Reflections for 10-6: Rival Explanations of Exile

  1. 2 Kings 20:10-16 clearly and directly blames the sins of Manasseh for the exile. This is the general explanation of the exile in the Deuteronomistic History: sin causes punishment and the intensity of Israel’s sinfulness caused the worst punishment – exile.
  2. Job’s disagreement calls into question the premise that sinful behavior is the explanation for suffering. Job is using his own experience as a counter-example to this premise.  He suffers but did not sin therefore the assumption that suffering causes sin is faulty.  However, this seems to refute only the claim that “all observed suffering is the consequence of specific sins by the individual who suffers.”  One can still offer more broad interpretations of divine punishment and reward like “all of Israel suffers as a consequence of general sinfulness” (which would mean some innocents may suffer as well), “we are rewarded or punished for our behavior in the afterlife” (which would mean earthly suffering isn’t necessarily explained by sin), or “original sin (to use the Christian concept) causes all human suffering” (which would mean that it is not a specific sin).  To my way of thinking these explanations make the idea of divine justice compatible with Job’s objection and God’s response to Job (questioning Job’s authority to question Him) can be seen as an argument for why events are beyond our small scale understanding.
  3. Job is like those objectors who think that the exile is too much given the simple algebraic understanding that DtrH has. His friends tell him that he has sinned and is therefore to blame, just as the prophets (especially Jeremiah) do, but he doesn’t find that response adequate. Zophar is sort of like Jeremiah who encourages Job to accept his suffering.  Bildad’s optimism is similar to those Israelites who think the exile will end soon, and Eliphaz is the standard DtrH explanation that sin causes curses.  These responses of course don’t perfectly line up with the explanations of the exile but the rough equivalence is clear.  The main difference is Job’s argument is that he is totally innocent.  He is not being over-punished but wrongly punished.  Though certain elements of Israel may have believed this it is not a view that is really represented in the Bible given the number of citations of sins by the people.
  4. God’s answer to Job is more or less that God is so far above humans that the simplistic theologies presented about justice are feeble. Job is so much less than God that he 1) does not have the right to question Him and 2) does not possess the understanding to comprehend why God does things.  This type of response in one way is an imperative to the Judeans considering exile to stop worrying about why it happened and to instead focus on being faithful in their present moment.
  5. I find various features of different explanations of the exile attractive. Ezekiel’s explanation claims that God is with those in (the first) exile and that seems to preserve a note of optimism.  Jeremiah’s explanation is similarly optimistic in that it does not predict exile with last forever, but it is also realistic in the way Jeremiah recalls Shiloh.  It certainly seems like the exile is an instance of God withdrawing His favor from Israel however that is not quite the end of the story. I agree less with the argument in Job.  It makes sense that we should not be able to explain God’s actions, however considering the understanding of revelation we talked about at the start of the course the explanation that the prophets give and the writers of the DtrH is God revealing His ways to us.  Therefore, sin should explain, at least in this instance, why the exile happened because that is what God revealed to the prophets.  This does not mean that the theology that all suffering is caused by specific sins must be held, but rather that for this one instance the DtrH explanation of exile is the most adequate (and for me with elements of Jeremiah and Ezekiel’s nuanced interpretation of it).
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One thought on “Reflections for 10-6: Rival Explanations of Exile

  1. Your thoughtful response to number 2 is great. I personally was confused by this apparent flip flopping regarding human suffering. Job’s honestly makes more sense to me as a modern Christian. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and usually its not their fault.

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