God Is Everywhere
How the concept of a universal God, developed by the exiled Israelites in Babylon in 586 BCE, changed the world.
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The biggest challenge the Israelites faced in the Exile was answering the question Where is God? During the monarchy, the Israelites had believed that God dwelled in his house in Jerusalem and promised that the House of David would reign forever. If so, what happened to God when his house was sacked and David's heir deported? Did God exist anymore? Here the prophets made their most profound contribution to Western religion. Ezekiel, writing during the Exile, declared that God's real presence was not to be confused with his temporary presence on earth. Ezekiel speaks of watching God's spirit leave the Temple Mount, then visit him in Babylon. Ezekiel relates the Israelites' experience in exile to their experience in the Exodus: Just as God showed dominion over Israel no matter where they were, including Egypt, so God shows dominion in Babylon: "As I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness in the land of Egypt, so I will enter into judgment with you."
The importance of this message to the future of religion cannot be overstated. From the moment God promises land to Abraham until Moses' death on Mount Nebo, the underlying theme of the biblical story is that wandering is only a temporary state for the Israelites. Their destiny lies on the land, where they will fulfill God's vision and create a holy community on earth. This idea is consistent with Ancient Near Eastern religion at the time, in which gods were affixed to different locations. But the Israelites' experience of living on the land goes horribly wrong, of course, and the prophets must deliver a different message: Wandering is holy, too. God is not exclusively a figure of the land; he's also a figure of the wilderness. He's a figure of all lands.