Our Christian Exile

The post-exilic context of Judaism has many similarities to the place of Christianity in today's secular world. Bishop Spong (i) has encouraged Christianity to move beyond attachment to forms of worship to embrace the experience of God, the spirit of God. But the struggle has yet to begin- it requires a second Reformation that goes beyond theory & dogma, and politics posing as theological debate.

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"You eat the fat ...but you do not feed the sheep".ii

The Second Temple, or post-exilic era, is a bridge between the glories of the Davidic Kingly line and the last exile that followed the Roman destruction of the Temple. This period immediately after the return from captivity is known as the Restoration and shows the Jewish people struggling to maintain their integrity in the face of foreign conquest and internal betrayal.iii It is a period which saw changes- the development of the Oral Law and Rabbinical leadership familiar to us today.

With this came excessive attachment to Law which was the subject of criticism by Jesus:

"...do not do as they (scribes & Pharisees) do...they tie up heavy burdens hard to bear and lay them on the shoulders of others".iv

Righteousness comes from inward obedience to the spirit of God and is not a product of attachment to doctrines, codes of practice or places of worship. In a sense, this agonizing post-exilic period was a preparation for the dispersion and powerlessness of future exiles including our own; and the period was, like ours, one of increasing false divination, prophesy out of imagination where every vision came to nothing; the Glory of God was not heard or experienced, and His voice became increasingly distant because people chose not to be receptive.v

Therefore, the historical post-exilic is also a bridge to the coming of the Messiah, Jesus; and our period today may herald a similar event but not in a form that we expect or recognize. That is the challenge for Christians- to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and not fall into error. The Second Temple was rebuilt seventy years after the destruction of the first Temple- because Judah had forgotten to rest the land every seventh year, for 490 years. God had collected on behalf of the land by using an un-expected person, a gentile king, Nebuchadnezzar:

"He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfil the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept sabbath, to fulfil seventy years"vi

After Restoration, when the walls around Jerusalem had been finished, two prophets, Nehemiah and Ezra, instructed the people from the Holy Scriptures reviewing their national history in detail in a great prayer, where they called upon God as the one who brought them out of the wilderness in the Exodus; and the Jews made a new covenant with God, signed and sealed by the priests, nobles, and leaders of the people.vii But more than this was needed.

Following this the Second temple was finished in the sixth year of the reign of Darius, and would appear to have been built by decree of three successive kings of Persia, which fact is significant as the religious direction of the Jews was affected in several ways. 

Though the people took responsibility for the support and upkeep of the Temple with the promise "We will not neglect the house of our God,"viii the closing chapters of Nehemiah give us important clues concerning life in Jerusalem- they quickly fell back to marrying foreign women, despoiling the Temple and not supporting the priesthood as laid down in the Old Testament.

In our secular world today less and less people subscribe to traditional forms of marriage and our Lord's Sabbath is used widely to carry out commercial purposes. There is a decline of support for those carrying out religious tasks. There is a growth in violence against women and children through the twin pressures of economics and pornography.

In the Davidic, covenantial period, predating the exile, women had an honoured place in religious life.  One of the features of the post-exilic period leading into the time of Christ, was the marginalisation of women from religious life and decision making. The late Second Temple period had the "women's court" which was considered the least sacred area; next was the Court of the Israelites (reserved for males); then the Court of the Priests; and finally the inner sanctum of the Temple itself. The Courts were laid out in this order to separate the women as far as possible from the Temple, but generally to give a sense of hierarchy of access to where God was supposed to dwell.

With absolute freeness, the Spirit of God selects the people He employs without regard for gender.ix These people in the post-exilic period had forgotten that it was Huldah, the prophetess, who announced the coming judgment of exile.x  Historically, where needed by God, women played unusual, sometimes pivotal roles as the incident of Rebekah in Genesis 27:1-19 illustrates when she decided that her eldest son, Esau, was not worthy to receive her husband's inheritance:

"Rebekah showed courage and broke with the established custom...defied the patriarchal system to bring about what she felt was God's will and God's purpose".xi

The Talmud, written during the post-exile period, only mentions seven prophetesses, six of whom were pre-exile: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah.xii In my view, this change in the status of women as co-equal in the worship of God was gradual, but a significant change from previous Jewish theological practices. Where women had offered sacrifices and gifts along with men, laws for ceremonial cleansing in connection with bodily emissions had been the same for both sexes, and women as well as men consecrated themselves to God as Nazirites. xiii

