Was there an extended exile of the Jews even after they came back from Babylonian captivity? The deepest recess of the human heart is found in prayer. When speaking to God all our fears and concerns are cast upon him, if something is out of kilter, we make it known to God. We will be amiss if we overlooked the prayers of a sagely Jewish man, Daniel, who though weathered in years, made it safely through the exile of Babylon and is now coming out of the other side. Finally, there is light at the end of the tunnel, or is there? Daniel comes out of the exilic cave fraught with disappoint. Like Charlton Heston journeying to the forbidden lands in hope of adventure and answers only to find that they had destroyed themselves all along, the world was in ruins. Daniel was familiar with the Jeremiah scroll, and thus, knew the seventy years were up (Dan 9.1-2). But something was terrible wrong and he needed to rend his heart and pour out his soul to God, he prayed:

“O Lord, great and awesome God who is faithful to his covenant with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned! We have done what is wrong and wicked; we have rebelled by turning away from your commandments and standards. We have not paid attention to your servants the prophets, who spoke by your authority to our kings, our leaders, and our ancestors, and to all the inhabitants of the land as well. “You are righteous (LXX σοι κυριε η δικαιοσυνη, translating, leka adonai hatsedaqah) O Lord, but we are humiliated this day – the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far away in all the countries in which you have scattered them, because they have behaved unfaithfully toward you. O LORD, we have been humiliated – our kings, our leaders, and our ancestors – because we have sinned against you. Yet the Lord our God is compassionate and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him. We have not obeyed the LORD our God by living according to his laws that he set before us through his servants the prophets. “All Israel has broken your law and turned away by not obeying you. Therefore you have poured out on us the judgment solemnly threatened in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against you. He has carried out his threats against us and our rulers who were over us by bringing great calamity on us – what has happened to Jerusalem has never been equaled under all heaven! Just as it is written in the law of Moses, so all this calamity has come on us. Still we have not tried to pacify the LORD our God by turning back from our sin and by seeking wisdom from your reliable moral standards. The LORD was mindful of the calamity, and he brought it on us. For the LORD our God is just (LXX δικαιος κυριος ο θεος, translating, tsadiq YHWH eloheynu) in all he has done, and we have not obeyed him. “Now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with great power and made a name for yourself that is remembered to this day – we have sinned and behaved wickedly. O Lord, according to all your justice (Theod. κυριε εν παση ελεημοσυνη σου; LXX kata ten dikaiosunen sou, translating, kekol tsidqotheka) please turn your raging anger away from your city Jerusalem, your holy mountain. For due to our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors, Jerusalem and your people are mocked by all our neighbors. “So now, our God, accept the prayer and requests of your servant, and show favor to your devastated sanctuary for your own sake. Listen attentively, my God, and hear! Open your eyes and look on our desolated ruins and the city called by your name. For it is not because of our own righteous deeds (LXX ουκ επι ταις δικαιοσυναις, translating, al tsidqothenu) that we are praying to you, but because your compassion is abundant. O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, pay attention, and act! Don’t delay, for your own sake, O my God! For your city and your people are called by your name.” (Dan 9.4-19)[1]

We very rarely begin our discussion of dikaoisune and forgiveness from Daniel 9, but this prayer is rich in relevance and I suggest both Jesus and Paul alluded to it more than we may be aware of. Here we have laid out for us, a faithful Jew who reached the end of his exile, being dismayed in what appeared to him as an extended exile. God’s righteousness to his covenant is the linchpin of the prayer; Israel’s failure to keep the covenant is the cause of exile. Notice the connexion of forgiveness of sins with return from exile (9.18-19). To spell it out even plainer,

The punishment of your iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion, He will no more carry you away into captivity; He will punish your iniquity, O daughter of Edom, He will uncover your sins. (Lam 4.22).

Now lest we somehow manage to miss the point and begin to squabble about when Daniel prayed the prayer (were the seventy years already up or not, which I believe it was). The reply of the angel should make the scene picturesque clear. ‘

Seventy weeks have been determined concerning your people and concerning the holy city to put an end to rebellion, to bring sin to completion, to atone for iniquity, to bring in perpetual righteousness, to seal up the prophetic vision, and to anoint a most holy place.’ (Dan 9.24)

The true exile Israel faced would not be over in seventy years but seventy weeks or 490 years or (an extended period of time).  We move along to one of Daniel’s contemporaries about 400 miles removed in geography, praying the very same sentiments.  God had kept his side of the covenant; God is righteous (LXX, dikaios, translating צדיק ) (Neh 9.8).  In fact, you have been faithful to your covenant; you gave the great exodus to our exiled ancestors (9.9-10) (the prayer is replete of the theme of God’s righteous in forgiving Israel through their cyclical regressions into exile).  Again, “You are righteous concerning all that has come on us.” (9.33). Now, lets not miss the close.  The question the Jews posed that I said we needed to answer, “where are we?” jumps off the page like a pop up book.

