When Israel regathers, it is with a life of obedience that has some shape to it.
As in every other aspect of its life with YHWH, Israel must use a variety of terms to express its new lease on life granted by YHWH. We may mention four such usages, each of which bespeaks renewed Israel as the object of YHWH's powerful verbs
The most prominent verb is "Gather." ' I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land' (Ezekiel 36:24).
YHWH's rehabilitation of Israel is an act of "love", thus echoing the claims placed early in the tradition of Deuteronomy. 'I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.' (Jeremiah 31:3)
A third verb is "heal," - 'For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, says the Lord." (Jeremiah 30:17)
YHWH finally overcomes the judgment of Israel by an act of free forgiveness: 'I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.' (Jeremiah 31:34)
All of these verbs, and YHWH's actions to which they testify, mean that Israel is freed from all that had failed. Israel is now completely unburdened by its past, including the past of the exile.
We must be aware of this kind of language and when it is spoken. It is not a love because the people are loveable for what they do. It is love that comes even as the people and nothing more than disobedient people. It is healing even when the beloved people have cause their own injuries because of their turning from the one who loves them. The forgiveness is free and liberating. Too often, the words of a God who is going to get us or condemn us or kill us become the words about our God that are used to make people change their ways. And yet, so many times, it is the God who gathers and heals and loves and forgives who give the community the power to become just who God sees in us.
Connection: What turns you to this God? What do you hear that turns you away and what it is that grabs you and engages you and brings you home?
O God, who is forever acting for us, we give you thanks for never giving up on us and making sure that we continue to hear of your great and gracious acts. Amen.
'YHWH's Fresh Turn toward Israel" is now viewed through the words of the prophets.
The three great exilic prophets make an effort to speak about the this dramatic reversal, on which everything for Israel's future depends. Jeremiah employs the image of terminal illness as a way to speak about terminal judgment: "For this says the Lord; your hurt is incurable, your would is grievous. There is no one to uphold your cause, no medicine for your wound, no healing for you." (Jer. 30:12-13) Then - YHWH reverses course: "Therefore all who devour you shall be devoured, and all your foes, everyone of them, shall go into captivity; those who plunder you shall be plundered...."
In Ezekiel, YHWH speaks of harsh judgement under the image of sexual infidelity, which must be punished..... But then Ezekiel moves abruptly and without explanation or justification to "yet" - yet I will remember my covenant with you...."
In Isaiah of the exile, YHWH continues the metaphor of affronted marital love....the rejection is promptly countered by remembrance.
Up until it happen - up until the word of God's turning come - the people are forsaken and that is what the future looks to be. And then, there is God's surprising word and action that reinforces the depths of God's love for the people. Again this week I heard someone say that God does not change Gods' mind. It had to do with how some people read the Scripture in regard to homosexuality. This person said that God does not change God's mind. And yet, Brueggemann shows here several places where God does indeed turn around and change what has been said and done. Love - this unconditional covenantal love - was the first word and will be the last word. Oh, there may be all kinds of hell between the first and the last word, but the promise never leaves. Reality may show that we are as good as dead - and we may just be that - but, God prevails in God's love for God's people. That is the foundation of our hope in the middle of all that goes wrong and is broken.
Connection: It is so hard to hear this voice of our God reminding us of the love that is available even as we are facing the consequences of lives that have steered clear of the way of God. Wow.
O God, who turns to us in all times, you are like a breath of fresh air when our lives are stalled and dried up. Thanks to you. Amen.
....The debt to YHWH has been satisfied, so that YHWH can on move positively toward Israel. Or it may be the hurt of exile reached deep into YHWH's pathos, touching and mobilizing unrecognized measures of love and unknown, unacknowledged depths of compassion that heretofore have been completely unavailable to Israel, and perhaps to YHWH. What is clear is that Israel's life after exile, and Israel's status as YHWH's partner after rejection, are made possible only by YHWH's inexplicable turn toward Israel. Israel imagines that the new relationships to have as YHWH's partner is in full continuity with the past relationship; yet it is completely different, now rooted in YHWH's self-investment in Israel in quite fresh ways. That is, whatever turn has occurred is a turn on the part of YHWH.
