Today’s reading: Jeremiah 26-29.
You expect me to be happy living as a captive on foreign soil?
The Jewish exiles in Babylon might have reacted that way when Jeremiah wrote them and told them to “build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage.” When Jerusalem surrendered to Babylon in 597 BC, thousands of Jews were taken as captives and settled in Babylon. They were hoping for God to rescue them quickly, but Jeremiah told them to expect a long captivity of seventy years. We get a glimpse of how they felt in verses from Psalm 137:
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. Upon the willows in the midst of it we hung our harps. For there our captors demanded of us songs, and our tormentors mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
Despite their despair, Jeremiah tells the exiles to hope in the future, to pray for their foreign home, and to expect prosperity. Then comes that often-repeated promise from God – “I know the plans I have for you… plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Here are the conditions on God’s promise that we don’t usually hear, however:
- They must come to God and call out to him in prayer.
- They must seek God with all their heart.
Does God’s promise apply only to the Jewish exiles, or is it a more general promise that all believers can claim? There is a sense in which we are all exiles. Paul said “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). We are living in enemy territory now since Satan is the ruler of this world. One day we will return to our heavenly home, but until then we should remember the Jewish exiles and follow their example.
- Settle down and build homes
- Work and produce
- Marry, have children and grandchildren
- Seek the peace and prosperity of our exile home, and pray for God to bless it
If we do all these things while seeking God with our whole heart and daily calling on him in prayer, then we can expect him to faithfully fulfill his plans to do good for us, giving us hope and a future.
Image by Sunchild57 Photography on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0