Seek The Welfare of The City
The prophet Jeremiah sent a letter to God’s people who were in Babylonian captivity. The letter contained instructions about how they were to conduct themselves while they lived as strangers in a foreign land. It also explained what they could hope for in the future. As we consider what Jeremiah had to say to the Jews in captivity, the basic points he made to them are helpful to understand a little bit about what happened just before this. Back in Jerusalem, Hananiah falsely prophesied that Babylon would soon be defeated (Jeremiah 28.1-4,11), allowing the captives to return. Jeremiah refuted this (Jeremiah 28.12-14). Afterward, Jeremiah sent a letter to those who were in Babylon (Jeremiah 29.1-3).
The recipients of Jeremiah’s letter may have hoped that he was announcing deliverance in the near future. Instead, they were told that they would be in captivity for “seventy years” (Jeremiah 29.10). In other words, those who had been taken would die in captivity — something that would surely be difficult and disappointing to hear. Let us take a moment to break down the lessons for the captives in these verses (Jeremiah 29.4-11):
- They were to live productive lives. “Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce” (v. 5). God wanted them to plan to be there for a while. And while they were there, they were to be as self-sufficient as possible.
- They were to raise their families. “Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters, and multiply there and do not decrease” (v. 6). They were not just to survive; they were to focus on raising the next generation and beyond.
- They were to live at peace with others. “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 have welfare” (v. 7). They had to live among others. While doing so, they needed to remember that the common people were not the “enemy.” Nebuchadnezzar had taken them captive (Jeremiah 29.1); the common people were not responsible for that.
- They were to beware of false prophets. “Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream. For they prophesy falsely to you in my name; I have not sent them” (vv. 8-9). These false prophets could have promised immediate deliverance (like Hananiah did in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 28.1-4, 11)) or even promoted rebellion, yet this would not have been God’s will.
- They were to remember the future hope (vv. 10-11). Good had everything planned and under control. They just needed to trust him.
As we think about how to apply these lessons, we first need to recognize that we are strangers and exiles like the Jews in captivity (1 Peter 2.11-12). The lessons they needed to hear are the same lessons we need to hear:
- We are to live productive lives (Ephesians 5.15-16; 1 Thessalonians 4.11).
- We are to raise our families. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6.4). The psalmist said that “children are a gift of the Lord” (Psalm 127.3). Both of these are still true, even while living in a world that is hostile to God and his people.
- We are to live at peace with others (Romans 12.18). Of course, this is not always possible. We can expect a degree of persecution in our lives (cf. 2 Timothy 3.12). However, we are still to use any “opportunity” we have to “do good to all people” (Galatians 6.10) and develop goodwill among those around us.
- We are to beware of false prophets (2 Peter 2.1-2). Knowing that there will be false teachers, we are to “not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4.1). We need to make sure to search the scriptures before accepting what some teacher says (Acts 17.11).
- We are to remember our future hope (1 Peter 1.3-5; Philippians 3.20). We are awaiting the day when the Lord returns to bring us home with him (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18).
We live as strangers and exiles in this life, but we are not to cut ourselves off from the world. We have a hope of eternal life in heaven, but we are not to ignore our responsibilities here. We are different from the world, but we are not to act in hostility toward those around us. We do not know how long it will be until the Lord delivers his people. Yet we do know that the day will eventually come (2 Peter 3.10). However long it is until that day arrives, let us make sure we are doing what we ought to do in this life and keep looking forward to the next one.