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Ezra 4:7-23; 7-8

09.16.2010

Now, by no means to I intend to dismiss the hardships that the Jews have undergone in their status as God’s chosen people.  However, I was struck while reading today’s passage that the material consequences of the fall of Jerusalem and the term of exile have been much less severe than (a) I first thought and (b) Israel anticipated.  Consider the following timeline (organized by conquering monarchs listed in the Bible narrative — that I remember!):
 

 BABYLON

Ned - honors Daniel and his friends and ultimately worships God.

Evil Merodach - frees Jehoiachin.

Belshazzar - merely selfish and incompetent, not mean to the Jews; also overthrown.

 PERSIA 

Cyrus - overthrows Babylon and frees Jews to return to homeland.

Darius - authorizes, protects, and funds the rebuilding of the temple.

Xerxes - marries Esther and protects the Jews from Haman.

 

Artaxerxes - reiterates Darius' decree and is friends with Ezra and Nehemiah.

  

Granted, there have been many attempts to punish/destroy the Jews during the period under consideration, and certainly many suffered economic hardship.  None of this, though, is unique to the exile experience.  The historical books describe numerous incidences of suffering on a national scalue during the time of both the judges and the kings.   

What, then, can we draw from this conclusion?  To me, the emphasis on how awful the exile experience was centers not around material hardship but around the international disgrace and loss of favor with God that came with it.  While many Jews thrived in the conquering empires and would continue to do so, the root of God’s punishment is the disinheritance of the promised land and the change in relationship that seems to occur between them and God.    

I’m sure there are theological points to draw from this understanding, but I’ve run out of both steam and time.  Please feel free to contribute your own application points.

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