The Exile Is Over
Topic: Dudley's Monthly Message Passage: Romans 9:1–11:36
THE EXILE IS OVER
On our journey with Paul through the theological fulfillment of Israel’s trip from Egypt to the promised land and exile in the book of Romans, we come to chapters 9-11. Some biblical scholars see these chapters as sort of a parenthesis where Paul feels the need to address the true identity of God’s Israel. Personally, I think this discussion fits in perfectly with his timeline, explaining the theological significance of the Red Sea experience, the Law at Sinai, entrance into Canaan, and now the exile after Israel’s removal from the land of promise. The Jews, including Paul, had embraced the wrong story of history. It is understandable that they could have heard the words and observed the events without interpreting them correctly.
You’ve probably heard some version of the story of the widowed single mom who married a former Marine Sargent. Her three boys were out of control, and the new stepdad was trying to get a handle on taming them. At breakfast, he asks the first boy what he would like to eat. “I’ll have some of them blankety-blank corn flakes,” the boy replied. The stepdad with one swoop slapped him into the corner of the kitchen. The same question went to the second boy who replied, “I would also like to have some of them blankety-blank corn flakes.” He too was slapped from his seat at the table. When the third boy was asked, he answered, “Well, I’m not sure what I want, but I am sure that I don’t want any of them blankety-blank corn flakes.” He got the story wrong.
Most of the Jews had focused on being in the bloodline of Abraham, possessing the land of Canaan, having a glorious temple, and the Law given through Moses. They had not seen the story as it relates to Jesus who gives fuller meaning to each of those privileges. It was the faith of Abraham, not his bloodline. It was the inheritance of the Son, not just the parcel of land. It was Jesus the God-man who is the temple. It was the Word becoming flesh, not the Torah, that is God’s full and final word.
As Paul explains the mystery that is unveiled only in Jesus the Messiah, he shows how God’s plan included the failure of Israel in releasing salvation to the whole world. The Law that Israel treasured was in a sense a trap designed to expose how sinful sin really is. Israel, with more privilege than any other people, still could not be faithful. If they couldn’t, no one could. Human sinfulness was exposed by the Law. However, the purpose was to consolidate sin onto one person, the Messiah, who would condemn sin in his own flesh and thus release redemption to all people without distinction. The exile into Babylon was a picture of the destruction of sin. They lost their land, their temple, and their dignity.
As far back as Moses, God spoke of the time that Israel would be faithless and lose everything. He promised a time of restoration, that included a circumcision of the heart. (See Deuteronomy 30:3-10.) In other words, there would be a time when the exile was over. The shocking news that most of Israel could not embrace is that in Christ, the exile was now over. For centuries, they anticipated a day when their political nation-state would no longer be oppressed by foreign nations. For them, the exile would last until that day. Jesus came as Israel’s representative to circumcise their hearts, and to set them free from an enemy much stronger than Rome, but they rejected him. They explained their rejection in view of their hopes of political liberation.
During the period between the Testaments (400 years), some of the books that are part of the Apocrypha were written. They spoke of a future time when a new form of wisdom would be available for Israel. It would be even greater than Solomon’s. Or, as one of the books suggested, there would be new laws of worship that would be key to their vindication. Moses had told them it was much closer than they expected. (See Deuteronomy 30:11-14.) It was as close as their mouths and their hearts. They would not have to go somewhere to get it. It was not in some elevated place or in some dark secret from below. The restoration would come to them. They would simply believe and confess. That happened when Jesus came from heaven, descended into the pits of hell, and was raised to give his life to those who believed in the heart, and confessed with the mouth. The exile was over.
Most Jews rejected this announcement. They insisted on waiting until the restoration looked more like they expected. This rejection of the good news brought a continuation of living in bondage to fear, failure, and futility. They could not see that God’s purpose in choosing them had been fulfilled in the Messiah. God had always planned to redeem the whole world. Israel was chosen to be the instrument to facilitate that. Well, the Gentiles were coming by the droves. Instead of rejoicing, the Jews were jealous and hostile. The good news was that they had won. The purpose had been taken up by Jesus, their representative, and the gospel was now offered to the whole world. They held tightly to their exile.
A remnant did hear and believe the good news. Paul was one of that remnant. There were others who made up the first assembly of the church. They had undergone a radical change. It required a breakthrough in perception. They believed with their heart that Jesus’s resurrection is the fulfillment of the promise for restoration. He had begun a new people by coming forth from the grave. This meant the exile was over and God’s people were characterized by resurrected life rather than circumcision and temple worship. They confessed that Jesus is the Lord of the Hebrews. He is Yahweh, not just any god. Jesus is the one who gave the Law. He is the one who accompanied them through the wilderness. He was not an addition to God nor a lesser god. To make such a confession was dangerous. The Romans thought Caesar was Lord. The Jews considered it blasphemous to identify Jesus with the God of Torah. The Christian wears the badge of heart-belief in the resurrection of Jesus, and the public confession that Jesus alone is the God of the Bible. Baptism reflects this identity.
What does it mean to us today? We have a tendency to wait for our exile to be over. We are so accustomed to living with the fear of curses from disobedience, and striving for rewards for obedience, that we postpone what we could be enjoying now—at least in part. Isaiah spoke of Israel’s rejection in chapter 28. When they refused the rest that he offered, the word became to them one of do, do, do. Here a little, there a little. Many current believers seem to live with such a view of God’s word. It is piecemeal instruction. The gospel is more: done, done, done. God has come to us with the redemption he has already purchased for us to enjoy now and forever. The exile is over. We are learning to live as freed people who love our Lord.