Here we are today, slaves in the land you gave our ancestors so they could enjoy its fruit and its goodness. Here we are—slaves in it! Its abundant harvest goes to the kings you have set over us, because of our sins. They rule our bodies and our livestock as they please. We are in great distress. (9.36-37)

YHWH, we are oppressed by pagan overlords you have set over us. You may  ask, “why is it important to understand what the Jews thought,” in other words, they Got it all wrong. I suggest because the Jews were the beneficiaries of the blessings and it is through both surveying biblical and extra-biblical literature that we arrive at their mindset and only then can we rightly set Jesus and the apostles historically.

But honestly, this sort of grief is understood; Israel has a benign tumor and desperately wants and operation. Where is the glorious deliverance that the prophets promised? Jeremiah promised that God will forgive their iniquities and remember theirs sins no more, God will heal our land and restore our city, he will forgive our sins, and reign over us (Jer 31.31-34; 33.7-11) yet our city remains in ruins, pagans rule over us, and our sins is ever before us (9.37). Isaiah said there would be a great deliverance that would result in the Spirit being poured and blessings would result (Isaiah 43.1—44.5).

Too, Ezekiel spoke of a time where God would circumcise the hearts of Israel, giving them new hearts and infuse them with his Spirit, he would deliver them from exile and a Davidic king would reign over them and the temple would be rebuilt where God’s glory which left would not return (Ezekiel 36.26-30; 37.1-27; 40— 48). Yet we have the same hearts and the same spirits and the temple and your glory did not come to the Temple Zerubbabel built (Ezra 3.1-13) like it did Solomon’s (1 Kings 8.11)

Other writers echo Both Daniel and Nehemiah’s sentiments (Ezra 9.6-15; Bar 1.15—3.8; 1QS 11.11-14). It is in this setting that people viewed the kingdom of God; God would come at last and right the wrongs, he would judge the nations and vindicate Israel (Dan 7.9-27). Yet many believe God’s kingdom would be augmented through nationalistic zealous programs. Whether, the holy wars and militaristic action of the Maccabees (1 Maccabees), the separation from Jerusalem and marking themselves out with certain works of torah, to an intensified study and living of Torah emphasizing Sabbath keeping and ritual purity (Pharisees and traditions). All these groups where deeply concerned, not about, how to be saved and get to heaven, but when God would come to Zion as king and who would be blessed in the age to come, and how could they could be agents in God’s work.

This is John and Jesus’ historical setting and I believe they dealt with the questions of their contemporaries just not in the way they expected. A call for national repentance, in order to be delivered and be returned from exile (Mark 1:4)—this return will not be done through intensified Torah programs, following special calendar days, living in the Qumran community, or in violent nationalism but God’s work is summed up in me. Is this not how the gospel writers begin the story of John?

Isaiah prophesied comfort for the Jews in exile (Isaiah 40:1-2) but its fulfillment is found in Jesus (Matthew 3:3) “Repent and believe the good news” was a common challenge for Jesus. Perhaps though he is not just calling for people to for individual repentance but national repentance. Repent of nationalistic zeal (all the revolts and hatred against the nations). We find an interesting parallel in Josephus, as he was describing a incident in Galilee around AD 66 (roughly around the time the synoptics where being worked out), he went there to deal with a faction. Jesus, a brigand chief (not the Messiah), makes an attempt at his life; Josephus foils it and says:

That I was not ignorant of the plot which he had contrived against me . . .; I would, nevertheless, condone his actions if he would show repentance and prove his loyalty to me[2] (Josephus Life 110)

Notice, repent and believe me. Josephus declaration is a safe framework through which we can understand Jesus’ words–repent of your programs and prove yourself loyal to my kingdom movement. I think this understanding (and there is much more data than this), helps us not to make Jesus’ teachings and actions ahistorical and abstract, but to properly understand him in his historical and concrete setting, as the eschatological prophet of YHWH preaching deliverance from exile to the Jews who were facing impending doom from Rome. This understanding I think lies behind understanding some of Paul’s more cryptic sayings, particular how he viewed the vocation of Israel, the implications of the exile, and why Jesus had to die.

[1] This quotation is from the NRSV and the insertions are from Justification, N.T Wright

[2] GK. ei mellou metanoesein kai pistos emoi genesesthai