Throughout their history, God’s people disobeyed the law and neglected their special relationship with God. They didn’t love the Lord their God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength, and they didn’t love their neighbours as themselves. Even the kings forgot about God. The very people through whom God planned to bring blessing to the world were thinking, “We know better, God— we’ll do things our way”. So God took them out of their Promised Land. He sent them away to the surrounding nations. (Some of the people returned after living in exile in Babylon for 70 years.) While they were in exile, the people were in anguish, because it seemed that God’s promises to Abraham were being undone. Many descendants were wiped out, and those who were left were banished from the Promised Land. Psalm 137 records their anguish:
How Shall We Sing the Lord‘s Song?
By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows there
we hung up our lyres.
3 For there our captors
required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How shall we sing the Lord‘s song
in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill!
6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy!
7 Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem,
how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare,
down to its foundations!”
8 O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
blessed shall he be who repays you
with what you have done to us!
9 Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
and dashes them against the rock! (ESV)
It was clear that the nation of Israel had followed the pattern set by Adam and Eve: they set themselves against God, and failed to be a blessing to the whole world.More detailIsrael’s exile in Babylon shows us:
Who God is
God is a judge. Sin matters to him and will not be endlessly tolerated. God is also just—he gives his people what they deserve.
So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence. Only the tribe of Judah was left,
19 and even Judah did not keep the commands of the Lord their God. They followed the practices Israel had introduced.
20 Therefore the Lord rejected all the people of Israel; he afflicted them and gave them into the hands of plunderers, until he thrust them from his presence. (ESV)
2 Kings 17:18-20
The punishment of your iniquity, O daughter of Zion, is accomplished;
he will keep you in exile no longer;
but your iniquity, O daughter of Edom, he will punish;
he will uncover your sins. (ESV)
What God does
He remains true to his word and calls his people to account.
When the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites, he commanded them: “Do not worship any other gods or bow down to them, serve them or sacrifice to them. 36 But the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt with mighty power and outstretched arm, is the one you must worship. To him you shall bow down and to him offer sacrifices. 37 You must always be careful to keep the decrees and ordinances, the laws and commands he wrote for you. Do not worship other gods. 38 Do not forget the covenant I have made with you, and do not worship other gods. 39 Rather, worship the Lord your God; it is he who will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies.” 40 They would not listen, however, but persisted in their former practices. 41 Even while these people were worshiping the Lord, they were serving their idols. To this day their children and grandchildren continue to do as their fathers did. (ESV)
2 Kings 17:35-41
I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? 4 And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. 6 And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. (ESV)
How God works
God issues righteous judgement, but he allows a remnant to be preserved. Even when the situation looks drastic, God does not completely abandon his people.
This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” (ESV)
Humanity’s rejection of God continues, and his wrath remains on such people. However, he calls out both a ‘remnant’ of Jews and many non-Jews as well. The grace of God, ultimately shown to us in Jesus’ sacrifical death and his resurrection, saves sinners.
NB: Zion refers to Jerusalem.
- Why can’t the Israelites sing in Babylon?
- Read through the ‘More detail’ section. What’s something that strikes you about what God reveals here?
- Did God abandon his people in exile? Why/why not?
God says that it is he who sets up and deposes kings (Dan 2:21). The exile is a very vivid example of this. When are you in danger of forgetting about God’s sovereign control? Why is God’s sovereignty such a comforting truth?
Praise God that he is in control of all things, even at times when we feel like everything is coming apart. Thank him for working out everything in conformity to his good purpose.