The mission of the prophet Jeremiah included a call to deliver God’s messages to the people of Judah who had been taken away into exile. But while we may have some vague inkling of what “in exile” means, I suspect that we have little conception of the personal, national and spiritual horror that these words entail. Who knows how many loved ones had been brutally killed in the invasion that proceeded exile? Who knows what hardships and indignations the people were forced to endure as they were plucked up from their home country and dragged away to a foreign land? (Just look at the way that immigrants and refugees are treated today.) And let’s not forget – that for the residents of Jerusalem – the fall of the Holy City implied their judgment and abandonment by God. How bleak must be the future in which God seems absent?
Of course, this is why the prophetic word that was delivered through Jeremiah brought such great hope to the exiles – and to us!
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13)
But just as important as these words of hope are the words of instruction that the LORD provided with them, telling the people what they should do while they were living in exile:
“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (29:7)
Remember now; the city of exile was the city of the enemy. It was filled with people who opposed to the LORD and who had persecuted His people. And yet, God does not counsel withdrawal or conflict. Instead, God urges peace and prayer and contributing to the prosperity of even the enemy; for in blessing others, they, too, will be blessed.
Might these words be particularly relevant for God’s people today? I know many who feel like we are “living in exile” – trapped in a hostile culture that at best ignores faith and at worst seeks to stamp it out. And so, like the exiles of long ago we cling to the promise that God has plans for us – plans to give us a hope and a future. But along with the words of hope, will we heed God’s word of instruction? Will we pray for and seek the peace and prosperity of even the enemy, because – in so doing – we secure not only their blessing, but our own as well?
What would it look like for you and me to “seek the peace and prosperity” of our city today? And what prayers do we need to pray (and if you really want to be challenged: for which of these prayers do we need to become the answer) so that even those who we perceive to be our enemies can experience the goodness of God?