Generations of Exile and Return
Given By: "Glenn D. Blank" On Saturday, July 14, 2012

 

They say “the greatest generation” was the one that survived the Great Depression and then went on    to overcome the forces of genocidal tyranny in World War II. A commendable generation indeed!  Another choice, one whose great faith and posterity has stood the test of time—over 2600 years now— was one that survived the devastation of Jerusalem and the Temple and then went on to overcome the oppression of exile in Babylon. They left a heritage of hope to the generations that returned and rebuilt.  May they be an inspiration to generations like ours! V’eemru (and let us say?)

Some of these heroes made it into the Hebrews chapter 11 “hall of faith,” starting in verse 33: “who by faith … performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong.” Do you recognize any of them in these verses? Daniel shut the mouths of lions, and his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego quenched the power of fire—by faith.

As boys they were taken as captives from Jerusalem in Judah to Babylon, along with Ezekiel & others: by faith they “escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong.” It was a generation that was expected to assimilate into the Babylonian culture, as most of those taken from the northern kingdom of Israel over a century earlier had assimilated into Assyrian dominions. But this generation did not assimilate. Instead they were willing to be different, standing up for the God of Israel, and became “a light for the nations.” This generation proclaimed the God of Israel as the God of all the nations—in spite of Israel’s defeat! This generation preserved the Torah and history of Israel, but recorded most of the prophetic writings.

The previous generations were mostly idolaters; so much so that Elijah thought he was the only one left faithful to God (but in fact God had preserved 7000 in that generation, out of millions). And things were so bad in Jeremiah’s day—the generation leading up to the exile—that they threw the prophet into a dry mud-hole to die, because they didn’t want to hear what God had to say to them. Yet in the generations after the exile, the prophets rarely mention idolatry or the egregious sins, instead reproving them for the more subtle sins of intermarriage with heathens or not paying their tithes.

Something dramatic changed during the generation of the exile: a great swinging of a door of faith. For this generation of the exile, when things could have looked so hopeless, produced Baruch (Jeremiah’s scribe), Ezekiel, Daniel, the Chronicles-recorder & many heart-rending yet noble psalms. For example, Ps. 137: By the rivers of Babylon, we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors demanded songs and our tormentors asked for joy: “Sing us one of the songs of Zion." How can we sing a song of Adonai in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth    if I cease to remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my chief joy.

Here’s what Dr. Seif and I wrote about these verses: “This poem is a tough one. For openers, the psalmist is extremely discouraged. It’s more than just a bad day at the office. He has lost his home. He is a refugee. He has barely survived the fall of the Davidic dynasty, the ravaging of Jerusalem and the Temple—and who knows what else in his personal life. As if that is not bad enough, while being dragged off in chains (possibly in a slave market), his captors are tormenting him and his comrades by demanding them to “sing us one of the songs of Zion” (3).  The songs of Zion all tell of God’s greatness, power, and love for His people. “Let’s hear some of those now,” taunt their captors. The singers of Zion respond (5): “How can we sing a song of Adonai in a foreign land?”

It wasn’t easy. They could have sunk into the despair of depression. But they didn’t. They sang to God. Psalms 74, 79 & 126 are others haunting poems about the Temple’s destruction.  From Ps. 74:4-6: Your adversaries have roared in the midst of Your meeting place. They have set up their standards as signs. It seemed like bringing up axes into a thicket of trees—and now all its carved work they smash with hatchet and hammers!  “How it hurts to imagine this same scene replayed when the Romans demolished the 2nd Temple, or when centuries of hate-mongers burned down precious synagogues.”

Yet because the faith of that ancient generation did not flinch, they spoke into all generations of Jews ever since. Ani ma’amin, ani ma’amin. I believe, I believe, with a perfect faith I believe. Even in the face of devastation and exile, God preserved a remnant who believed. Are we also a remnant, who believes? When Yeshua returns, will He find faith on the earth?

In Lamentations 3:19-23, in the midst of the scenes of terrible destruction, the poet still sings: Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The LORD’S lovingkindness indeed never ceases; His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness!

Consider the anguish of Ezekiel, who begins his book in exile: Ezekiel chapter 1:1,3 “while I was by the river K’var among the exiles…  in the land of the Chaldeans.” True, he saw the heavens opened and saw visions of God’s glory, yet he also endured terrible visions. In visions of the Spirit, he saw the idolatry of his people, defiling the Temple with carved images, and women weeping for Tammuz (a Babylonian god of fertility)—at the gates of the Temple, and men turning their backs from God to worship the rising sun—in the Temple courts!

