— Henry Neufeld
1Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the Prophet sent from Jerusalem to the remnant of the elders of the exile, to the priests, the prophets, and all the people who had been taken by Nebuchadnezzar from Jerusalem to Babylon. . . . 4This is what YHWH of armies, God of Israel says to all the exiles who have been taken from Jerusalem to Babylon. 5Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat the produce. 6Take wives and give birth to sons and daughters. And take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands and let them bring forth sons and daughters. Multiply there, and donâ€™t become smaller. 7And seek the peace of the city to which you were taken as exiles, and pray to YHWH for it, because your peace is tied up with its peace.Â Â Â Â Â Â Jeremiah 29:1,4-7 (HN)
There is, of course, a historical meaning for this passage that is very specific. The people of Judah had been taken into exile and many were hoping it would end soon. But God had a plan for a longer period of time than they planned for. The call to return from exile would be delayed for a couple of generations.
As a side note for those interested in the way the Bible expresses things, notice that the people there are to marry, have children, see those children married, and then they have children. People try to get the â€œ70 yearâ€ prophecy of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10) calculated to make the simple point that the generation going into exile would die completely before they would return. It would be during the third generation.
But my point here is not to look at the specifics of the exile but rather to look at Godâ€™s principles as they might apply to our own lives. While Judah is to be punished through a period of exile, they are not to diminish. They are not to stop living. They are to look forward. They are to grow.
One of our temptations as Christians is to live as very temporary exiles here on this earth. In fact, we tend to divide ourselves between those who have accommodated themselves so thoroughly to this world that you canâ€™t tell their exiles, and those who are so exiled that they are no longer connected to their temporary home either. The expression â€œso heavenly, theyâ€™re of no earthly goodâ€ was invented for such people.
Whether weâ€™re dealing with a temporary exile of our ownâ€”a separation from our calling, a separation from family, or a mission in a country that feels like â€œexile from exileâ€ we need to remember the principles behind Jeremiahâ€™s letter.
First, wherever God has placed you, he plans for you to grow and not diminish. Heâ€™s not throwing you out or trying to destroy you. Heâ€™s trying to make you better.
Second, wherever you are, thereâ€™s someone you can pray for. No matter how little you like the country, the people, the job, or whatever it is, you can pray. Praying for the peace of Babylon may sound pretty silly, but that was what God told his people to doâ€”for a period of time.
Third, take action to move forward. Sitting back and merely enduring the hard times isnâ€™t Godâ€™s call. Sitting back and enduring this world, while we hope for heaven is not Godâ€™s plan either. He wants us to build houses, plant vineyards, have childrenâ€”in other words, to live.
We donâ€™t know when our time of exile here on earth will end. We do know that God wants us to grow, and not get smaller.