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.
Imagine being an exile in Babylon. You’re far from home. Far from the temple (which Nebuchadnezzar destroyed). Far from everything familiar and precious. How can you not feel far from God? Sitting there in the sadness, you receive a letter from the prophet Jeremiah. (Remember him? Not the most popular guy in Judah.) The letter begins: “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” How does that land on your heavy heart? “Lord, you sent me here to be an exile in Babylon?”
As we begin our study of the book of Daniel, we do well to consider the cultural climate that Daniel and his friends inhabit. The letter in Jeremiah 29 is God’s Word to His people living in exile. It reflects His will for His people to live faithfully in a faithless world. Though we live over 2,500 years later, the connections are striking. We’ve all heard or said something about the state of our world, nation, city, schools, and churches. Our hearts are heavy as we see the drift of a culture that worships idols instead of the true God. What if the Lord told us that He has “sent” us to live as exiles in this place? If that sounds dramatic, remember that one of Jesus’ closest friends addressed us as “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11). What if we have more in common with God’s people in Babylon than we thought?
As exiles in a strange land, we’re prone to respond in one of two ways. Some of us are tempted to avoid the culture. We form our own Christian version of everything, keep ourselves pure, and hang on as the world burns around us. It’s an understandable strategy if we’re focused on the holiness of God and the temptations of the world. We can be distinct—not “of the world”—but we avoid the world that needs to see the light of Christ. On the other side, some of us are tempted to assimilate into the culture. We conform and enter into life in this strange place. It’s an understandable strategy if we’re focused on the mission of God and the needs of the world. We can be present—“in the world”—but we’re no different from the world that needs to see the light of Christ.
In Jeremiah 29, we’re presented with another option. The Lord does not call us to avoid the culture or to assimilate into it. He calls us to live faithfully in a faithless world. When we’re tempted to put life on hold, the Lord tells us to build houses and plant gardens, to get married and have children (Jeremiah 29:5-6). When we’re tempted to cultivate bitterness and cast judgment, the Lord calls us to seek the welfare of the city where He has sent us…and to pray for it (29:7). When we’re tempted to doubt that He is in control, He reminds us that He has a good plan for us, and a future and a hope are part of it (29:11). When we’re tempted to conclude that He doesn’t hear us, He promises that when we call upon Him and come and pray to Him, He will (29:12). And when we’re tempted to believe that He has abandoned us, He promises to be found by us when we seek Him (29:13-14).
If we feel like exiles today, how do the Lord’s words land on our heavy hearts? If it all sounds too good to be true, we need to remember Jesus Christ. None of us has been sent from the glory of heaven to the dust of earth. None of us has been able to resist the temptation to avoid or to assimilate. None of us has been in the world but not of the world as God intended. None of us has suffered as an innocent man nailed to a cross. But Jesus faithfully came, resisted temptation, lived a life of perfect holiness and love, and died the death that we deserve. Jesus, the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13), has gone before us in living faithfully in a faithless world. He did it, not to bring us home from Babylon to Jerusalem after 70 years, but to bring us home to God forever. As we wrestle with what it means to be faithful in a faithless world, we need to remember His faithfulness past, present, and future. This exile is not forever. While we’re here, the Lord has great purpose for us. And one day soon, He will bring us home to the new heaven and the new earth. Take heart, friends. Cultures and kingdoms rise and fall, but Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords, and His kingdom shall not be destroyed (Daniel 7:14).