Skip to comments.The Purpose of Exile
Posted on 09/22/2018 4:42:31 PM PDT by pcottraux
The Purpose of Exile
By Philip Cottraux
Assyria. The terror of the ancient world is still infamous for their extreme brutality. When the Assyrians would conquer a city, they were known to have child fires, lining up the citys children and forcing the parents to watch while they burned them en masse. They would flay survivors of defeated armies alive and adorn the walls of Nineveh with the skins. Inside, the streets were decorated with head pyramids, large piles of decapitated heads of conquered people. Lines of dismembered limbs were strewn from building to building, adorning the city like gruesome Christmas lights.
But perhaps the cruelest war tactic the Assyrians perfected was their method of assimilation. Peoples identities were tied to their homes, families and cultures, lands their ancestors had settled. But after the conquerors were done forcing them out to be either burned alive, skinned, decapitated, or enslaved, they would import Assyrians to occupy the now empty city. If there was a remnant of anyone left, they would be forcibly mated with Assyrian conquerors, giving birth to mixed children, who were then forcibly mated with more Assyrians, until just like the city, the blood line was completely taken over.
The Bible records the abject fear of the Assyrians Gods people lived under. Egypt had been the dominant world power for thousands of years, but was fast declining while Assyria was ascending, and the Israelites were caught in the middle of this clash of empires. But for a people terrified of being next, they stubbornly refused to abandon idolatry. Prophets like Isaiah warned them that Gods protection would be lifted if they didnt renounce their wickedness.
In 733 BC, under Tiglath-Pileser III, the Assyrians finally made their move, targeting the Northern kingdom first. Israel offered pitifully little resistance as the invaders carved a path of destruction all the way to Gaza. This first wave of attacks was only the beginning but the emperor wouldnt live to see it to its completion. Twelve years later, in 721 BC, a new king, Sargon II, finished the job. After a long brutal siege, Samaria, capital of the Northern Kingdom, finally fell. Then the king of Assyria came up throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria, and besieged it three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes (II Kings 15-6).
It was now only a matter of time before the Assyrians set their sites on the Southern kingdom. The conquering army gathered at the border like a colony of wasps, wings shimmering ominously, ready to strike at any moment. After the death of Sargon II in 705 BC, his son Sennacherib took the throne and the invasion began. The Assyrian war machine bulldozed through Judah just as they had Israel, collapsing each city like dominoes until Jerusalem was surrounded. During the siege, King Hezekiah desperately led the people in prayer and fasting. Then the angel of the Lord went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses (Isaiah 37:36).
Sennacherib to Nineveh in defeat, where he was later murdered by his own sons. This, combined with disastrous losses from a Babylonian rebellion led by Nabopolassar (614 BC), eventually led to the crumbling of the Assyrian empire.
But the damage had been done. Israel would never return to its former glory. Davids great kingdom was now in ashes. Jerusalem was saved but Israelites had now been scattered across the ancient world. The import of Assyrians to assimilate the kingdoms of the North was incomplete, leaving a mixed race of half-Assyrian, half-Semites, as well as a vast import of Assyrians who eventually converted to Judaism. The highest concentrated population was in the former capital of Samaria. Many years later, the Samaritans were reviled by the Jews, considered racially inferior half-breeds and treated as second-class citizens. So many were shocked when Jesus of Nazareth passed through here, showing love and mercy to the Samaritans.
This has given us a tantalizing mystery from the Bible, the so-called Lost Tribes of Israel. However, theres only a partial truth to the legend. Some of the tribes did disappear from history (and have been rediscovered in the last century), but others were spared from deportation. Still others managed to come back and rejoin the Jews once the Assyrian empire collapsed. II Chronicles 30:11: Nevertheless divers of Asher and Manasseh and of Zebulun humbled themselves, and came to Jerusalem.
History repeated itself only a few generations later. The Assyrian menace was gone but a new one rose up in its place: Babylon. The prophet Jeremiah wrote feverishly that if the Jews didnt come out of idolatry, the Lord would leave them vulnerable to Nebuchadnezzars invading armies. But while Isaiahs cries for repentance were eventually heeded, Jeremiahs would fall on deaf ears. Perhaps they took Gods grace for granted, thinking that if He had miraculously saved the city once He would do it again. But this time the unthinkable happened. In 586 BC, the Babylonian army penetrated the city wall and Jerusalem fell. King Zedekiah was dragged off in chains, the temple of God was razed and the city burned to the ground. And burned the house of the Lord, and the kings house; and all the houses of Jerusalem, and all the houses of the great men burned he with fire: (Jeremiah 52:13). The ark of the covenant disappeared and the Jews were either driven into the desert or exiled into Babylon slavery.
When some of the scattered Jews asked Jeremiah when they would be able to return to their homes, his answer was surprising. He told them to build permanent settlements in the wilderness. Jeremiah 29:4-6: Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon; build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished.
The Babylonian exile lasted seventy years. When the Jews were freed they returned to the long-abandoned ruins of their city to rebuild. The second Exodus and subsequent rebuilding of the temple is chronicled by Ezra and Nehemiah. But once again, not everyone left. Many freed slaves stayed behind in Babylon and Medo-Persia, building communities in another corner of the ancient world.
These two dramatic invasions had forever changed the landscape of the ancient world. When Israel had been a united kingdom under David and Solomon, worshipers of the One God were primarily only concentrated in the Canaan region. By the time the Romans came, they were eveywhere. Almost every city had at least one synagogue.
Now fast forward to about 33 AD. While a once great kingdom was a shell of its former glory, people still came from all over the world for its yearly festivals. In this seemingly unimportant corner of the world, a seismic event took place. A lowly Jewish carpenter claiming to be the Son of God was crucified. But three days later His tomb was found empty and in the subsequent weeks He was seen alive by over five hundred witnesses.
As Jews from every corner of the Roman empire came for the yearly festival of Pentecost, an event occurred that would change the world. With a huge multilingual crowd gathered outside on the streets, one hundred twenty of Jesus followers began shouting in foreign tongues from the open window of an upper room. The miracle attracted attention from all over Jerusalem. The apostle Peter preached a sermon and thousands believed in Jesus. Then more thousands the day after that. Most importantly, these new believers took their faith back with them to their homelands. Almost overnight, Christianity began spreading across the known world.
In the coming years, the apostle Paul devised a plan to preach the gospel to every creature. Since there was a Jewish population in almost every city, as he traveled he went to the synagogues first, where he could find people who had knowledge of the One True God. Many were familiar enough with the Old Testament texts to know about the Messianic prophesies. They were a ripe audience. By preaching Jesus to them first, Paul was able to quickly and efficiently win enough converts to plant churches everywhere he went. And once a church was established, these new converts could start reaching their Gentile neighbors.
Within a few short generations, Christianity exploded like a supernova across Rome. Before long, it was the worlds largest religion.
So while the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions and subsequent years of exile were terrible, we can see in hindsight that they were actually critical steps in Gods plan to redeem fallen man. First the Lord needed a chosen people. Then He had to forge them into a nation. Then that nation had to be scattered across the known world. Through that nation would come the Savior. And because of the scattering, the message of the Savior could be brought to all the ends of the earth.
Exile can be a terrible place to be. But it literally helped save the world. We cant always see Gods plan in our darkest moments. But if we could step back and look at the big picture, we might see His grand plan to use our times of suffering to do wonders for His kingdom.
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The Assyrians were the Muslims of their day.
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