THE EXILE: DEFEAT OR LIBERATION FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD?
The remaining chapters of II Kings chronicle the shrinkage, decay, defeat and near disappearance of the nation state of Judah (which includes the tribe of Judah, Benjamin and many Levites), the last remnant of God’s Covenant People. There was a brief reversal and renewal during the reign of Josias, when the book of the Law (Deuteronomy?) was rediscovered in the Temple and read to the citizens of Jerusalem. But other kings, especially Mannasseh, had set in motion forces of corruption and decay that were too strong to resist. “A fish rots from the head down,” says the Greek proverb. First, Judah was subjugated to Egypt upon the death of Josias (ch. 23). But when Egypt’s power was driven back to its borders by ascendant Babylon, Judah suffered three waves of warfare and deportation, the final and climactic one recorded in II Kings 25. As both the First and Second Temples (AD 70) were destroyed on the same day (9th day of the 5th month, or Tisha b’Av), the commemoration and lament of that calamity is an important feature of Jewish life and faith still (see http://judaism.about.com/od/holidays/a/tishabav.htm). There is no way we can overstate the brutality of Jerusalem’s destruction, nor the effects of this dislocation from land and people (read Ps. 137). Of great irony is the fact that the children of Abraham were forcibly returned to the land where their story began, in Mesopotamia, among Abraham’s people, the Chaldeans, by the Chaldeans.
In some ways, the Exile can be said to continue today, even though Israel has been re-established as a nation. For one thing, many of the Jewish people still live outside Israel and Jerusalem. But also, the prophetic promises of restoration have not yet been fulfilled, or, to Christians at least, are being fulfilled in the person and ministry of Jesus, through the mission of his church. This does not diminish the dignity nor the importance of Judaism, Israel nor the Jews today. According to Paul, in Romans chapters 9-11, Christians are grafted onto the covenant people and thus share their condition of being spiritual exiles in the world, as well as their spiritual riches.
From an Anabaptist/Mennonite point of view, the kingdom and the glory of David’s and Solomon’s reign, are not something to aspire to, nor restore, but a cautionary tale that points us to a different kind of glory, an enduring and indestructible glory, the glory of the Servant King who died for his subjects, rather than sending them out to die for him in wars of imperial expansion, and who is building a temple for God out of living stones—even the most lowly and broken ones: us. That means that the Exile, while something to lament, is also something to embrace, in which to find a greater good, and a greater glory, than the glory of Solomon’s palace or the city walls. “One greater than the temple” has come to “tabernacle among us” in our exile as “aliens and sojourners in the world.”
I CHRONICLES: Everyone Counts.
In I Chronicles we take up again many of the stories covered in the books of Samuel and Kings, but with a different focus—Judah and Jerusalem—and a different perspective: that of the priests and Levites. By contrast, I and II Samuel and I and II Kings bear more the imprint of the Law and the prophets, and contain both Israel and Judah in their focus. Given their responsibilities, it is not surprising that priests and Levites would be attentive to the kinds of ceremonies, genealogies and other details recorded in Chronicles.
WHY SO MANY GENEALOGIES IN THE BIBLE? Everyone is counted because everyone counts. And, contrary to our highly individualistic age, in which each generation is practically a culture and a nation on its own, the identities of biblical persons are much more tied in with generations past and future. This rings true with all that we’re learning today about family systems, and the kinds of emotional, relational and physical heritages that can survive the passing of generations. Thus a covenant made with Abraham and Sarah is binding on their descendants. Genealogies also invite us to consider a person in continuity, community and contrast with his or her ancestors. This is still common in much of the world today, e.g., in much of West Africa, where the village griot, or singer, orator and story-teller, also knows and recounts the genealogy of each prominent, rooted family in the village, and something salient, memorable, about each ancestor. As the proverb puts it, “If we don’t know where we’re coming from, how will we know where we’re going?” Biblical genealogies and numbers, such as those we find in the first few chapters of I Chronicles, also give us windows into the life and conditions of ancient Israel. Keep all that in mind as you “plow through” the “begats” and “begottens” of biblical genealogies like those in I Chronicles.
“In you, LORD, I have taken refuge,” is a recurrent phrase in the Bible, especially the Psalms. “Refuge” is one of the names of God. What the psalmist fears, from which he or she seeks refuge in this Lament, is shame, shame before God, and shame before enemies. With this we get a biblical angle into justification: not only the acquital of a guilty soul before God, but the justification of his/her hope in God, without which the Psalmist would be shamed before others who take refuge in idols, or in their power and possessions. The “Righteousness” of God is not only God’s goodness and sinlessness, but, according to verse 1b, God’s faithfulness to come through on behalf of those who trust him and fear [to revere in awe and wonder] him: “deliver me in your righteousness.” Marvel with me that the words of men and women are now God’s Word to us, especially the words of men and women under the heel of oppression and injustice, people in need, at the underbelly of power and status in the world. “Blessed are ye poor.” If, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, it is Jesus who walks, lives and prays most faithfully in and through the Psalms, then this prayer for vindication and deliverance, by the righteousness of God, was most powerfully answered by his resurrection, and will be most fully answered for us with his return.