Jeremiah wrote a letter to the Jews in Babylon. The Jews were exiled by God’s doing. He has been warning them about it regularly. Then, it happened. I am sure they were stunned anyway. Jeremiah opens his letter saying:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon….”[i]Jeremiah 29:4
God put you and I where we are, also. What God says to the Babylonian exiles then is instructive for us today, wherever we are.
I am going to break what Jeremiah says down and apply it to our world today, but first we need to set the stage. We need to step back and consider the big picture.
“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this [marking out our appointed times and where we live] so that [we] would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27)
Nothing in all of human history has caught God off guard. God saw the sweep and the details of that history from before time. He also knew you.
He knew where you would be born. He knew the hairs on your head. He knew the smiles and frowns on your face, your thoughts and every word that would slip from your mouth before they were even said. (Echoing Psalm 139)
God saw the United States of America, and all the nations of the world before they were established, their course in history and their demise. What we call future isn’t future to God. He exists outside of time. He existed before time began to tick. He exists now, and He exists in our future.
God is orchestrating the people, the times, the events in history for one end. John caught a glimpse of that end when he saw people of every nation, tribe and tongue gathered around the throne of the Lamb. (Rev. 7:9) Has Paul described God’s plan and purpose this way,
|Romans 8:20-23||My commentary|
|The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.||All creation is in on the purposes of God and is waiting for the fulfillment of God’s plan|
|For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it,||Our present conditions are part of God’s plans and part of the ultimate purposes of God to be accomplished in the world He set in motion|
|in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.||God’s plan and purpose is for creation to be freed from the present futility to which He subjected it as we obtain the freedom of becoming His children.|
|For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.||It was so from the beginning. When Eve fell in the garden, God increased her pain in childbirth….|
|And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies||When we are born again, by faith in God’s grace, and receive the Spirit, we taste the fruit of the life God offers and look forward to our ultimate redemption.|
God marked out the appointed times in history of all the peoples of the earth and the boundaries of their lands throughout time, and that history is part of the larger creation that is waiting in eager expectation for the plans and purposes of God to be worked out in us and, ultimately, in creation. We are part of that plan.
We are at the center of the plans and purposes of God, who made us. Of all the creatures God created, we alone are created in His image. The creation waits eagerly for us to engage in that plan and purpose of God – each one of us and us, and us collectively.
Like the people of Judah in Babylon, we find ourselves exiles and strangers in the earth (1 Peter 2:11), if indeed we have been born again, born from above. When we are born again, we are born of the Spirit (John 3:1-21) by which we gain entry to the kingdom of God, which kingdom is not of this world. (John 18:36).
“But to all who … receive him, who [believe] in his name, he [gives] the right to become children of God, who [are] born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12)
When we receive Him, He gives us “the right to become children of God”. Though God knew us and “chose us in Him from before the foundation of the earth” (Eph. 1:4), He gives us, at the same time, the right (exousia, the right or authority) to become His children – it isn’t a forgone conclusion – at least not from our perspective.
We have to receive it, to begin with, and to believe (trust and commit to) it. In more popular parlance, we have to walk in it. Indeed, Jesus calls us as disciples to follow after Him, to “walk” the way he walked, to live as he lived. Paul says it this was:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:1-8)
Jesus is no longer with us to demonstrate in person how to walk as he walked, but we have Scripture and the Holy Spirit as our guide. Indeed, all Scripture “is God-breathed” (inspired), and it is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”, so that we can be “thoroughly equipped for every good work”. (2 Timothy 3:16-17) The people who first heard these words would have thought primarily of what we call the Old Testament.
What we find in Jeremiah’s words to the people of Judah exiled in Babylon are instruction for those of us today who are exiled as aliens and strangers in this present world (if indeed we have truly been born again). What he says may not fit the modern Church narrative and example, though – or at least the poplar notion of what that is.
These were the instructions from Jeremiah to the exiles:
“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their 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.” (Jeremiah 29:5-8)
Imagine being an exile in Babylon. The exile happened after years of Babylonian oppression. King Nebuchadnezzar II besieged Jerusalem in 605 BC. Then king Jehoiakim refused to pay the tribute that was demanded, so the Babylonian King besieged the city again, and Jehoiakim was killed in the process.
Exiles were taken from Judah over the course of about 18 years at various times in different campaigns by the Babylonian armies. They destroyed the city wall and the Temple of Solomon, the heart of Jewish life and worship.
The experience of these events was raw in the psyche of the exiled Judeans when Jeremiah wrote to them. Of course, he had been warning them for years. In the end, he told them to give themselves up to the Babylonians, because the exile was God’s doing.
For devout Jews who kept their faith and commitment to YHWH, Babylon was a symbol of God’s rejection, of His giving them over to the people of other gods, removing His favor and protection from them. It was the punishment for their sins, their continual turning away from God to idols, and their failure to do justice as God commanded.
Their experience echoes back to Adam and Eve in the Garden. After the fall, they were cut off from the Garden, exiled to a world of death, decay, struggle and toil. Babylon is like the experience of all humans created in God’s people in the world.
God’s attempt to establish a people chosen by Him, devoted to Him in covenant relationship, among which He established His presence, protection, and favor seemed to have ended in failure. We know, however, that it was all part of the plan of God to accomplish His purposes. We know that God works all things together for the good of His people according to His purposes.
“God works in mysterious ways” is a statement not found in the Bible, but another prophet, Isaiah, said something similar just before the exile:
“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
God’s plans and purposes for the world existed from before the foundation of the world. They extend far beyond the the future that we can see into eternity. Our 80-100 years on this planet are nothing but a mist, a flower that is here today and gone tomorrow, in the eons of time that began with the creation.
To understand what it means to follow Jesus in the Babylon we call this world, we need to gain his perspective. Jesus knew the mind of God. (John 12:49; John 14:10; and John 17:8) Jesus was the Word, who was with God in the beginning; Jesus was the Word through whom all things were created; and Jesus was the Word who become flesh. (John 1:1-3, 14)
Jesus quoted from the Prophet, Jeremiah, and Jesus would have been intimately familiar with Jeremiah’s instructions to the exiled Judeans. Thus, we should consider and take to heed of those instructions as we live out our own lives in a foreign world that worships idols and other gods.
I believe these instructions form some basis for how we should Follow Jesus in Babylon that I will pick up in the next installment of this blog. To the extent that we are exiles – aliens and strangers in the world – these instructions are for us.
[i] I take this from the following passage that is the focus of this blog piece: “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 their 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 your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord. ‘For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.'” Jeremiah 29:4-13 ESV
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