Our home has been under renovation, and we have been out of our home since March. It’s an odd feeling to see your home but know that you are unable to return there or to live there.
When we did visit our home, it was a mess of debris and dust, leaving it unrecognisable to when we left it. Throughout this time, I was reading 1 Peter, and this got me thinking about the Israelites and their exile, and how we live as exiles in our world.
Exile from our home
The Bible has multiple stories of people experiencing a few “exiles” (I realise these are exoduses but grant me this concession for this article) and one major “Exile”.
From Abram leaving his family home in Ur (which was a bustling metropolis for its era), to the Israelites leaving Egypt, and finally, the Israelites getting exiled by Assyria and Babylon, the theme of leaving and exile is a recurrent one throughout Scripture that Peter picks up on in the New Testament.
I want to spend some time dwelling on the exiles of the Old Testament for a moment. When Abram was called out of Ur and the Israelites were called out of Egypt, they were called to follow God into a new and unknown future. They were called to forsake the comforts of the familiar and venture with God into new territory.
In these exiles, Abram and the Israelites needed to grow in their trust in God to provide for and guide them. This shows that change isn’t necessarily a punishment but could be an invitation to grow from God.
Side tangent – there is a richness to the Israelite exodus from Egypt as God slowly teaches the Israelites who He is over the initial course of their exodus. During the time between the first Passover and Mt. Sinai, God graciously reveals himself to the Israelites through their various complaints of water, food, shelter, and warmth.
Only after revealing his character do the Israelites arrive at Mt Sinai, and the covenant is taken by Israel (so they know who they are worshipping and covenanting to).
In contrast, the exile of the Israelites by Assyria and Babylon was definitely a punishment and judgement by God for breaking the covenant. God used the exile to impose a rest on the land because the Israelites had been unfaithful in giving the land rest (2 Chronicles chapter 36, verse 21; Jeremiah chapter 25, verse 8-14).
God uprooted his people from the unhealthy patterns they were in and removes the familiar and comfortable things the Israelites relied on instead of God. God graciously continues to minister to the Israelites in exile through prophets like Ezekiel and Daniel.
In all scenarios, God draws his people out of what is comfortable and familiar, be it unhealthy (as is the case with the Assyrian, Babylonians, or Egyptians), or stagnant (as with Abram). In all scenarios, the invitation from God is for his people to know Him and to trust in him.
Bringing it not-home
When we accept Jesus Christ into our lives, we are accepting God’s invitation to depart the old, comfortable, and familiar lives we had and to follow him. He invites us to know him in new and different ways. We are called out of the world that was our home and into his new kingdom. This is the major thrust of 1 Peter. We are no longer citizens of this world, but citizens of God’s kingdom. We are part of the royal priesthood that defines the covenant community of Jesus Christ.
As we know God deeper, and relate to him in new ways, this begins to overflow into the lives of those around us. While being exiled is uncomfortable and new, they are equally exciting as we get to see God show up in wondrous ways.
The idea of exile is important because there are aspects of our old lives that will continue to allure us. But we are called away from our old lives, not to depart from what we had before, but to reconsider them in new light.
In Jesus, we have new and eternal life, unlike this world which will pass away. Even at the extreme, the heat death of the universe will ensure that all things will pass.
All of us, as Christians, are minorities in our culture, like many foreigners who migrate around the world - who we can learn from. Many of these people have gone through their own self-imposed exile, and we can learn some practical things from them.
We live as exiles in our current world, and we should treat it as such. We can learn how to engage healthily in our contexts instead of retreating. We can be distinct rather than hiding. We can bring new ways of living because of who we know – Jesus Christ. Foreigners and exiles celebrate their culture without losing who they are, while continuing to learn and engage in their new culture.
So, my concluding encouragement is this – let us ourselves for who we are (exiles), and engage with the world around us for what it is (a new culture to explore)
I disciple university students in the University of Canterbury through the Navigators while currently working towards a Master of Divinity. Outside of this, my wife and I enjoy rock climbing and going on adventures with our dog.