Israel Exile Period Essay

In 586 B.C.E. the neo-Babylonian armies of Nebuchadnezzar raided and destroyed
the city of Jerusalem, forcing its people to flee. The majority of the Judean
leaders and aristocracy were relocated in Babylon, and lived in relative
isolation from even their captors. The Exile robbed them of their wealth, their
homes, their nation, and even their king; religion offered the only seed of
identity for this uprooted people. So it was during this time of Exile that a
flourishing of religious texts were written and compiled, in an attempt to
explain the causes of their misfortune, and enable the people to comprehend
their suffering (Meyers, Haggai xxxviii). In general, the Psalter reflects the
true emotions of the ancient Israelites, more so than do most Biblical texts, as
it is a compilation of their “troubles and fears, their hopes, aspirations,
and reasons for confidence.” (Metzger and Murphy 674 OT) In Psalm 137, an
Exilic text, a wide range of emotions are shown: longing and mourning for their
lost nation (Ps 137:1-3), the sadness and confusion they felt while in the
foreign land (Ps 137:4-6), and even the desire for a violent revenge (Ps
137:7-9). The same range of emotions can be seen in Second Isaiah, though this
work was written “immediately before the fall of Babylon (October 29,
539B.C.E.)” and displays more of the Judeans thoughts on their future. It is a
compilation of passages of hope, promises of God to fulfill His covenant, and
threats of violence for the unbelievers. The majority of the Exilic and
Post-Exilic texts call for a bloody and merciless revenge on their captors, and
it would be easy to assign this outlook for all of the Jewish people of the
time. Upon close inspection however, it becomes apparent that not all Jews cared
about a bloody justice, and that some just wanted to go home and be done with
it. Both of these views, (both bloody and not), are found in Isaiah 42 and the
proximity of the conflicting persuasions highlight their differences. In Isaiah
42:3, a pacifistic, reserved justice is called for; “a bruised reed he will
not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench: he will faithfully bring
forth justice.” Yet in just a few stanzas later, there is a call for blood.

“The Lord goes forth like a soldier, like a warrior he stirs up his fury; he
cries out, he shouts aloud, he shows himself mighty against his foes.” (Isaiah
42:13) By comparing these two quotes, it becomes readily apparent that the idea
that all Judeans wanted a violent revenge must be thrown out. While in Exile,
the Jewish people held many expectations of their future, not all of which
agreed with one another, nor were fulfilled. Returning to the Promised Land was
the main focus of Exile, and it evolved into a paradise of sorts, where
everything would be perfect. There are visions of God blessing the people
restored in their land, and their work being more than fruitful throughout the
Exilic texts. “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the
dry ground; I will pour my spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your
offspring.” (Isaiah 43:3) Haggai, a text written after Cyrus’ overthrow of
the Babylonians, depicts a much different scene than the one envisioned in
Isaiah. (Metzger and Murphy 1217 OT) “Therefore the heavens above you have
withheld dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a
drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what
the soil produced, on human beings and animals, and on all their labors.” (Hag
1:10-11) This quote describes a state of affairs far different than what the
Israelite people imagined their future to be. The Jewish people, besides
depicting a skewed view of their future, also disagreed on how that future
should be run. While in Exile they were not allowed to have a king for obvious
reasons, and due to this power vacuum, the priest was raised in status (Meyers
and Meyers, Zechariah 169). Despite the fact that Haggai and Zechariah were
contemporaries, and even cohorts, they did not agree on the place of the priest
once a king had been restored (Metzger and Murphy 1217OT). Throughout the book
of Haggai, the prophet shares all of his visions with both the governor and the
high priest, except for his very last oracle. In this oracle, he prophesies the
rise of the Jewish king, and the restoration of power to the people. He only
addresses this to the governor, and not to the priest, thereby returning the
priest to the lesser position that they held pre-Exile. On the other hand, the
book of Zechariah alludes to the importance of the priest and the king. “There
shall be a priest by his throne, with peaceful understanding between the two of
them.” (Zech 6:13) The people of Exile held many different ideas about their
future and their return to the Promised Land, yet there were common themes in
all of the writings. The hope of the people, and their faith that they would be
restored to their land, was unwavering and outstanding. During this hardship
they turned to faith to unite them as a people and to give them hope and it is
evident that this at least was a universal truth for the ancient

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Metzger, Bruce M. and Roland E. Murphy. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New
York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Meyers, Carol E. and Eric M. Meyers.

Haggai, Zechariah 1-8. Vol. 25B. The Anchor Bible Series. New York: Doubleday,
1993. Meyers, Carol E. and Eric M. Meyers. Zechariah 9-14. Vol. 25C. The Anchor
Bible Series. New York: Doubleday, 1987.


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