What is the purpose of exile in the lives of the people of God? A lot has been made of where the American church finds herself in this day in age. The church is finally waking up to the reality of exile. This world is not our home. We are pilgrims and strangers, citizens of another kingdom in exile in a foreign land. This is not a new reality for the people of God. Israel in the Old Testament found herself in exile and the New Testament is full of the exilic language to describe the reality of the church in the world. So, what is the purpose of our exile, our time here in this broken world? I think we see an answer in Micah 5:7-15. Micah is warning Judah and Israel of their coming exile and in the midst of this warning Micah gives them hope and the purpose for this exile.
The first thing we see in verses 7 and 8 is the truth of God’s faithfulness. God will keep a remnant. Judah will be exiled, but God will keep His people among the nations. God will not abandon His people even though they have abandoned Him. He will be faithful even though they are not always faithful. What we can take away from this is even when it seems like our culture has turned against us and we are losing our grip on who we thought we were God will keep us. He will be faithful and because of His faithfulness we can be faithful in the midst of our exile. This is where the promises of God give us hope. Our world is broken, evil, full of suffering and death. This is the reality of living as exiles in this world, living as citizens of God’s kingdom in the city of man. But, in this reality we have the hope of the promises of God. The hope of the promise that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, nothing can snatch us from the Father’s hand. The promise of God working all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose, and the truth of His purpose being conforming us to the image of Jesus. The reality of exile cannot take away our hope. Our ultimate hope is the promise of deliverance. We see this in verse 15 of Micah 5. God will deliver His exiles, His people from the nations of this world and the evil and suffering of the reality of this fallen world. Our ultimate hope is found in the deliverance of God, in salvation. This salvation comes through the promised ruler who is to come from Bethlehem, the peace and shepherd of God’s people, in Jesus who is promised in the first six verses of Micah 5. Because of God’s faithfulness and God’s deliverance we can be people of hope in the midst of our exile. Hope marks the people of God. As we come into the realization of our own exile in this world our first reactions are anger and anxiety, both of which are antithetical to hope. We must not be anxious about our place in the world, God’s faithfulness and His promises fight this anxiety. We must not lash out in anger thinking of taking back what we think is ours. As exiles we must love, we must seek the good of the places we live, and we must do so filled with hope in God’s faithfulness, in His promises, and in His salvation. Therefore, one of the purposes of exile is to turn our hearts to the hope we have in God and His promises and not in the things of the world, which leads us to the second purpose of exile.
The main purpose of the exile for the people of God is to cleanse the people of God. Micah tells Judah their exile will be a time of cleansing, of ridding their hearts of the idols they have held on to in order to prepare them to enter the Promised Land once again. We see this in verses 10-14. God will cleanse His people of their idols and He will begin with the idol of worldly power and security. “I will cut off your horses from among you and will destroy your chariots; and I will cut off the cities of your land and throw down all your strongholds.” The military power, the walls you have built, the technology you have will not keep you from this exile, Judah. The things of this world you have put your trust in will be shown to be false. When we trust in the military power of our nation, or the security of our technology we trust in an idol. The purpose of exile is to train our hearts to trust in God. The idol of worldly power and security must be cleansed from our hearts. How true this is of us American Christians. Many times it seems we believe our salvation is found in our national heritage or our strong military and not in Jesus Christ alone. We should be patriotic, but we must not be nationalistic to the point where it becomes idolatry. Knowing we are exiles in this world helps us fight nationalistic idolatry and focuses our hearts on trusting in God. Verses 12-14 points to the idols of images, sorceries, fortunes, pillars, and bending the knee to the work of your hands. God will cleanse His people from their idolatry to the images and work of their hands, to false beliefs of fortunetellers and sorceries. God will cleanse us of our images and idols. We may not make wooden statues or golden calves to bow down to, but we still worship images and false gods. Our culture has different images and idols than the culture Micah was writing to, but they are images and idols the same. One look in a magazine or one evening watching television will prove this point. We worship wealth, nice things, good food, sex, and a host of other idols and images. All of these idols and images promise the good life and salvation. All of these idols and images promise to fulfill the longing in your soul and to give you joy. But, they are false gods. We were not created for the gifts, we were created for the giver. In exile God will cleanse our hearts from idolatry, from our incessant pursuit of salvation in the idols and images of our culture. He will deliver us from this idolatry and will cleanse our hearts to pursue Him. He is our salvation, our portion, what our souls long for, and where our joy is found. In the middle of our exile as we are pilgrims in this land God is cleansing us to bring us home to the Promise Land.
The purpose of exile is to change us and transform us to trust God by cleansing us of the idols and images we are holding on to. The promise Micah gives to Judah is when God is done cleansing and changing you He will bring you home. The promise is the same for us as His church. We are pilgrims in exile in this broken world. God will redeem and restore His creation and us. We long for that day, we pray for that day, and as we long and pray God is cleansing us and transforming us to trust Him. This gives us hope in this world, in the city of man as citizens of God’s kingdom. God is with us and God is working in us.