From Distant Lands

How Christ rescues us from sin’s exile.

Exile is a strange word we don’t use much today. When my wife kicks me out of the house to take the kids to the park and give her some peace and quiet, she might jokingly say, “I’m sending you into exile.” But for the most part, it’s not common parlance anymore. Yet it’s a major theme in the Bible, one that ultimately points our hope toward coming back to God, and that alone makes it worth examining.

East of Eden Eden is where we first encounter exile, at the beginning of the biblical story. When Adam and Eve rebelled and were driven from the garden (Gen. 3:24), they found themselves distant from the presence of their Creator and subject to decay, destruction, and death. As the rebellion grew, their unruly descendants “moved eastward,” carrying their insurrection “east of Eden,” until eventually they settled to build the city of Babylon with its infamous tower (Gen. 4:16; Gen. 11:2 NLT).

“They settled to build the city of Babylon with its infamous tower.”

To get a sense of the geography, it’s as if God planted a beautiful garden in Southern California for His gardeners to tend. But they began destroying the place, so they got booted and began working their way eastward through the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico, until eventually they settled in Texas to build a vast and mighty empire.

The Hebrew word for exile, golah, speaks to being carried away into captivity, banished from one’s homeland. It’s related to the verb galah, which means “to uncover or remove.” Both words contain an element of being uncovered or exposed, like exiles who were often stripped bare in shame when removed from their homeland. It’s an image of disarray and distance from the life we were created for. And if exile means distance from God, the hope is in returning to Him.

By the Rivers of Babylon Later in Israel’s history, this pattern is repeated. Just like Adam and Eve, the nation wrecked God’s beautiful garden, unleashing idolatry and injustice into the Promised Land. So eventually Israel was driven out into another “wilderness.” As God’s protective presence finally left the land, Babylon invaded—demolishing the temple, ravaging Jerusalem, and carrying the people back eastward into captivity (2 Kings 24:12-14).

God wasn’t absent, however, but was working through this event. Calling Babylon’s king “My servant” (Jer. 25:9), He used that nation’s armies as a rod of correction for Jerusalem. “I am raising up the Babylonians,” God told Habakkuk, “that ruthless and impetuous people.” And the prophet responded, “You, Lord, have appointed them to execute judgment; you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish” (Hab. 1:6; Hab. 1:12 NIV).

God’s purpose in the exile, however, was different from Babylon’s. The mighty empire simply wanted to tear Israel down, but God was chastising His people, shaking them to their senses and ultimately building them up by driving them back to the life they were made for, with Him.

The beauty of the gospel is that God has come to us in Christ, invading our sin-struck, war-torn estate and bearing our decay, destruction, and death in His body on that cross.

God’s plan worked. While in exile, His people realized what a massive mistake they’d made. They began to cry out in longing for the land He had called them to, and then waited to return. The psalmist lamented, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion ... If I forget you, O Jerusalem … may my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth … if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy” (Ps. 137:1; Ps. 137:5-6). It was when they were farthest from the kingdom that the people grew hungry again for their King.

Land of the Living But one day the Lord would come to deliver His people. And when He did, it would be cause for hope the world over, not for Israel alone. Peoples from every nation would be invited to end their alienation from God and return to the One for whom they were made. As the prophet Jeremiah foresaw, “At that time … all the nations will be gathered to it, to Jerusalem, for the name of the Lord; nor will they walk anymore after the stubbornness of their evil heart” (Jer. 3:17). Eventually, as recorded in Ezra 1:2-4, Israel did come home, but this return was only a foreshadowing—a small picture of a much greater deliverance Jesus came to bring about.

Everyone is familiar with Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, but you might be surprised to look at it again and see these familiar themes of exile playing out (Luke 15:11-32). When the younger son asks for his inheritance—basically telling his dad to drop dead—and sets out for “a distant country” where his life unravels into destruction, Jesus’ original audience would have heard their own story echoing in His.

“The younger son sets out for ‘a distant country’ where his life unravels into destruction.”

This was Israel, running away from God and finding herself in exile in a distant land. This was Adam, rebelling against God and finding his life unraveled east of Eden. This is all of us who, under the destructive power of our sin, find ourselves far from the face of the Father.

But the beauty of the gospel is that God has crossed the distance. He has come to us in Christ, invading our sin-struck, war-torn estate and bearing our decay, destruction, and death in His body on that cross. When Jesus is crucified under the pagan powers, He is bearing exile—Israel’s, Adam’s, and ours—in order to find us in the distant land and bring us back to Himself. At the cross, Jesus joins us in our ultimate exile of the grave, uniting His life with us in our death in order to raise us with Him in the resurrecting power of His kingdom.

In Christ, the Father lifts us—His lost and wandering children—up onto His shoulders. Then He carries us back to the Promised Land, across the wilderness wastelands into the lavish, abundant, life-giving presence of His love.


Illustrations by Adam Cruft

Related Topics:  Growth of a Believer

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What happens to my notes

24 So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.

16 Then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

2 It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.

12 Jehoiachin the king of Judah went out to the king of Babylon, he and his mother and his servants and his captains and his officials. So the king of Babylon took him captive in the eighth year of his reign.

13 He carried out from there all the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king's house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold which Solomon king of Israel had made in the temple of the LORD, just as the LORD had said.

14 Then he led away into exile all Jerusalem and all the captains and all the mighty men of valor, ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths. None remained except the poorest people of the land.

9 behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,' declares the LORD, `and I will send to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land and against its inhabitants and against all these nations round about; and I will utterly destroy them and make them a horror and a hissing, and an everlasting desolation.

6 For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, That fierce and impetuous people Who march throughout the earth To seize dwelling places which are not theirs.

12 Are You not from everlasting, O LORD, my God, my Holy One? We will not die. You, O LORD, have appointed them to judge; And You, O Rock, have established them to correct.

1 By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down and wept, When we remembered Zion.

5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, May my right hand forget her skill.

6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth If I do not remember you, If I do not exalt Jerusalem Above my chief joy.

17 At that time they will call Jerusalem `The Throne of the LORD,' and all the nations will be gathered to it, to Jerusalem, for the name of the LORD; nor will they walk anymore after the stubbornness of their evil heart.

2 Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, `The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.

3 Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalem.

4 Every survivor, at whatever place he may live, let the men of that place support him with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, together with a freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.'"

11 And He said, A man had two sons.

12 The younger of them said to his father, `Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.' So he divided his wealth between them.

13 And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living.

14 Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished.

15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.

16 And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him.

17 But when he came to his senses, he said, `How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!

18 I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight;

19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men."'

20 So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

21 And the son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'

22 But the father said to his slaves, `Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet;

23 and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;

24 for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.' And they began to celebrate.

25 Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.

26 And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be.

27 And he said to him, `Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.'

28 But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him.

29 But he answered and said to his father, `Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends;

30 but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.'

31 And he said to him, `Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.

32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.'"

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