By Marco van Putten
Exile is the state that follows banishment. It’s an alternative death penalty. Actually worse. Especially when the duration is indefinite or forever. Consciously one must endure being separated from the origin, to which return is denied. The ‘comfort’ of banishment is that life is prevailed and hope remains for a return to the origin.
Voluntary spreading versus banishment
People have spread over the earth by Gods will (Greek: Diaspora; Gn 1:28). Thus, the first believers also. But later God promised Abraham Land for his own, where he and his sons could live as strangers; Hebrews. After his descendants, the Israelites, had taken the Promised Land into their possession, they began to trade with the (neighboring) peoples and nations. The Israelites have then, in an ‘organized’ way, voluntarily spread over these countries in trading posts. In this way they again fulfilled the original command of God despite having possession of their own Land.
Exile is a punishment. This, above all, becomes clear in physical consequences; being separated from the homeland. This is also so in a diaspora. But in the Bible Israel’s exile is about its spiritual state; being rejected by God. Regardless whether they (still) live in the Promised Land or (later) have it in their possession or not.
However, voluntarily spreading has nothing to do with God’s later punishments of Israel by banishment. Still, this is regarded as being the same. Perhaps this is done out of shame over these banishments. To cover them up. Israel’s banishments are however unique and have only a spiritual purpose. It was God’s intension that Israel would live in a blessed relationship with Him. Even when some of them lived voluntarily in a diaspora outside of the Promised Land. An example of that is what happened to Israel during its long stay in Egypt (Ex 1:7). Even when the Egyptians started to suppress them, God blessed them (Ex 1:12). Suppression of Israelites outside the Promised Land is therefore not the definition of their exile, as some think. The relationship of Israel with God determines whether their suppression is or is not the consequence of that. If that relationship is good, then suppressing Israel is a sin of the nations against them. Like Egypt did. However, when it happens after God has banished them, then their suppression is a consequence of that. Then it comes from God (Is 51:17).
The most severe form of banishment in the Bible is being scattered (in the wind directions; Eze 5:10). That is not a banishment to a specific place of exile, but is being obliterated under the nations. When later generations have no longer any knowledge of their origin. There is no longer any continuation of inheritance. Such banishment has (partly) befallen Israel.
Why is Israel banished? Because they have broken God’s Covenant from their side (Is 24:5), whilst the conditions of it stated that death penalty would follow when this would happen. God, however, made His bond with the patriarchs and with Moses by swearing an oath (Gn 26:3; Ex 33:17), to keep Israel in existence for ‘ever’. Therefore God chose this alternative death penalty; banishment from His Sight. God’s Presence (Hebrew Sjechienah) was taken away. Their religion was no longer pleasing before God. The Temple was destroyed. Still, the leading rabbi’s state that Talmudic Judaism, developed during God’s banishment, is the ‘higher form’ of Jewish religion. Better than during the Temple periods.
However, their banishment is consistent with the Torah of Moses. That thus means that, as long as Israel is being banished, they are sealed up under that Covenant of Moses. Thus, for Israel the conditions of that Covenant will remain in force as long as their banishment lasts.
God’s aim with the banishment is that they will be sifted out. This means that many of Israel will die, both literally and figurative. The end goal is repentance, realization of their falling away from God, facing the severe situation they are in and that they need to return to God. The pious ‘remnant’ that returns shall be saved, but they shall only be able to do this according to God’s word.
Israel underwent two banishments. The first was the ‘Babylonian exile’. That had a fixed duration of 70 years, as God made known to them in advance (2 Chr 36:21; Jr 29:10). The second is the ‘Scattering under the nations’. Since it sequels the first. Its duration is undetermined. Thus is the seriousness of God’s reckoning due to their second falling away. The Bible seems to show that God will keep it at two banishments. However, also the end of the second exile has been announced ages ago (Is 43:6; 66:8).
Difference between God’s people and God’s nation
There is a difference between a people (Hebrew ’am) and a nation (Hebrew goj). A people are a group of families or tribes that share off-spring, culture, history and most often habitation area. Governance of a people is primitive and minimalistic. Mostly patriarchal and/or through elders in tribal councils. A nation is a people that are constitutionally organized. It’s a people that have grown so big that state owned institutions become necessary, like counsels using an overall law, an army and a government. A nation can also encompass several peoples.
Israel distinguished itself within God’s people since God made them into a nation. God’s people distinguish themselves from the pagan peoples in having God as their Father. He is their Patriarch. God takes care of them and guides them. However, in Israel a delegated form of God’s government materialized. Israel is part of God’s people, but they are the only ones within God’s people that He made into a nation. This prophetically points towards God’s ultimately planned government of His people; the Kingdom of God on earth. God obviously wants to live among His people and His people want to live close to Him. But all this means that Israel has a greater responsibility then God’s people. Still, Israel has never fully encompassed God’s people and God’s people were never limited to Israel. God had, for example, children before Israel was established, like Noah, and also during the two exiles, like the Persian king Koresj and the ‘Christians’. But even when Israel existed as a nation there were always non-Israelite who were children of God, like Jetro, the father-in-law of Moses and the converts in Nineveh through the prophetic work of Jonah.
