It’s going to be summertime in a few weeks! It already feels like summer today, with an unusually high temperature of 92. When I first wrote this post, our church had recently hosted the week-long Vacation Bible School, which in turn reminded me of childhood experiences. My own memories of VBS at my hometown church are very fond. We met in an upstairs classroom in the then-forty-year-old church building, with a decent view of the nearby downtown and the shady Randolph Street. We learned simple Bible stories and also some catchy songs, like “Do Lord.”
I’ve got a home in Glory Land that outshines the sun
I’ve got a home in Glory Land that outshines the sun
I’ve got a home in Glory land that outshines the sun
Way beyond the blue.
I was little and misunderstood what “outshines” means. Instead of “shines brighter than the sun,” I thought it mean “sunny outside.” So I had an image of Heaven as being outdoors and pleasant, like summer days with no school.
With that word “glory” stuck in my mental nostalgia, I decided to look at biblical texts related to glory.
Glory can mean honor/renown, or beauty/magnificence, or heaven/eternity itself. St. Ignatius’s famous motto was Ad maiorum Dei gloriam, “to the greater glory of God.” I always took this to mean, “to increase God’s renown (through our devotion and service),” but the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner notes that we also share in God’s own life as we serve God.
There are many biblical references to “glory.” You can spend hours looking up passages from Nave’s Topical Bible or some other source (like the ones I’ve used and footnoted here), that provide insights into the biblical material. I found this website, http://members.cox.net/decenso/Glory%20of%20God.pdf, which also provides many Bible references to God’s glory, including references to the departure of God’s glory (e.g. 1 Samuel 4, when the ark was captured), the promise of God’s presence and manifestation, the presence of God’s majesty in creation (Ps. 97:6), and the glory of God that we know and see in Jesus (Heb. 1:3, Col. 1:19, Col. 2:9, 1 Cor. 2:8, Rom. 9:23 Eph. 1:18, Col. 1:27 Acts 2:3).
Carey C. Newman, writing in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (pages 576-580) notes that the biblical words for “glory” are kavodh and doxa; that second word provides the root for “orthodox” and “doxology.” That same source (which I’m studying as I flip through my Bibles and discover additional passages) indicates that, among other usages, the word applied to God can mean appearance or arrival, as at Sinai or the Tent of Meeting or the Temple. This is the special Presence of God (Shekinah), sometimes depicted in “throne” visions (as in the famous Ezekiel 1 and Daniel 7, and also the non-canonical 1 Enoch 14), and also the presence of God which dwells in the tabernacle (as in the Priestly history (e.g. Exodus 40:34-38). Moses and Aaron are able to mediate between the people and God, because at this point in the biblical history, because God’s glory is dangerous, as in Lev. 9, when the sons of Aaron are killed, and the later story in 2 Samuel 6, when well-meaning Uzzah touched the ark when it was being carried improperly on a wagon. The presence of God is also associated with the cherubim and the mercy seat (Heb. 9:5, Ex. 25:22, Num. 12:89, Deut. 33:26, 1 Sam. 4:4, Ps. 18:10, Ezek. 9:3, 10:4, Heb. 9:5).
Later, God’s glory dwells in the Temple (2 Chr. 5:13-14), and frighteningly departs from it later (Ezekiel 8-11). Biblical scholar Jacob Milgrom likened Solomon’s Temple to Dorian Gray’s picture: the people’s sins “collected” there, necessitating periodic sin offerings in order to remove the uncleanness. Gammie notes, though, that the people’s sins became so dire, numerous and ongoing, that these offerings no longer sufficed, even those of the Day of Atonement. Thus, the result of which was the loss of God’s Shekinah and inevitable foreign conquest of Judah and Jerusalem. 
Glory is not the same thing as holiness, but God’s glory and God’s holiness are closely connected as attributes of God and aspects of God’s manifestation, as well as the discipleship we pursue “for the glory of God.” It is difficult to mind a modern analogy to the biblical idea of holiness: something powerful and necessary to handle properly (like fire or electricity) but also something “contagious,” from which one must be cleansed through prescribed means. One had to perform purity rites when one touched something unclean/unholy, like blood or a dead body. One had to perform sacrifices and priestly activities in a prescribed way, not to endure nit-picky rules but in order to handle something very powerful in a safe way.
The holiness of God is reflected in Israel’s life in the Torah’s distinctions between unclean and clean, holy and common, and sacred and profane. We may wonder about the ideas of cleanness and uncleanness because of texts like Acts 10:9-16, but in Israel, these were God-given parameters for how to live and how to relate properly to God, not only according to God’s expressed will but according to God’s revealed nature, the Holy God who dwells in Israel. (cf. Zech. 2:13-8:23; 14:20-21).
God stipulates holiness on the part of his people because he desires to create Israel as his own people and to be in covenant with them. To be associated with God is a call to be pure and clean as well. I become impatient when people isolate the Ten Commandments from other biblical material (as, for instance, important statements in the history of law, or as general moral guidelines). The commandments function as those things, but you must notice that they are first given in context with God’s covenant with the people of Israel. God first gathers the people at Sinai and makes a covenant with them (Ex. 19), and only then gives them laws. Within those laws, in turn, God provides means for repentance and atonement for sin. In other words, God’s grace and love always precedes and encompasses the ethical aspects of God’s will, not vice versa; you could say his glory is revealed in love.
Holiness not only has distinctions of clean and unclean, but also justice and righteousness—again, reflecting the glory of God as the just and righteous Lord. Holiness is never understood (properly at least) as only a concern for right ritual, cleanness, and restoration from uncleanness. Israel also witnesses to God through acts of justice, provision, and care for the needy (Lev. 19; Ps. 68:5). As the Baker Dictionary author puts it, “it is the indication of the moral cleanness from which is to issue a lifestyle pleasing to Yahweh and that has at its base an other-orientation (Exod. 19:6; Isa. 6:5-8). Every possible abuse of power finds its condemnation in what is holy. Those who live in fear because of weakness or uselessness are to experience thorough protection and provision based on the standards of righteousness that issue from God’s holy reign (Exod. 20:12-17; Lev. 19; Ps. 68.:5).”
