Captivity

The nations of Israel and Judah were not the only ones God sent into captivity. Their exile was merely an example of God’s sovereign right to control the rise and fall of kingdoms on earth. The first mention of captivity in the Bible was in Numbers 21:29 where it says, “Woe to thee, Moab! Thou art undone, O people of Chemosh: he hath given his sons that escaped, and his daughters into captivity unto Sihon king of the Amorites.” As early as the book of Deuteronomy, even before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, it was declared that God intended to send his people into captivity. Regarding the rewards of repentance, it states, “That then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee” (Deuteronomy 30:3).

The goal of captivity was repentance and an acknowledgment of God’s ultimate authority over mankind. The primary reason God sent his and other people into captivity was they would not obey him. A stubborn refusal to submit to God’s sovereign will caused the people of Egypt to be singled out and punished numerous times. Ezekiel identified pride as the root cause of the Egyptians’ problem and was told, “Speak, and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of the rivers, which hath said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself” (Ezekiel 29:3). In order to extend Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom beyond the borders of Palestine and to show that God could take any kingdom he wished to for his own, Egypt was given into the hands of the king of Babylon. Ezekiel was told:

Son of man, Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon caused his army to serve a great service against Tyrus: every head was made bald, and every shoulder was peeled: yet had he no wages, nor his army, for Tyrus, for the service that he had served against it: therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will give the land of Egypt unto Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon: and he shall take her multitude, and take her spoil, and take her prey; and it shall be the wages for his army. (Ezekiel 29:18-19).

God’s ability to speak things into existence and to destroy his enemies through a prophetic word was demonstrated in his overthrow of Egypt. Ezekiel recorded this command, “And I will make the rivers dry, and sell the land into the hand of the wicked: and I will make the land waste, and all that is therein, by the hand of strangers: I the LORD have spoken it” (Ezekiel 30:12). Even though the Egyptians did not present a military threat to the Israelites, God decided to remove them from their land and send them into captivity so that they would no longer draw God’s people away from him. The kings of Israel and Judah had a history of calling on the Egyptians for help and would not relinquish their dependence on a nation that worshipped idols. Ezekiel was told regarding Eygpt, “It shall be the basest of the kingdoms; neither shall it exalt itself any more above the nations: for I will diminish them, that they shall no more rule over the nations. And it shall be no more the confidence of the house of Israel, which bringeth their iniquity to remembrance, when they shall look after them: but they shall know that I am the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 29:15-16).

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A new status

From the time of Abraham, until the time of Jesus Christ, God did not have a relationship with any other people than the Israelites. Even though other nations had heard  about the God of Abraham, they were unable to receive his blessing and had no right to claim salvation. As the people of Judah were being prepared to be taken into captivity, Jeremiah was instructed to tell them that their special status was being removed. No longer would Israel’s children be entitled to God’s lovingkindness and mercies (Jeremiah 16:5), instead the LORD said, “Therefore will I cast you out of this land into a land that ye know not, neither ye nor your fathers: and there shall ye serve other gods day and night, where I will not show you favour” (Jeremiah 16:13).

As God shifted his focus from the land of Israel to the entire world, he set out to sow his people like seed in a field that could be gathered at the time of his harvest. God’s people were told, “Therefore behold the days come, saith the LORD, that it shall no more be said, The LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but, The LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them:  and I will bring them again into their land that I gave their fathers” (Jeremiah 16:14-15). Although the remnant of Judah would return to the Promised Land after their captivity had  ended, the restoration of the nation of Israel wouldn’t take place until the Messiah began his rule over the entire earth.

In between the time when Christ was born and his reign on earth began, God intended to make himself known as the one true God that is sovereign over all mankind. Jeremiah was told, “Therefore behold, I will this once cause them to know, I will cause them to know mine hand and my might; and they shall know that my name is The LORD” (Jeremiah 16:21). The Hebrew word translated know, yâda’ (yaw – dah´) means to know by experiencing. “‘To know” God is to have an intimate experiential knowledge of him” (3045). While his people were in captivity, God would use them to witness to the Gentiles in such a way that his authority would make it evident to everyone that there was no power on earth greater than his.

Phase Two

The LORD identified Cyrus king of Persia as the shepherd that would lead his people out of captivity (Isaiah 44:28). God referred to Cyrus as his anointed (Isaiah 45:1), a term associated with Israel’s Messiah. In Cyrus’ case, this title meant that he was consecrated by God for a special office or function. Cyrus was a pagan king that did not know God. The LORD declared about him, “For my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me” (Isaiah 45:4).

God intended to use Cyrus for his own purposes in order to demonstrate his sovereign control over all his creation. In explaining this strategy the LORD said, “That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none besides me. I am the LORD, there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things” (Isaiah 45:6-7). Cyrus’ connection to Israel’s Messiah made it possible for God’s people to see that Jesus was to be the savior of the world, not just Israel.

The idea that God would save the world was a new concept for the Israelites because up to that point the Gentiles were excluded from having a relationship with God. If Israel had kept God’s commandments, they might have been able to retain their exclusive rights to his inheritance (Isaiah 48:18), but as it were, they chose to rebel and forfeited that right (Isaiah 48:19). Therefore, the LORD said, “Thou hast heard, see all this; and will not ye declare it? I have shewed thee new things from this time, even hidden things, and thou didst not know them” (Isaiah 48:6).

The Israelites’ captivity would prepare them for a new assignment. Phase two of God’s redemption plan required his people to become messengers, spreading God’s word throughout the earth. The scattering of God’s people was not just to punish them. God had always intended for the world to hear of his fame. What the Israelites didn’t know, and were being told for the first time, was they would be sharing their story with the Gentiles in order to get them to repent.

Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter it even to the end of the earth; say ye, The LORD hath redeemed his servant Jacob. And they thirsted not when he led them through deserts: he caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them: he clave the rock also, and the waters gushed out. There is no peace, saith the LORD, unto the wicked. (Isaiah 48:20-22)