God made Israel into an exclusive nation with their own Land. That’s why they could be banished as a nation. But that Israel through its banishments would suffer on behalf of humanity is impossible; banished Israel can no longer have any spiritual function. Israel’s banishment was the end of their nation hood, but not of their people hood. Despite that they are no longer part of God’s people (Hos 1:9). Although God cannot banish His people, but that He did banish Israel says something about His Character. Israel’s banishment has also consequences for God’s people as a whole.
Consequences of banishment
These are, amongst others:
• God punishes
First of all the banishment shows that God’s patience has an end. He punishes His own children in the here and now (1 Pe 4:17). Hence, Israel’s current banishment last already almost two millennia. If God did not spare Israel, shall He then spare Christians that fall away from Him? Don’t they have an even greater responsibility since the Holy Spirit dwells within them? However, Christianity states that it is impossible for them to fall away from God. That claim cannot be based on the Bible, but goes against it (Hb 10:29).
• God’s Kingdom is not yet established on earth
Since the central religious authority (the Temple) is taken away from the earth, God’s people (also Christianity) have become divided. Splintered even. That Temple was originally established when God created Israel and lasted for about 1400 years . Banishment means decay in unity of His people. A weakening in a dominant pagan world. It is obvious that the contempt for God increases and also the recalcitrance against Him. The trespassing of Torah (lawlessness) becomes worse and vileness becomes more and more the norm . The pious growing up amidst the ‘weed’ blurs the difference between the two for the human eye (Mt 13:30). But not for God’s Eye. Still, this has a negative effect on God’s people (Mt 25). This doesn’t mean that God will not act, not bless or not have pity, but that the visibility and notice ability of this will decrease. The rebuilding of God’s Temple thus is the first important step towards the establishment of God’s Kingdom on Earth. But without that Temple His Kingdom cannot be established (Jh 18:36).
• The ministry of the Lord Jesus is still unfulfilled
He still has to fulfill the reconciliation of God’s people and still to become the Messiah-King. Now He is cohen gadol (High priest) in the Temple in heaven whilst Israel is banished from God’s Presence. Firstly, Israel has to be reconciled with God. The Lord Jesus has accomplished the spiritual redemption of the power of sin, but He has not yet done so for Israel’s ‘crime’ against God’s Covenant. But also a reconciliation is needed for the crimes Christians commit (Rm 8:34). Also, He isn’t finished yet with humanity. A reconciliation of the world is also at hand.
The Lord Jesus will, as Messiah, restore Israel and become the King of kings.
• Christianity only temporarily dominant
Whilst Israel is banished it is no longer part of God’s people. Therefore God’s people, of which Christians can be part, has come into the spotlight. It distinguishes itself from Israel by not being banished. The Lord Jesus made with God’s people the New Covenant (NC). This seems the distinction between Israel & the church. However, this is a comparison between things that are incomparable. Because Israel still exists through its band as a people. A band that the ‘church’ doesn’t have. Also, Israel will return to God’s people. The church however is convinced that through its supposed creation by God it will always be central to Him and puts itself in the place of Israel’s old nationality. This shows that it doesn’t understand God’s reality and His Salvation plan. The ‘church’ is something different then God’s people. The best scenario for it is that it partly overlaps with God’s people.
• There are Messianic believers
Judaism teaches that the Lord Jesus only has relevance for non-Jewish believers. However, the Lord Jesus clearly still has to fulfill His most important mission; the restoration of Israel. His main objective when He came was Israel; He has laid the foundation for Israel’s restoration, but also became their stumbling block. Individual Jews have recognized that and accepted the NC, but their individual ‘return’ stands separate from Israel’s collective return towards restoration. According to the Bible that restoration only comes through the Messiah. He still has to come.
God’s stance towards banished Israel
During Israel’s banishment God remains involved in Israel. However, God no longer dwells amidst Israel and as exiles they no longer are a nation. Still He cares for them. That becomes clear from the actions of prophets, like Ezekiel and Daniel, during the first banishment. But also from Israel’s remnant that returned from it and their leaders, like Ezra and Nehemiah. It would be conflicting with God’s Character if this isn’t also the case again during Israel’s second banishment. That God remains faithful, even when Israel doesn’t, proves that His prophetic word will be fulfilled. If He announces Israel’s restoration, then He will make that happen. Since God has promised to keep Israel in existence for ‘ever’ with an oath. The restoration of that nation in the future means the conservation of the band with the people of Israel in the present.
1] This includes the time of Tabernacle, which Moses erected.
2] Not only regarding God’s will, but also in human conscience and thinking.