The Land of Exile

When the northern kingdom of Israel was defeated by the Assyrians around 740 B.C. and 722 B.C., the Assyrians carried away many people to places along the Habor River (2 Kings 15:29; 1 Chronicles 5:26) and to cities in Media (2 Kings 17:1-6), and the nation essentially ceased to exist. Over a hundred years later, the kingdom of Judah likewise experienced several exiles at the hands of the Babylonians (605 B.C., 597 B.C., and 586 B.C.; see Daniel 1; 2 Kings 24-25; 2 Chronicles 36; Jeremiah 39; 52), with the most devastating episode occurring in 586 B.C., when the Temple of the Lord was destroyed and Judah was no longer ruled by its own king. Judah’s experience of exile, however, was markedly different from that of Israel. The Babylonians carried away only the upper echelons of society, and from these exiles the Babylonians selected the most promising for service in the royal court (e.g., Daniel and his friends). The rest of the exiles were typically allowed to live together in their own communities in Babylon, to continue to worship the Lord, and to follow their distinct social customs. Many even became prosperous in exile. By the time Cyrus of Persia defeated Babylon in 539 B.C. and declared that captive Judeans (now called Jews) could return to their homeland (2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1-2), many chose not to return, since by this time life in exile would have been all that many had ever known. This was even more true by the time of Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah, well over 60 years after Cyrus’s decree. As time went on, other Jews left Palestine either voluntarily or by force, so that by the time of the New Testament more Jews lived outside Palestine than in it. This new reality explains why the apostle Paul was almost always able to find a synagogue in the cities he visited along his missionary journeys (Acts 13:5,14; 14:1; 17:1,10,17; 18:1-4,19).

download hi-res file