Book Reviews

Book Review: Rebels and Exiles (ESBT), Matthew Harmon

This is the third volume in a 10-volume series called the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology (ESBT) series. Each book looks at an aspect of God’s plan of redemption in the Bible. Each volume is meant to be a primer, accessible to all people, that introduces them to a particular biblical theme while tying it to how we live and minister as Christians in God’s world. Instead of getting into the weeds like many of the NSBT volumes do, the ESBT volumes show us the fruit of the authors’ close exegesis.

Ben Gladd’s first volume looked at who the people of God are. The church, composed of believing Jews and Gentiles, is the restored people of God, true Israel, because of their identification with him” (xi). Next, Michael Morales looked at redemption through exodus. In this third volume, Matthew Harmon—professor of New Testament studies at Grace College and Theological Seminary—has written a biblical theology of sin and restoration.

If home is where the heart is, being in exile is punishment. In his book Harmon writes that exile “designates every kind of estrangement or displacement, from the physical to the geographical to the spiritual” (2). Like Tom Hanks in The Terminal, many people feel like they are living in no man’s land. They don’t feel completely comfortable where they are at. Maybe they want to better their social or economic situations, have closer friends, be married, have better health, etc., but we all see the corruption in the world. We all know that there must be something better than this. But what is it? How do we get to what is better, and how did we get here?

In chapter 1, Harmon looks at how the Creator made humans in his image “to be mirrors to reflect his glorious beauty to all of creation” (8). Like the kings of Israel, Adam and Eve were to exercise God’s gracious dominion over the world. Like the priests of Israel, they were to be mediators of God’s presence, taking care of and guarding the garden of Eden and ensuring that their children understood God’s commands.

But Adam and Eve rebelled and sought their own glory. Adam let the garden become defined by not ejecting the serpent from the garden. Even worse, they obeyed the defiled one over the Perfect one. They committed idolatry against God.   As Harmon writes, “Rebellion and idolatry result in exile—separation from then presence of God” (15). Now Adam and Eve are the defiled ones “against whom tue sanctuary must be guarded” (14). God’s imagers now live in exile. Sin leads to exile, but there is a silver lining of a future sacrifice. God calls Abraham in Genesis 12:1–3, giving him a promise of people, place, and presence. Harmon covers how these aspects of God’s promise are developed in the rest of the Pentateuch.

Chapter 2 looks at the threat of exile if/when they rebel, which they would. And did. Israel is rescued from Egypt, but then like Adam “fails in its priestly role to maintain the pure worship of Yahweh” (29). Moses pleads with God not to forsake his people and land. Both Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 list blessings and curses toward Israel, and the curses end with God’s people in exile from God’s presence and land. In Ezekiel we see God’s presence left the land and Israel being scattered and strangers in a foreign land. Exile “is the culminating judgment for repeated rebellion and idolatry” (44). It physically represents the spiritual reality of separation from God.

Chapter 3 looks at how the three waves of exile and life in exile played out in 2 Kings and the Major Prophets.  Even in the midst of exile, Ezekiel still had to rebuke Israel of their idolatry. Yet even in the midst of exile, this ultimate judgment, God reminds and reassures his people that he keeps his promises. Daniel gives a promise of an anointed one who would be cut off (9:24–27), and God (while unmentioned) works in and through Esther to preserve the Jewish people.

Chapter 4 shows us what happened when Israel returned from exile. God’s people were now back in God’s land, but where was God’s presence? God kept his promise to bring his people back to the promise land (Lev 26:44–45; Deut 30:1–3), and Harmon points us to four key promises of restoration seen in the Prophets. There are promises of a new temple where God would dwell among his people, promises of a covenant law that both Jewish people and the nations would obey, promises of land and security without war, and promises of a king who reigns in righteousness and justice. Finally, all three major prophets declare a coming new covenant.

Yet when the people return we see some problems. The postexilic books never tell us God’s presence filled the rebuilt temple (Ezra 6). The people still didn’t follow Gods law well (intermarried foreigners with a different religion, didn’t follow regulations for temple service, didn’t observe Sabbath, and oppressed the poor). The exiles faced constant opposition back in their homeland. And instead of being under the rule of a Davison king, they were under the thumb of various pagan authorities. They were still waiting for God to fulfill his promises.

Chapters 5–6 look at how Jesus ended the judgement of exile for those who believe in Jesus. Chapter 5 surveys Jesus’ life and ministry. Jesus instituted the new covenant whereby God would forgive his people of their sins and remember those sins no more (Jer 31:34). Harmon presents a good summation of how Jesus fulfills the role of God’s “son” and servant, the one “who relives Israel’s experiences yet obeys where they had failed,” in the Gospel of Matthew (82).

Jesus is the son of Abraham and of David, and he will not only restore Israel but “will solve humanity’s exile away from the presence of God that began back in the garden” (87). We Jesus’ restorative work in his acts of healing, his power over demons, his teaching ministry, and ultimately in his death and resurrection.

Chapter 6 surveys Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension, and the confirmation in Acts of his exilic-breaking work. Jesus dies as the promised suffering servant in Isaiah 53. By both drinking the cup of God’s wrath and dying at Passover as the Passover lamb, Jesus brings humanity’s exile to an end. In his resurrection, Jesus is restored and lifted to an even higher position than what he had in his humanity. He lives in a resurrected body as Lord over all the earth. This brings about the beginning of a new creation. Speeches in Acts from Peter, James, and Paul confirm that Jesus is leading his people out of exile.

Chapter 7 asks the important question: “how are believers still exiles if Jesus has brought an end to exile?” (109). Jesus has inaugurated the end of the exile, but he has not yet consummated it. His work of new creation has begun, but we still live in a fallen world as sinful people. Our sins have been paid for, but we must still fight against it. Harmon looks at explicit language in 1 Peter, Hebrews, James, Galatians, and Philippians. I didn’t realize just how much this languages pervaded these letters.

Chapter 8 looks at the end of exile in the new creation in Rev 20–22. There we see the final judgment and the new Jerusalem and Eden. Those who have rejected God will be forever exiled from his presence as blessing. Instead, they will experience his presence as judgment. In the promise of the new covenant was the promise of restoration from exile. In the new creation, God will be with his people (Rev 21:3; Lev 26:11; Ezekiel 37:28).

Chapter 9 gives practical implications of sin, exile, and restoration. This book helps us understand God, his grace, and his requirements, and what he has done to fix this broken world filled with sinners. God has saved a community of people called the church (143). Our hope lies in Christ, and anyone and everyone who trusts in him will be brought out of their exile.

Each chapter ends with a conclusion and thoughts for application, and the book ends with thirteen recommendations for further reading ranging from beginner to advanced.  

Recommended?

There is so much more to this book than I can begin to write here. I’ve heard about exile being a theme, but Harmon skillfully shows how exile and God’s promise of restoration runs through the Bible—without weighing you down with too many details. He represents the strengths of this series by doing all of this in just under 150 pages! This volume will bless you as you work to understand God’s Word and how we fit into his story.

Highly recommended.

Lagniappe

    • Series: Essential Studies in Biblical Theology (Book 3)
    • Author: Matthew Harmon
    • Paperback: 184 pages
    • Publisher: IVP Academic (October 27, 2020)

Buy it on Amazon or from IVP Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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