BiND: Day 28
Well, it’s a hard day in the life of an Israelite. The kings just get worse and worse. In the northern kingdom (Israel), they’ve finally prostituted themselves enough and end up overrun by Assyria, a powerful empire in that time. The capital of Israel (Samaria) was overrun by Assyria in 722BC. The Assyrians had a pretty shrewd annexation strategy—they would take over a land, cart the people off to somewhere else, and move in their own people or people forcibly relocated from somewhere else. This way they could be sure political and military uprisings would be curtailed, since there would be language, cultural, and religious barriers to the new residents of the land getting together to resist the occupying forces. This is the consequence, the deuteronomic historian seems to say, of covenant breaking. Interestingly, this is basically the beginning of “Samaritans” as a category of people. The new residents of the land are taught about the religious practices of “the god of the land” but they also continue in some of their own practices. Later on down the historical line, the descendents of these people will be known as Samaritans, despised because of their impure blood and their impure religious practices.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch in Judah, things are going sort of okay. The kings aren’t quite as bad…well, except a few…and there are even two who are downright trying! But by the time we get to Josiah, the king who reigns when the book of the law is “found” and who institutes widespread reform in religious and social practice, the one who brings the nation back to covenant keeping…well, it’s too late. No matter how hard Josiah tries, he isn’t able to save himself or his nation. Good works, even a good work of having faith, isn’t enough for salvation. (As Christians, we know this: we don’t earn our salvation, it’s a gift of God called grace.) Josiah dies in a battle at Megiddo (remember Ron telling us about Megiddo, which is known as “Har Megiddo” (har means mountain/hill)—which leads to the word “armageddon”? interesting…) and the next couple of kings just get the Israelites into even more trouble. Ultimately the Babylonians (the Assyrians are toast by this time) come in and lay siege to Jerusalem, destroying the whole place, including the Temple, in 587 BC.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of 587 in biblical history. This is THE central event of the Israelite people. Everything (pretty much all the writing from Joshua on down through the history and the prophets and even into the new testament) leads here and back, over and over again. The chosen people, the chosen house, the chosen land…chosen no more. The very place where God chose to live…gone. Overrun. Destroyed. Razed. The people deported or killed. This is the crisis of faith, the crisis of covenant, the crisis of life. The people are taken away from their promised land, and it looks as though God has departed, leaving the people on their own. It’s hard to imagine, but in the worldview of the time, in the religious belief of the time, either God had abandoned the people or God wasn’t the powerful deity they’d thought. It’s not looking good. And the king? Well, after a few years in a Babylonian prison, he’s let out and ends up a courtier with a stipend from the king of Babylon. It looks like his evil ways continue….but so does the Davidic dynastic line, technically. You see, Jehoiachin can’t simply be eliminated because he is the last remnant of God’s promise, a glimmer of grace in a foreign land. He is the hope of the historian, the hope of the Israelite people who still have energy to look to the future.
photo is of ruins of 1st Temple Jerusalem…what was left after the Babylonian army razed the city. by 21stcenturycatholic, on Flickr.
PS: There are conflicting scholarly/religious accounts of just how many people went into exile—anywhere from “just the power players” to “everyone” seems to be on the table. What’s important here is not whether the entire people was taken away or whether only the king and his court were—what’s important is that the people felt adrift, cut off, like they had left God and/or God had left them. They were in exile not just from their land but their Lord as well. In some ways we, who understand the covenant differently, can still relate to this. Though we don’t believe there to be literal physical repercussions for covenant breakage (like losing a job or contracting an illness or enduring a tragedy), we do know from personal experience that breaking the covenant leads us to exile in different ways (whether an inner sense of disconnect from God or a literal being cut off from the community we need, or a bunch of other ways). The ancient worldview can only see physical, or “real” consequences, whereas we are aware that there are other kinds of consequences. So it is possible, if we wish, to read the exile in our own time as a physical manifestation of an inner/psychological/spiritual phenomenon. Okay…end excursus on contemporary exile…