Among other aspects of God’s glory, there is also a “royal theology” of glory, e.g. Psalm 24, where God’s glory, the human king, and the establishment of the Jerusalem sanctuary are all connected. As Newman states, “The regular enjoyment of Yahweh’s divine presence, his Glory, forms a central part of Temple liturgy and democraticizes the unqualified blessing of God upon king, Temple, nation, and world. Glory in a royal context assures of Yahweh’s righteous and benevolent control over all.”
Newman continues: the biblical concept of Glory also has to do with judgment, as in Jer. 2:11-13, Hosea 10:5-6. Of course, God demands holiness from his people and eventually God must deal with sin. But God’s glory also connects to restoration and hope especially in Second Isaiah: “The arrival of Yahweh [in the transformed Jerusalem] not only restores what once was—the glories of a Davidic kingdom—but also amplified. Mixing Sinai with royal imagery, the prophet speaks of a day when the Lord will once again “tabernacle” in Zion. This time, however, Yahweh will “create” a new (and permanent) place for his Glory to rest. (p. 577).
According to Newman, there are several important aspects of the New Testament theology of glory. All these references are worth looking up and thinking about.
* The continued use of glory to mean God’s appearance and presence (Acts 7:55, Heb. 9:5, etc.)
* The Son of Man theme is connected to glory and the throne of glory (Mark 8:38/Matt. 16:27; 19:28; Luke 9:26; Mark 13:26/Matt. 24:30; 25:31; Acts 7:55, 2 Peters 1:17).
* The many depictions of glory as an eschatological blessing: Jude 24, Heb. 2:10, Rev. 15;8, Rev. 21:11, et al.) As Paul says, the glories of redemption make present day suffering pale in comparison (Rom. 5:2, Rom. 8:18, also 1 Pet. 4:13 and 5:1). At that time we will share in glory (2 Thess. 1:9-10, etc.).
* But this future glory is not just a long-from-now time, but also something we share in Christ now, as in Col. 1:17, 3:4, Titus 2:13)
* Also glory as resurrection. As in Rom. 6;4, 1 Cor. 15;25, Phil. 2:5-11, 1 Tim. 3:16, 1 Peter 1:21, Rev. 5:12-13, et al. Hebrew 2:9 applies Ps. 8 to Jesus even though it is not a “messianic” psalm.
* And glory and Christology, as in the beautiful Heb. 1:1-14.
* Paul also calls Jesus the Lord of Glory (Eph. 1:17) and connects Jesus to the glory of god in 2 Cor. 4:6, and 2 Cor. 3:18.
We can see two aspects of the powerful quality of holiness in Jesus’ life and death. Notice that when certain people (and demons) in the Gospels encounter Jesus, they want him to go away (Matt. 8:34, Mark 1:23-25, Luke 8:37, even Luke 7:6). That’s not because he was unpleasant; it was because they perceived that he was holy—and holiness is dangerous for mortals to encounter. People thought that Jesus had to be approached in a way befitting God’s powerful holiness.
As God’s glory “dwelled” in the tabernacle and temple, now that glory dwells in Jesus: John 1:14 doesn’t just mean that Jesus lived among the people of his time, but that the glory of God itself was visible and present in Jesus (also Heb. 1:1-4). If blood has a power (related to cleanness, uncleanness, and holiness) powerful enough to cover people’s sins in the days of the tabernacle and temple, the shed blood of Jesus is powerful enough to cover people’s sins, 2000 years later and beyond.
Ideas of holiness that reflects God’s glory are strong New Testament themes, too. The purity and justice to which Christians are called are Spirit-given gifts and, as such, are God’s own holiness born within us which empower our witness to others (e.g., 2 Cor. 5:21, 2 Pet. 1.4). As one writer puts it, “[God’s] character unalterably demands a likeness in those who bear his Name. He consistently requires and supplies the means by which to produce a holy people (1 Peter 1:15-16).”
God’s glory and holiness extends to the sanctification of believers, who are called hagioi, “saints” or “holy ones,” a term used over 60 times in the NT. As one writer puts it, the outward aspects of holiness in the OT are “radically internalized in the New Testament believer.” “They [the believer/saints] are to be separated unto God as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1) evidencing purity (1 Cor. 6:9-20; 2 Cor. 7:1), righteousness (Eph. 4:24, and love (1 Thess. 4:7; 1 John 2:5-6, 20; 4:13-21). What was foretold and experienced by only a few in the Old Testament becomes the very nature of what it means to be a Christian through the plan of the Father, the work of Christ, and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.”
Thus, New Testament ideas of glory stress Jesus’ dwelling among us, and the gift of the Holy Spirit in believers. If you appreciate the Old Testament passages about the in-dwelling of God’s glory, you may be taken aback by the idea that the Lord God Almighty, whose glory is dangerous to approach, now is present in us through the Holy Spirit.
In fact, as a spiritual exercise, read biblical passages that reflect a very “majestic” view of God’s glory (e.g., Exodus 40:34-38 and Deut. 5:22-27), in conjunction with passages like Romans 3:21-26, Heb. 1:1-4, and Heb. 4:14-16. Don’t think that the more “scary” passages about God’s glory have been superseded by the New Testament; think instead about how the same God who dwelt among the Israelites now dwells with you in the Holy Spirit—exactly the same God upon whom you call when you’re desperate and in trouble, whom you trust will help you!
1. Karl Rahner, “Being Open to God as Ever Greater,” Theological Investigations, Vol. VII, Further Theology of the Spiritual Life 1 (New York: Seabury Press, 1977), pp. 25-46.
