Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Exile: Yahweh's Irresistible Judgment

(This is part 3 of a discussion that began with "Freedom and Forgiveness." If you haven't read the previous parts you will want to scroll down to catch up.)

The book of Judges records a series of stories that follow a certain pattern: Israel would be unfaithful to their covenant with Yahweh, and judgment would follow, usually in the form of defeat and oppression at the hands of another nation. God would raise up a charismatic leader (a judge) who would remind Israel of the need to be faithful to Yahweh, they would repent, God would forgive, and the nation would be restored after a military victory over their oppressors. This cycle of sin/judgment, repentance, forgiveness, and restoration, repeats itself six times in the book of Judges; however, it is not confined to the period of the judges. This pattern actually defined the relationship between Israel and Yahweh. When Israel was faithful, they prospered; when they were unfaithful, things went bad for them until they repented. Whenever they repented, God forgave and restored them. Always. It was something they counted on. Sometimes God would send prophets to the Israelites to warn them of the judgment and give them time to repent. And if they repented, he always forgave them and withheld the judgment.

Until Yahweh got tired of it. The Israelites always counted on repentance leading to forgiveness and restoration. In fact, they counted on it so much that they took it for granted that Yahweh would always forgive and restore. And they needed it, because their unfaithfulness became habitual. It was like there was something in their DNA that had a power over them such that they almost couldn’t help themselves. They were addicted to unfaithfulness, and any addiction exerts a power over the addict such that they aren’t free, and can’t free themselves.

Eventually Yahweh had had enough. He decided that no matter how much they repented, how much they begged, how much they brought their sacrifices and tithes to the temple, he was going to punish them, and this time there was no turning back.

God calls Isaiah and tells him, “And he [Yahweh] said, ‘Go and say to this people: 'Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.' Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.’ Then I said, ‘How long, O Lord?’ And he said: ‘Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; until the LORD sends everyone far away, and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land. Even if a tenth part remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled.’ The holy seed is its stump.” (Isaiah 6:9-13)

Yahweh has decided that judgment had to come, and no amount of praying and repenting, sackcloth and ashes, fasting and sacrificing, would make him change his mind. In fact, he didn’t want to hear their empty promises anymore. It just made him sick. “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.” (Amos 5:21-23)

So the judgment came. First the Assyrians came in 722 B.C.E. and attacked the northern kingdom (called Israel), overrunning all the Israelite lands in Galilee and the Transjordan, deporting parts of the population to exile in Assyria, and totally destroying numerous cities. Judah, the southern kingdom of Israelites, was able to hold out a bit, becoming a vassal state to Assyria. When Hezekiah was king of Judah he rebelled against the Assyrians and was able to withstand a siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib, so that Judah somewhat maintained her independence. But all that changed when a new empire, the Babylonians, supplanted the Assyrians as the power in the region. Judah held out as long as it could, but in 586 B.C.E. Nebuchadnezzar conquered Judah, destroying Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple, and deporting a large portion of the population.

There was nothing left. David’s kingdom was gone. The Israel of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was gone. This was Yahweh’s judgment.

And it lasted for over 500 years.

© 2009 by Larry L. Eubanks

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