Sometimes the Christian life is compared to the Israelite exile – we’re living in a land that isn’t our own, but are longing for another world, one which will be brought about when the Messiah returns to judge and cleanse all things. As such we’re called to be “in the world, not of the world,” and other such neat little sayings. But what does this really look like? Too often we’re tempted to treat this as an excuse to sit back from reality and live in our own little bubbles, subcultures, or exclusive communities, hunkering down and waiting for the end. But if we actually look at the Israelites in exile, a very different expectation was set out.
In chapter 29 of Jeremiah, we find a little letter that the prophet wrote to the exiles. It’s worth a read in full, but I’d like to point out a couple things here. One of the most challenging things is found in verse 7: “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.” Wait, our welfare is contingent on the welfare of the government? Well duh, we’re humans just like everybody else! Unstable political situations yield great danger to human life, and so it is part of our godly responsibility to pray for and support a stable government.
This week, as part of my home-made daily lectionary, I’ve started reading Baruch for the first time. Something that struck me as I read the first two chapters is how much the Israelites actually followed Jeremiah’s advice. These two first chapters are mostly historical material, telling what’s going on with the Jews in the early period of the exile (while Ezekiel is prophesying and Daniel & company are settling into their offices under King Nebuchadnezzar). Sure enough, in Baruch 1:10-14, they pray for Nebuchadnezzar, his son Belshazzar, and pledge to live under their protection and “serve them many days and find favor in their sight.”
Nebuchadnezzar is the guy who just sacked Jerusalem! This is not some random dude put in charge of them in exile, this is their conqueror. But the Jews were beginning to recognize the purpose of their exile and what God was doing at that point in time. Unsurprisingly, then, they spend a great deal of chapters 1 & 2 of Baruch praying a long prayer of contrition – acknowledging that “righteousness belongs to the Lord but shameful faces to us…” (1:15 and 2:6), recognizing that despite God’s graces to them (2:11), their ancestors had rebelled against Him (2:12), and so they were rightfully receiving His punishments (2:20). Even better, they recognize that God is working to restore them in due time (2:30-35), evidently remembering that Jeremiah had revealed that the exile was limited in length (29:10).
This sets out a very useful precedent for us in this age, as we await the promised New Creation, completing God’s plan of redemption. We see a reminder here that we shouldn’t be so fixated on the future that we neglect the present. We shouldn’t be so fixated on the coming kingdom that we ignore the present kingdom. And Jeremiah offers more practical advice too – settle down, make families, invest (planting fields), and don’t be deceived by people claiming that the wait will be longer than it really is (such that we forget the coming kingdom) or shorter than it really is (such that we stop doing work and only watch the clock).