Exile is a place of despair, anguish, loss, and hopelessness. There is a tyranny in the monotony of “more of the same.” Some give in and give up. Some acquiesce and find their place among the oppressors. Others, a few, a small remnant, maintain a faithful hope, an expectant leaning forward into the possibilities of what might be. Though Exile is a place that taunts us with the weight of nothingness, courage is mustered by some to refuse to give Exile the last word.
After decades in Exile, the people of Israel would again cry out. Remember, God responds to the suffering. Through the mouths of the prophets now come words of comfort and prophetic hope, the imaginative, creative, poetic language that evokes the possibilities of newness, a fresh story. “I will not remain angry forever.” God says. “I will forgive.” He promises. “I will prepare a way through the desert, making the crooked road straight, and the hills level.” “I will lead you home.” The promise of home. This is the theme of hope in Exile. God is a deliverer from oppression and tyranny, the restorer of all good things. God is able amidst the forces of domination and perversion to cut a highway in the desert. He alone has this power. No idol, no god of the foreigners, no promise of prosperity from Babylon, only God can bring Hope from desperate straits.
And deliverance would come, in the most unexpected way. It will come through the hands of foreign invaders, heathen powers from Persia. It’s vicious kings, the likes of Cyrus, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes, would show favor upon this beat down people. It is during this time, that resistance stories like Esther are told, stories that point to the unrelenting favor and faithfulness of God in the most precarious of places. During this time, release from captivity would be granted. First, Zerubbabel would be sent back with Jews to rebuild the infrastructure of the city and its temple. Then Nehemiah, a simple servant of the Persian king, will lead back others to do the extraordinary, to rebuild the walls of protection around the city of Jerusalem in just over 50 days, an amazing, God-ordained feat.
Their hopes were to recover their former glory. They wanted to become the power they once were, to restore the Temple as God’s inhabitance, and the politics of military strength. Such glory would not be their destiny. Ezra, a man well versed in the Law, returns to Jerusalem and launches a major religious renewal, reinstituting many of the former practices, rituals, and feasts, and bringing together the portions of the Scriptures in much more authoritative form. However, they would remain in a precarious position, finding themselves time and time again under the thumb of foreign powers, the Greeks and then the Romans. During this time, we have little account of God’s activity in the canon of Scripture (though we can find help from the Apocrypha – secondary literature that according to our faith tradition is not authoritative Scripture). But Israel yearned, they hungered for a redeemer, someone to save and deliver them from the hands of their enemies. They sought a Messiah! An anointed Ruler…a Chosen Leader from the family and line of David…and so they waited.
Continue on through Luke…you are doing great!
Well, we you’ve officially covered about 2/3’s of a book of the Bible! That’s awesome. And then Luke 17. This one is hefty. Do me a favor, take your time. Let’s only look at Luke 17:1-10 for today. There’s a lot here. Jesus pushes us to think through the nature of our actions, forgiveness, our faithfulness, and obedience. He does so in 10 VERSES!! Sheesh, that’ll get you. Imagine standing in the crowd…perhaps you’d just deceived someone and in so doing had led them astray. Then listen to Jesus. Maybe, someone you knew had recently sought forgiveness for their mistreatment of you, and then listen to Jesus. Maybe you are used to thinking you deserve praise for all the good you do, then listen to Jesus. What do you hear? How are you affected?