Ever since I started going deeper into my journey of faith, I’ve been obsessed with the symbol of exile. I remember how in middle school, after reading The Lord of the Rings and geeking out over spiritual themes, I made this entire AOL instant message profile (remember those days, guys?) about being in exile. My username was “RangerInExlie” and I remember quoting something about Aragorn, a king, living willingly in exile while protecting secretly those who think he’s a scoundrel, and I also quoted the Bible calling us “strangers” and exiles in this land (1 Peter 2:11).
Yeah, it was a big deal to me. We are exiles. This is not our home, but we have work to do here. But then I got older, and I guess I kind of set that idea on the shelf. I still thought it was cool, but I stopped thinking about it.
Well, now I’m reading Jeremiah and his prophecies about God carrying the Jews into exile to Babylon, and the symbol of exile has been making its way back to the forefront of my mind, and God has been helping me to see it in new ways.
I love the history of the Old Testament, so here’s the deal in Jeremiah: Israel, the northern kingdom, has already been lost to Babylon, and the southern kingdom of Judah is about to be. The timeline skips around a bit, but in the chapters I’m speaking about in this post, King Jehoiachin has been captured, and a host of Jews have already been carried into exile, but Jerusalem remains under King Zedekiah and faces a two-year siege by the Babylonians. So Jeremiah prophesies. He doesn’t say that everything’s going to be okay, he says that the siege of the city is going to be successful, and the Jews are going to be carried into exile, no matter what other false prophets may say. But in chapter 29, he offers hope for the future. After seventy years, declares the LORD, the Jews will return. God will bring them back from captivity and restore their fortunes.
Okay, so you’ve been carried into exile, away from your home and the promised land of God, and now a prophet tells you that you will return …in seventy years. I’m trying to imagine what Jeremiah’s listeners must have thought. Surely most of them wouldn’t be around in seventy years, so they’re stuck in exile, where life seems worthless and unimportant. They’re captives of a foreign empire, and they know things aren’t going to change any time soon, so I imagine some of them would give way to despair. I probably would.
But what does Jeremiah say?
This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, 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.”
He tells them to settle, to make a life in Babylon, to make their time in exile purposeful. They are not wasted, their lives are not wasted. And they must rejoice. In chapter 31, the LORD calls them to praise, to sing with joy about His promise to save them, even if it won’t happen during their lifetime.
Reading Jeremiah has been an immense encouragement to me during this season. I don’t know what’s going on right now. I know that eventually, my future holds the fulfillment of some pretty awesome promises, but I don’t know how to get there yet. Unlike the exiles in Babylon, I don’t know if it’s going to take seventy years, or ten, or twenty, but it is comforting to trust that this time of waiting can be just as fruitful.
The name Jeremiah means “He will uplift,” which I find incredibly interesting, since most of his prophecies are about the destruction of Judah. But God promises, through Jeremiah, that after that destruction, He will uplift His people. In exile, He is with His people (30:11), and He will uplift them. For His plans are to prosper His people, not to harm them, and He will bring them back to Him.
In the time of exile, don’t despair.