Exploring the Scripture
In times of distress and crisis, people need hope and reassurance. But there is a difference between hope and blind optimism. Refusing to engage in life and the harsh realities of difficult circumstances is counterproductive when people must adjust to new challenges on the faith journey. False prophets easily misled not only the people dealing with conquest in Judah but also the exiles facing a new culture and oppression in Babylon.
These false prophets told the people to be patient; that soon, everything would be okay: ‘Don’t do anything. Just trust God. It will all work out fine.’ (See Chapters 27 and 28, for example.) Jeremiah had to combat these attractive promises of quick restoration.
Today’s text is part of a letter Jeremiah sent to the exiles in Babylon, countering false assurances that they would soon return to the land of Judah. The letter is addressed to the elders, priests, prophets, and people in Babylon. The advice is straightforward, practical, and radically different from the expected counsel.
The exiles are to create a new life in Babylon and fully invest where they are. “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce” (v. 5). The people were to re-create their familiar community and lifestyle in Babylon, instead of withdrawing into grief and letting life pass them by.
The words of counsel tell them to create loving family relations, including marriage. They are to plan for the birth of sons, daughters, and grandchildren. The message is clear: you will be in Babylon for many years.
In verse 10, Jeremiah’s message suggests the exile will last for 70 years. Don’t waste your time waiting for something else to happen, but rather embrace the life you can make in exile. Ensure the survival and future of the people of God by multiplying.
More radical still is the instruction to seek the welfare of the foreign city in which they live, and to pray for Babylon. Why? “For in their welfare resides your welfare” (Doctrine and Covenants 163:4a). This instruction is radically opposite to the attitude of hate, rebellion, and resentment that usually arises among captive people. Centuries later, Jesus would say to his disciples, “‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…’” (Matthew 5:44).
People—even exiles—do not exist in a vacuum. Although the exiles might well create their own small community within a community, they still must interact with the Babylonians in their servitude, their professional lives, their buying, and their selling. How they treat their captors will affect the treatment they receive.
The testimony of their religion lies in the manner in which they conduct themselves during trying circumstances. Efforts to create a cohesive, normal pattern of everyday life while striving for the welfare of the Babylonians around them will provide stability and hope until God chooses to restore them to Israel.
More importantly, Jeremiah understood the Babylonian captivity as occurring within the divine plan of God. The Babylonians were merely tools in the hands of God, carrying out God’s will. By submitting to the Babylonians, the people were recognizing and submitting to God, acting within their history.
- Jeremiah’s letter was sent to counter false predictions of a quick return to Judah.
- He told the exiles to build new lives, marry, and have children, to ensure the continuity of God’s people.
- Seeking the welfare of Babylon and praying for their captors is consistent with Christ’s teachings: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
- Jeremiah saw the Babylonians as God’s instruments in punishing the Jews. By submitting to their captors, the exiles were submitting to the will of God.
Questions to Consider
- Who are the false prophets of today who appease the people with popular and superficial advice of unrealistic optimism?
- How does the advice to “seek the welfare of the city” (v. 7) suggest the idea of Christians as sojourners (temporary residents, journeying towards God’s kingdom)?
- Read Jeremiah 29:7 about “seeking the welfare of the city,” and then read Doctrine and Covenants 163:4a. What similarities are there between these two sacred texts?
- Compare Jeremiah’s counsel to build communities in Babylon with the moment in Community of Christ history when Joseph Smith III advised the scattered church members to create lives as disciples where they already were settled. (See pages 122–124 in The Journey of a People: The Era of Reorganization, 1844 to 1946, by Mark Scherer, published by Community of Christ Seminary Press.)
- How does God work through history? Did God use the Babylonians as tools to punish the people of Judah? What do you believe?