2. Carey C. Newman, “Glory,” The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of The Bible, D-H, Vol. 2 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007), pp. 576-580.
3. John G. Gammie, Holiness in Israel (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), 38-41.
4. “Holiness,” in Walter A. Elwell (ed.), Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), page 451.
5. Newman, 577.
6. Newman, 577.
7. Newman, 578-580.
8. “Holiness,” 340-344.
9. “Holiness,” 343.
Later, I found this interesting article on Twitter: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/roger-isaacs/how-did-the-biblical-glor_b_905944.html
The Biblical Exile
I mentioned that, among the many scriptures about God’s glory, is Ezekiel 8-11, a frightening passage describing the departure of God’s glory from the Temple.
That passage reminded me of another distressing passage, 2 Kings 23:21-25:30. Although it is arguably not as important as the Exodus (see my earlier post, “The Exodus and Our Faith”), it is one of the most important passages in the whole Bible, and one of the Bible’s (and history’s) great turning points. But fewer of us pour over 1 and 2 Kings, to think about any but a few compelling stories.(1)
Here is a portion (NRSV): At that time the servants of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came up to Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to the city, while his servants were besieging it; King Jehoiachin of Judah gave himself up to the king of Babylon, himself, his mother, his servants, his officers, and his palace officials. The king of Babylon took him prisoner in the eighth year of his reign.
He carried off all the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king’s house; he cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the temple of the Lord, which King Solomon of Israel had made, all this as the Lord had foretold. He carried away all Jerusalem, all the officials, all the warriors, ten thousand captives, all the artisans and the smiths; no one remained, except the poorest people of the land. He carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon; the king’s mother, the king’s wives, his officials, and the elite of the land, he took into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. The king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon all the men of velour, seven thousand, the artisans and the smiths, one thousand, all of them strong and fit for war. The king of Babylon made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, king in his place, and changed his name to Zedekiah.
Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he began to reign; he reigned for eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamutal daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, just as Jehoiakim had done. Indeed, Jerusalem and Judah so angered the Lord that he expelled them from his presence.
Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.
And in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came with all his army against Jerusalem, and laid siege to it; they built siege-works against it all round. So the city was besieged until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. On the ninth day of the fourth month the famine became so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land. Then a breach was made in the city wall; the king with all the soldiers fled by night by the way of the gate between the two walls, by the king’s garden, though the Chaldeans were all round the city. They went in the direction of the Arabah. But the army of the Chaldeans pursued the king, and overtook him in the plains of Jericho; all his army was scattered, deserting him. Then they captured the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah, who passed sentence on him. They slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, then put out the eyes of Zedekiah; they bound him in fetters and took him to Babylon.
In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month—which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He burned the house of the Lord, the king’s house, and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. All the army of the Chaldeans who were with the captain of the guard broke down the walls around Jerusalem. Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried into exile the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had defected to the king of Babylon—all the rest of the population. But the captain of the guard left some of the poorest people of the land to be vine-dressers and tillers of the soil.
The bronze pillars that were in the house of the Lord, as well as the stands and the bronze sea that were in the house of the Lord, the Chaldeans broke in pieces, and carried the bronze to Babylon. They took away the pots, the shovels, the snuffers, the dishes for incense, and all the bronze vessels used in the temple service, as well as the fire pans and the basins. What was made of gold the captain of the guard took away for the gold, and what was made of silver, for the silver. As for the two pillars, the one sea, and the stands, which Solomon had made for the house of the Lord, the bronze of all these vessels was beyond weighing. The height of one pillar was eighteen cubits, and on it was a bronze capital; the height of the capital was three cubits; lattice-work and pomegranates, all of bronze, were on the capital all round. The second pillar had the same, with the lattice-work.
The captain of the guard took the chief priest Seraiah, the second priest Zephaniah, and the three guardians of the threshold; from the city he took an officer who had been in command of the soldiers, and five men of the king’s council who were found in the city; the secretary who was the commander of the army who mustered the people of the land; and sixty men of the people of the land who were found in the city. Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard took them, and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah. The king of Babylon struck them down and put them to death at Riblah in the land of Hamath. So Judah went into exile out of its land.
Why is this key to the Bible? John 3:16 fits better on signs—and is far more upbeat. (But this passage speaks to John 3:16, too, as noted below.) The entire passage describes the conquest of the southern kingdom, Judah, by the Babylonians in 586 BC, the destruction of Jerusalem and the first Temple in 586 BC (the Assyrians had conquered the northern Hebrew kingdom, Israel, in 722 BC), and further deportations to Babylon (after the first deportations in 597 BC).
Continuing this “Bible journey” concerning God’s glory, I want to shift gears and rediscover why the exile is so central in the Bible—and for our faith, although we may not think much if at all about it.
The Exile’s Background
The fall of Jerusalem and the subsequent exile (2 Kings 24:18-25:30 and Jeremiah 52:1-34) are truly key events for the entire Bible. Not only did it mark the end of the Davidic monarchy (conventionally conceived), it was a second experience of wilderness, perhaps more profound than the forty years of Moses’ leadership.
A significant part of the Old Testament is God’s promises to create a people and to give them a land—and the exile marks a turning point in that 1500-year history. God’s promises are found as early as God’s pledges to Abraham (then still “Abram”) in Genesis 12 and 15.
The remainder of Genesis concerns Sarah’s and Abraham’s descendants up to the Joseph’s death in Egypt.Exodus 1-15 is the story of those descendants, the Hebrews, and their slavery in Egypt and God’s rescue of them via Moses’ leadership. The remainder of the Torah tells the story of the Hebrews/Israelites (along with the many laws God gives to them in context of the covenant between them and God) in their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness.
