Back From Exile? (Galatians, Part 30)

abstract background - water flows in the river

This week we continue exploring the book of Galatians using a question-and-answer format.

12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

How has Christ redeemed God’s people from “the curse of the law” (v. 13)?

As we saw last week, the “curse of the law” refers to the punishments that God would bring upon his covenant people (Israel) if they failed to obey and be faithful to him. God had chosen Israel to be his treasured people, the people through whom he would show his glory and goodness to the world. He gave Israel her own land and established her there under his authority and reign to attract anyone from the surrounding nations who wanted to live under the rule of this good God. In this way, Israel was meant to be a blessing to the whole world.

If Israel obeyed God and drew the nations to him, then she would be blessed, along with all of the surrounding nations. (This is what the blessings in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 are about.) If she rebelled against God, however, he would have to discipline her. (This is what the curses in those same chapters are about.) The ultimate curse was, of course, exile into a foreign land and banishment from God’s presence.

And, as we learn in the rest of the Old Testament story about Israel, the people did break God’s covenant (repeatedly) and they were sent into exile. It was a horrible time in the nation’s history, as foreign nations invaded Israel, raping and brutally executing many and taking many others into captivity, driving them out of their homes and lands. And as horrible as it was for so many to be killed and so many others to be captured and taken from their homes, the worst part of the exile was that Israel was no longer able to be the blessing to the world that God had intended her to be. It was a failure of the worst kind, and it meant that God’s global plan of bringing salvation and healing to the entire planet was in jeopardy. God had rejected his people, and since his people were going to be the ones he used to save the world, how was God going to restore his creation and set up his good kingdom?

Of course, Israel did eventually return to their land and rebuild their temple, but the people quickly realized that although they had “returned from exile” in one sense, in yet another (very important) sense they really hadn’t returned from exile at all. They were still under the rule and oppression of foreign nations, and Israel had not been returned to the glory she once had. God plan to save the world through his people hadn’t exactly resumed as the people had hoped. Something was missing. Israel was still in exile. God’s plan to save the world had been run off the tracks, and had not yet been put back on track.

Enter Jesus. More on this next week.

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