In the context of this passage, the Israelites were exiles and refugees. Jerusalem had fallen to the Babylonians in 587 BCE.
Because the Israelites resisted the authority of the Babylonians, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, took the elite group: which consisted of the leaders of Israel, the priests, the prophets, the royals, the court officials, the craftsmen and the artisans to the Babylonian Empire. Many of the Israelites were killed (Jeremiah 39). Those left behind intermarried and became the Samaritans.
The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel told this generation of Israelites the reason they were exiled was because they disobeyed God. They had rebelled against God, and this was their punishment. They were hoping that the exile will only last only for a little while but, the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel told them that their exile might last for 3 generations. If the average of a generation was 20 years, 3 generations might mean up to 70 years. The Israelites would be in the exile for at least 70 years.
As time passed, the adults who witnessed the fall of Jerusalem began to die out. A new generation of adults was emerging. This new generation was either children when Jerusalem was destroyed, or they were not yet born.
God sent a letter to these Israelites in exile through the prophet Jeremiah. In this passage, God told them to do 3 things, which we will look at in this mini series. Let us see what we should learn from God’s message to the exiles and what we could apply in our own lives.
(1)Build your home
To the exiles and refugees in Babylon, God instructed them, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” (verse 4, NIV)
The Israelites were to build their own houses in the city of the enemies, and even growing their gardens. Building a house, planting a garden and harvesting its fruits or vegetables were not activities which could be accomplished overnight or over a short period of time. Building, planting and harvesting would take time. So, God was telling them to settle down in this place. Don’t treat this place like a temporary spot or a prison in which they were held in, but make it their homes.
They were to be involved in this city and grow their roots in the city.
It seemed strange that God was telling them to settle down here, in an enemy’s country. But take note of verses 1, 4, 7 and 14. Verse 1 tells us that Nebuchadnezzar had carried them into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. But, verse 4 tells us, “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” Verse 7, “I have carried you into exile”. And verse 14 also says, “the Lord declares, ‘I will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile’.
God reminded His people that although it seemed Nebuchadnezzar had arrested them and put them in Babylon, God reassured them that ultimately, He was in control. It was God who had allowed the exile to Babylon. And verses 10 and 11 tell us the reason why. God brought them to Babylon because He had a purpose for them. A purpose and a plan which gave them hope and a better future compared to if they had remained in Jerusalem.
As long as they were still in Babylon, they would have to make a home in the city that was different from Jerusalem. In Babylon, they were surrounded by pagans who had different values, cultures and so on. The Israelites were not to be like one of the Babylonians by adopting their lifestyles, cultures, beliefs and faiths. Instead, they were to set themselves apart, remembering that they belonged to God. May be God had placed them in Babylon to be a blessing to the Babylonians and that the city would continue to flourish.
This calling is for us today too. God had led our ancestors to Malaysia, to be a blessing to this land. God had given us gifts so that we can make this city flourish. God has been and is calling Christians to be a blessing to this land, to flourish this city economically and spiritually by bringing His light, love and peace into this nation.