Next, the book of Joshua concerns the conquest of God’s Promised Land under the book’s eponymous leader. And next, the book of Judges covers the many years when the Israelites were governed by a succession of chieftains. This takes us up to about the year 1000 BC, or a thousand years after Abraham.
1 and 2 Samuel covers the beginning of the Israelite monarchy, first Saul, and then David. Under David’s kingship, the different portions of the Israelite land are united, and worship of the Lord is established in Jerusalem. David is followed not by his surviving first-born but by his son Solomon, renowned for his wisdom, wealth, and women. But Solomon breaks the covenant (1 Kings 11), setting the stage for future trouble.
But the kingdom splits under the kingship of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam (1 Kings 12), between the Northern (Israel) and Southern (Judah). The Northern kingdom is ruled by a succession of kings until the Assyrians conquer the nation in about 722 BC (2 Kings 17). Unlike the later Babylonians, the Assyrians resettle conquered areas, and so the 722 deportations not only result in the “lost tribes of Israel” but also the beginning of the Samaritans (2 Kings 17:1-6, 24-41, 18:9, 1 Chr. 5:26). (To this post I’ve added a few personal pictures of 8th century BC Assyrian carvings–from Tiglath-Pilasar III’s palace in Nimrod—from the British Museum in London.)
(Inhis book Biblical Theology of the Old andNew Testaments, my professor Brevard Childs notes that the Assyrian practice of moving non-Jewish people into the land (2 Kings 17:24) was different from the Babylonians practice, as seen in the ability of the Hebrews to return after that exile. But that process of resettlement, and the origination of the Samaritans, set the state for continual conflict among the Judeans and other peoples during the period after the restoration: Hag. 2:10ff, Ezra 10:2ff, Neh. 4:1ff.)(2)
Power balances and shifts in that part of the world account historically for the troubles of Israel and Judah. Egypt was a major power on one hand, while a series of kingdoms dominated political affairs to the north (Assyria, then Babylon and neighboring Chaldea, then Persia—i.e., modern Syria, Iraq, and Iran). The Hebrew land lay right between those powers and Egypt.
The Southern Kingdom continued to endure, until its own succession of terrible king (the worst of all being Manasseh, Josiah’s father), until the 500s. During the 600s, Assyria conquered Egypt but experienced ongoing unrest and civil war, a situation which allowed Babylonia, Chaldea, and also Judah (then ruled by Josiah) to defeat Assyria in 614-609. During Josiah’s notable, 30-year reign (2 Kings 22:1-23:30), Judah enjoyed greater independence and the king authorized many positive religious reforms.
Unfortunately, Manasseh’s sins took Judah past the point of no return in God’s eyes. Meanwhile, Babylonia reasserted itself and entered a successful war against Egypt. King Jehoiaskin is forced to pay tribute to Babylon but subsequently withholds it. By 598, when King Jehoiachin ascends to the throne of Judah, the Babylonian forces lay siege on Jerusalem (2 Kings 24:8-11). Jehoiachin is taken to Babylon, perhaps 10,000 are deported, and Zedekiah becomes king. (Jer. 52:28, 2 Kings 24:8, 12, 2 Chr. 36:10).
After several years of managing to placate Babylon, Zedekiah is convinced by the Egyptians to rebel, resulting in Chaldean siege against Jerusalem in 588-587 (2 Kings 25:1-2). Jerusalem falls in 586, and Zedekiah is captured and sent to Babylon (2 Kings 25:3-5). Another deportation happens and the temple is destroyed (2 Kings 25:8-12). A subsequent governor in Judah in assassinated (2 Kings 25:22-26). A third deportation happens in 582-581, according to Jeremiah 52:23-30. Another deportation during Jehoakim’s reign (2 Chr. 36:6-7, Dan. 1:1-17) seems historically unlikely.(3)
As commentator Choon-Leong Seow notes, Judah was destroyed because of persistent disobedience (2 Kings 17). Hezekiah forestalled this judgment, but unfortunately even Hezekiah finally turned to the Babylonians (2 Kings 20). And his son Manasseh was the worst of all: as Seow notes, he was Judah’s equivalent of Jeroboam, whose “counterreformation was so horrifying” and caused the people to sin. “On account of his offenses, the fate of Judah was sealed.” (p. 6) Even Josiah’s reforms should not turn back judgment (2 Kings 22:1-23:30).
The exile ended when the Persians defeated the Babylonians and then allowed the Israelites to return to the land. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah, covering the approximate years 539 till about 432 BC, depict the return to the land and the construction of a new Temple. Whether the land was wholly vacant during the exile is debatable. The Chronicler states that the land was in Sabbath rest (2 Chr. 36:20-21), while 2 Kings 24:14 states that only very poor people remained.(5) Likewise, 2 Kings 25:12 and Jer. 40:11-12 indicated some exiles return prior to 539.
The Land’s (and the Exile’s) Pervasiveness in Scripture
The history I’ve summarized so far begins with God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 and continues through the Torah and the historical books (Genesis through 2 Chronicles; the two books of Chronicles reiterate the history of 1 Samuel-2 Kings, but differences of record and theological perspective). That’s a large portion of the Bible! That’s also a very long period of time: imagine a working-out of God’s promises from the fall of the Western Roman Empire until the present day.
But that’s not all! We can’t forget that the biblical prophets arose during the period of the divided monarchy (922-586 BC), the exile (586-536), or the post-exilic period. Reading through the prophets (or using a good study bible or commentary to elucidate the text), we learn that the concerns and writings of the prophets concern the historical events of this long period. Micah, Amos, Hosea, as well as Isaiah 1-39 concern the era of Assyrian domination (unfortunately, Isaiah saw Jerusalem as inviolate). Zephaniah pronounces judgment against Judah and also the nations; Jeremiah depicts the events approaching and including the beginning of the exile and the destruction of the southern kingdom, while Ezekiel prophesied during the early exile itself, and Isaiah 40-66 concern the end of the exile and the hope for a glorious, post-exilic redemption.
