In which the exiles are planted in Babylon
On the day the LORD God made earth and heavens, no shrub of the field being yet on the earth and no plant of the field yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not caused rain to fall on the earth and there was no human to till the soil, and wetness would well from the earth to water all the surface of the soil, then the LORD God fashioned the human, humus from the soil, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, to the east, and He placed there the human He had fashioned. And the LORD God caused to sprout from the soil every tree lovely to look at and good for food, and the tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge, good and evil. Now a river runs out of Eden to water the garden and from there splits off into four streams. The name of the first is Pishon, the one that winds through the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is goodly, bdellium is there, and lapis lazuli. And the name of the second river is Gihon, the one that winds through all the land of Cush. And the name of the third river is Tigris, the one that goes to the east of Ashur. And the fourth river is Euphrates. And the LORD God took the human and set him down in the garden of Eden to till it and watch it. And the LORD God commanded the human, saying, “From every tree of the garden you may surely eat. But from the tree of knowledge, good and evil, you shall not eat, for on the day you eat from it, you are doomed to die.”
This is the dream, and its meaning we shall say before the king. You are king, even king of kings, to whom the God of the heavens has given power and might and honour. And wherever human beings, beasts of the field, and fowl of the heavens live, He has given them in your hand and caused you to rule over them all. You are the head of gold. And after you shall arise another kingdom, inferior to yours, and a third kingdom, of bronze, that shall rule over all the earth. And a fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron because iron shatters and splinters all things, and like smashing iron, all these shall it shatter and smash. And as to the feet and the toes you saw, part potter’s clay and part iron, the kingdom shall be split, and it shall have the strength of iron because you saw iron mixed with clay from the soil. And as to the toes, part iron and part clay, some of the kingdom shall be strong and some of it fragile. And as to your seeing iron mixed with clay from the soil, they shall be mixed with human seed and shall not hold together just as iron does not mix with clay. And in the days of these kings the God of the heavens shall establish a kingdom that shall never be destroyed. To another people it shall not be abandoned. It shall shatter and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.
This second origins story circles around the great cradle of civilisation that throws up successive empires, circling as an aeroplane in holding pattern until it comes to land in Babylon, that great kingdom on the Euphrates, with its fabled (did they exist at all?) terraced gardens recreating the mountains on the plain. And here, the god of the exiles is the one who has planted the exiles there, and He with them: God, the tree of life; the exiles, tree of knowledge. The humbling of God’s people is not a defeat for their God, but part of God’s own plan.
It is possible, indeed, likely, that you find yourself in a place of trauma following loss. It could be a strange city in a foreign land far from home, as it is for the asylum seekers I minister alongside. It could be the reality of bereavement following the death of a loved one, or a communal trauma such as Covid-19 or climate crisis. Yet that place does not take God by surprise. In what way are you aware of God’s sustaining, life-giving presence alongside you?
Biblical texts: Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary
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