The Two Exiles: From Eden and Land

Reviewing Martien A. Halvorson-Taylor’s Enduring Exile: The Metaphorization of Exile in the Hebrew Bible, Daniel C. Timmer writes:

The Judean exile to Babylon was an event of the highest importance for nearly every biblical book that touches upon it. But the biblical witness is not monochromatic: Jeremiah and Chronicles see the exile as having a definite chronological end in 538 b.c. while Ezra 9:8–9 sees at least some of its elements continuing roughly a century after the return. Also, since Ezra opens by describing the return just as Chronicles does, Ezra seems to view exile as both ended and ongoing. Enduring Exile, originally submitted as a dissertation under Jon Levenson at Harvard University, accepts this complexity and uses it to explain why the majority of Jewish literature written after the completion of the ot developed the motif of “enduring exile” (e.g., Jubilees 1:15–18 and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs; notable exceptions are the Animal Apocalypse of 1 Enoch, the Damascus Document, and Dan 9, which the author dates to the years immediately before the Maccabean revolt). Halvorson-taylor argues that in these later works exile “became a metaphor for political disenfranchisement, social inequality, and alienation from God,” and sees this process of metaphorization as an “extension of exile’s meaning” (p. 8).

Here’s my attempt to address this issue in the introduction to the section on the Gospels and Acts in God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment (p. 357):

At this point we must note that when Israel’s prophets announced the new exodus and the return from exile, they were not merely dealing with the exile from the land connected to the destruction of the temple in 586 BC. At a deeper level they were prophesying the end of the exile from Eden narrated in Genesis 3. This is significant because God kept promises to Israel when the decree was issued in 539 BC, allowing exiles to return to the land. The promises kept included the seventy years for Babylon (cf. Jer. 25:12; Zech. 1:12; Dan. 9:2) and the fulfilling of Yahweh’s purpose by Cyrus, his servant who did not know him (Isa. 44:28–45:4). These promises were kept when a remnant of the nation physically returned from exile, but other new-exodus and return-from-exile promises were yet to be fulfilled. So Israel was back in the land, but the desert was yet to bloom like the garden of Eden; the enemies of God and his people were yet to be defeated once and for all; the child was yet to play by the hole of the cobra; the Spirit was yet to be poured out on all flesh; the new and greater David was yet to sit on the throne of his father; and the new heavens and new earth were yet to be filled with the glory of Yahweh as the waters cover the sea.

From a footnote accompanying this paragraph:

For the notion that expulsion from Eden was the first “exile,” I am indebted to Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible, NSBT (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 67. I think this way of formulating the issues clarifies what N. T. Wright has argued (e.g., The New Testament and the People of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God 1 [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992], 268–72), and I believe it stands up against the critique of Wright’s argument for the ongoing exile in Steven M. Bryan, Jesus and Israel’s Traditions of Judgment and Restoration, SNTSMS (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 12–20. For Dempster’s take on Wright and Bryan, see Dominion and Dynasty, 219 n. 7. To be clear, I am arguing that the end of the exile, the restoration prophesied by the Old Testament prophets, points to the return to the land as a return to Eden. Return to the land was realized. Return to Eden was not. Thus, the New Testament claims that the new exodus and return from exile were inaugurated in Jesus, to be consummated when he returns. See also the discussion of Old Testament “inaugurated eschatology” in chap. 4, §4.

Join the Conversation


  1. 1) In preaching the Life of Jacob (roughly, the last 1/2 of Gen.), it was clear to me that Jacob’s being sent out of the Promised Land was plainly an exile-event.

    2) In preaching the book of Daniel some years ago, it was my understanding that the “days of indignation” (8:19; cf. 11:30,36) were to be extended, until Messiah came, and in his arrival come the days of grace.

    Dan.9, mentioned in the post, contains Daniel’s prayer, his famous lament that the time appointed by Jeremiah (70 yrs) had come; and yet the people were not repentant. That is, the nation did not deserve to be repatriated. The answer that comes from heaven points to the solution–namely Messiah.

    In mercy, we know God does move Cyrus to decree permission to return. But it is just as clear that in this return, Israel is not yet completely redeemed. This seems to me confirmed by ch.11, in which is prophesied that the beleaguered people must wait, while great earthly powers like tides sweep back and forth over them. They must put their trust in God, for in the eyes of such lords of the earth they are nuisances at best.

    Indeed, they are warned not to enter actively into these lordly affairs, 11:14, because in the lifting up of their prideful heads, and making alliances, they only draw attention to themselves. And for their trouble, they make themselves a target for a bully’s brutality (a shamed Antiochus, retreating from Egypt, smarting from old Popillius’ ultimatum), see esp. 11:30ff.

    All these enemies–as bad as they are–are only emblematic of the greatest of enemies. The great promise is that Messiah will come, and will remove the awful enemies of his people–Sin and Death. He will bring an end to the days of indignation; and we will have the Prince of Peace.

  2. I am currently preaching through Mark. In studying Mark’s Prologue, especially the introduction of John the Baptist, I was struck with all the “new exodus” language. It prompted me to name Sunday’s sermon “A Voice in Exile. A Vision of Exodus.”

    The more I meditated on the subject, I saw an apparent pattern through scripture: Eden –> Exile –> Exodus –> Eden

    It seems that every major Biblical story follows that pattern. Everyone is trying to get back to Eden. However, everyone falls back in exile due to sin and idolatry, and then exodus occurs…then Eden is tasted but alludes everyone…until Jesus comes to His people in exile, is revealed as the greater Moses leading a new exodus to the ultimate restoration of Eden–a greater Eden–a Garden-City in Revelation.

    Thinking about Jesus as a vision of Exodus

    Passover Lamb – “Behold the Lamb of God” at John’s baptism

    Red Sea – Jesus’ baptism

    Wilderness – Jesus’ temptation

    Law/Mt. Sinai – Jesus’ fulfills the Law; born under the law

    Moses’ death – Jesus dies to satisfy the Law’s commands, died for our disobedience

    Joshua/Promised Land – Jesus’ resurrection and salvation into the promised land

    Truly, Jesus’ life is a vision of a great exodus out of exile back to Eden.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *