Exiled (Jeremiah 52:12-30)

The Babylonian Exile by Jewish-German painter Eduard Bendemann (1811-1889)

In the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon on the seventh day of the fifth month, Nebuzaradan, the king of Babylon’s chief deputy, arrived in Jerusalem. He burned the Temple of God to the ground, went on to the royal palace, and then finished off the city. He burned the whole place down. He put the Babylonian troops he had with him to work knocking down the city walls. Finally, he rounded up everyone left in the city, including those who had earlier deserted to the king of Babylon, and took them off into exile. He left a few poor dirt farmers behind to tend the vineyards and what was left of the fields.

The Babylonians broke up the bronze pillars, the bronze washstands, and the huge bronze basin (the Sea) that were in the Temple of God and hauled the bronze off to Babylon. They also took the various bronze-crafted liturgical accessories, as well as the gold and silver censers and sprinkling bowls, used in the services of Temple worship. The king’s deputy didn’t miss a thing. He took every scrap of precious metal he could find.

The amount of bronze they got from the two pillars, the Sea, the twelve bronze bulls that supported the Sea, and the ten washstands that Solomon had made for the Temple of God was enormous. They couldn’t weigh it all! Each pillar stood twenty-seven feet high with a circumference of eighteen feet. The pillars were hollow, the bronze a little less than an inch thick. Each pillar was topped with an ornate capital of bronze pomegranates and filigree, which added another seven and a half feet to its height. There were ninety-six pomegranates evenly spaced—in all, a hundred pomegranates worked into the filigree.

The king’s deputy took a number of special prisoners: Seraiah the chief priest, Zephaniah the associate priest, three wardens, the chief remaining army officer, seven of the king’s counselors who happened to be in the city, the chief recruiting officer for the army, and sixty men of standing from among the people who were still there. Nebuzaradan the king’s deputy marched them all off to the king of Babylon at Riblah. And there at Riblah, in the land of Hamath, the king of Babylon killed the lot of them in cold blood.

Judah went into exile, orphaned from her land.

3,023 men of Judah were taken into exile by Nebuchadnezzar in the seventh year of his reign.

832 from Jerusalem were taken in the eighteenth year of his reign.

745 men from Judah were taken off by Nebuzaradan, the king’s chief deputy, in Nebuchadnezzar’s twenty-third year.

The total number of exiles was 4,600. (The Message)

The Babylonian Exile by Fahri Aldin, 2017

Eventually, God’s words and decrees happen. It may take minutes. It might take centuries. But it will happen.

God promised destruction. It happened. The temple, the city walls, and the houses of Jerusalem were destroyed.

God decreed deportation of the people. It happened. Thousands of Jews were uprooted and moved to Babylon.

God foretold depression. It happened. The social and economic system of Judah collapsed.

God said there would be an occupation of Gentiles. It happened. The occupying force seized and confiscated the holy temple articles. They violated that which was sacred to Judah.

God repeatedly told the people that there would be a reckoning for the years of social injustice and religious infidelity. It happened. There was not just a deportation of persons; there were waves of removal.

The long prophecy of Jeremiah began with a proclamation of exile. It moved toward that exile. And then, in the end, the exile became reality.

Surely, it must have seemed to the citizens of Jerusalem that the end of the world was at hand. Their very identity as God’s people, as they had understood it for centuries, was now obliterated. Who are they now?

The Jewish exile changed forever their understanding of themselves and of God because they needed to reimagine what being the people of God really means without a place and without a temple.

God is both subject and object of all Holy Scripture, including the book of Jeremiah. Perhaps neglected in all the talk of exile is that the Lord was also cast-off, put away, and exiled. And rather than this being bad news, it becomes the good news that divine presence was right alongside the exiles.

In our darkest times, in the worst of circumstances, when all seems hopeless – there is a God who shows such solidarity with us that he is crucified and put to death so that we might live.

The Lord does not stand afar off from us but is beside us, even within us.

The sheer violation and agony of Good Friday and the depressive silence of Holy Saturday are the means of demonstrating the power of resurrection and new life.

We may be deported, depressed, and destroyed – exiled to a place we do not know and do not want to be. Yet, that is not the end of the story.

Exile is temporary. Mercy is forever. There cannot be a resurrection without a death. There must be suffering before there is glory.

Love wins. Every time.

God is Love. Thus, there is always hope….