This particular exploration of God's Word has been on my heart for over a year. But it has never been the right time in God's time to write it down for you all. Now it is.
The word for "exile" (גָּלָה) in the original Biblical Hebrew doesn't quite mean what the English-speaking Israel-supporting church think it means.
Most of us, when asked, would say that the Jewish people (my people and my ancestors) being driven into exile was a catastrophe. When asking the church why this catastrophe happened, many would naturally answer: "Because of the disobedience of the Jewish people to God."
This view is taken - almost certainly and accurately - from what the Bible tells us. Jeremiah, Ezra, Nehemiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Kings and Chronicles - all speak of the tragedy of the Jewish people being carried into exile. And all make it quite clear that this was as punishment for sins against the God of Israel, who had given them the land. Even the New Testament Jewish writers, such as Matthew, refer back to such an historic rupture of God's people from the Land He gave them as an everlasting inheritance.
In addition, historians use equally devastating language, including a famous Jewish historian known to many in the church - Josephus:
"While Josephus applied his mind to writing calmly and professionally about the greatest catastrophe to afflict the Jewish people, others were totally crushed by the burden of grief: "Our sanctuary is in ruins, our altars are demolished, our Temple destroyed; our worship has been suppressed, our singing silenced, our praises hushed; the light has been extinguished in our sacred lamp, the ark of the covenant has been carried away, our holy vessels have been besmirched; our leaders have been tortured, our Levites taken captive, our virgins have been defiled and our wives raped, our pious men imprisoned and our saints scattered, our children enslaved and our fighting men enfeebled (4 Ezra 10:19). These words have a special resonance today, in the aftermath of the Shoah (the Holocaust)." (Taken from An Illustrated History of the Jewish People by Nicholas de Lange)
However, it is crucial to note that Josephius, although truly a brilliant Jewish mind, was heavily influenced by Greek thought. Greek thought builds over the top of Hebraic thought, seeking to replace it, much like a newer and clumsy archaeological layer:
"Josephus, a proud Jew and the first real historian of the Jews in the modem sense of the word, modelled himself on Greek historians such as Thucydides and Polybius. His work, in common with that of other contemporary Jewish writers, represents a fusion of biblical and Greek ideas. His books were accessible to a mixed readership of Jews and gentiles, and this knowledge determined the way he wrote." (New York Times)
Compare what Josephus writes right next to what the Greek writer Homer writes:
Homer: "Zeus, from the beginning of Homer's Odyssey, which was in a sense the Greek equivalent of the Bible: "Alas, how mortals blame the gods! They say that evil comes from us, yet they bring undue woes upon themselves by their own wickedness" (written nine centuries before Christ)
Josephus: "Reflecting on [the Babylonian exile in 70 AD] one will find that God cares for humankind, and indicates to his people the way to salvation by all kinds of portents, but that they destroy themselves by their own self-willed stupidity and wickedness", The Jewish War 6:310. (written in the first century after Christ)
My point is, even some of the greatest Jewish minds, will write from the Greek perspective, which is that we are gods, not the God of Israel. That we, as humans, are the main actors on the stage, with God - in a sense - reacting to us. This is such a Greek way of thought, yet it pervades our churches like a film of dust dulling the Glory of God and His Authorship over the events of our lives, both easy and difficult, good and bad.
Several years ago, I knew God was up to something in my life because He told me to stop reading Christian books, even good ones, and to spend several years of my life only reading the Hebrew Interlinear Bible, spending hours and hours studying the Hebrew into the English. Before anyone thinks this is a privilege reserved for a yeshiva student, a Rabbi or a full time minister, I am a single mother of two who has always worked between two and three part time jobs, and writes and runs this website ministry in my "spare" time.
So, the Hebraic mind looks at history differently. So should a submitted, humble Christian mind. That mind instead asks; "What was the God of Israel showing us, even through our own disobedience, because He is not only Sovereign but always in control?"
No one taught me this except God. And here's what He showed me. It is so simple when one reads His Bible in the original Hebrew. This is why it is one of my passions that Christian believers arm themselves with a knowledge of this beautiful language:
The original Hebrew word for "exile" actually is more often used to mean the following but you won't find it under a concordance listing for "exile". You have to study the language, live in it, read it, to discover that the Hebrew word for exile is actually more commonly used to mean:
"to tell, uncover, reveal, to be opened, unsealed, to be made known, to be exposed."
So, you see, the Greek answer to the original question, "Why were the Jewish people sent into exile?" is human focussed. It says "because they sinned."
Whereas, the Hebraic answer to the question, "Why were the Jewish people sent into exile?" is God focussed. It says "Because God wanted to tell, uncover, reveal, unseal, expose and make Himself known."
In some sense, the first answer is the 'what happened' and the second answer is the 'why.'
How did God make Himself known through the exile of the Jewish people?
Firstly, on a large macro level. He Himself moved an almost entire people out of a Land He gave them into the four corners of the globe, embedding us within all different languages, cultures, areas of study, life, expertise, industry, communities. You might know we're there, you might not. For a list of some of the benefits of living in a globe that has the tiny Jewish people scattered among it, click this previous study on Genesis 12:3.
And on a micro, human level, He reveals Himself through individual Jewish people. Do you know a Jewish person who has inspired you to know God more? Do you wonder at their life? Their gifts? The unspoken "difference" about them, like something is within their DNA or upon them that singles them out, even if they don't want to be? Do you wonder why a Jewish person is exposed to anti-Semitism even in their success and giftings, as well as in their difficulties and struggles?
So, next time you hear the word "exile" remember it also means to be exposed, to reveal, to tell something of the Only True God of heaven and earth, the God of Israel. Yet, because I am very blessed to be saved by Yeshua, as a Messianic Jew, even when I am exiled, I am very thankfully covered by Him.
To be an exile is not easy. I sometimes have to hide myself, my Jewishness. It's built into my family history. Very heartbreakingly, it sometimes becomes very clear that even some in the church love me conditionally, not unconditionally. They love what I give them. They love the knowledge but would they be there for me if my life fell apart and I had nothing to give? Would they truly love me if I were the Jew hiding in the attic, not feeding them God's truth?
Did Yeshua - Who came to live in exile from Heaven to save us - say "Whatever the least of my brethren did for you, they did for Me...."
Or did He actually say "Whatever you did for the least of my brethren, you did for Me...
Further reflective reading: The Sheep and the Goats: Matthew/Mattityahu 25: verses 31 - 45
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.’