All throughout the Bible, the theme of “exile” is present. The worst penalty imagined in the Old Testament is to be exiled, separated from home, under enemy rule, alienated from God. Over and over again in the Scriptures, we hear the voices of exiles.
We hear the voices of Adam and Eve, cast from the Garden because of their transgression to a life east of Eden.
We hear the voice of Cain, sentenced to wander the earth after failing to be his brother’s keeper.
We hear the voice of Joseph, sold by his brothers into slavery and exiled in Egypt.
We hear the voices of Jacob’s entire family as they are forced to resettle in Egypt, where eventually they become slaves to cruel Pharaoh.
We hear the voices of the people of Israel, wandering through the wilderness until an entire generation dies off because of their unbelief.
We hear the cries of women like Naomi, who left the land in time of famine and suffered the loss of her husband and sons.
We hear the prayers and songs of David, God’s chosen king but also the exiled king, as he dwelt among the rocks and the caves while fleeing King Saul.
We sit in silence with Elijah the prophet, who hid in the wilderness from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, alone by the brook, fed by ravens.
We watch in horror as the Assyrians conquer and scatter the northern tribes of Israel, demolishing their kingdom and dispersing the people far and wide into foreign lands.
We lament as the Babylonians sack Jerusalem, plunder and destroy the Temple, and then take the people captive, transporting them into exile, where they hang their harps by the waters of Babylon, longing for home. "How can we sing the Lord's songs while in a foreign land?"
We rejoice when they return to the land after Cyrus’s edict. But our joy is mixed, for we remember that other nations would come in to rule over Israel. Though they had returned from geographical exile, they remained captives and slaves in their own land under enemy rule.
We pray for an end to the exile. O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion! When God restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad!
This is what we do on our own Lenten journey. We recognize our own captivity and exile. We cry out for redemption and restoration. And we wait for the Lord until He comes.