Monday, July 10, 2006

Ransom Captive Israel (Part 1)

The task of this brief essay is to examine “Exile Theology” as it relates to Jesus studies. At first glance, this may seem like a simple matter. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of Old Testament studies knows the profound impact the exile had on Israel’s history, expectations, etc.[1] In fact, views regarding the importance and influence on the theology and expectations of Jews in the first century run the gamut—some believe restoration from exile was the central hope of Second Temple Judaism (e.g., N. T. Wright), while others dispute the entire notion that the Jews of Jesus’ day thought they were in exile (e.g., Maurice Casey). Here we will examine some of the issues involved.

1. Exile and Restoration in the Torah and Prophets[2]
The hope for restoration is clearly expressed in the book of Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy 27, Moses lays out for Israel the way they shall renew the covenant with the Lord.[3] The first fourteen verses of Deuteronomy 28 provide a description of the blessings that are attached to obedience—health, prosperity and victory over their enemies (28:1-14). The remaining fifty-three verses describe the curses Israel’s disobedience will trigger—climaxing in Israel's being sent off into exile, a scattering which appears irreversible.

Moses goes on to say that Israel will inevitably disobey and be scattered to distant lands. However, their suffering will lead to repentance:

When all these things have happened to you, the blessings and the curses that I have set before you, if you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, and you and your children obey him with all your heart and with all your soul, just as I am commanding you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, gathering you again from all the peoples among whom the Lord your God has scattered you.  Even if you are exiled to the ends of the world, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will bring you back.
Exile, therefore, would not be the end of the story—restoration would follow once Israel repented.

According to the rest of the Old Testament, the exile came as promised. In the 8th century b.c. the northern tribes (the house of “Israel” or “Ephraim”) were led off into captivity by the Assyrians. This deportation is described by Amos: “Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land” (Amos 7:11, cf. 7:17). Later, in the 6th century b.c., those from Judah (the southern tribes) were led off into the Babylonian captivity.

Yet, despite the apparent cataclysmic destruction, the prophets described a future restoration. It would be impossible to enumerate all of the prophecies here. Here are just a few.

Is. 11:11-13, 16: On that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that is left of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Ethiopia, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea. He will raise a signal for the nations, and will assemble
the outcasts of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. The jealousy of Ephraim shall depart, the hostility of Judah shall be cut off; Ephraim shall not be jealous of Judah, and Judah shall not be hostile towards Ephraim... there shall be a highway from Assyria for the remnant that is left of his people, as there was for Israel, when they came up from the land of Egypt.

Jer. 10:3: For the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the Lord, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their ancestors and they shall take possession of it.

Ezek 37:11-14: Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.’ The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, take a stick and write on it, “For Judah, and the Israelites associated with it”; then take another stick and write on it, “For Joseph (the stick of Ephraim) and all the house of Israel associated with it”; and join them together into one stick, so that they may become one in your hand.  And when your people say to you, “Will you not show us what you mean by these?”  say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am about to take the stick of Joseph (which is in the hand of Ephraim) and the tribes of Israel associated with it; and I will put the stick of Judah upon it, and make them one stick, in order that they may be one in my hand. When the sticks on which you write are in your hand before their eyes,  then say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from every quarter, and bring them to their own land.  I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms.

Hos. 11:10-11: I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst and I will not come in wrath. They shall go after the Lord, who roars like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west. They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes, says the Lord.

In connection with this restoration theme, the biblical literature frequently makes use of Exodus imagery. We will deal with the New Exodus next time...

Continue to Part 2...

[1] See, for example, the work of David Smith-Christopher. The Religion of the Landless: The Social Context of the Babylonian Exile (Bloomington: Meyer-Stone Books, 1989) who emphasizes the social and psychological impact of the exile on Israel.
[2] This section will only offer a brief overview of the topic. Much more, of course, could be said. For a fuller discussion, see Restoration: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Perspectives (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism; Edited by J. H. Scott;. Leiden: Brill, 2001).
[3] This was accomplished through self-maledictory oath swearing. See, for example, Mosh Weinfeld, Deuteronomy 1-11 (New York: Doubleday, 1991), 50; Meredith Kline, “Dynastic Covenant” in Westminster Theological Journal 23 (1960): 1-15.
[4] Examples of Exodus imagery used include wilderness imagery, the theme of “the way,” sea imagery, and references to singing a "new song" to the Lord.”

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