I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.
These were the words that God spoke to the people as they were taken captive to Babylon. This event changed the way in which the Jews approached God. It was a disciplinary measure but the outcome was not sheer punitive retribution. God intended to still be in covenant with His people even as they lived in exile. The same terms that God had always had with Abraham's seed (they shall be my people; I will be their God) still existed as they relocated in misery to Babylon. God knew that the Babylonian captivity would be the cultural event that would recapture the hearts of exiled Israel. And His grace would flow to them during this time.
This exilic experience remade Israel. It purged them of their idolatries. It humbled them. It brought them together in tight, personal circles to worship God. The synagogue (assembly) grew out of the exile. The exile gave them a vision again... a vision that got them through the suffering they endured. It made God their biggest thought and brought worship to their hearts again. In all that happened, the exile proved to be spiritually fruitful for the nation.
Let us not forget that the exilic motif was adopted by the apostles to help the church survive in a hostile human culture. Peter called us dispersed exiles (1 Peter 1:1; 17). The early church grew by scattering (Acts 8:4). It is a metaphor for ministry. And the church's circumstances in that regard have not changed. We do not live in "christendom". We live in a foreign land as exiles and sojourners. But we work toward a greater vision. We live, loving and worshiping a God Who is saving this culture that we are moving through. And He is doing it one life at a time, using us, the strangers here, to do it!