Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 19. Redeeming Israel – The Exile
2 Chron 36:15-17 The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians
Recap: We have considered the redemption of Israel through the Exodus and then God’s ongoing redemptive activity getting them to Sinai and then into the Promised Land, His activity seeing them through their early years as recorded in Judges and then Solomon’s failure that resulted in the nation being divided into two. The next big milestone in Israel’s history that we now come to is the Exile. When we did a study on Manasseh, we also considered the last six kings of Judah (Israel having gone long before) and perhaps we need to recap those kings here:
Amon: He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, as his father Manasseh had done. Amon worshiped and offered sacrifices to all the idols Manasseh had made. But unlike his father Manasseh, he did not humble himself before the LORD; Amon increased his guilt. (2 Chron 33:22,23) Contrasted with his father, did some of what Manasseh had done but did not repent.
Josiah: A mostly good king (see 2 Chron 34 & 35) but was unnecessarily killed after a battle (35:20-27).
Jehoahaz: Only reigned a short period before Egypt came against him and so Jehoahaz ends up in Egypt and Jehoiakim is left to reign. See 2 Chron 36:2-4
Jehoiakim: (2 Chron 36:5-8) Did evil, was taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar after 11-year reign.
Jehoiachin: (2 Chron 9,10) A bad king who only reigned for three months before Nebuchadnezzar called him to Babylon.
Zedekiah: Refused the Lord (2 Chron 36:11-14), and after 11-year reign was taken into exile with Judah in Babylon (36:15-21)
And So? Now what this short summary does is show us the terrible state of the leadership of this special nation, a nation called to be God’s special possession and a light to the rest of the world. Moreover, where the leadership of a nation goes, the nation tends to follow, and the prophetic words from both Jeremiah and Ezekiel confirm that this was so. It was like the spiritual tide of Israel had gone out – and was staying out! Now, at the risk of being tedious, can I remind you what this series is all about: it is about our God who, confronted by our continual failures, perseveres and works to bring us through to a good place. Our problem with the Bible tends to be twofold. First it is so big we tend to be ignorant of big bits of it (ask any church group to recount the main points of Israel’s history as seen in the Old Testament and see how much we don’t know). Second, some bits of it that we do focus on (having missed the ‘hard’ bits), become so familiar that we give little thought to them. It is for this reason that I emphasise our purpose here.
The Exile? If some of the bad sides of some of the people we considered shocked us, and if the continual history of grumbling and turning away from the Lord in Israel’s history have depressed us, that should all pale into insignificance in comparison to what take place in the run up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587BC, the carrying away of virtually all the people to Babylon. Samaria being destroyed, and the northern kingdom being taken off was one thing, but the destruction of Jerusalem AND the Temple is something else! It is clearly the end of Israel! – or it would be if Jeremiah hadn’t already prophesied that God would bring the nation back and restore them after seventy years! Now seventy years is a long time, an average person’s lifetime. It turns out that that seventy years would be measured from the destruction of the Temple to the completion of the rebuilding of the new Temple. God’s house. God’s presence is the measuring stick. The means of the people being returned – pagan king Cyrus being told by God to let them go – is incredible. Up until that point, if you were a survivor, you might have been sitting there in misery in Babylon wondering how anything could possibly change your circumstances. And then suddenly a royal proclamation comes from the palace to your people – get yourselves ready, you’re to go home, yes back to Canaan!!!!!
Incredible! The story is so enormous, so incredible and takes up so many pages of prophecy and history in your Bible that I am not attempting to quote any of it. Read Jeremiah, read Ezekiel, for the historical references within prophecies, read the end of 2 Chronicles for the way it is summed up, read Ezra and Nehemiah to see how the return was worked out. It is all there, pages and pages of it. In many ways it is more low-key than the Exodus but in other ways far more dramatic in the sense of the many warnings that came through the prophets, the devastating events that brought an end to Jerusalem, the years of silence that must have followed, and then the edict of a pagan king to start all over again. It is staggering, it is incredible, it is amazing. If you’ve never caught it before, catch it now. This is God changing history just by gently speaking into the heart of a pagan king. Mind blowing! This is redemption!
The Lessons? The lessons in all this are very obvious but that doesn’t make them less significant. First, see the persistence of God who through His prophets tries to hedge off this catastrophe. The sheer number, content and completeness of the many prophecies that came through Jeremiah and Ezekiel has always amazed me. Again and again the words kept coming to each of these last kings, trying to bring them to their senses. Yes, the first thing has to be the love and persistence of God that sought to prevent it all happening. Second, there has to be the folly of mankind for, let’s be honest, Israel were no greater or no worse than the rest of the world; they just came as a demonstration example under the microscope to show us folly at its best (or worst), even in the face of God’s continual love, with God talking to them all the time. Third, there has to be seen the wisdom of God seen through what takes place. Yes, it is horrific when Jerusalem is besieged, people die, and others are taken off into captivity, but at the end of it, lo and behold, here are a holy people, a purified people who are seeking God, seeking to ensure their lives are right with God and who are free of idol worship. Jerusalem, the land, Israel, are all in a new place with God.
And to come? Yes, there is going to be silence from heaven for a number of centuries while God waits for human history to change to be ready for His Son to come and the good news to be spread around the world, but in the meantime, Israel are still there, ready to be the environment for all of those amazing events we find in the New Testament, and it will be to those we will turn in the next study, as we pursue God’s redemption of Israel.