Towards a Theological Interpretation of Exile and Migration

The aim of this paper is to provide a better understanding of the biblical phenomena of exile as it relates to migrant communities so that the church might better appropriate this biblical motif for ministry. Since migrant populations share common characteristics with the historical experience of Ancient Israel’s various migrations, and their social contexts directly intersect with the metaphorical and theological meanings of exile, they are better situated to read these texts for the church because of their lived experience. Interpretive methodologies that attend to the lived experience of migrants provide a necessary tool for reading and interpreting biblical texts and appropriating their theological message for the church. For Christians who consider themselves to be immigrant, Scriptural, and missional people, an understanding of the biblical exile is a fundamental narrative for them to live into their missional calling. In this paper I will provide an overview of the biblical category of exile, in which I also address the terms diaspora and forced migration. In the last 3 decades several movements have drastically reconfigured the landscape of studies on the biblical exile. In addition to questioning the historicity of the biblical record, scholars have applied social-scientific approaches, such as trauma and forced migration studies, and the contributions of post-colonial studies to interpreting the text. A typology of Ancient Israel’s exilic events will be provided that will better define both variations among their exilic experiences, as well the distinctions among migrant experiences today. I will then provide an overview of reading Jeremiah 29:1-7, a text noted for its importance to exile studies and missional theology, in light of forced migration, post-colonial, and refugee studies. From these readings I will draw direct application to the issues of immigration within the U.S., ministry among ethnic congregations in North America, and reading the Scriptures with, and for, refugees. Given that exile is such a dominant theme in theological and pastoral discourse today, and migration poses tremendous contemporary challenges to our society and the church, engaging the topic of migration through the lens of exilic biblical texts provides an opportunity for Christians who are deeply committed to the Scriptures to engage one of the most pressing issues of our day.