Zechariah and Malachi also concern the post-exilic period. Obadiah pronounced judgment upon the area of Edom, also victims of Babylonians; the Lamentations of Jeremiah concerns the exile, and Daniel, agreed by scholars to be a later work, depicts exilic times as well. Joel seems to be post-exilic. Jonah deals with Nineveh itself in a positive way, but Nahum pronounces the destruction of Nineveh. Habakkuk, meanwhile, laments the savagery of the Chaldeans.
If you connect the exile with Genesis through Ezra-Nehemiah and then with all the prophets, you’ve connected the even with most of the Old Testament! The other writings (Job, Song of Songs, the Psalms, Proverbs, and Esther) also either date from this period or are attributable to people from this period (e.g., David and Solomon).
Thus, if you wanted to tell someone what the Old Testament is about, one possible answer is that it is the story of the gift and loss of land: God’s creation of a people and his gift of land to them, based upon his covenant with them, the people’s breaking of the covenant and God’s punishment of them via loss of the land, and his eventual restoration of the land to them.
Interconnections from the Exile
Drawing material from my other page about the Bible’s “Connections,” I’ve sketched several major, interconnected biblical themes that can be related to the exile.
* One is certainly the covenant: God will reward faithfulness and will eventually punish wickedness and apostasy. So the connection of the historical books and the Torah is, at one level, the failure of the Israelites to keep their part of the covenant faithfully; thus God’s judgment in the form of the Babylonian conquest and exile at the end of 2 Kings. But throughout these centuries, God has remained faithful.
* Connected to the theme of covenant is the theme and experience of the Land (ha-aretz)—the land promised to Israel since Abram in Genesis 12. As we saw in the Torah, God guides his people, establishes his covenant with them, gives them his law, and leads them to the Land under the leadership of Moses and then Joshua. Holding and keeping the Land, though, remains a challenge across the centuries: the seemingly victorious efforts of Joshua are far the end of the story.(6)
* Connected to the Land and covenant is the history of the monarchy. Commentators like Anderson note that while the tribal confederacy of the Judges period had problems with faithfulness and idolatry, those problems were different from other nations in that they were defined by their covenant to the Lord. But once Israel had a king, an additional temptation was added: becoming a nation like any other nation. Certainly God’s power was operative, for instance, in the selection of Saul and David and the ongoing life of the people, especially in light of the Philistine threat. But, as Anderson notes, “the religious faith of the Confederacy [of the Judges] survived its collapse and found new expression in Israel’s prophetic movement. Israel was not allowed to identify a human kingdom with the Kingdom of God, for Yahweh alone was king.” (7) Unfortunately, that meant that Israel had eventually to collapse, too, in order that they become truly faithful to the covenant.
As you explore the stories of David and his successors, you see difficulties building. Although Israel became a renowned kingdom (occasioning the famous Queen of Sheba’s visit in 1 Kings 10:1-10), we also hear of resentment about David’s census (2 Sam. 20:24 and 24), the rebellions and difficulties within David’s own family (2 Sam. 9-20 and 1 Kings 1-2), and eventually the division of the kingdom following Solomon’s death.(8) Among the several monarchs who followed Solomon, only Hezekiah and Josiah are (as my mother would say) “anything to write home about.” The rest mislead the people, practiced idolatry and injustice, and a few committed atrocities which took the kingdoms past the point of no return. On the other hand, the possibilities of monarchy gave rise to the hope for a future king who would reunite the people and regain and surpass the possibilities of peace and prosperity, as we read in the well-known messianic passages of Isaiah 9 and 11.
Within these stories, David emerges as a kind of “typology” for God’s rule.(9) The two mountains, Sinai and Zion, stand for the two covenants of God, and Nathan’s prophecy (2 Samuel 7) links David’s descendants to God’s Sinai covenant. Earlier ambivalence about a monarchy changes to a confidence in God’s rulership through David’s line. Since David is identified with Jerusalem (Zion) in his selection of that place as capital, Zion became identified with God’s own city (Ps. 46, 48, 76, and others).(10) The line of David, also celebrated in the psalms (2, 20, 31, 45, and others) connects to the later messianic hope that grows in Israel’s history and, for Christians, finds fulfillment in Jesus.
* Another theme is the Jerusalem temple. The Temple, promised to David and constructed during Solomon’s reign, is connected to the history of the Tabernacle before it (Ex. 35-40) and, of course, to the Land itself. David’s hope for a great, permanent house in the Land for God is not fulfilled, but his son Solomon constructs the facility (2 Sam. 7, 1 Kings 5-8). Like the monarchy, the temple did not survive the collapse of Judah and Jerusalem in 586 (1 Kings 25:8, 9, 13-17), but the Temple serves in Israelite memory through the exile in, for instance, the dynamic vision of a restored Temple in Ezekiel 40-48.
After the Exile
After the Persian conquest of Babylon, the Persian ruler Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to the land (2 Chronicles 36:22-23, Ezra 1:1-4). The Persians held influence over the area until Greek conquests of the 300s BC.
This overall period of Jewish history, from the rebuilding of the new Temple until its destruction by the Romans in 70 AD, has been called, appropriately, the period of the Second Temple. It was a period of great religious restoration and development for Jews. Scholars believe that the final collection and editing of the Psalms occurred during this period for the purpose of Temple worship and festivals. Indeed, the final selection of the “canon”—the books of the Old Testament—was happening during this period. The institution of the synagogue also developed during this period to serve Jews who did not live in Jerusalem. Jewish religious observance—the Sabbath and holidays, kosher laws, and so on—came to fruition during this time frame. So, too, did Jewish sects and teachers—the Essenes, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the sect at Qumran that developed the famous Dead Sea Scrolls.
