Guests: and

Leading Question: Have you ever had something asked of you that felt like an insult, a
misunderstanding of who you are and what matters most to you? What was this like for you?

Scripture Focus: Psalm 137, Psalm 22, Psalm 73

The Big Idea: Exile is a thread that runs throughout the biblical text. Exile is event, and exile is a metaphor for the human condition.

For Discussion:

How people understood God’s presence and what they believed about how to access it changed significantly over the centuries in which the biblical literature was written and edited. In Exodus 25:8, the Lord says to Moses, “Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.” This tent was movable, meaning that the symbol of God’s presence among the people went with them as they moved from place to place. Eventually the ark of the covenant, the seat of God, was settled by David in Jerusalem, and a magnificent temple was built on the highest place in the city, during the short time that Jerusalem served as the capital city for all the tribes of Israel. This permanent structure and the longstanding practice of going up to Jerusalem to worship connected the idea of God’s presence with this particular hill, which came to be known as Mount Zion. When the Babylonians burned down the temple and many people were exiled to other areas, a lively debate took place regarding where God “lived.” Did God live with the people who had been resettled in other places? Or did God live with those who remained in Judah? In the book of Ezekiel, we find the prophet recording messages and visions directly confronting the idea that the exiled people were far away from God (Ezekiel 11:15). Instead, Ezekiel saw in vision the presence of God lifting up from Jerusalem and traveling east in the direction of Mesopotamia (Ezekiel 10:18-19; 11:22-24). In the book of Daniel, when Daniel is described as opening his window and praying toward Jerusalem, we see an example of another way of thinking about God’s presence—God could be accessed from anywhere but that access was facilitated by facing toward Jerusalem, the dwelling place of God. In Ezekiel’s visions of restoration, the presence of God returns, traveling from the east back toward Jerusalem, and settling in a larger-than-life rebuilt temple, again on the highest hill in the city, from which flowed water that brought life to all it touched (Ezekiel 43:1-5; 47:1-12).

Discussion question: Throughout the Bible, we find an ongoing wrestling with questions of who God is, where God dwells, and how one accesses divine presence and care. In what ways do you see this biblical dialogue applying to people’s lives in today’s world?

One of the most vivid lament songs, Psalm 137 depicts the very real agony of being asked by your captors to sing a “song of Zion” when you have been torn from your homeland and from the place where you understand God to dwell.

Discussion question: What do you think would be most difficult about this? What makes this poem so poignant?

Another vivid lament poem, Psalm 22, begins with the famous line, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The New Testament authors describe Jesus reciting this lament from the cross. And in this way, God incarnate is depicted as identifying with the common human experience of feeling forsaken, abandoned, left alone in a painful and heartbreaking existence.

Discussion question: Besides the experience of being carried off and resettled by empire powers (like Assyria or Babylon), what other stories in the Bible illustrate the feeling of being forsaken? What circumstances did people interpret as evidence that God was far away? And what did they interpret as evidence that God had responded to them?

Psalm 73 depicts vividly such wrestling with understanding God’s engagement, or lack thereof, with groups of people and with individuals. One of the literary devices commonly used in the Hebrew Bible is a chiasm. This term is sometimes used to describe an ABB’A’ pattern (for example, Psalm 73:27). It is also used to describe a larger nesting structure in with the center is considered especially important and specifically highlighted by the composer. Many people interpret verse 17 as the centerpiece or turning point of Psalm 73: “until I entered the sanctuary of God.”

Discussion question: When you read over this poem, what seems to be accomplished for the writer when they enter the sanctuary? What changes? Their reality? Their interpretation of their situation or experiences? Their interpretation of other people’s situations or experiences?

Comments are closed.