In visions of the Spirit, he witnessed the glory of God arising and abandoning the Temple, His house! In visions of the Spirit, he witnessed the massacre of his people. Ezekiel 9:6, “’Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children… Start at my sanctuary.’ So they began with the elders who were in front of the Temple.”

It wasn’t easy to witness these things. In ch. 4, we read that Ezekiel lay on his side for 390 days, one day for each year of Israel’s idolatry, as a sign prophesying the siege of Jerusalem and banishment.

Yet Ezekiel did not despair, but persevered, by faith, to visions of Israel’s return. Eze. 34:13, “I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries and bring them to their own land.” In exile, they could have despaired; they could have assimilated; but instead they looked to our God and saw visions of return and restoration. And not only would God bring them back to the land, He also promises a heart of faith. Ezekiel 36:26, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

Even before the generation of the return, a remnant of the generation of exile received a new heart. So it must be with every generation: before we can return to God, we must face our exile from Him, which is the consequence of our idolatry and sin. We cannot afford to live in denial. We must accept responsibility for the consequences of sin. Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Daniel faced the sins of their ancestors and the devastating consequences. Then they were able to return, to make teshuvah, with all their heart and soul. Can we do that?

At the end of the Messiah conference, Rabbi Jonathan Cahn lifted up a torch. What torch has been handed down to us, which we can lift up in the midst of the darkness? The generation of exile began the custom of praying toward Jerusalem.

Daniel 6:11. “Now when Daniel learned that the document had been signed, he went into his house. The windows were open in his roof chamber toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he prayed on his knees and gave thanks before his God, just as he did before.” And ever since, Jews have been praying toward Jerusalem. Which way in Jerusalem?

That’s why we face that way when we say the Barchu and the Shema. From ancient times, synagogues were built facing toward Jerusalem—the synagogue in Capernaum, where Shimon Kefa and his brother Andrew and their Master Yeshua prayed, faced toward Jerusalem.

That’s why many Jewish homes have a mizrach—an wall plaque or tapestry reminding us to pray for Jerusalem.  The idea is not just to pray towards Jerusalem, but to pray for Jerusalem, and to pray for our return to Jerusalem. Psalm 122:6. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” The generation of exile cultivated a love for Israel’s Scriptures, preserving and organizing most of Tanakh, the record of both the bad and the good, the failures of Israel and the promises of God. For example, before the exile began, Jeremiah foretold that it would last 70 years. Jeremiah 29:10, “For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.”

During the exile, Daniel was studying the scroll of Jeremiah (9:2):“I, Daniel, observed in the books the number of the years which was revealed as the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.” What would have happened if the generation of Daniel had not preserved the words of Jeremiah—even though so many were hard words? We might not have them today!

What would have happened if the generation of Daniel had not studied the words of Jeremiah? They might not have remembered the promise of the return after seventy years, and missed it!

How did Daniel respond? Let him tell us himself, Daniel 9:3–6, “So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed and said, ‘Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances. “Moreover, we have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers and all the people of the land.’”

Does anyone recognize the words of this prayer? Do you hear the Al Chet prayer of Yom Kippur? Daniel’s prayer of teshuvah is the foundational layer of all Israel’s prayer ever since on Yom Kippur. Daniel’s prayer accepts responsibility for the sins of his whole people, including his ancestors, who did not listen to your servants the prophets.  Thus he is able to intercede for all Israel.

Daniel understood every Jew is connected to all Israel and that every generation is connected to all the generations. In our individualistic culture, we may find it hard to accept this inter-connectedness. Yet you and I are not only individuals; we belong to a family, to a community, to a nation. We are also members of the body of Messiah, and the Lord expects us to see ourselves that way.

1 Corinthians 12:21, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!” V’eemru? So often, we think we don’t need each other. In those moments, we are deceived by hasatan—a liar who steals and kills. In those moments, we aren’t seeing reality as God sees it. As Donne wrote, “No man is an island.” We must repent, and accept the truth: we are mishpochah; we are family; we need each other. When one part of the body hurts, it affects the whole body. Therefore let us intercede for the body, and for our people, as Daniel did. V’eemru?

