Saturday, September 25, 2010

Reading between the lines

Through the Bible in 90 Days: Day 34

Read: 2 Chronicles 35:16-Ezra 10:44

Verse that stood out: [Nebuchadnezzar] carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his sons until the kingdom of Persia came to power - 2 Chronicles 36:20

After spending weeks reading about the kings of Israel, this portion of Israel's history comes to an abrupt close with the fall of Jerusalem and the Israelites being carried off into exile by the Babylonians. You might expect for the next story to be about their time in Babylon, but it's not. Seventy years are passed over in two verses. In fact, Chronicles ends in the same place Ezra begins, with Cyrus' decree permitting the return of the Jews to Israel. It's not that there are no stories from the exile in the Bible. Remember, the Bible isn't put together chronologically. The book of Esther reports from those seventy years as well as portions of the prophets. But here in this section of the Bible, what we sometimes call the history books, it's notable that the exile is skipped over completely.

It might be tempting to think this time unimportant, but that would be misguided. In fact, while little from this time is recorded in the pages of scripture, it's during this time that much of the Hebrew Scriptures take their current shape. Being away from home, without a Temple, the people of Israel began to formulate their faith in some important ways. One of those was to shape the story of the Bible in such away that it remained open ended. In most Hebrew versions of the Bible, Chronicles is the last book in the story, coming after everything else. In this way, the story ends with Cyrus' decree given to all the Jews in the world, "May the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up." Up where? To Israel, the land of the promise. When read as the last words of the Bible, Chronicles 36 isn't so much a historical omission as it is a theological invitation. The story of the Hebrew Bible ends in the hope that no matter the exile the people of God are currently encountering, the hope of the promise remains, a hope rooted in the truth that God will one day bring them home.

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