What It Means to Follow Jesus in Babylon

Live your lives, Increase and multiply. Seek the welfare of this world, BUT ALWAYS REMEMBER that this world is passing away

I tried to set the stage for what it means to follow Jesus in Babylon with a prior post: God’s Ways: a Primer for What It Means to Follow Jesus in Babylon. It is a kind of running start – a view from 40,000 feet. The purposes of God establish the context for understanding how we follow Jesus in Babylon.

Jesus, of course, did not live in Babylon during the 30-some years he walked the earth. I am speaking figuratively here. Jesus urged people to follow him, to live as he did and to “walk” as he walked – to be imitators of Jesus as he was an imitator of God the Father. We follow Jesus wherever we are.

Most people reading this blog don’t live in Babylon either, as in the ancient city. Rather, Babylon is symbolic of our lives in this world. Just as the exiles found themselves living as foreign people in a foreign land filled with foreign gods, followers of Jesus today are aliens and strangers in this world living among people who do not bow down to our God.

When Jeremiah wrote to the Jewish exiles in Babylon right after they were taken captive, right after they lost everything (their homes, their lives as they knew them, the Temple around which their community was organized), his words would have difficult, perhaps, to receive.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon….” (Jer. 29:4)

That God “sent” them into exile would have been a painful reminder of all the warnings of the prophets leading up to the final siege of Jerusalem, captivity, and long march to Babylon. Jeremiah had their attention, though. The unthinkable, that Jeremiah had long been predicting, actually happened.

In that context, this is what he said:

“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 29:5-10)

I don’t think we can emphasize enough the timing of these words: this was the very beginning of the exile. They just lost everything. They just got there. Their future was uncertain, though they had hope to return to their homes because the prophets who warned them of the exile also predicted their return. 

We are not “of this world” if we belong to God in Christ. We are exiles in this world. This world is our Babylon. In the rest of this blog,

I will relate those words Jeremiah wrote to the exiled Jews to our lives in “Babylon” today, and I will add in the warning, and the encouragement, that Jeremiah gave in the letter that are also instructive to us today. I believe Jeremiah’s words of instruction are how we should follow Jesus in Babylon.

Continue reading “What It Means to Follow Jesus in Babylon”

The Plans God Has for Us – Part III

Even in the midst of the very Judgment of God, God desires to bless us! He is every appealing to us to listen to Him and respond to Him. 

I


n the previous two blog posts on The Plans God Has for Us, we considered the fact that the often-quoted verse about the plans God us for us – plans to prosper us and to give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11)[1] – should be viewed in historical context. (Part I) That historical context was the 900-year history of disbelief and disobedience of God’s people ending in 40 years of warning of impending judgment that culminated in the judgment coming to pass with the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem and exile. (Part II) In this post, I will try to draw some conclusions in the application of this verse and relevance to our modern lives.

This letter was the message of God through the prophet, Jeremiah, to God’s people that He gave them at the very beginning of their exile. In this letter, God tells them that they will remain in exile for 70 year![2] In fact, this shocking statement – you will be here 70 years – is the statement that immediately precedes the famous verse we all know:

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

In a sense, God is telling them, “I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is that I have imposed my judgment on you, and it will last 70 years. But the good news is that I have plans for you, good plans to prosper you and to give you hope and a future.

70 years! In an age in which the average life expectancy was about 35 years, that’s two generations! For the vast majority of the exiled people, this meant their lives would end in captivity. What kind of hope and future is that?!

The exile was the judgment God warned them about. God’s people had been so disbelieving and disobedient that God virtually banished them from the very land He promised them about a millennium before.  But even in the midst of this judgment, we need to look carefully at what God is saying. Just before announcing that this judgment thing is going to last 70 years, God gives them instructions:

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘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, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 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.’”[3]

Imagine the 40 years of warning and the weight of that impending doom on those who actually took it seriously. As with most things we fear, the fear is worse than the reality.

During this time of judgment in exile in Babylon, God says to them, basically, “Don’t despair! Go about your lives. Embrace the circumstances into which I have brought you. Live life. Make plans. Bless those around you, seek to better the those around you, and I will bless you.”

Even in the midst of the very Judgment of God, God desires to bless us! He is every appealing to us to listen to Him and respond to Him.

Continue reading “The Plans God Has for Us – Part III”

Carried Off to Babylon

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us.

Panorama of partially restored Babylon ruins and Former Saddam Hussein Palace, Babylon, Hillah, Iraq

“Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 39:6 ESV)

This is a follow up blog piece to Here Today Gone Tomorrow. The story of King Hezekiah, and Isaiah Chapter 39, is, illustrative of our tendency to hold on to things in this world and in this life contrary to what God intends for us. Jesus speaks to God’s intention when he urges us to lay up our treasures in heaven, and not to focus on accumulating treasures on earth.

Hezekiah was a pretty good king as kings of Judah go. Many of those kings turned away from God to idol worship and other behaviors influenced by the pagan culture of the nations around them. These were the people who were never completely driven out of the Promised Land as God instructed. The people and their kings became corrupted by those influences and succumbed to them.

The descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob split into two camps early on after the people rejected the rule of judges and wanted kings like the nations around them.  They split into the nation of Israel and the nation of Judah.

By the time King Hezekiah came around, the nation of Israel had been overrun, captured, and exiled to Babylon. During Hezekiah’s reign the people were hanging on by a thread, with the threat of Babylonian exile dangling like the sword of Damocles over the remnant, Judah, that remained in Jerusalem.

In Hezekiah’s fourteenth year as king, Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them, but for Jerusalem. King Hezekiah responded to this threat by turning to God. He prayed, and, as the story goes, 185,000 troops of the Assyrian king died in the camp overnight, sparing the City of Jerusalem from certain doom. (Isaiah 37)

Hezekiah turned to God when circumstances were dire and his death was imminent. Like most of us, though, the King was short-sighted. He focused on the immediate, protecting himself for the remainder of his short life.

Continue reading “Carried Off to Babylon”

The Ebla Tablets Confirm Biblical Accounts

Ebla (Syria) by Klaus Wagensonner
Ebla (Syria) by Klaus Wagensonner

Bible skeptics often talk as if there is a dearth of evidence that any of the events in the Bible took place. Skeptics consider the Bible, and especially the Old Testament, as fictional, a fanciful product of the imagination trumped up many, many years after the actual events took place, and full of places and characters that never actually existed. The Ebla Tablets found in Northern Syria tell a different story.

The Ebla Tablets predate the Biblical record that is ascribed to Moses and confirm many of the names, locations and other assertions found in the Mosaic text of the Old Testament.  Continue reading “The Ebla Tablets Confirm Biblical Accounts”