book of Ezra, we read that “In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order to fulfill the Lord’s message spoken through Jeremiah, the Lord stirred the mind of King Cyrus of Persia.  He disseminated a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom, announcing in a written edict the following: ‘The Lord God of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth.  He has instructed me to build a temple for Him in Jerusalem, which is in Judah’.” (1:1-2)  Interestingly, these very same words could very easily have been on the lips of the resurrected Lord Jesus.  For sake of clarity, it should be mentioned that the fulfillment of the Lord’s message spoken through Jeremiah was that of return from exile, whereas it is the prophecy of Isaiah in which we learn about God’s special plans for Cyrus. 

The contrasting stories of these two kings---the un-named Pharaoh of Egypt and Cyrus of Persia, make for interesting bookends to Israel’s exile and exodus struggles.  The first brings about the first true exile of God’s called-out nation, whereas the second brings the final Biblically-recorded exile from their land (as far as being able to make their home in the land of promise, in spite of ongoing subjugation to foreign power) to an end.  At this point, the remnant of Israel (remnant is defined as those that return from exile), which would be the portion of the people of Judah that returned from Babylon (not all did), could certainly look to Jeremiah and see something of a fulfillment of God’s promise made through Jeremiah.  They would be reminded that God had said to them through Jeremiah, “Do not be terrified, people of Israel.  For I will rescue you and your descendants from a faraway land where you are captives.  The descendants of Jacob will return to their land and enjoy peace” (30:10b). 

However, based on the experience of the people that we see in Ezra and Nehemiah, and the difficulties that were endured in their return to the land and the attempts to rebuild, they would have found it difficult to find the fulfillment of “They will be secure and no one will terrify them” (30:10c).  As subjects of Persia however, it could not necessarily be said that “they will be subject to the Lord their God” (30:9a), but they could look to that situation and take solace in the fact that, in spite of ending their physical exile, God had said “I will indeed discipline you, but only in due measure.  I will not allow you to go entirely unpunished” (30:11b).  So again, the situation in which it appears that God has not been faithful to His promises persists.  Though returned to their land, God’s people cannot claim to see the fulfillment of God’s promise to “rescue…from foreign subjugation,” such that “Foreigners will then no longer subjugate them” (30:8b).  They were not strictly subject to the Lord their God (30:9a).  They did not have a David-like king ruling over them (30:9b).  This simply continues to beg the question: “Is God unfaithful?”  

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