It’s not banishment when God sends

In the first 11 chapters of Genesis, we see several examples of exile when people are banished from the place of God’s manifest presence.  Adam and Eve are banished from Eden. Cain, their son is literally banished from the ground meaning that he can no longer live off of its produce as he has done as a farmer. Cain is allowed no settled home. Instead, he becomes a wanderer.  Similarly the flood is a form of banishment from the land and afterwards in Genesis 11 the people are scattered and banished, exiled from Babel where they have attempted to settle.

Then in Genesis 12, Abraham is sent from his home. First, he and his family move from their ancestral city of Ur in Mesopotamia to Haran and then one day, God speaks to Abraham and tells him that he must leave behind even that temporary home.  God tells him that he is to leave his family behind.  His parents stay in Haran but Abraham goes with his wife and nephew. 

We might consider this a form of exile.  Abraham is having to leave behind those he loves and cares for.  At seventy-five he is saying goodbye to everything that is known and familiar.  It’s not easy to uproot, especially when you’ve already had to do it once.  12 years ago, we moved and settled in the West Midlands. I’d already made one big move just over a decade before from Yorkshire to the South-East.  Then this year God moved us again, from Smethwick to the north of Birmingham.  Having been through the stress of selling and buying a house and the emotional strain of saying goodbye to good neighbours, I’m hoping we don’t find ourselves moving again in 2030!

Yet for Abraham, the move is not exile, it’s not banishment, it’s not curse.  It certainly isn’t death, even though in Romans 4:19, Paul describes his body “as good as dead.”  Why is it not banishment and exile?  The answer is that

  1. God sends him
  2. God blesses him
  3. God meets him there

Abraham is leaving a physical home but he is not leaving God’s presence.  God goes with him.  In the same way, God called the people of Israel out of Egypt and sent them into the wilderness on route to the Promised land.  However, he did not just send them on the way, he went with them. He led them, appearing as a pillar of fire. 

This was a big deal for Moses.  When the Israelites sinned by worshipping the golden calf, God at one point says that he will not wipe them out as they deserve but he will send them up to the Promised Land.[1]

Moses responds

 “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

I believe that Moses gets it.  Even if the people are sent with an angel, they are no different from the other nations because what separated them out from everyone else, even when they were landless was that they lived in God’s presence.  God would in effect be exiling and banishing them even as he sent them to their homeland.  This perhaps also helps us to think about the Jews living in Judea at the time Jesus came. They had returned from exile, but there was a sense that the visible presence of Yahweh, the Shekinah Glory was missing from the Temple and so they could not say they were truly home. They remained in exile.

So, one of the lessons we can learn from Biblical Theology is that we are not banished, not exiled if God goes with us.  This is important for us as disciples of Jesus.  Matthew’s Gospel concludes with these words.

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Jesus sends out the disciples and in so doing, sends out you and me to be his witnesses, to serve him and speak for him.  But get this.  He doesn’t send us alone.  He promises that he is coming with us, through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

There is a right Biblical imagery of Christians as exiles as we wait our forever home with Christ.  However, in another sense we are not exiles, we are not banished because we are always in the presence of Christ.

[1] Exodus 33:1-3.

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