Israel was called to be the light of nations and failed. This brought exile, banishment from the Promised Land. God used the nation of Babylon for this. The conquest of God’s people (Judah) was inevitable. Their disobedience had come to its full measure before God. They rejected God’s correction time after time and decided to follow their own path of idolatry. God raised up the nation of Babylon to execute discipline to His people. This discipline was severe. The nation was violently conquered in 605 A.C. Thousands of Jewish people were taken to Babylon as captives, especially those with special abilities (this would prevent them from planning to rise up against Babylon). There were three deportations that took place (605 A.C, 597 A.C., 586 A.C.), leaving the city of Jerusalem desolate. Only poor people remained, with few skills with a puppet king imposed by Babylon (for eleven years there was king in Babylon and Jerusalem simultaneously until 586 when banishment was completed). The picture was very sad.
The prophet Jeremiah prophesied in Israel more than forty years beginning from the approximate age of eighteen (627 A.C – 586 A.C.). He was a witness to the conquest and exile. Jeremiah gives the Lord’s command (Jeremiah 29:1-7) to those in exile.
The command is that they must live as believers in Babylon and accept the inevitable of living in a foreign land.
“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” (vv. 4-5) (NIV)
The message is not from Jeremiah to the exiles but from God. He’s just the spokesman. God is the one who is sovereignly working in this event. It was He who was responsible for this exile: “says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.”
They had had it all upon entering the Promised Land. The land was ready to be settled when they arrived. They didn’t have to do much. But their disobedience had now led them to a foreign land where God commands them to start over. They failed to be God’s people by being the light of nations. Building houses, planting orchards and eating the fruit of them would be the way to survive and sustain themselves in Babylon.
They had to accept the inevitable, for it came from God, and accept exile by living in the land of others. In the midst of a pagan nation they should live and remain God’s people for 70 years. Despite this, they were told to live normal lives and be productive. They were to submit to the discipline of the Lord. This was hard.
The parallel for us is very similar. The Lord prayed to the Father for his disciples not to take them out of the world but to keep them from evil and sanctify them in his truth (John 17:15, 17). They were sent into the world so that they may be witnesses, and others may believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 17:18, 20).
The way we, as believers should live in this world is clear. We live in the world but we are not of the world. We live apart from evil, sanctifying ourselves in the truth of God. We are constantly “going” into the world when we interact with them and we share with them the Good News of Christ.
This involves being responsable for the resources God has given us. God has not left us to depend on government or to live a nomadic life without stability or productivity. But the purpose is not to possess, win, and enrich ourselves but to be to use the resources God gives us for the purposes of his kingdom.
In addition, the Lord commands them to maintain family life and multiply themselves.
“Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease..” (v. 6)
Not only should they accept to live in the land that wasn’t theirs and be productive, but they should maintain a vibrant family life that multiplies (it was God’s first mandate in Gen. 2:15). Many of his compatriots would live together in certain communities, marry each other, and continue to multiply. In no way did the Lord command them to marry and mingle with the Babylonians. The idea is to maintain their identity as God’s people and grow until the Lord took them out of exile.
This certainly implies that parents would raise their children in the ways of the Lord. The Jews were very diligent in this and would now do so in the midst of a pagan nation.
Our call is the same. Looking at the culture in which we live and the influence it exerts on our lives as Christians, it is something to be concerned especially for our children. I was talking about this with my eldest son recently. I was telling him that I worry about how they would raise their children because the world knows how to disciple them and make them their followers. Christian parents today do not disciple their children, they do not even know how to do it and this is alarming. If we believe that our sons or daughters will believe what we believe because they go to church on Sundays, we are dreaming. The work we have to do involves more than this. It is our responsibility as a father and mother to teach them how to live as believers in exile. If we don’t, let’s not expect them to be committed Christians. And it all starts with our own life as an example. If we do not understand the commitment that involves being part of the Lord’s church and do not commit ourselves to being faithful members, what can we expect from our children?
Finally, the Lord commands you to seek the peace for the city and pray for her.
“Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
The people of Israel prayed for the peace of Jerusalem and for her well-being (Psalm 122:6-9). This was to be expected. But now the Lord commands them to pray to the Lord for the peace of Babylon. Pray for the pagan city that had caused them harm. Pray for the pagan city that would no doubt now look at them with spite. This is praying for the enemies the Lord commanded us in His Word:
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matthew 5:44-47)
Loving those who are our friends, those who love us is easy. That’s what everyone does. But the believer is called to a higher standard. The Lord commands us to more than this. He commands us to pray, to love, and to do good to those who are difficult to love.
This is what the Lord commands His people to do in Babylon and implies that God would listen to his prayers there and give peace to the city. And God’s people would benefit from this peace. They could live in peace and multiply to be ready for homecoming.
Asking for peace also involves living in peace. God did not command them to fight to free themselves from them. He asked them to pray for their peace so that they too could enjoy peace. God would be the one who would deliver them and rescue them at the end of 70 years.
Seeking peace involves seeking the well-being of the city and this also means serving. In Jeremiah 27:17 he tells them, “Do not listen to them. Serve the king of Babylon, and you will live. Why should this city become a ruin?”
The false prophets told them not to serve Babylon because they would not be in exile for no more than two years. The Lord tells them not to follow their advice if they wanted to live. They must serve the king of Babylon.
We are not in exile like Judah, nor are we being disciplined by the Lord. But the truth is that we are foreigners in this world (1 Peter 2:11). We’re pilgrims on the way. However, these principles apply to us. We can live the life that pleases God in a world dominated by the evil one. But this is not to boast and to condemn the world, but to show a better way to live. We must pray for our city, our state, and our country for peace. In this peace we will have opportunities to share Christ’s message.
Our light must shine not only in the way we live but also in our service in a world dominated by darkness. This will give us the opportunity to share the Good News of Christ, the Light of the World. We have a mission as long as we are in the place God has placed us, until He comes for us His people.
Living in the world by being like the world, adapting to its culture is not our call. Living in the world seeking our prosperity in order to have more and have more “treasures” on earth is not our call. Our prosperity must benefit others and be invested in the purposes of their kingdom.
How are you seeking peace where God has placed you to be His representative?
How are you contributing toward peace and for the benefit of the community?
How are you striving to make sure your family has a good reputation in your community? How are you teaching your children to live in exile?
Are you praying for those who are not your friends (enemies)? How can you show them God’s love in a tangible way?