Friday

25 June 2010

"He burned the house of the Lord, the king's house, and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down." (v.9)

Background

The year is 587 BC and the final calamity happens - the kingdom of Judah falls, the Temple is destroyed, the people are broken and taken captive to Babylon. This event reverberates through the writings of the histories and prophets of Israel, and especially in the extraordinary person of Jeremiah who lives through it. It is at the heart of the deepest theological reflection on the redemptive power of suffering and sacrifice in the heart of the book of Isaiah.

But the event is normal enough in the annals of the world. Another small kingdom invaded, ravaged and depopulated by a world imperial power - Babylon. Its king is brutally maimed, its leaders exiled and the remainder of the population left to eke out a living.

We know that there is a return from exile. The Temple will be rebuilt (and then destroyed again by the Romans). But this event is the centre around which everything else revolves. God had promised to be Israel's god; God had called Jerusalem God's own holy city and the Temple God's own and holy dwelling place - the centre of the earth. Despite the traumas of Israel's half-millennium experiment with monarchy, for as long as Jerusalem and the Temple endured there was hope and there was promise.

What does their destruction mean then?

Remarkably, exile gives rise to hope. You can sing the Lord's song in a strange land because nowhere is strange to God. You can trust God even in a time of failure because God does not abandon anyone. You can hope in exile because salvation is not at root about protection or rescue, but about a new creation in which everything is changed.

These are the deepest reflections and insights on a terrible event. They do not come easily or cheaply. The hope and the future that is discovered in exile is not realised in the actual return and the building of a new Jerusalem. The poor who are left behind to till the soil and dress the vines are even worse off after the exile. Jerusalem has been wept over many times; we weep for it still.

To Ponder

Reflect on when you have learned to 'sing the Lord's song in a strange land' and what this means.

What words would you include in your singing of the Lord's song?

What is the difference between hope and wishful thinking?

Bible notes author: Revd Dr David Hewlett

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