God’s People in Exile

God’s people have been living as exiles in foreign lands ever since we were thrown out of the garden of Eden.

There was an attempt at restoring the kingdom in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, but it faltered because the people were unfaithful. Ultimately, God did what His people were unable or unwilling to do. He sent His own Son to lead His people out of exile and to build the kingdom of heaven throughout the world.

 

Most people intuitively recognize the difference between a house and a home. That’s what makes exile such an effective punishment—it prevents us from going home. It separates us from loved ones and safety, and it strips us of our sense of belonging. It can even put us in hostile and dangerous places.

God’s people have been living as exiles in foreign lands ever since we were thrown out of the garden of Eden. Our entire history has been a cycle of exile and restoration. The good news is that the cycle is coming to an end. For now, though, our lives are a mixture of both exile and restoration.

The Garden of Eden

Humanity was created as part of God’s plan to extend His heavenly kingdom to earth (Matt. 6:10; Rev. 21–22). To accomplish this, God created a perfect world and set aside a special land called Eden (meaning “pleasant” or “delightful place” in Hebrew). The four rivers in Eden (Gen. 2:10–14) indicate that it stretched from Mesopotamia to Egypt.

God planted a garden in Eden, from which the headwaters of all four rivers flowed. This suggests that the garden was both elevated and central, perhaps in the Judean Mountains. He also assigned humanity to “work” and “keep” the garden (Gen. 2:15) and to “fill the earth and subdue it” (1:28). In other words, our job was to expand the borders of the garden to the ends of the earth.

In Eden, God established the covenant of works to govern our relationship with Him (Westminster Confession of Faith 7.2). We were responsible to obey God by fulfilling our appointed duties and by not eating the forbidden fruit (Gen. 2:17). If we obeyed, we would be blessed with everlasting life (3:22). If we didn’t, we would be liable unto death (2:17).

Sadly, the serpent tricked Eve, Eve persuaded Adam, they both ate the forbidden fruit, and humanity was exiled from the garden (chap. 3). God posted angelic guards to make sure humanity didn’t sneak back in (v. 24).

The Curse of Exile

Humanity’s first exile cast us from God’s manifest presence and put us and the rest of creation under God’s curse (Rom. 8:20–22). Work became hard, childbearing became painful, and everyone eventually died (Gen. 3:16–19). We were spiritually stillborn (Rom. 8:5–11), making it impossible to fulfill our covenant obligations or turn to God in faith (7:14–25; Gal. 5:17). We lived in broken fellowship with God (Rom. 5:10; Eph. 2:1–3) and in conflict with our spouses, families, and neighbors. Those conditions have persisted. Without God’s intervention, that’s all we can ever be.

Thankfully, God promised to send a Redeemer to save us from exile and ultimately from death (Gen. 3:15). He established the covenant of grace (WCF 7.2), through which Christ is reversing the curse and exile of Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:12–19).

Humanity’s exile from the garden became programmatic for the way God administered His covenant with humanity, at least on a corporate level. God gives us covenant laws. We can keep them and be blessed or break them and be cursed. The curse might be as bad as death, but God more frequently opts for something such as exile. If we turn to Him in faith, He’ll redeem us. If we don’t, punishment might increase (Lev. 26; Deut. 28–31).

On our own, we can never be good enough to avoid exile, let alone earn God’s blessings. So, Christ does it for us. If we’re united to Him by faith alone, we have the promise of full restoration from Adam’s exile.

The Flood

After being exiled from the garden, humanity descended into further wickedness. We became false worshipers and murderers, despising both God and neighbor. Cain, the first murderer, was exiled from the Lord’s presence in Eden (Gen. 4:16), and his descendants were worse than he had been. Humanity became so evil that God destroyed almost all of us in the flood (chaps. 6–9). Only Noah and his family were spared.

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