A Word For Exiles.
“Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” – Jeremiah 29:5-7 NLT
King Nebuchadnezzar had already invaded Judah once and had taken some of the people as captives back to Babylon. Jeremiah, living and prophesying in Jerusalem, wrote a letter to those Jews who were now living in exile. These people were experiencing exactly what Jeremiah had predicted would happen. They were experiencing the punishment God had warned them about. They were now living in a foreign land, no longer able to enjoy the comforts of home. Many had been separated from their friends and family members. They found themselves surrounded by a culture they knew nothing about and a people who spoke a language they did not understand. Can you imagine how they must have felt? It would have been easy to despair, give up, and lose all hope. But Jeremiah writes to encourage them to keep on keeping on. He wants them to know that their time there has an end. It will not last forever. A day is coming when God will restore them to their own land. Their days as aliens and strangers will come to an end, and they will get to return the Promised Land.
Jeremiah encourages them to settle down and make themselves at home. He doesn’t encourage them to become like the Babylonian culture. He simply advises them to build houses, plant gardens, marry, have children, and to have a positive influence on the land in which they find themselves. He wants them to multiply and prosper as the people of God – even in the midst of a hostile and foreign environment. They don’t belong there, but God wants them to prosper there. This was all part of His divine plan. He is the one who had sent them there and He wanted them to make the most of it. And while these words from Jeremiah were directed to the people of God living as exiles in Babylon, I find comfort and encouragement from them as a believer living in the “foreign” culture in which I find myself. I am reminded of the words of Peter who told the believers in his day, “Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls” (1 Peter 2:11 NLT). He saw them as temporary residents and foreigners living in this world. He calls them paroykos – one who lives on earth as a stranger. And he refers to them as parepidaymos – someone sojourning in a strange place, a foreigner. As the old hymn says, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.” We are temporary residents living in this world. In essence, we don’t belong here. Our home is elsewhere. The writer of Hebrews, when referring to the Old Testament saints, said, “All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth” (Hebrews 11:13 NLT). Even Abraham, Noah, Joseph, and Moses knew that they were living as exiles on this earth. Their real home was elsewhere. But they lived and prospered while here. They made the most out of their time here. But they always kept their hope on the future, when they would receive their real reward and be returned to their real home.
The words of Jeremiah encourage us to build home, marry, plant gardens and multiply while we’re here, but to never forget that we don’t really belong here. This is NOT our home. This is NOT our final destination. We are temporary residents here. And the other thing he encourages us to do is to care about and to influence the culture in which we live. We are to “work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:7 NLT). We may not belong here, but we can make a difference here. We are not to be so heavenly minded that we end up being no earthly good. We are called to be salt and light, agents of change and influence in a dark and dying world. Living as exiles gives us a great opportunity to be instruments of change in the Redeemer’s hands. God has us here for a reason. When He saved us He could have taken us, but instead, He left us here. He wants us to have an influence. He wants us to prosper and multiply. Like Daniel living in the land of Babylon, God wants us to live for Him and influence the pagan culture in which we live. God reminds the exiles living in Babylon, “For I know the plans I have for you. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT). God had a plan for them and He has a plan for us. Part of that plan is for us to live in this land as aliens and strangers. We are to live with an understanding that this is not our home. We are on our way to somewhere else. One day He is going to send His Son to return for us. He has a place prepared for us. He has a plan for us – to give us a future and a hope. But until that day comes and His plan is fulfilled, let’s make a difference where we are. Let’s have an influence for good even as we live as strangers in a strange land.
Father, show us how to live as aliens, but to make a difference while we’re here. This world is not our home, but never let us give up on it. We are here to live as salt and light. Give us an eternal perspective, but help us live with purpose here and now.. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men