Not long after the end of the high priest Jeshua and the governor Zerubbabel, helped by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, supervised the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 3-6). After the Old Testament period, Herod the Great began work on a restored temple in 20-19 BC, a building effort still going on during Jesus’ time and beyond. Herod’s temple was finally completed, ironically, just a few years before Roman forces destroyed it in 70 AD.
Responses to the challenge of the exile varied. Some people were deeply nostalgic and tearful (Ps. 137: 5–6) and uttered a savage curse upon their enemies (Ps. 137: 9). Some turned to other gods (Ezek. 20: 32), and some in self-pity blamed calamity on the previous generation (Jer. 31: 29). More optimistically, some expected a new intervention from above (Isaiah 40-66). Generally, the exiles emphasized, one way or another, their national identity as Jews among foreigners.(11)
The exile did not, of course, end for many Jews, with many remaining in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and other lands as the Diaspora. The book of Esther depicts Jews’ lives in Persia during that kingdom’s supremacy. Nor was the Davidic monarchy restored in the conventional sense, in spite of the hopes of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. But Judaism developed the institutions—the synagogue, the rabbinate, Sabbath-faithfulness, the written and oral Torahs, and other practices—that allowed the faith to survive in many different foreign lands over the centuries. The site http://www.jewfaq.org/israel.htm gives an excellent summary of the people’s history from the Jewish perspective.
Not just the Old Testament and Jewish history, but the New Testament, as I’ve said, is part of the story of the exile! Jesus and his disciples and followers were, after all, Jews in the land (now under the rule of the Roman Empire), and hopes were pinned upon the possibility that Jesus was the long-expected Davidic king. Jesus and his friends worshipped in synagogues and were faithful to Jewish practices developed during the post-exilic period. They encountered those teachers whose roles evolved after the exile— the Sadducees and Pharisees—to help God’s people remain faithful to God’s commandments. Also, many of Jesus’ encounters with Gentiles and Samaritans reflect the tensions faced by Jews struggling to live faithfully amid foreign people. One of Jesus’ most notable followers was a Diaspora Jew whose family originated from Asia Minor: Saul of Tarsus. The world of Jesus and his followers and opponents was the post-exilic world.
As I’ll note in a moment, the Lordship of Jesus was established scripturally by texts that originally concerned and addressed to the returning exiles.
The Writing and Editing of the Old Testament
Another aspect of the post-exilic period is the shaping of biblical material as it eventually becomes the canonical Tanakh or Old Testament. As one author puts it, the exile began “an era of theological creativity which was to reshape the great bulk of the OT which is pre-exilic material. OT studies therefore give far more attention to the post-exilic period than does the OT itself. This was the era when the editorial work on the Pentateuch was finalized.” (12)
This is an aspect we may not realize until we study the Bible closely, with the help of commentaries. The Bible really “hangs together” in reference to the exile, because the exile has to do with themes of God’s righteousness, covenant, faithfulness, and promises.
Scholars have long postulated a “Deuteronomistic history,” a hypothesized source incorporated into the finalized texts of Deuteronomy through 2 Kings. John H. Hayes discusses the history (“Dtr”) as “an exilic call to repentance and a return to the Torah of Yahweh. It was a call to the reaffirmation of faith, to a new expression of loyalty to Yahweh. Another purpose was to proclaim hope, the promise of better days, to a shake and disturbed people.” God had pronounced and executed judgment but he had not abandoned them. For instance, Deut. 4:1 and 4:40 give calls to obedience, and 4:9-24 warns against worshiping Canaanite gods; likewise Deut. 30:1-3. Likewise Joshua 23 (Joshua’s speech), and 1 Samuel 12 (Samuel’ speech) remind and warn the people about faithfulness. Also 2 Samuel 7:14-15 (and the whole speech of God which warns about faithfulness and judgment, and also Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8:22-53). All these texts can be read in connection to the fall of the northern and southern kingdoms and Jerusalem.(13)
According to Dean McBride, affirmations of God’s providence give Deuteronomy a broad scriptural context: for instance, Deut. 4:35-38-Isaiah 44:6-8, Joel 2:27; 7:10, Exodus 34:6-7, Daniel 9:4-6, and John 4;2; 30:6 and Jer. 31:31-34, Ezek. 11:17-21; and 30:15-20 and Ps. 11-112 and Prov. 14:27. He writes, “[C]lose study of such associations only serves to the highlight the decisive significance of covenant as contextual matrix for the theological testimony that coheres in and is characteristic of Deuteronomy itself.” (14) Within this covenant is of course Israel’s call to be set apart: 7:6, 14:2, 21; 26:16-19, 29:10-15, 33:5, and others. P. 117: these obligations make “a totalizing claim on those who comprise Israel (e.g., 6:1-15, 10:12-22, 11:18-21).(15)
As the Deuteronomist material was shaped, so were other sources during the exilic and post-exilic periods. The hypothesized original “book of the covenant” (Ex. 20:22-23:33) may have been reworked in conjunction with Deuteronomist laws, and what resulted was “what is arguably a new literary genre of jurisprudence: a comprehensive national constitution, which is identified as a Torah of Moses.” This work may have been done as early as Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:3-8, 19-35) but surely continued during and after the exile.(16)
The priestly history is another hypothesized source, in conjunction with other sources called the Elohist and Jahwist, used by the final writers and editors of the biblical material, including Genesis 1, 6-10, 17, 37-50, aspects of the Moses and Exodus stories, the tabernacle stories and descriptions, much of Leviticus, and large portions of Numbers. Hayes notes that the “priestly history” speaks of God’s “mighty works” back to creation itself, while Anderson notes that the priestly material understands sacrifices as a way of “repairing the breech” between God and man (rather than placating or cajoling God), obviously a crucial concern in the exilic and post-exilic periods.(17)
Interconnections with the New Testament
If you trace all these scriptures to the exile, you see how that tragedy and its hopeful aftermath form strong interconnections among different biblical texts—and really set the stage for the advent of Christ.
