By Tom Brennan
Nebuchadnezzar at the first exile that changed Israel.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand”. A group of Pharisees had just accused Yeshua of casting out demons by the chief demon himself. His words run deep since one of His most sincere prayers was that “they may be one”. When Abram, soon to be renamed Abraham, traveled to Canaan from Ur he would found a nation that would be united under One G-d and divided under many kings.
Abraham, the father of Israel, was not born a Hebrew. He was from Ur of the Chaldees. When directed by The Almighty to take his flocks and go to a land that I will show you…he left behind his gods and was found by G-d. He went to Canaan to which his descendants would return after a time of servitude in Egypt. Ur became a land of two mighty kingdoms, Assyria and Babylon. The Assyrians have always impressed and intimidated us with their brutality and aggressive empire building. Assyria and Babylon coexisted for some time and traded dominance. Eventually Abraham’s one-time countrymen would come to Israel to exact tribute and exile a nation that had strayed from the Precepts.
Israel had seen a long period as honored guests in Egypt and given fertile lands to tend their herds. Most scholars agree that the Hyksos invaders moved into Egypt during a low period in the Empire’s foreign relations. The Hyksos, “shepherd kings” were finally expelled in a civil war and an Egyptian Pharaoh regained the throne. This Pharaoh “did not know Joseph” . The Hebrews were demoted from honored guests to second class citizens and found themselves taken into work levees and more likely as soldiers in the army in ‘Hebrew brigades”. This most likely resembled a two class nation of Egyptians who ruled and tribute peoples who supported the Empire.
Assyria took advantage of Israel’s internal strife and invaded. The ten Northern tribes were exiled and scattered into the four winds. Israel had been divided into Judea and Israel, each with a rival king. The Land has always seen some type of internal strife, Saul and David, David and Absalom, and Solomon and his heirs. Assyria was expanding and the two kingdoms were on the path to add the entire Fertile Crescent to the lands. A small number of tillers of the soil remained and Assyria moved other people into the land to settle it and produce crops and goods for the Empire. Judea remained independent.
Babylon began to assert its dominance and Nebuchadnezzar set his eyes on Jerusalem. The Prophet Jeremiah warned the king and people that retribution was due for their lack of faithfulness. The city was attacked, the Temple defiled and the sacred furnishings carried off as trophies. The savvy Babylonians exported the educated, elite and talented natives to Babylon as captives and exiles while those who worked the fields remained to do so for their new masters.
In Babylon life was not like it was under Pharaoh. The custom was to assimilate captured elite peoples into Babylonian society and make them Babylonians. The Israelites however assimilated only to a point. The stories of Daniel and the men in the fiery furnace attest to that. In Babylon the lack of the Temple and priestly intervention developed into a new written aleph-bet and a system of local prayer groups. A more intense resistance to forced idolatry resulted in sects like the Pharisees in the future who striving for purity had reached extremes by Yeshua’s time.
When a friendly king came to rule, Nehemiah one of the elite who had moved into high office in the empire was inspired by The Almighty to lead a return to the Holy City and repair the walls and most importantly, the Temple. With licenses, permits and an armed escort the public servant Nehemiah returned with a small contingent of families to the ruined city. With spear and sword they worked to rebuild breached walls, wrecked gates and a defiled Temple. Standing off hostile plotting neighbors the city once again rose and sacrifices were offered in the Temple.
But the exile introduced dramatic changes to the life of the people. A large group had found a comfortable life in Babylon, power and position and a status that was a step or two above life in Judea. So they continued to assimilate and became Babylonians.
The remnant that returned kept faith with their heritage, they returned to the land given to them as descendants of Abraham. They were a small group but highly motivated. Today Israel is a remnant of what was once a nation divided, exiled and assimilated into other cultures. Today Israel welcomes back those exiled, divided and assimilated as heirs to a promise made over 4,000 years ago. And once again the descendants of Assyrians and Babylonians will threaten them. But we know what the eventual outcome will be don’t we? There will always be a “next year in Jerusalem”. Christians will be in support of this commitment and will share the victory.Share this page with your friends
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