Summary: Seek the peace of the place in which you find yourselves, for in its peace you shall have peace.
HOW TO LIVE AS EXILES
For forty years Jeremiah had been warning Judah and Jerusalem to submit to the LORD by submitting to Babylon. The prophet had been accused of treason, threatened with death, and put in the stocks. Now the inevitable had begun to happen.
In 598 B.C., King Jehoiachin had surrendered Jerusalem to the Babylonians, and the first wave of captives had been taken into exile (Jeremiah 29:2). Nebuchadnezzar had appointed Jehoiachin’s uncle, Zedekiah, as a puppet king. At home and abroad false prophets, NOT sent by the LORD, prophesied an early return, and counselled rebellion.
Jeremiah had already prophesied that the exile would last seventy years (Jeremiah 25:12). In a letter sent in the diplomatic pouch (Jeremiah 29:3), the prophet reiterated: ‘seventy years’! (Jeremiah 29:10-11). So our text speaks of settling in for the long haul: effectively, ‘don’t believe the lies that say that the exile will last just two YEARS but knuckle down to the reality of being there for two GENERATIONS!’
The letter begins (Jeremiah 29:4), “Thus says the LORD of hosts” - the LORD of armies. Judah had made much of the might of Egypt and the might of Assyria as potential allies to meet the might of Babylon: but there is no might to match the might of the Almighty! ‘You might think that the Babylonians have carried you away “from Jerusalem to Babylon”: but ultimately it is I, “the God of Israel” who caused it to happen.’
When Jeremiah was first commissioned, the LORD used the language of building and planting (Jeremiah 1:10). There will again come a time of building and planting in Judah (Jeremiah 24:5-6; cf. Ezekiel 28:25-26), but meantime the exiles must build and plant where they are: “Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat the fruit of them; take wives and beget sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands; that you may be increased there, and not diminished” (Jeremiah 29:5-6).
This is what their ancestors had done in another ‘exile’ in Egypt. ‘The more the Egyptians oppressed them the more they multiplied and grew’ (Exodus 1:12). To the grief and vexation of the Egyptians, who came to dread them.
The Jewish exiles in Babylon were also told to seek the peace of the City to which the LORD had caused them to be carried away captives. Always remember, they were reminded, that it is the LORD who led you there! And to PRAY for it: “for in the peace thereof shall you have peace” (Jeremiah 29:7).
Jesus taught us to love our enemies, and to ‘pray for those who despitefully use you’ (Matthew 5:44). We are to be subject to those in authority (Romans 13:1), even if we do not agree with the system of government (1 Peter 2:11-17). We are to pray for those who rule over us ‘that we may lead a peaceful life in all godliness and honesty’ (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
Sometimes we may find ourselves living in a place not of our own choosing, but the thing to do is to knuckle down and get on with living there, doing the good that we can and most certainly PRAYING for that place (and by inference, for its people even if they are our enemies!) After all, if we are Christians, we are ‘strangers and pilgrims in the earth’ (Hebrews 11:13), but we also have a message of ‘peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ’ (cf. Romans 5:1) for the world around us.