In 586 B. C. E. the neo-Babylonian armies of Nebuchadnezzar raided and destroyedthe city of Jerusalem, forcing its people to flee. The majority of the Judeanleaders and aristocracy were relocated in Babylon, and lived in relativeisolation from even their captors. The Exile robbed them of their wealth, theirhomes, their nation, and even their king; religion offered the only seed ofidentity for this uprooted people.
So it was during this time of Exile that aflourishing of religious texts were written and compiled, in an attempt toexplain the causes of their misfortune, and enable the people to comprehendtheir suffering (Meyers, Haggai xxxviii). In general, the Psalter reflects thetrue emotions of the ancient Israelites, more so than do most Biblical texts, asit is a compilation of their “troubles and fears, their hopes, aspirations,and reasons for confidence. ” (Metzger and Murphy 674 OT) In Psalm 137, anExilic text, a wide range of emotions are shown: longing and mourning for theirlost nation (Ps 137:1-3), the sadness and confusion they felt while in theforeign land (Ps 137:4-6), and even the desire for a violent revenge (Ps137:7-9). The same range of emotions can be seen in Second Isaiah, though thiswork was written “immediately before the fall of Babylon (October 29,539B. C.Order now
E. )” and displays more of the Judeans thoughts on their future. It is acompilation of passages of hope, promises of God to fulfill His covenant, andthreats of violence for the unbelievers. The majority of the Exilic andPost-Exilic texts call for a bloody and merciless revenge on their captors, andit would be easy to assign this outlook for all of the Jewish people of thetime. Upon close inspection however, it becomes apparent that not all Jews caredabout a bloody justice, and that some just wanted to go home and be done withit.
Both of these views, (both bloody and not), are found in Isaiah 42 and theproximity of the conflicting persuasions highlight their differences. In Isaiah42:3, a pacifistic, reserved justice is called for; “a bruised reed he willnot break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench: he will faithfully bringforth justice. ” Yet in just a few stanzas later, there is a call for blood. “The Lord goes forth like a soldier, like a warrior he stirs up his fury; hecries out, he shouts aloud, he shows himself mighty against his foes. ” (Isaiah42:13) By comparing these two quotes, it becomes readily apparent that the ideathat all Judeans wanted a violent revenge must be thrown out. While in Exile,the Jewish people held many expectations of their future, not all of whichagreed with one another, nor were fulfilled.
Returning to the Promised Land wasthe main focus of Exile, and it evolved into a paradise of sorts, whereeverything would be perfect. There are visions of God blessing the peoplerestored in their land, and their work being more than fruitful throughout theExilic texts. “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on thedry ground; I will pour my spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on youroffspring. ” (Isaiah 43:3) Haggai, a text written after Cyrus’ overthrow ofthe Babylonians, depicts a much different scene than the one envisioned inIsaiah. (Metzger and Murphy 1217 OT) “Therefore the heavens above you havewithheld dew, and the earth has withheld its produce.
And I have called for adrought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on whatthe soil produced, on human beings and animals, and on all their labors. ” (Hag1:10-11) This quote describes a state of affairs far different than what theIsraelite people imagined their future to be. The Jewish people, besidesdepicting a skewed view of their future, also disagreed on how that futureshould be run. While in Exile they were not allowed to have a king for obviousreasons, and due to this power vacuum, the priest was raised in status (Meyersand Meyers, Zechariah 169).
Despite the fact that Haggai and Zechariah werecontemporaries, and even cohorts, they did not agree on the place of the priestonce a king had been restored (Metzger and Murphy 1217OT). Throughout the bookof Haggai, the prophet shares all of his visions with both the governor and thehigh priest, except for his very last oracle. In this oracle, he prophesies therise of the Jewish king, and the restoration of power to the people. He onlyaddresses this to the governor, and not to the priest, thereby returning thepriest to the lesser position that they held pre-Exile.
On the other hand, thebook of Zechariah alludes to the importance of the priest and the king. “Thereshall be a priest by his throne, with peaceful understanding between the two ofthem. ” (Zech 6:13) The people of Exile held many different ideas about theirfuture and their return to the Promised Land, yet there were common themes inall of the writings. The hope of the people, and their faith that they would berestored to their land, was unwavering and outstanding. During this hardshipthey turned to faith to unite them as a people and to give them hope and it isevident that this at least was a universal truth for the ancientIsraelites.
BibliographyMetzger, Bruce M. and Roland E. Murphy. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. NewYork: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Meyers, Carol E. and Eric M. Meyers. Haggai, Zechariah 1-8. Vol.
25B. The Anchor Bible Series. New York: Doubleday,1993. Meyers, Carol E.
and Eric M. Meyers. Zechariah 9-14. Vol. 25C.
The AnchorBible Series. New York: Doubleday, 1987.