Y'W'H is co-existent (existing at the same time and one and the same) with Jesus who is the Messiah, however the Jews did not expect the Messiah to be a carpenter's son born in manger.  But there had been warnings prior- to show the unexpectedness of the form salvation takes- the Messiah was predicted to come to Zion on a donkey;xiv Jesus uplifted women once again, and had women disciples such as Magdalene. In His criticism and cleansing of the Second Temple, he had in mind the marginalisation of women and gentiles by the priests.xv  With this lack of equality, the Temple had become "a den of robbers" because such a hierarchy does not bear fruit.xvi   "(As) it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone",xvii it is not for mankind, whether they be priests or kings, to circumvent God's sovereignty and to dictate how he is worshipped, and by whom.

In the post exile period, the Persian religion, Zorastrianism was one of the corrupting influences; and today its influence is felt through such anti Christian cults as the Freemasons, Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and Jehovah Witnesses (JWs).xviii  In the process of restoring the Jewish faith and the remnant to the promised land, the influence of this Persian religion found its way into the religious observances of the Jews in the following, observable ways:

discrimination against women mediums of God's word in favour of a priestly cast  of male ascetics; emphasis on purification rather than sacrifice, and the battle of Good with a co-equal Evil.xix

Zorastrianism had some congruence with Judaism with its beliefs in resurrection where the dead arise at the end,xx monotheism, and strong emphasis on Eschatology involving a final battle of the Good and Evil elements. But it was not a Y'W'H centered religion, and therefore was an apostasy; and in many ways is close to a form of Buddhism popular in the West today where there is an impersonal God who is not involved in the lives of people.

Daniel is the most important figure in the post exilic period because of his multi-layered significance-  his life span is long and goes from before the exile to the building of the Second Temple.  Interpreter of dreams for Babylonian and Persian kings, his visions of an apocalyptic end,  visions of the glory of God  and his predicting the coming of the Son of Man, make him significant for this epoch as well.  Taken all together, his writings, or the writings ascribed to him are suggestive of a schism in Judaic society- the righteous from the unrighteous.

 "(Daniel is) concerned with the formation of a conventicle-type force, which is still connected with the empirical Israel but which desires to be considered as the true Israel, separated by the resurrection from the rest of the world..."xxi

This schism continues today and has lead to great interest by many Christians in the LaHaye xxii series of 'End Times' books where the line between politics and religion becomes blurred. Where-in people are not encouraged to live in-the-moment with God and deal with problems such as injustice and inequality.

During the post-exilic period, Ezekiel had visions of the glory of God comparing that to the dross that was around him. He stressed that generation taking responsibility for the consequences of its actions- the sour grapes were not eaten by the parents but by the present generation; 'the east wind" will come and destroy the pompous plans and devices of mankind;  his challenge to the people of Israel was to make the dry bones of the empty, religious rhetoric of the times come alive in the spirit of the Lord of Hosts.xxiii

In summary, the historical forces at work in the post-exilic period stripped the Jews of statehood and had made it difficult to practice a religion related to the centrality of Zion.  Being a vassal state after the return made compromise inevitable.

To quote Spong, the Jewish God in the post-exilic period  "as a theistic, supernatural, parent figure in the sky was finally rendered no longer operative".xxiv That was probably a good thing. The rebuilding of the Temple did not succeed in galvanizing Jewish society because  "(as a) cultic centre (the new Temple) combined loyalty to Persian rule with loyalty to the faith which had been handed down...".xxv The same applies today with a tendency for large structures of worship for our churches, and congregations who would mainly cross to the other side of the road if they saw a person lying prostrate.

But in the post-exilic period, Malachi the prophet wrote "I the Lord do not change" xxvi which as we Christians living in a similar spiritual exile, can take comfort from. But we must look towards renewal that comes from inner righteousness in the certainty that to seek God we must look in the unexpected places. Can these bones live? They certainly can by embracing the brother or sister we are minded to reject.

