When I teach Old Testament I often say you really need to know these two words: exile and exodus. People can picture exodus, that moment when the Red Sea was parted by Moses and the people of God exited slavery in Egypt and trounced through the desert seeking a new life.
But how to explain Exile. We don’t have any modern metaphors that work. Exile is when the temple was destroyed in 587 BC and the people of God, the Israelites, were sent to live in a foreign land. It was devastating. They suffered economic hardship, losing their businesses and jobs. Families were separated as some were deported and others stayed behind to tend essential businesses. They lost their sense of home and belonging, living suddenly as refugees in a land where their language and culture and religion was not the norm.
But what is super hard to explain is that the Israelites lost the temple. The temple was everything to them. It was not just the place they went to worship, it was how they gathered as a people. It was the core of their identity. Temple was also the governing authority.
But now we know. All I have to say is pandemic. And you know. And I know. We ache because we cannot gather in the beauty of the sanctuary to sing and hug and pray and praise. To ask “how was your week?” and to share a common loaf. We are zooming and we are worshiping for sure. But heck. I gotta tell you. I miss shaking your hand. I miss seeing your eyes. I miss the sound of your voice. I miss the feeling that happens only when we are together. The temple still stands. But we do not stand in it.
So here is how God worked in exile. God raised up a prophet named Jeremiah. And Jeremiah sent a message of confident assurance to all God’s scattered people. To those at a distance God said, “I will write my law on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people.” When they could not come to the temple, they were promised that God would come to them. Until that day when we can gather inside our sacred home, we take comfort in knowing that God’s love is written on our hearts.