Rebels and Exiles (Essential Studies in Biblical Theology), Matthew S. Harmon. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.
Summary: A study of the theme of exile throughout the Bible, from the garden, to the warnings and reality of Israel’s exile, the return from exile accomplished by Christ, realized in part even while his people remain exiles awaiting the new creation.
I have to admit, I have really liked the volumes of the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology that I have read. Each surveys a key theme that may be traced through scripture, both its significance in historical context and for believers in the present. Each volume is biblically grounded, reflects current scholarship, and readable for the non-specialist. This volume is no exception as Matthew S. Harmon traces the theme of exile through scripture.
He begins with Adam and Eve in Genesis, yielding to the temptations of rebellion and idolatry. Harmon draws this conclusion explaining the significance of the exile from Eden:
The message could not be clearer: rebellion and idolatry result in exile–separation from the presence of God. As pure holiness, God cannot allow sinful humanity access to his garden sanctuary, so he drives the couple out. To ensure that they can never reenter the garden, God places cherubim at the entrance as angelic guardians in conjunction with a flaming sword that turned in every direction. God ensures that humanity can never again access the Tree of Life at the center of his garden sanctuary. Yes, they are still divine image bearers. But now they must live out this reality in exile, away from the presence of their Maker.Matthew S. Harmon, p. 15.
Harmon then traces God’s plan to work through Abraham to bring an end to exile. But first his grandson Jacob and his twelve sons must spend 400 years away from the land in Egypt. God makes them a people and brings them into the land under Moses and Joshua, with warnings that if they forsake the law of the covenant, they will be forsaken in exile. They rebel and God keeps his promise, as first the northern kingdom is defeated by Assyria, and later the south goes into exile in Babylon. Repentance brings return in 538 BC, and yet exile continues as they live under foreign rulers. Full restoration occurs only when Jesus dies for their sins, rises to life and ascends to rule.
One of the highlights of this book for me was the study of the various letters that speak of God’s people as redeemed and yet exiles in the world, called to live as imitators of Christ and citizens of heaven while still in exile, a unique way to cast our already/not yet condition. The study concludes with the final end of exile in the new creation.
The concluding chapter draws seven implications of the biblical material on exile. We are enabled to understand:
- Who God is and his plan for this world.
- Who we are as human beings.
- What is wrong with this world.
- What God has done to fix this broken world through Jesus.
- That this world is not our true home.
- How to live as God’s people in this world.
- Where our true hope lies.
Particularly compelling is this idea of understanding why we have this sense of longing for we know not what or where. Carson McCullers writes, “We are homesick most for the places we have never known.” C.S. Lewis describes “desire for our own far off country . . . for something that has never actually appeared in our experience.” Longing is the proper response for exiles who are still far from home.
Harmon helps us read the narrative of scripture through the lens of exile, making sense of our condition and God’s big story. It is a story that addresses our deepest longings and the source where we find hope.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.