How did Israel end up scattered in exile? What happened to the promises of God? And what difference does this make to me?
“Cross” is a short word of only five letters, but break it apart and it contains the whole story of the Bible. C.R.O.S.S.—Creation, Redemption, One nation, Separation, Salvation. The story of the Bible is our story, too, and each of these stages helps us get the “big picture” of our life in Christ. The series begins here.
Jared met Heather at the shelter where he volunteered: abandoned, abused, without a friend in the world. He spent time with Heather, helped her heal, and eventually he married her. Tina blossomed in his love.
It wasn’t long, though, before Tina took Jared’s love for granted. She started seducing other men. “I still love you!” he cried. Have you forgotten what it was, to live that other life? Come back!” In the end it was no use. Tina returned to the streets, where soon she was lost and alone again.
The Old Testament prophets used stories like this to warn Israel that she was cheating on God — and to beg her to return. The history of Israel was a time of progressive alienation from the one who had freed them from slavery and committed himself to them like a spouse. In the story of the CROSS, this is the first S: Separation.
The break-up began in the brief golden age of King David and his son Solomon. David wasn’t perfect. Among other things, he committed adultery and sent an innocent man to his death to cover it up. But his heart was set on God and he humbly sought forgiveness (see Psalm 51). Solomon wasn’t perfect either. He took hundreds of foreign wives and concubines, who turned his heart away from God. The Lord had promised that David’s royal line would last forever. But now he promised to tear the kingdom away from Solomon’s heir, preserving only a remnant for David’s sake.
The kingdom splits
After Solomon’s death, the kingdom split in two. The northern tribes, which kept the name Israel, set up idols to worship and discarded God’s law. Injustice prevailed for two hundred years. God sent warnings through prophets like Hosea, who married a prostitute in a living portrayal of Israel’s relationship with God. In spite of Hosea’s love and faithfulness, his wife ran after other men. Eventually he let her go to them. She ended up abandoned in the desert: a warning to Israel of exile to come.
Those northern tribes did not listen. In 722 BC, Assyria conquered and scattered the people. These are the “lost tribes of Israel.” They never return to their land.
The tribes remaining in the South, now called the kingdom of Judah, do better for a while. But over time they also fall away. They aren’t blatant about their rebellion the way Israel was, and they can’t imagine they’ll suffer the same fate. In spite of their disobedience, God will never leave us, they think. We’re God’s people!
Ezekiel tells a story to wake them up to the truth (see Ezekiel 16): God found them “cast out on the open field” in their infancy. He freed them from slavery and promised to make them his people and be their God. He blessed them lavishly but like a “brazen harlot” they gave their love to other gods and other nations. Now God will give them up to those “lovers” they sought instead of him.
Like Israel, Judah ignores God’s plea. In 587 BC, God allows Babylon to destroy Jerusalem and take the people into exile for 70 years.
Everything is lost—and yet …
Jerusalem is destroyed, the people are in exile, and it looks as though all the promises of God have come to nothing. But here shines the mercy of God. In spite of their unfaithfulness, God says through Jeremiah:
“I know the plans I have for you…, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Those plans “for good” include exile. When Jerusalem is destroyed, the exiles are preserved in Babylon. Over time they rediscover their heart for God and lose their hankering for the false gods of their neighbors (see Psalm 137).
Through separation and exile, God’s plan still holds: to make them fruitful, to make them a blessing to the earth, and to give them an everlasting king so all people can live under Gods dominion. They will return to the Promised Land. And in the fullness of time, God will accomplish God’s plan in a new way that solves the problem that lingers in their hearts.
FIND YOURSELF IN THE STORY
Where is your heart? Even if you have turned away, God is faithful. It’s never too late to turn back. God loves you and has a plan for good that encompasses even the hard times.
“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and … bring you back” (Jeremiah 29:13—14).
Spend a few minutes in God’s word, meditating on these passages about seeking God only. How do they speak to you?
- Hebrews 11:6 (how to draw near to God)
- Psalm 63 (a beautiful Psalm about seeking God)
- Isa 55:6 (don’t delay in seeking him)
- Matthew 7:7–8 (those who seek will find)
- Psalm 9:10 (God does not betray us)
- Lam 3:25 (the benefit of waiting for him)
© 2016, 2021 Sarah Christmyer. This series on finding the “big picture” of the appeared originally on the American Bible Society’s leadership blog. Some editorial changes have been made.
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Coming next: C.R.O.S.S.—the 2nd “S” is for “Salvation”
You may also like this series on God’s plan in Scripture, which starts here: God Has a Plan!
Get the “big picture” before you study the Bible with The Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study program. You can read the story of Scripture and journal as you go with The Bible Timeline Guided Journal.