Understanding the Bible 11: The Babylonian Exile

How do we reconcile the wrath and love of God???  The images of gentle shepherd seem so at odds with those of a punishing judge we are tempted to imagine they describe different deities.  And yet both wrath and grace are such inextricable dimensions of the God of the Bible that neither be dismissed.  One cannot keep “love” and jettison “wrath” (or vice versa) and remain true to the biblical story.  So how are we to make sense of this seeming contradiction in God’s very nature?  

In this episode of the podcast make an attempt.  Continuing our series – Understanding the Bible – we look at Israel’s exile in Babylon (a story essential to properly understanding the salvation project and the New Testament).  

exileAs we discussed in Part 10 of the podcast, the exile into Babylon is  God’s explicit punishment of sin.  Israel – God’s covenant partner in the work of salvation – has turned from her calling.  Though warned by the prophets that judgment will follow if she does not change her ways, Israel remains unrepentant.  And as a result, in 587 BCE, the southern kingdom of Judah falls to the Babylonian Empire.  

This dispossession of the land of promise (Gen. 12:1-3), is not merely a political or social calamity, but clearly portrayed as the intentional act of Israel’s partisan God (and is one of the clearest example of divine wrath in the Bible!).  God has handed his people over.  And in so doing, causes Israel to wonder if the whole salvation project has been abandoned once for all.

These events – and the manner of their depiction on scripture – often cause us to cast God (unconsciously?) – as a volatile and capricious father; one who can simply reach the limit of his patience and be overcome with rage:  God will pull this car over and spank the misbehaving children (and thereby restore his own stability).  And while – sadly – this is the experience of many children of the earthly parents, it is not at all the picture of God as portrayed in scripture!  

I hope in this episode to make the case that punishment is a result of love, not an act contrary to it – that love will correct, but always in service of the larger project of compassion.  The exile is excruciating for Israel – and very fearful.  But it is temporary…

With the Babylonian captivity the curtain falls on Act 1 of the biblical story.  But as it does, we know that the stage is being reset for the next step in the work of salvation.  It is to the promise of restoration that we turn in next week’s podcast.



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