Some of the interconnections of the Old and New Testaments (also from my “Connections” page on this site):
* The great theme of Yahweh’s salvation. The name “Joshua”–who, of course, led the people to the Land in the first place—is in Hebrew the same name as “Jesus,” meaning “Yahweh saves.”
* The theme of the Land. The Land is not spiritualized in the Old Testament the way that it tends to be in the New. In the Old, we speak of the actual land and its possession. Deutero-Isaiah begins to move in a more spiritual direction (Is. 44:24ff, 49:14ff), and in the New Testament, Jesus himself becomes the “place” where God dwells (John 1:14).(18)
* The theme of the Kingdom of God. The phrase is not used in the Old Testament, but the kingdom of God is the principle theme of Jesus’ preaching and connects with God’s sovereignty through Israel’s history. As Graeme Goldworthy puts it, “While the Old Testament is everywhere eloquent in describing the sovereignty of God in history to work out his purposes, Jesus declares that he is the goal of that sovereign working of God.”(19)
* The theme of a new kind of monarchy under David’s descendant, Jesus. In his person and work, Jesus brings themes like the Lamb of God, the sufferings of David, and the suffering servant of Isaiah into the theme of the king of Israel (20): thus, when Jesus is killed, the charge against him is “king of the Jews.” But in his suffering and death is victory over sin and death, and the ambiguities of the Israelite monarchy are resolved.(21)
* The theme of the Temple. The New Testament never explicitly mentions the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, an odd omission since portions of the New Testament are presumed to date from the late first century. Jesus quotes Jeremiah concerning the First (Solomon’s) Temple, and he himself is the new temple (John 2:20-22). Paul, in turn, calls each of us “temples of the Holy Spirit” in that God’s presence dwells within us now in a special way (1 Cor. 6:9-10).
* The realities of post-exilic Judaism provide a more subtle connection. Groups like the Pharisees and Sadducees formed in response to the spiritual needs of the people during the post-exilic time, as did institutions like synagogues, Sabbath requirements, and festivals to which Jews—many living in different parts of the world after the exile—came to Jerusalem (e.g., John 11:55 and also Acts 2:5-11).
Likewise (to pick up an earlier point), many of the promises first voiced by prophets to give hope to the exiled people were taken up into the new Christian message. As Brevard Childs writes, “certain chords were sounded by Jeremiah and Deutero-Isaiah which resonated strongly in the New Testament (new covenant, vicarious suffering, new creation, and the suffering servant)”(22) and these “chords” permeate the New Testament.
We also find many specific connections of prophecy and typology; a Bible explorer can spend months and years tracing and delving into the prophetic roots of Christian faith—prophetic passages originally addressed to the Hebrews with reference to God’s purposes before, during and after the exile. Here are just a few.(23)
* John the Baptist (Isa. 40:3-5, Mal. 4:5-6, Mk. 9:1, Lk. 1:17)
* Jesus’ birth (Isa. 7:14, 9:6-7, 11:1-5, Mic. 5:2, Mt. 2:6, Lk. 1:30-33)
* Jesus’ authority and teaching (Is. 6:9-12, 9:1-2, Mt. 4:14-16, 13:14-15)
* Jesus the shepherd (Ez. 34:11-16, John 10:7-11)
* Jesus’ ministry (Isa. 32:3-4, 35:5-6, 33:22, 42:1-4, 61:1-2, Mt. 9:32-35, 12:17-21, Lk. 4:17-21)
* Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Zech. 9:9, Mt. 21:4-5)
* Jesus’ sufferings, betrayal, and death (Isa. 52:13-53:12, Zech. 11:12-13, 12:10, 13:7, in addition to Ps. 22, 69, and others)
* Jesus’ resurrection (Ez. 37:1-14, Jonah 1:17, Mt. 12:40, and among the psalms Ps. 16:10 and Ps. 110:1)
* The New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34, Mt. 26:26-29, Rom. 11:26-36, Heb. 8:8-12)
* The Temple in relationship to Jesus (Isa. 56:7, Jer. 7;1, Mk. 11:15-18, John 2:13-23, Acts 7:47-51)
* “The righteous shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 1:17)
* The Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-29, Acts 2:16-21)
* The redemption of all nations (Isa. 2:1-4, 1 Peter 2:10)
* Exodus themes connected with God’s judgment and future renewed covenant (Isa. 11;11; 35:3-10; 51:9-11; 52:4-6; Jer. 16:14, 15; 23:5-8; Ezek. 20:33, 38; Hos. 2:14-23, 1 Cor. 5:7f, 10:1ff, 2 Cor. 3).
* Related to the redemption of the nations: the metaphor of marriage between God and his people (e.g., Hos. 1-3, Rom. 9:25-26, 1 Pet. 2:10, Eph. 5:25, 32, Rev. 19:7, 21:2, 9)(24)
* The end times (Daniel 7:1-12:13, much of the book of Zechariah, Ez. 38-39). In fact, no other New Testament book quotes or alludes to the Old Testament as often as Revelation: nearly 200 references in all, especially Ezekiel, Daniel, Isaiah, but also Exodus, the Psalms, and other books
The exile bequeathed us themes such as God’s continual concern for Israel and his continual work of redemption. The exile was interpreted not as God’s abandonment of his people, but as one side of God’s righteousness which continues to express itself in mercy, restoration, and love.