The generation of the exile prepared, by faith, for the generation of the return. Jeremiah and Ezekiel as well as Isaiah foretold both the return to the land and the spiritual restoration. Daniel interceded on the basis of Jeremiah’s prophecy. The Psalmists of exile longed for the return and interceded on the basis of God’s covenant faithfulness.

Ezra records the return. It’s nothing short of a stunning fulfillment of prophecy!

 Ezra 1:1 sees the fulfillment: “Now in the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia, Adonai stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, king of Persia, to accomplish the word of Adonai from the mouth of Jeremiah.” Like Daniel, Ezra remembers Jeremiah’s prophecy of 70 years.  There are two plausible timelines for the 70 years.  Jeremiah 25:11–12 says, “This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the LORD, “and will make it desolate forever.”

#1: The Babylonians defeated the Assyrians and began their dominations of the nations in 609 B.C.E. In 539 B.C., Daniel reads the handwriting on the wall & Cyrus conquered Babylon. That’s 70 years.

Why was Daniel satisfied? There still was no Temple in Jerusalem.

In 586 B.C.E., Jerusalem and the Temple were burned to the ground.

Though Cyrus issued an edict for the return and the rebuilding of the Temple, obstacles occurred, and the Temple rebuilding project stalled. [s] It was completed in 516 BC—70 years after it was destroyed. That’s timeline #2. Which is right? Both are plausible, and both are amazing fulfillments. V’eemru?

Ezra 1:4 says something else that’s interesting and important: “Now, all those who are remaining in the places of their exile, let the men of those places supply him with silver, gold, goods and cattle, along with the freewill offering for the house of God in Jerusalem.” The edict of Cyrus thus gives instructions, not only for those who would return, but to those remaining in exile. The fact is, many Jews did not return, at least not at that time. But they still had a significant role in providing material support for those who did return. The Jews of the diaspora among the nations would continue, right up this day. And there has always been a strong connection between the Jews of diaspora and those who return. In the diaspora, we say at the end of our Passover Seders, “Next year in Jerusalem!” V’eemru?

In the diaspora, we say at Hanukkah time, “A great miracle happened there” (there rather than here). In the diaspora, we pray for the peace of Jerusalem and we send our support, monetary and spiritual. Now we celebrate Israel’s independence and our connection with Ivy Rosen, Marc Chopinsky, and others. Thus the generations of the exile are always connected with the hope of the return and those who do. Note that I said, generations of the exile. To this day, those of the exile know that we are not home.

Hatikvah, the national anthem of Israel, is actually the anthem of the exile. It means “the hope.” It is the hope of all the generations of the exile to return to the Promised Land. Now, does anyone see an even wider application of this hope?

We return to Hebrews 11, verse 13: “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” All who live by faith in God’s eternal promise see themselves as “exiles on the earth.” Just as we connect with Ivy in Israel, we also connect with Phyllis Gordon and others in heaven. Hebrews 11:16, “Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.” Are we longing? Thus every generation is the generation of exile, preparing for the generation of return. V’eemru?

 

Discussion Questions

When did the "generation of exile" live? What did they go through?

What feelings was the poet-in-exile expressing in Psalm 137? Does it touch you?

In spite of their troubles, they remained faithful. Lamentations 3:23 says, “Great is Your faithfulness!”

Do the heroes of that generation inspire you?

What heritage have they passed on to us?

Romans 11:1-5 describes a remnant that remains faithful to God in every generation.  "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."

The faithful remnant could have assimilated into the surrounding culture, but didn't.

How is assimilation a challenge for our generations?

How do we overcome this challenge?

What do Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel teach us about making teshuvah?

What do they teach us about our inter-connectedness as a community?

Isaiah 49:6 was also written for this generation:  “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept.  I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” How did this generation become a "light to the nations"?

At the end of the Messiah conference, Rabbi Jonathan Cahn lifted up a torch he received on a mission.

What torch has been handed down to us?

Have you personally received this light of faith? Have you put your trust totally in Messiah Yeshua?

Is the light He gave you shining out in the surrounding darkness?

Why do we pray the Shema and other prayers facing toward Jerusalem?

How strong is your connection with the hope of Israel expressed in the song Hatikvah?

“As long as deep in the heart, the soul of the Jew yearns and towards the East an eye looks to Zion. Our hope is not yet lost, the hope of two thousand years  to be a free people in our own land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.” Does maintaining our relationship with Ivy Rosen, Marc Chopinsky affect our hope for Israel?

Beyond the land of Israel, what is our hope?

How does knowing you are in exile, hoping for the return, affect the way you live?