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11. The exiles who returned

11-1 Ezekiel’s Temple: Based Upon Solomon’s Temple || 11-2 The Nature Of Prophecy || 11-2-1 Conditional Prophecy || 11-2-2 Human Response || 11-2-3 Tyre in Ezekiel 26 || 11-2-4 Delayed Prophecies || 11-2-5 Prophecies With Changed Fulfillment || 11-2-6 The Nature Of Prophecy || 11-3 Command More Than Prediction || 11-4 The Contemporary Relevance Of Ezekiel's Temple || 11-5 The Restoration: Potential Kingdom Of God || 11-6 The Potential And The Reality || 11-6-1 The Weakness Of Judah Under Nehemiah || 11-6-2 Isaiah's Prophecies Of Restoration || 11-6-3 Jeremiah's Restoration Prophecies || 11-6-4 Ezekiel's Restoration Prophecies || 11-6-5 The Cherubim And The Restoration || 11-6-6 Zechariah's Restoration Prophecies || 11-6-7 The Restoration Psalms || 11.7 “The prince" in Ezekiel || 11-7-1 " The prince" : Potential Messiah || 11-7-2 Zerubabbel- Potential Messiah? || 11.8 The Potential For The Surrounding World || 11-8-1 Haggai 2 || 11-8-2 Meshech And Tubal || 11-8-3 Joel Chapter 3 || 11-9 Different Sequences Of Prophetic Fulfillment || 11-10 Zechariah And Malachi: More Chances || 11-11 The Returned Exiles

11.11 The Returned Exiles

It has been demonstrated that the record of the exile from the land is framed in terms of the exile from Eden; the offer of return to the land is therefore an offer of paradise restored, fellowship with God renewed- for those who wanted it. Let’s remember that the exiles were symbols of us. We in this life are passing through “the time of our exile” (1 Pet. 1:17 RSV). Paul exhorts us to pray for kings and governors, in the very language of the LXX in Ezra 6:10 about the returnees praying in the new temple for the kings of Babylon. They were commanded to spread the knowledge of Israel’s God to all in the dominion of Babylon (Ezra 7:25 LXX), and thus they would have fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecies about the spreading of the Gospel to all peoples. Yet we have a similar commission, which we must take heed to live up to; for the exiles who returned became so caught up with their own lives that they again failed to be a light to the nations. The restoration command to the exiles in Babylon to arise and shine, as their light had come (Is. 60:1) went unheeded by them; they preferred to stay in Babylon. And yet this is reapplied to us in Eph. 5:14.

Time and again the Lord Jesus reapplies the language of the restoration from Babylon to what He is doing to all men and women who heed His call to come out from the world and follow Him. The ideas of bringing His sheep, "other sheep of mine", who will hear His voice and form one flock under one shepherd (Jn. 10:16)- all these are rooted in the restoration prophecies (Ez. 34; Ez. 37:21-28; Jer. 23:1-8; Jer. 31:1-10). When the Lord spoke of His people as being raised up put of the stones, as living stones, He surely had Neh. 4:2 in mind- where the stones of Zion are described as reviving, coming alive, at the restoration. The second coming is to be the restoration again of the Kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6), as if the first restoration is to be understood as a type of that to come. When the Lord speaks of a change of yokes for the weary and a granting of rest in Him (Mt. 11:28-30), He is using terms taken from Isaiah’s restoration prophecies. The offer of rest was rejected by the exiles then; but is taken up now by all who accept Christ, realizing that they are in the same state as the exiles in Babylon. “Come out from among them and be ye separate” (2 Cor. 6:17) is picking up the language of Is. 48:20; 52:11; Jer. 50:8; Zech. 2:7 concerning the return of the exiles from Babylon. The edict of Cyrus for the Jews to return to the land is in a sense pointing forward to God’s command to us to leave the spirit of Babylon, the Gentile world, and go up to do His work. The returned exiles are us. Those who left Babylon did so of their own freewill (Ezra 7:13), and yet providential events stirred up their spirits to do this (Ezra 1:5); and the way was prepared in miraculous way. And so it is for us, in our exodus from this world and from the flesh. Judah in Babylon were as captives in the prison cell, waiting to be released and return to their land, according to Isaiah’s images. And these pictures are picked up and applied to all who know the redemption and restoration of Christ. There in Babylon they were as the vine tree, burned up and fit for no work; and yet, still used to perform God’s work, by grace alone (Ez. 15:5). And these men were truly types of us. Sitting there in captivity, God offered His people a new covenant (Ez. 11:19,20,25 cp. Heb. 10:16); they could have one mind between each other, and a heart of flesh. But Israel would not, and it was only accepted by those who turned to Jesus Christ. Their being of “one heart” after baptism (Acts 4:32) was a direct result of their acceptance of this same new covenant which Judah had rejected. In the hearing of offer of the new covenant, we are essentially in the position of those of the captivity, hearing Ezekiel’s words, and deciding whether or not to remain in cushy Babylon, or make a painful and humanly uncertain aliyah to Zion.  

The whole of Paul’s exhortation to zealous service in the ecclesia in 2 Tim. 2 is based on the returned exiles, confirming that they are indeed ‘types of us’. 

2 Tim. 2


“If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessek unto honour, sanctified and meet for the master’s use” (:21)

“I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should come and keep the gates…thus cleansed I them from all strangers” (Neh. 13:22,30). Also a reference to the cleansing of the Jews from mixed marriages.

