The Promised Land was now only sparsely populated, with refugees from elsewhere in the Assyrian empire in the north and poor farmers in the south. Jews were still in the land, but with the smallest population since the heady days of Joshua and the Israelites.
Again we must consider these events in the light of God’s covenants with Abraham and Moses. Again I remind you that the covenant promises regarding the land were summed up in the Palestinian Covenant, warning the Jews that the punishment for unfaithfulness and disobedience would be exile from the land, but that the right to the land would never be taken from them and one day in the future it will be theirs again.
The Israelites of the Northern Kingdom had already been exiled, with no hope of return, but when the Jews of the Southern Kingdom now largely go into exile too, they are reminded that their exile is to be temporary, in fact just 70 years, as we read in Jeremiah 25.
Even Isaiah, who had died over a century earlier, spoke of this in Isaiah 48:12-22: “… Leave Babylon, flee from the Babylonians! Announce this with shouts of joy and proclaim it ...” The great prophet of the exile was Ezekiel and he too reminded the Jews of a return to the land, but he mysteriously spoke more about another return, one that was far off into the future. More of that later.
It is worth mentioning that, since the Northern Kingdom had disappeared from the scene a couple of centuries earlier, the name Israel is now used to refer to the Jews, who are now mainly languishing in parts of the Babylonian Empire. The Book of Ezekiel, written to the Jews in exile, uses the word ‘Israel’ 158 times and doesn’t mention the word ‘Jews’ once. From now on the words ‘Israel’ and ‘Jews’ are referring to the same people, lest other groups start to claim the name Israel for themselves.
The Kingdom of Priests were kept intact as a people through all of these upheavals. What happened to the Jews in Babylon was an interesting story. After hundreds of years in their own land they were now strangers in a strange land. It was a huge shock to their system as the land they had left behind was, after all, the land promised to them as their eternal possession by God Himself. It was the land dominated by the awesome and magnificent Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, the place where God was said to reside, the only place where sacrifices could be made. How were the Jews to worship their God now that the Temple was inaccessible to them? There was only one thing for it, they had to adapt to their new situation – or die. It is important to realise that, in God’s eyes, the people of Israel have been and will always be of much greater importance than the land of Israel. It wasn’t the land that was going to produce the Messiah. It wasn’t the land that was going to bless the World. The land of Israel never has been and never will be a blessing, unless the people of Israel are living in the land. History bears this out. So our attention now moves to the people of Israel, exiled from the land and living in Babylon.
Now not all Jews were taken into captivity by the Babylonians, they only took the cream of society, leaving behind the dregs. A new community was created, adapting to the lack of a single focus, by meeting in synagogues (a new concept) and yeshivas (places of learning). They lived along the Chebar river (the river of Babylon) and were allowed to farm and build houses for themselves. The head of the community was the Resh Galusa, a man who always had to be a direct descendant of King David.
But we know that none of them were part of the messianic blood-line, because that privilege was held by Zerubbabel, who led the exiles back to the Promised Land at the earliest opportunity. This whole exile shouldn’t have been a surprise to them. The prophet Jeremiah had already spoken of it, given the reasons for it and proclaimed when there’d be an end to it.
“This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile … This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfil my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7, 10)
(This is an abridged extract from Steve’s book Outcast Nation)
You may also find the following interesting
Watch the above video by Steve Maltz – “Hebrew Roots – Bondage or freedom?”.
Watch the above video by Steve Maltz – “Jesus from a Hebraic Perspective”.