We are still hearing of the God who brings everything into being. Even after broken covenants and broken hearts - God is renewed and renews the world. Israel turns because God has already turned toward them. There is in God's turning that pulls the faithful - even when in exile - to also turn. It is like a light being turned on in the middle of darkness - it draws all things to it. This is not a turn by God that can be regulated. It is one that happens from the whirlwind that is God. Here in that inspiring action God makes old relationships - fresh and new. Therefore, the position of exile it now a position of being found - rescued - so that the life of a people can be reflective of the love of the one who claims and nurtures them. The turning is not done by God's beloved. The turning is done by the God whose love claim the people - all of us - even when there appears to be nothing worth claiming.
Connection: This God remain such a God whose love continues to be transformed and transforming. We are then moving within the realm of transformation we have not done on our own.
O God, who turns to us in all times, continue to pull us into your loving realm even as it looks and feels like something we have never experienced Surprise us again. Amen.
Today we will enter into a section called 'YHWH's Fresh Turn toward Israel.
....the drastic rejection of Israel by YHWH is a decisive and irreversible reality in Israel's self-discernment. What Israel has been given by YHWH is now matched by what Israel has suffered at the hands of YHWH.
Our theme now, however, is YHWH's reach toward Israel beyond the scattering. It is an equally certain theological datum in Israel's self-understanding that at the depth of the exile, at the bottom of YHWH's rage toward and rejection of Israel, restoring Israel to full and valued partnership. The turn in YHWH's inclination toward Israel is an extraordinary claim in Israel's faith. In this turn Israel ponders the central mystery of its own existence, and its core wonderment and amazement about YHWH.
Once again the constancy of God's action with Israel is brought forth. Yes, this is the God who sends into exile - but this is the God who is there in their exile. And then out of nothing more than a love for this people, God rescues those who have been put out. In the lives of the people in exile, it never feels as though things will change. And yet, in the story telling of the people, time passes and God reestablishes his beloved.
Connection: Reminds me of good parenting - always present - always available - in and through the tough love and right back into the warm welcome.
O God, who turns to us in all times, we do not come home easily. Your love is the power that turns us around and makes us realize that you know the places in which we live - even as they are filled with terror and loneliness and despair. We bless you. Amen.
Another amazing insight on exile and God and hope - by Walter Brueggemann.
if this assessment of YHWH's decisive negativity toward Israel is correct, then one may draw a startling conclusion about Israel in exile. As a scattered community, terminated by YHWH, Israel refused to accept the scattering as its final destiny. Israel believed and insisted, in sadness and in protest but also in anticipation, that the God who scattered would also gather. If this is correct, then we may say that Israel hoped beyond the hope or intention even of YHWH, who had no such hope or intention for Israel. that is, Israel's courage and shrillness, its defiance of it present circumstances, talked YHWH into something YHWH had not yet entertained or imagined or intended. In its argument with YHWH, Israel moved YHWH to a new place of gracious intentionality toward Israel. Israel did so partly by appealing to its own need, partly by appealing to YHWH's sovereign fidelity, and partly by shaming YHWH as Moses had done long ago. It its earlier history, YHWH had taken all the initiatives with and for Israel in creating, covenanting, and judging. But now Israel in exile, in its abandonment and desperation, takes the initiative and evokes a turn in YHWH, creating a future for Israel where none had seemed possible.