“A workman that needeth not to be ashamed” (:15)

The workmen rebuilding Zion

“The foundation of God standeth sure” (:19)

The laying of the foundation stone

“The Lord knoweth them that are his” (:19)

The spirit of Is. 44:5- that although at the time of the restoration not all knew their genealogy, they were accepted in any case, being surnamed with the Name of Jehovah and that of Jacob

“A great house” (:20)

The temple (1 Chron. 22:5)

“Vessles of gold and of silver” (:20)

“Vessels of gold and silver” (Ezra 5:14)

Isaiah 40-66 is full of encouragement to Judah in Babylon to “fear not” and make the move back to the land. They are encouraged that “I have redeemed thee…thou art mine…for I am the Lord thy God…thy saviour; I gave Egypt for thy ranson, Ethiopia and Seba for thee” (Is. 43:1,3). As a reward for allowing the Jews to return, the kings of Persia were given Egypt, Ethiopia and Seba. The Jews were doubtful as to whether God would really accept them now, after all their sin; and they were trapped in the good life, and the difficulty of uprooting from the world they were in. They were just like us! They had to be reminded that their Saviour had paid the ransom to redeem them, and therefore they must do their part and leave. And the blood of Jesus should work a like inspiration for us, all too loaded down with our burden of sin, unworthiness, spiritual dysfunction…Their fears about the way back were allayed: “I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert” (43:19). They were constantly encouraged that as God had redeemed His people from Egypt through the water, fire and desert, so He would and could redeem them from their Egypt. The returned exiles are encouraged to forget their former sins as God also has done: “Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old” (43:18). Their fear that they could no longer prove their genealogy was likewise calmed: “One shall say, I am the Lord’s: and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel” (44:5). They had lost their birthright, in a sense, but the essential and joyful thing was that they were Jehovah’s, they were of Jacob and not of the Gentile world…Nothing could get in the way. Even the rumours they must have heard of Samaritan opposition were to be discounted, for “There is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work, and who shall let it?” (43:13). Every conceivable encouragement was given to the people, to go up and be part of the Kingdom work; nothing could stand in their way, if only they would go forward in joyful faith. They had been redeemed, they simply had to believe this and act as if they had been saved from Babylon and translated into the Kingdom which was to be established. The similarities with us are exact.  

The great restoration prophecies of Jer. 23:1-8 and Ez. 34:1-31 speak of the flock of Israel going astray due to bad shepherds, being saved by the good shepherd, being delivered / gathered, and then returning to the land. The Hebrew word shub means both 'to return' in the sense of returning to the land, and 'turning' in the sense of repentance. But these restoration prophecies are packed with allusion to the great shepherd Psalm 23. Here, David says that the good shepherd 'causes me to repent' (Ps. 23:3 Heb.). This is matched in Ez. 36 by the idea of God giving Israel a new heart. And the Lord's amazing parable of the good shepherd (Lk. 15:1-7) brings together Ps. 23 and also these restoration passages, in speaking of how He goes out and finds the lost sheep and brings it back home(1). The sheep is found, and accepts being found- there is no actual mention of repentance. Thus the 'return' of Judah to their land was intended as a work of God- He would make them return, He would give them repentance [note how Acts 11:18 speaks of God granting men repentance]. This is all such wonderful grace. The even more incredible thing, though, is that Judah refused to accept this grace; they didn't 'return' to the land because they saw no need to 'return' to God. They willingly forgot that they were only in Babylon because of their sins; to 'return' to the land was a 'return' to God, which He had enabled. But they were like the lost sheep refusing to sit on the shepherd's shoulders, preferring to sit in a hole and die... and this is the warning to us. For truly, absolutely all things have been prepared for us to enter the Kingdom. It's only those who don't want to be there who won't be.

The suffering of God over the exiles all points forward to His later experience in the death of His Son. But note that God’s suffering was particularly because Israel would not return to Him. Had they done so, the hurt of their past sins would have been erased in a moment. God redeemed and ransomed Jacob, thereby enabling them to return from Babylon (Jer. 31:11)- but the majority preferred to ignore the call to return because they were so caught up in the good life. And likewise the hugely costly redemption of the world in the blood of Christ is painful for God insofar as so many, the majority, refuse it. The pain of providing this ransom and the hurt of human sin was one thing; the refusal of the offer of a way back to relationship with Him is far worse. From this we can perceive how thrilled God is when we turn to Him. And further, appreciating it should inspire our preaching, knowing the Father’s joy over just one true convert who will accept His ways in Truth and enter into loving relationship with Him. We read in Jer. 33:11,26 of God ‘causing’ the captives to return. The Hebrew in this phrase is intriguing and impossible to adequately translate- the idea is ‘I will cause by my very own self and will’. The whole force of God’s personality and His passions and emotions was behind His causing Judah to return to the land. But most of them withstood it. And so as we spread the appeal of God to men to return to Him, there is a huge Divine ‘will’ behind our message, God Himself in all His passion is behind our appeals.


(1) Kenneth Bailey brings together all the many points of similarity between Ps. 23, Jer. 23:1-8, Ez. 34:1-31 and the parable of the lost sheep (Lk. 15:1-7) in his book Jacob And The Prodigal (Downers Grove: IVP, 2003) p. 70.