The Exiles in Babylon

The Jews lived communally whilst in exile in Babylon. They were permitted to build houses, earn a living, keep their own customs and religion. It does not seem that they were ever ill-treated by the Babylonians as they were under Pharaoh. Even though they owned their own houses (especially in the Tel-Abib area), they were never completely happy as they thought back upon their life in Israel. Tel-Abib was situated near the River Chebar south-east of the capital city. The colony that the Jews lived in was probably a concentration camp without bars and fences or armed guards. Their houses were made out of brick, with gardens that produced fruit, vegetables, and trees. Most homes were built around a central courtyard. They were not impoverished by any means.

While in exile the Jews replaced their calendar with that used by the Babylonians. Also their language underwent transformation. The Hebrew tongue was put aside in favour of the Aramaic spoken in Babylon. This may have been due to the need to communicate with the businessmen of Babylon. The Hebrew tongue did undergo a revival when the exiles returned to their land.

Agriculture was probably the number one source of income for the Jews, but some more educated people entered into business and government in Babylon (i.e. Daniel, Nehemiah, Esther). To a great extent the ordinary Jew would not have had a too much contact with their Babylonian neighbours.

Their outward circumstances appeared to be favourable, but their greatest problem lay with their spiritual life. There was always going to be the problem with the Jews adopting the practices and customs of Babylon. But for godly men such as Ezekiel it would have been easy for the people to completely lose sight of God and the reason why they were in bondage.

Nevertheless, during the years of captivity the Jews refocused their faith. No longer would their faith consist in a city or a temple, but upon God alone. There were some amongst them who did not want to return to Israel once they were free to go. It appears from Scripture that it was those of Judah that actually returned to Israel. Through this remnant God preserved the lineage of Christ – the Messiah. Jacob had prophesied that the Sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh came, and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be’ (Genesis 49:10). The seventy years of bondage proved to be a time of spiritual recovery for the Jews. The captivity could never be pleasant even in such a prosperous place as Babylon. This thought is expressed in Psalm 137:1-4, “By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song, and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saving, Sing us one of the songs of /ion. How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land?” .Yet God used it to prepare them for the great days ahead – for the coming of His Son. They had realised their need to be faithful to God and His word. The captivity forced idolatry from them, instead they clung to the writings of Moses and the Prophets.

Out of this desire to be faithful to God was born the synagogues. These houses were used for prayer and meditation upon God’s word. The synagogue became the centre of Jewish life instead of the temple. When the Scriptures were read in Hebrew there needed to be an interpretation into Aramaic because many had forgotten their mother tongue. The explanations of the word of God were written down by the scribes, eventually these became known as the Targums. By the time of Christ the synagogues were well established and organised houses of meeting around the world. Wherever He or His disciples would go they were sure to find a synagogue. The Sabbath day was a vital element to the Jews, as was the rite of circumcision. Judaism took on a missionary aspect which it never really had before. Now they would travel great distances to win converts to their religion. This in itself paved the way for the Gospel, for many nations in Europe had already come into contact with the Judaism that lay at the heart of the Christian message.

During their captivity the Jews were able to reflect upon what had happened to them. They come to realise just how wicked they had been and rightly deserved this punishment. Therefore they decided to get their house in order. Obedience to God’s law was the most important element of their faith. Out of this came the hope of a new beginning. Malachi, Ezekiel and others predicted a return to Israel, rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the coming of their Messiah. Malachi described this event as, “the Sun of Righteousness with healing in His wings” (4:2). He spoke of the coming of “the Messenger of the Covenant” (3:1) who would come like a refining fire to purge them from sin (3:2-3). In this Messiah all the Old Testament prophecies and promises would be fulfilled. Ezekiel spoke to the of restoration and the glory of the Lord coming down upon the new Temple.