Bibliography

Batten, Loring: The Books of Ezra & Nehemiah (Clark, Edinburgh 1913)

Bright, John A: History of Israel (London: SCM Press, 1972),

Coggins, R J: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi (OTG, Sheffield:  JSOT, 1987)

Edersheim, Alfred:  “Josiah”: From the Decline of the Two Kingdoms to the Assyrian and Babylonian Captivity Philologos Religious Online Books, www.Philologos.org accessed October 2002.

Goldwurm, Rabbi Hersh:  History of the Jewish People: The Second Temple Era, (Artscroll History Series, Mesorah Publications. Ltd., Brooklyn, 1982)

Jahanian, Daryoush: “The Zoroastrian-Biblical Connections Influence of Zoroastrianism in Other Religionshttp://www.zarathushtra.com/z/article/biblicalconnection.htm accessed October 2002.

Foster, R S: The Restoration of Israel (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1970)

LaHay, Tim & Jerry Jenkins: The Remnant, (Tyndale House Ill. 2002)

LaSor, W.S., Hubbard, D.A. & Bush, F.W: Old Testament Survey (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982)

Ploger, Otto: Theocracy and Eschatology  trans. S Rudman (Basil Blackwell Oxford 1968)

von Rad, Gerhard: Old Testament Theology- Israel's Prophetic Traditions (Edinburgh : Oliver & Boyd, 1965) Vol.1

Sadler, Rev. Neal: "Women of the Old Testament: Sarah and Rebekah" Sermon (St. Matthew United Church of Christ, Wheaton, Illinois, 12/9/1999) http://www.stmatthew-ucc.org/sermon-SarahandRebekah.html accessed October 2002.

Spong, Bishop John: Why Christianity Must Change or Die, (Harper Collins USA 1998)

Zacharias, Dr. Ravi: “Ichabod: Where is the Glory?” audio tape (RZIM 2476 Argentia Rd, Suite 203, Mississauga Ontario, Canada 1986)

Endnotes

i Spong, Bishop John: Why Christianity Must Change or Die, (Harper Collins USA 1998)

ii Ezekiel 34:3

iii Goldwurm: History of the Jewish People: The Second Temple Era, (Artscroll History Series, Mesorah Publications. Ltd., Brooklyn, 1982)

iv Matthew 23:3 &4

v Ez.12:24, 13:2 & 12:22

vi 2 Chron. 36:20-21

vii 12 Nehemiah 9:6-38 & 10

viii Neh. 10:32-39

ix Joel 2:28

x 2 Kings 22:14-20

xi Sadler, Rev. Neal: "Women of the Old Testament: Sarah and Rebekah"(St. Matthew United Church of Christ, Wheaton, Illinois, 12/9/1999)

xii Ibid

xiii Leviticus 12:6, 15: 16 &19. Numbers 6:2

xiv Zech. 9:9

xv Matthew 21:13ff

xvi Matt 21:19

xvii 1 Cor 12:6

xviii These two latter religions deny the divinity of Christ as one and the same as Y'W'H and there is evidence in that in practices, symbols and personnel the Mormons and JWs derive from Freemasonary: see http://www.jesus-witnesses.com,  and www.angelfire.com/ms/seanie/jehov.html

xix In Zoroastrian dualism Ahura Mazda is supreme and communication between Mazda and humans is only by a select few : Jahanian, Daryoush "The Zoroastrian-Biblical Connections Influence of Zoroastrianism in Other Religions."

xx Compare the Zoroastrian Resurrection (Rastakhiz) or the end of the world, when the dead revive and the new world will have a fresh life and new beginning, with Daniel 12:2-13 who refers to "rising after death" and receiving rewards. In Isaiah 26:19, the dead will rise again from the graves, the ground will give birth to the dead.

xxi Ploger: Theocracy and Eschatology  trans. S Rudman, (Basil Blackwell Oxford 1968)p22

xxii See LaHay, Tim & Jerry Jenkins: The Remnant, (Tyndale House Ill. 2002)

xxiii Ezekiel 18:2, 27:26 & 27, 37:4.

xxiv Spong: Why Christianity Must Change or Die, p40

xxv Ploger: Theocracy and Eschatology  trans. S Rudman, p33

xxvi Malachi 2:6

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There are too many errors in this book for unsophisticated readers. McLaren’s book has value only to readers who recognize the mistakes but are willing to learn about a position that springs from ideology and a theological framework. For me, the emerging church movement is enough to consider by itself without flawed economics intertwined

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