I mentioned John 3:16 earlier: “for God so loved the world…” But this is no “sweet” love, rather, it’s a fierce love that demands much both from God and God’s people. Walter Brueggemann quotes Deuteronomy 7:7-8a and 10:15, and comments, “This is no casual, formal, or juridical commitment [to Israel]. This is a passion that lives in the ‘loins’ of Yahweh, who will risk everything for Israel and, having risked everything, will expect everything and will be vigilant not to share the beloved with any other. This is no open marriage. The outcome of a passion so intensely initiated has within it the seeds of intolerance, culminating in violence. There is indeed a profound awkwardness in this presentation of Yahweh, but Israel does not finish in its testimony. The God who has been madly in love becomes insanely jealous, which is Israel’s deepest threat and most profound hope… This is [the God] who goes wholly overboard in passion, to Israel’s great gain and then to Israel’s greatest loss… It is worth nothing that in the Johannine witness in the New Testament, there are those familiar words, ‘God so loved the world…’ So loved! How loved? In what way? To what extent? So loved….to give all…and demand all.”(25)
A World Council of Churches essay by Peter-Ben Smit makes several interesting insights about the exile.
* The Bible is in many ways about being in exile and longing to be redeemed from exile. The Bible begins with the exile from Eden, of course.
* Smit notes that Jesus’ death and resurrection happens in the connect of Passover, which of course points back to Egyptian slavery and that earlier “exile” .
* The liturgical traditions of the church have been language of exile, too: our longing for heaven as we struggle in the world.
* Smit also notes that exile functions in contemporary theology in postmodernism (the uncertainty and absence of God, theologies of liberation (the struggle of oppressed people for freedom), and peace churches (the theology of whole reliance upon God rather than violent means: the error of Israel and Judah in relying upon foreign powers). But he argues that ecumenism itself echoes exile-language within theological in discussions of the church and the world (the church as an eschatological community in “exile” in the world), hospitality (caring for others who are in exile in different ways), healing broken relationships, being “wounded healers” of others, and so on.(26)
Of course, the theological theme of “the church in the world” connects us back to the beginning of these notes: with the themes of glory and holiness—and our hopes that our actions and ministries will be done ad maiorum Dei gloriam.
Even that peppy little hymn “Do Lord,” which I learned so many years ago in Vacation Bible School, seems “exilic.” We’ve a home in the land—but in Glory Land, not our present place which is temporary. But God will remember us and redeem us!
It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
and rescued us from our foes,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
who gives food to all flesh,
for his steadfast love endures for ever.
O give thanks to the God of heaven,
for his steadfast love endures for ever (Ps. 136:23-26)
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves (Ps. 126)
But now, irrespective of law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21-26).
1. Writing in The New Interpreter’s Bible (Vol. 3, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999), Choon-Leong Seow writes (p. 6), “Arguably the most challenging task for the interpreter of Kings is to make sense of it in one’s own day and age.” He notes that there are heartwarming stories like Solomon’s wisdom and justice (1 King 3:4-15, 3:16-18), and also the compelling stories of Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 18:1-46, 2 Kings 5:1-19). But more difficult to interpret—and make applicable for the present day–are the lists of kings, details about the temple, administrative material, and also very violent material (e.g., 2 Kings 9:1-10:36, strange stories (e.g. Elisha and the axe head: 2 Kings 6:1-7), and ethnically difficult material (1 Kings 1:1-2:46).
2. Brevard S. Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), p. 162.
3. Ralph W. Klein, “Exile,” The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007), 367-370. Two interesting online sources arehttp://www.kirkofkildaire.org/ed/FClessons/ExileBibleStudyNotes.htmandhttp://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/the_Exile.aspx
4. Seow, pp. 5, 6.
5. Klein, p. 368.
6. One classic study is The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith by Walter Brueggemann (second edition, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002). Gordon J. Wenham writes, “The [book of Genesis] begins with the triumphant account of God creating the world in six days and declaring it ‘very good’, and it ends with Joseph confidently looking forward to his burial in the promised land. Judges by contrast opens with the rather ineffective efforts of the Israelite tribes to conquer that land and closes after a most dreadful civil war with the gloomy reflection, ‘In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes’ (21:25).” Story as Torah: Reading Old Testament Narrative Ethically (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000), page 45.
7. Bernhard W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, third edition (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1975), pp. 162-163.
8. Anderson, p. 184.
9. A helpful book to me was In Man We Trust: The Neglected Side of Biblical Faith by Walter Brueggemann (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1972), on the freedom of David.
10. Childs, Biblical Theology, pp. 154-55
13. John H. Hayes, Introduction to the Bible (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1971), pp. 231-236.
14. S. Dean McBride, “Deuteronomy, Book of,” The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, D-H, 115-116.
15. McBride, p. 116.
16. McBride, p. 114.
17. Klein, p. 369; Anderson, p. 236.
18. Brueggemann, The Land, chapter 10.
19. Goldworthy, p. 52. Goldworthy notes that the political kind of kingdom extended from the exodus (and holy war) through the historical books and through the conquest of David and eventually the nation’s destruction. “After that, the Holy War and divine deliverance notion is reinforced in the account of Esther and the Maccabees, historic events occurring against the background of prophetic and apocalyptic portrayals of the victories of the people of God and the glorious restoration of the nation, its land, temple, and kingly rule. In all this the Passover imagery of the slain lamb of God, the sufferings and rejection of the anointed David before his final vindication, and the suffering servant of the Lord seem to have been forgotten.” Thus the political nature of God’s kingdom has been there but not at the expense of the images that Jesus also brought into his announcement of the kingdom (page 53).
20. Goldworthy, p. 53.
21. “King, Kingship,” in Walter A. Elwell (ed.), Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), p. 451.
22. Childs, Biblical Theology, p. 540
23. Among others, one handy list of biblical messianic prophecies is found at http://www.scripturecatholic.com/messianic_prophecies.html
24. Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament, Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), pp. 384-385.
25. Peter-Ben Smit, “Ecumenism in Exile,” World Council of Churches website, http://www.oikoumene.org/en/programmes/the-wcc-and-the-ecumenical-movement-in-the-21st-century/relationships-with-member-churches/60th-anniversary/contest/essay-ecumenism-in-exile.html