Jeremiah’s Letter

The natural response to the threat of destruction of Israel at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, was to fight or flee―and many Israelites did one or the other. But Jeremiah’s counsel was different (29:4–20).

Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles explains how they must think and what they must do in Babylon:

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. (vv. 4–7).

Most importantly, God “sent” them to Babylon. Their present location was not due to unfortunate happenstance. Rather, they were brought there by God’s express purpose. They were, in fact, on a mission.

Later in the letter, God revealed his long-term intention, covenantal affection, and commitment to them: “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” (vv. 10–11). He emphatically foretold restoration and multiplication after the exile (30:18–19).

But, in the meantime, they must cultivate their spiritual identity within an exilic context.

Verse 7 commands the exiles to behave in an entirely unexpected and implausible manner: “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.” The noun “peace” (shalom) indicates well-being and wholeness, as well as the concrete conditions for safety and prosperity (Lev 26:6–10).

In Jeremiah 29:7, therefore, the exiles were commanded to “seek the peace” of their captorsfor their own good! They were commanded to pursue the well-being, prosperity, and security of Babylon.

Jeremiah’s counsel was clearly counter-intuitive. What counter-intuitive wisdom can we learn from this example for our civic responsibilities in our respective nations today? Do you feel as if you suffer internal exile in your own nation? What would it mean to seek the peace of your country?

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