I love God’s optimism. Sometimes God reminds me of a Jewish mother, always looking for the best in her son.
“Three Jewish mothers are sitting on a bench, arguing over which one’s son loves her the most. The first one says, “You know, my son sends me flowers every Sabbath.
“You call that love?” says the second mother. “My son calls me every day!”
“That’s nothing,” says the third woman. “My son is in therapy five days a week. And the whole time, he talks about me!”
God is optimistic like that: “Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word. Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from their evil ways. Then I will relent and not inflict on them the disaster I was planning because of the evil they have done.” (Jeremiah 26:2-3).
God was more than ready to forgive them. God had no desire to punish His people. He gave them every opportunity to repent. But instead of heeding the warnings of Jeremiah and changing direction, they wanted to kill the prophet. Jeremiah was eventually spared, but the people still failed to listen to his warning and repent. Babylon ultimately did conquer them and carry them back to Babylon in Exile.
Jeremiah warned that the exile would last 70 years. Another “prophet” named Hananiah came back and said that in just 2 years they would all be back and everything would be okay. Hananiah flat out lied. He was spreading fake news (see yesterday’s devotion). It ended up that Hananiah is the one who died and his prophecy did not come true.
Once the exile began there was no turning back. But God had a plan for that time in exile. It was actually to protect his people. Just as their years of captivity in Egypt enabled Israel to grow from just a few people into a great nation capable of taking possession of the promised land, this time of exile was intended to be a time for God to both cleanse the land from idolatry and cleanse God’s people from their idolatrous ways. While the exile might have felt like a punishment and a judgement, and it was, it was actually intended by God to help bring his people back to righteous living.
When a parent punishes a child, the healthy parent is not getting any joy from seeing their child suffer. The old expression “this is going to hurt me a lot more than it hurts you” has a real basis in truth. A loving parent punishes, or better – disciplines, their child out of love. The child has been acting in ways that are ultimately harmful to themselves and they need correction. After numerous warnings and Israel’s failure to heed those warnings and repent, God had to take bold corrective action. But the intent and purpose is love. They needed to be purged of their idolatrous practices which included sacrificing their children to the gods of the age.
The exile was intended by God to purge them of their idolatry and purify them as a people. As they were living in Babylon they were to live as good citizens. They were to “seek the peace and prosperity” of the place in which God had brought them (Jeremiah 29:7). Babylon was certainly not a perfect place and had its own share of godlessness and evil, but God’s people were to live peacefully and seek the good of Babylon while they were there.
I would encourage you to read carefully the letter that God had Jeremiah send to the exiles in Babylon found in chapter 29. This is instructive for Christians today. As Christians in the world today, we are ultimately children of God, citizens of God’s coming Kingdom. Our King is Jesus and he is currently in heaven, waiting for the day when he will return to earth and establish God’s kingdom. So our citizenship is currently in heaven. When our king comes and the earth is transformed, our citizenship will be here on the renewed earth. Until that time, as we live here we are resident aliens. I may be a US citizen in the United States in name, but ultimately, I am a citizen of God’s Kingdom living here as a stranger and foreigner. Peter calls us exiles. You and I are exiles living here just as the Jewish people were exiles living in Babylon in Jeremiah’s time.
As exiles here we should practice the same things that Jeremiah told the Jews in Babylon to do as exiles there. We should get married, have families, increase in number and pray for the place we are living. We are to continue the creation mandate given in Genesis 1- “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it etc…” As Christians living here in exile we use our gifts to make the place in which we are living a better place. Babylon was not perfect, but the people of God living there were to contribute to it being a better place to live. America or Canada or wherever you happen to live is not a perfect place, but you as a Christian should live in a way and use your gifts and energy to make it a better place, until Jesus comes again and we are no longer in exile but enter into the fulness of the Kingdom of God.
Note that eventually, God brought judgment against Babylon. That empire fell to the Medes and the Persians, and it was the Persians that made it possible for the people of God to return from exile to the promised land. Let us seek the best for wherever we live, but when God decides to bring judgment against that place, it is all part of his plan, and he will watch over His people who remain faithful to him wherever we are. And in the end, all will be well.
Pastor Jeff Fletcher
Today’s Bible passage, Jeremiah 26-29, can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+26-29&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s reading will be Jeremiah 30-31 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan