These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the court officials, the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the artisans, and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem. The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah son of Shaphan and Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom King Zedekiah of Judah sent to Babylon to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. It said: Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to your dreams that you dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the LORD.
We in Christ are exiles in this present world. We’re scattered all over the earth, and like what follows after this passage, we await God’s visitation, the return of Jesus Christ to bring God’s promises into complete, final fulfillment. In the meantime, again we live as strangers and exiles in whatever nation we live.
God told God’s people through Jeremiah in days of old to settle down and live faithfully in Babylon. We see Daniel doing the same thing. It’s interesting that they were not called to make the worship of God the law of the land in Babylon. They were simply to be faithful to God regardless of what was happening in the world. Yes, it was judgment, but mercy too. But they were to live out their faith in a foreign land. Remember Daniel’s example? Daniel didn’t try to convert Babylonians, but his example spoke volumes.
Fast-forward to today where I live in the United States. Christians are known here for wanting to take over the levers of power everywhere and not just push hard their agenda, but force and enforce it on others. Not at all anything like what we read about in Jeremiah 29. It leaves me wondering many things, and simply strongly disagreeing on many things more. But one question I might ask is simply this: Where is compassion in all of this, and specifically, Christ’s compassion which we’re called to bring and to be to others?
It seems like we want the same thing the Jews of old wanted. No exile, God’s visitation now, and everything just as we think it ought to be. But if you take Scripture seriously, we all know that only at Christ’s return will that begin to take place. In the meantime, what should we do now?
God’s people are the church together and in different places. We’re to show compassion in thoughtful, discerning ways, not only by handouts, but trying to understand the big picture, and what can be done to get rid of injustice in society, both individual, and especially systemic. Both. We have to keep working on that, because really the problem can be us, or at least we’re not apart from the problem. That is all a part of this, whether we like it or not. And we honestly ought to, because if the Christian life is anything at all, isn’t it a life of ongoing repentance?
The gospel is the power of God for salvation, not state power. That salvation is for individuals, yes, but also it should enable us to encourage the best for the nation-state in which we live. And to be relaxed within our pluralistic world, even as Israel was to live in the Babylonian world. Finding the good in it, and being an influence for good through Christ, being good and human.
Power politics and forcing and enforcing our way is not God’s way. At least not as evident in Jeremiah 29 and the gospels and what follows.