Have you ever heard of the word “diaspora?” It’s often used specifically to refer to Jewish people, but it means simply the dispersion of any people from their original homeland. We’ve seen that many Jews returned to Palestine with Ezra and Nehemiah, but what about those who decided not to? For the next four hundred years, there will be many Jews scattered through Babylonia, Persia, Egypt and other areas. This decision will have a lasting impact on the spiritual life of God’s people.
False theology has a cumulative effect. As families settle down in pagan cultures, each generation to follow strays a bit farther from the original truth, opening their lives to accept the ideology and practices of those with whom they live. For the Jews living far from Jerusalem, the temple was no longer the central focus of their religious lives. They began to accept the idea that God was impersonal and aloof. Since there were no sacrifices, those who were faithful taught that prayer and the sacrifices of your heart were enough. To replace the temple, synagogues appeared, a place to sing, pray and discuss the law. Priestly roles gave way to the rabbinical role, and rabbis became the authoritative voice.
During the 400 years between the Old and New Testament, Jewish scholars began to add to the original law of Moses (the Torah) with their own interpretations and restrictions. Writings such as the Midrash came about as efforts to define the specifics of the law since actual sacrifices were no longer possible. In addition, much oral tradition was established, passed down to each generation, and these oral traditions soon gained as much influence and authority over the people as the Torah, God’s original words. Man’s traditions became as much or more important.
Tomorrow we’ll look at the political world the Jews experienced during these 400 years, events that created the perfect setting for Jesus to come on the scene. But for today, consider: do we ever become the “diaspora”? Maybe not physically, but spiritually? Are we far away from our spiritual roots, those foundational truths in scripture that our ancestors lived by, but have failed (or are failing) to pass down to us? Are our beliefs watered down, mixed in, and overtaken by the ideology and theology of our present-day culture? Do we adhere to traditions more than the word? Because of grace, do we dismiss the commands and laws of God in favor of “heart-sacrifice?”
When the people were dispersed…when they were separated from one another…when they no longer had the ability to worship together…when they began listening to men more than God’s word…this is what happened. A good takeaway for us is to consider how much we value doing life together with God’s people, in God’s house, in God’s way, according to God’s word. If it’s not important to us, we will be like those Jews scattered across the lands, far from where God intended us to be, and believing things that sound good but are not true.