Through the prophet Habakkuk, God spoke to the people of Judah, telling them this:
“Look among the nations, and see;Habakkuk 1:5
wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
that you would not believe if told.”
But what exactly would this thing be that God was going to do, which was so incredible that people wouldn’t have believed it even if they were told? The very next verse reveals the answer:
For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans,Habakkuk 1:6
that bitter and hasty nation,
who march through the breadth of the earth,
to seize dwellings not their own.
The Chaldeans are also known as the Babylonians. What God was telling the people through Habakkuk was that He was going to raise up the Babylonian Empire to bring judgment on both the Assyrians and… upon Jerusalem!
The result of the Babylonian attack on Jerusalem would be that the Temple would be destroyed and the people of Judah would be carried off into exile for an entire generation.
The idea that God would allow a wicked nation like Babylon to attack and destroy Jerusalem was inconceivable to the people of Judah; it was the kind of news that was so incredible that they wouldn’t have believed even if someone told them!
After all, they were the people of God! Didn’t God love them? Then why would he let this wicked nation to attack them, defeat them, destroy the Temple, and carry them off into exile, making them slaves and subjects who lived as minorities under pagan rulers?
The Unexpected Blessings of the Exile
But perhaps even more difficult to believe, would have been the fact that in many ways, though the exile was painful, it would end up being one of the best things that ever happened to the people of Israel.
The destruction of the Temple and exile in Babylon were their greatest fears, and what God was telling them was that their greatest fears were going to become reality. The people of Israel assumed that because they were God’s chosen people, God would never let anything like that happen to them, and yet He did.
It begs the question: if God loved them, why would He let this happen to them?
The answer is: God intended to use this to accomplish good things in their lives that wouldn’t happen any other way.
In Hebrews 12, God tells us that as a loving father, he disciplines His children. He does this not in spite of His love for us, but because of His love for us!
Here are some of the blessings that Israel experienced in exile:
- The divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah were reunited (because Babylon conquered Assyria), and they would come out of the exile as a united nation once again.
- Many of the people turned back to God and forsook the worship of idols, which had long plagued them as a people.
- A new form of worship was born: because they were cut off from the Temple, the Jewish people began gathering together in Synagogues, where they would study the Scriptures and pray.
Synagogues developed during the exile, and the Jewish people brought them back home with them and continued them after the exile and after the rebuilding of the Temple. Prior to the exile, the people of Israel had a relatively weak relationship with the Scriptures. Consider the fact that when King Josiah found a copy of the Scriptures in the Temple during the renovation, it was the only known copy, and no one had seen it in many years!
Because of the exile, and fueled by the lack of a Temple, the people began regularly studying the Word of God in Babylon, and as they became familiar with it, their hearts were being prepared for the coming of Jesus in the years to come.
The exile was the people’s greatest fear, it was a form of chastisement from God, but ultimately it was one of the best things that ever happened to the people of Israel.
More Than Conquerors
The idea of being in exile was considered by the early Christians to be a good picture of what it means to be a Christian: we are a minority group living in a place that is not our home, and in this place we experience hardships.
As Paul wrote to the Philippians: to be a Christian is to live on Earth, but to have your primary citizenship and identity rooted in Heaven. And yet, as foreigners and sojourners in this world, we understand that God has us here for a purpose.
Just as the exile and the destruction of Jerusalem were the greatest fears of the people of Judah, we might have things in our lives that we consider to be our greatest fears: whether on a social or a personal level. Yet what we learn from Israel’s exile and the realization of their greatest fears, is that God uses even terrible and painful things to accomplish beautiful things in and through our lives.
This is what it means in Romans 8:37 when Paul says that in Christ we are “more than conquerors”: it means that because of what Jesus did for us to redeem us and make us children of God, the worst things that could ever happen to us in this life are also the best things that can ever happen to us! And if that’s the case, then you have absolutely nothing to fear!
Trials and difficulties will be used by God for your good and for His purposes. Hardships will draw you closer to Him. Death will literally bring you to Him. All the worst things that can possibly happen to you, in Christ, are also the best things that can ever happen to you – because of God’s love for you and commitment to you. In him, you are bulletproof! You are more than a conqueror through Him who loved you!
That is very good news that can fill us with confidence, that no matter what comes our way in this life, we can face it boldly and without fear, knowing that we are here in this place for a short time, with a mission from God to carry out with however much time we have left: to be representatives of His Kingdom and messengers of the good news of what Jesus has done to save souls from this present darkness unto eternal life.