I find so much of what is being here to be remarkable. Hoping beyond hope - sounds like stuff written by the apostle Paul and yet it is the living witness of Israel. It is as though they really do know their God. They know they have been put in a hopeless situation. They can come up with all sorts of good reasons why they blew it and how they mocked God and how they turned to other gods to make a life for themselves. And yet, they pick themselves up in exile and act as though God will revive them and the Spirit of the Lord will come. For some it is probably too big of a step to hear that Israel could talk "YHWH into something YHWH had not yet entertained or imagined or intended." Talk about hoping beyond hope! The Most Blessed, The Most Holy, the Most Gracious God - gets to see what is possible without planning on doing anything. God learns from a hopeful people in a hopeless situation. That is probably why the prophets can bring words to such people that say: Comfort, Comfort, Ye my People.
Connection: I must say, this is one of those readings I did not expect. It goes out to an edge that is refreshing and startling all at once. It is for me a true encouragement to live within hope. What a challenge.
O God, who watches how we turn away and follow other powers, be the power that keeps hope alive within us. Teach us again of your never-failing presence. Amen.
I found this piece to fit in with a discussion in bible study this week. Does God bring about punishment - knowing that God will step back and love no matter what happens?
Hope belongs characteristically to Israel, and its most acute practice occurs in exile. If we fully credit the articulations of judgement in the texts contemplating exile, we may believe that YHWH's intention is to end things with Israel, who is like a pot that 'can never be mended' (Jeremiah 19:11). It is no credible, in my opinion, that the sovereign judgment of YHWH was a strategic ploy to be followed predictably by pathos-filled love. The judgment is not for instruction or chastening or improvement. It is simply judgment of a sovereign who will not be mocked.
It is not our job to decide why God has done what God has done. Was the judgment to teach - no. Was the judgment to bring about improvement - no. It was to show that the people of God cannot simply turn their God into whatever we would want God to be. For when we do that, we -as Brueggemann notes - mock God. When we mock God, we pretend to dismiss God and make ourselves into gods who have a strange way of changing everything. Too often, religious people look to have their lives in control. When that happens, we seem to be able to create a God that follows our lead. What a tragedy. God does not play games with us and we are not expected to play games with God. In times that look and feel like judgment, it might be good to sit back and simply wonder how our lives might be mocking the God in whose image we are to be living.
Connection: The simple reminder that God will not be mocked is instructional. It makes me wonder how that happens and what happens to a people who claim to be beloved but do not follow in that light.
O God, who watches how we turn away and follow other powers, when we walk away from you it is not with the understanding that we are mocking you. And yet, as we look at ourselves, it is mocking. Forgive us when that is who we become. Amen.
the unfolding story of Israel is a story for all of us. It offers so much to the way faithful people meet the day no matter where they might be or what the conditions of the day offer. Bruggemann now writes of resilient hope for regathering.
What most strikes one about Israel in its scatteredness is its resilient refusal to accept the exile as the culmination of its destiny. Thus the great promissory oracles of Israel in exile, in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, are surely oracles addressed to the exiles. But they are also oracles and articulations of hope that arise out of exile. Thus one of the characteristics of Israel in its scatteredness is the insistent hope for a gathering. The oracles in exile, heard in the mouth of YHWH, insist that the scattered may soon be gathered:
Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, and declare it in the coastland far away; say, "He would scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock. (Jeremiah 31:10)
One of the wonderful gifts God gives to the prophets is the ability to paint a picture that no one is able to see - just yet. Even after long words that deal with how unfaithful the people had been, the prophet is able - at the right time - to speak of a new day. It does not dismiss what is. Rather, in the midst of what is, these words begin the journey back home - back into promise - back into the day-by-day faithfulness that is to be the norm among God's people. Prophets offer us a bit of reality. Uncovering the plight of our brokenness and then uncovering the power of God to heal and bring life back into the realm of a broken people. Amazing grace.
Connection: A word of regathering is always a bit of good news when the world is showing itself to be filled with bad news and disrupted lives. And yet, it can be difficult to hear such words of regathering until the power of separation has taken its toll on us.
O God, who watches how we turn away and follow other powers, we praise you for the many times you open your arms and re-create a home into which we are welcome and at rest. Amen.