Have you ever felt exiled? Like you had no where to go – no place to belong? Have you every had a family member cut ties with you or has a sudden event ever left you feeling like the rug was pulled out from under you and you can hardly catch your breath?
In this sermon we discussed three Kings and the final, devastating Exile of Judah.
Hezekiah was a very good king but a very fearful king. He was in fear of Assyria because he witnessed what the Assyrians did to their brothers in the North (the Israelites) and because of that devastating takeover, Assyria was now at Hezekiah’s border. There’s a beautiful story in 2 Kings 19 where Isaiah comforts Hezekiah telling him that God would put a hook in Assyria’s nose and take him back to the place from whence he came. Assyria ends up not being much of a threat for much longer but Hezekiah gets sick and nearly dies. During his illness, a new political entity showed up at Hezekiah’s door: envoys from Babylon. They wanted to send Hezekiah a care package I guess to help him through his illness. Hezekiah gave them a full tour of the entire kingdom. Isaiah asked Hezekiah, “What did you show the men from Babylon?” and Hezekiah responded in 2 Kings 20:12-19, “I showed them everything, there isn’t a single thing I didn’t let them see.” Isaiah then warns him: One day, Babylon will come and take from this house everything you have shown them. Even sons born to you will be carried away and made into Eunuchs in Babylon.
Hezekiah’s son, Manesseh is a horrible king. He is violent and corrupt and even sacrifices his own children in fire to try to appease the gods. He’s basically Stanis Baratheon. The text says he’s the more violent king in Israel’s history. God’s response to Manesseh’s reign is that one day he will take Jerusalem and wipe it clean as one wipes out a dish. *zing*
Manesseh’s grandson, however, is another excellent King. His name is Josiah and the text says he’s the greatest king that ever reigned – better than all the Kings before him and all the Kings after him. He renovated the Temple, removed all of the idol worship, and made a covenant with God. He called a fast of repentance and renewed the Passover celebrations. There was a lot of hope that the reign of Josiah represented the turning of a new life in the life of Judah. Josiah died, however, in a tragic battle. Assyria and Babylon were warring against each other and foolish Josiah was hoping that Babylon would win. He wanted Assyria to be brought to an end. When Josiah heard that Pharoah Neco in Egypt was marching up to join forces with Assyria to try and keep Babylon back, Josiah marched to stop Pharoah Neco from joining Assyria. Neco killed Josiah in a place called Megiddo. It was an incredible tragedy – all hope was lost. We can’t overstate the devastation of this battle: the greek word for the Battle at Megiddo is “Armageddon”. It was truly the end of an age.
Have you noticed a pattern? Our history seems to be like a loop that we’re stuck in – we keep repeated the same story over and over. Good king, bad king, good king, bad kind- corrupt generation, faithful generation, repeat. We see this even in our own lives. We see it in our own politics and in our own families. I try to reconcile with my relatives and we just keep making up and breaking up. We’re triggered by the same things and it’s just 3 steps forward, 3 steps backwards. Some people say they’ve been a Christian for …10 years but really, they’ve been a Christian for ONE year, TEN times.
The Prophet Habakkuk was pretty fed up with this loop. He cried out to God:
How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
God’s answer was pretty harsh:
Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told.
I am raising up the Babylonians,
that ruthless and impetuous people,
who sweep across the whole earth
to seize dwellings not their own.
They are a feared and dreaded people;
they are a law to themselves
and promote their own honor.
Their horses are swifter than leopards,
fiercer than wolves at dusk.
Their cavalry gallops headlong;
their horsemen come from afar.
They fly like an eagle swooping to devour;
They all come intent on violence.
Their hordes advance like a desert wind
and gather prisoners like sand.
God was summoning the Babylonians to bring it all down – the start over again.
The book of 2 Kings and essentially the end of the history of Israel ends with the Babylonian army conquering Assyria and turning on Judah. They laid siege to Jerusalem and after three years they broke through the wall, invaded, burned everything down, and carried most of the inhabitants into Exile. The people who survived were displaced — estranged from God – plucked out of the loop into the unknown. The King of Judah was captured and his sons were murdered and the King of Babylon plucked out his eyes.
Many readers of the Bible don’t understand how huge this crisis was. They don’t understand that this event shaped the entire Old Testament. Every story in the OT was written down during the exile and shaped as a response to it. Once you understand just how major this theme is, you’ll never read the bible the same way again. Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden. Cain was exiled from his family. Abraham was called out of Abraham to enter into a land that would belong to his children one day. Jacob wrestled with God to obtain a new name: Wrestles with God. The book of Psalms was compiled during the exile and in chapter 22 the Psalmist cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are all presenting Jesus as God entering into our Exile to bring us home.
When was the last time you felt “home”?
Exile is strangely compelling to think about. Its essential sadness cannot be surmounted no matter how one may try. Have you ever been exiled? Have you been displaced?
What makes you feel “home”?
This is the end of the Kings series — I pray that this series unpacking Saul to Josiah, the Ark of the Covenant to Babylonian devastation prepares you to ask, over the course of Lent – why did Jesus wear a crown of thorns and why was he crucified with a sign saying, “King of the Jews” over his head?