Living in Babylon
After the Israelites’ rescue from Egypt, on their way to the Land of Promise, God told them to not twist justice against the poor. He had urged them to not oppress the foreigners among them because in Egypt the Israelites had been the foreigners.
Now, dragged away into captivity in Babylon, the children of Abraham were once again poor foreigners in an alien land.
But how should they live in Babylon? It was a magnificent city, a center of world commerce, a seat of great learning, home to marvels such as the wondrous Hanging Gardens, but it also was a place of great injustice and immorality. Idols were worshiped, rather than the one true God. Should God’s people condemn the sinners and isolate themselves from the marketplace? Do they rebel and plot against their captors?
The prophet Jeremiah wrote them a letter:
“The LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, sends this message to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food you produce. Marry, and have children. Then find spouses for them, and have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of Babylon. Pray to the LORD for that city where you are held captive, for if Babylon has peace, so will you.”
Some branded Jeremiah a traitor for telling the people to submit to their overlords, but the Lord was simply re-emphasizing the mission his people had from the very beginning: Multiply yourselves, walk in my ways, and work to fill the world with shalom.
The challenging element was this: Praying for the city of their captivity and working for its peace and prosperity.
God’s people were in a frightening place. For all its magnificence, Babylon was to them an alien world filled with strange and ungodly practices. The mighty city was built on the brutal conquest of weaker peoples. A ruthless will to power kept the city strong. And the people there insulted Almighty God at every turn by worshiping unworthy spirits who stood against the Lord of Creation.
Being God’s people, however, means the same thing in captivity and exile that it means in the Land of Promise. They were to be a light for all the earth’s peoples and serve as an instrument of God’s peace and justice “to the ends of the earth.” God promised the day would come that the Israelites would return home and rebuild Jerusalem’s walls and temple – and he kept that promise. In the meantime, however, the people’s hearts should reflect God’s love for the lost, broken, and confused people around them. Babylon certainly had its share of the poor and foreigners who needed help.
Only God’s people understood his ability to heal broken souls and bring them into a new kind of life. They lived among a people who did not know the truth about the Redeemer. They could teach others to walk in his ways and experience the abundant life only he can give. What better “peace and prosperity” could anyone hope for?
The Babylonians probably weren’t lining up for the exiled Jews to show them God’s way, but that didn’t change what it meant for the children of Abraham to be God’s people. Their Babylon was filled with opportunities to declare the good news of shalom and to do justice.
As is yours.
Think about it
As the social and moral collapse of the West accelerates around you, is your instinct to condemn sinners and retreat into isolation?
How could you be taking advantage of opportunities to declare the good news of shalom and to do justice?
‘Feminized poverty’ afflicts millions worldwide
How do you teach good health care practices to women who have no concept of what a germ is? “If you don’t have an education where you understand that, for instance, bacteria and viruses and parasites that you cannot see are causing you to be ill … then it’s a big leap of faith for them to believe that,” says Vicki Grossmann, a primary care medical practitioner in Guatemala. This is but one challenge health care workers face as they minister to women overseas. Another hurdle? Poverty … extreme poverty. Click here to read more.
Next chapter: God works to overcome injustice