When you think about the exile, how do you think things happened? We have this sort of Hollywood script in our heads where an invading army comes against Jerusalem, works it way inside, destroys the city, and leads the people out as prisoners, their hands clasped behind their heads, to go and live in Babylon for awhile. It's dark, it's dusty, it's dirty...it's bloody. It's the kind of thing good movies are made of.
And yet, life isn't so often a movie.
If you read the Scriptures carefully, you see something more beautiful unfolding - a good story, although I'm not sure it would make for the same kind of action movie. Ezekiel 33 has a pretty good timeline of it. The prophet says that twelve years into the exile, Jerusalem fell.
Read that again: twelve years after the people of God were taken out of their city, Babylon destroyed their city.
Now, that raises a couple of points worth looking at. First, that means that God arranged for His people to be somewhere safe well before their home was destroyed. He took them out of there long before He had to, gave them a chance to get settled somewhere else, to have a new life on some kind of decent foundation before everything that they had known was shaken and reduced to rubble.
It's not that Babylon was that great of a place to be. Anyone who had an opinion on the matter would rather have been in Jerusalem; they wanted to be home. Most of us can't understand when God takes us to a place that doesn't make sense to us, a place like Babylon when Jerusalem is so tall and strong and beautiful. But it doesn't change the fact that God moved them anyway. Just like He sometimes moves us to places we don't want to go or we don't understand. It's natural for us to question, God, why did You bring me to a place like this?
But maybe the better question is, God, why did You take me out of a place like that?
You never know what's coming for Jerusalem, but God does. And maybe that's why He moves you out of there.
The second thing that this little snippet from Ezekiel brings up is just how dogged our enemies are, just how relentless. Babylon had already taken Israel captive; the people had picked up and moved and were officially, and firmly, in exile. Yet, they continued to go after the city of Jerusalem until it was fully and completely destroyed. Twelve whole years. Not because they needed the people out of Jerusalem (they already had them), but because they needed Jerusalem out of the people.
The hearts of God's people were firmly in Jerusalem; that was the center of their faith, which made it the center of their lives. As long as Jerusalem was standing, there would always be a piece of Israel that remained there, no matter where their physical bodies were. That's why Babylon had to keep going after it until they wiped it out. They took Israel away, then took away her love and that...that's how you take over a people.
Our enemies are the same way. It's not enough to just have us; they have to destroy what we love, too. They have to take away wherever our hearts are. It's why you can give up a fight, but still find yourself in a war. It's why you can surrender, but you can't save your life. Because your enemy goes after what's important to you. It's not enough to just have you; the enemy wants all of you, no matter how long it takes.
Even twelve years.
Which is why the saving grace of God is so good. After twelve years, yes, our hearts are still in Jerusalem, but our lives...our lives have started to settle somewhere else. So it's a devastating blow, but it's not everything. We still have God to cling to, for He has already brought us out of there.
And all of a sudden, Babylon makes sense.