This blog post will be on the topic of land, exile, and return. The concept of land was extremely important to the identity of Israel. They were a people who were landless while they were enslaved in Egypt and also as they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Generations of Hebrews lived as people without a homeland. Even in our world today, there are people groups without a homeland. You look at the situation with the Palestinians in Israel, the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey, and the Uyghurs in China. These are people still fighting for their right to have a piece of land to call their own. So much of a culture’s identity is connected to a physical homeland. That is why people are willing to fight and lose their lives over it. The Israelites roamed around without a homeland. God was forming their identity during the exile. However, throughout the process, he promised them a place to call home. My parents are immigrants from South Korea. There is a sense of loss because their homeland is divided between North and South because of the geopolitics of the Cold War. There is a sense of division and separation that affects the culture and there is a sense of longing for the day when there will be a unified Korea which will make the people whole.
Once the Israelites gained a homeland, God gave them specific rules about how to take care of it. The land was not their’s. The land belonged to God. The Israelites were tenants who would steward the land. In the year of Jubilee, which occurred every 5o years, the fields would be returned to its original owners. The land was not earned by the Israelites. They had to prove that they were worthy of God’s land. This would lead them to become generous and hospitable to their neighbors. The land was a gift from God. Every seven years, the land would also get a Sabbath as nothing new would be planted. Israel had a special relationship with the land. The land was there’s to take care of as something generously given to them by God. This idea of land has implications for us today. We are also called to be responsible stewards of the land that we have been given to take care of. That’s why ecological discipleship is not just optional but truly necessary. This is where the writings of Wendell Berry and Howard Snyder are helpful. They have connected how the Israelites were called to take care of their land to our call today to be stewards of the land and the environment. The earth belongs to God and we are mandated to take care of it.
However, the Israelites continue to disobey God and eventually lose their land to foreign colonizers. They are conquered and exiled to foreign lands in Babylon. They lose their identity as they lose their land. However, God has not forgotten them. Ezekiel has his vision of God bringing life to dry bones in chapter 37. God promises the house of Israel that they will return to their land. Even though Israel has lost all hope, God promises restoration and redemption. Eventually, they are allowed to return to rebuild Jerusalem through Ezra and later with Nehemiah. Even though the temple is not as great as it was back in the time of Solomon, it was still an important event for them to get a glimpse of their homeland again. Throughout the exile, God promises that they will return to their land. Unfortunately, the Jews would continued to be colonized later by the Greeks and Romans. Jesus would come and transform the locus of their homeland from a physical place to the life and body of Christ. The idea of “home” is fundamentally changed from the life of Israel in the Old Testament because of the incarnation of Christ.