Gardens in Babylon
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.’
In this passage of Jeremiah, we find God’s people are physically in exile in Babylon, but their hearts are still living in a sense in Jerusalem. Surprisingly, God doesn’t give them a pass about this. He asks them to redeem the times. He asks them to help shape their space. God says, you can’t just twiddle your thumbs until I take you on to heaven. There is work for you to do in the meantime. You have to embrace the disruption. Live in the place you don’t want to be as if it were your true home. Oh, and you know how you used to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, now do the same for Babylon. This is a radical call. In the midst of pagan and godless empires, we are called to build pockets of redemption. We are to seek to enrich this culture with the life of the kingdom of God.
Were there any words or phrases that jumped out at you from this passage in Jeremiah 29? I noticed two phrases. ‘Plant gardens’, ‘Increase in number’. In these words, there are reminiscent echoes from the Garden of Eden. God is saying to his exiled people, whether you like it or not, you are here now, so grow and build this alien place into a garden Paradise - a place where God’s presence can dwell. Be fruitful! Increase! Multiply! Grow!’
What an amazing thought: Even in the worst of times, places, and situations, the people of God are called to flourish and grow in number; and together seek the peace and prosperity of where they are. Not waiting for things to get back to normal; seeking God’s redemptive purposes right here and now.
I know when I feel alienated from the world around me, I am tempted to withdraw and not get too involved. Am I avoiding getting involved rather than engaging right now? Lord, help me to care for the community in which I live. Lord, I pray for my city, my town, my village. Father, I yield myself to You and the way You are shaping me through the disruptions and limitations in my life. May I find Your peace where I am, with all its noise, dirt, and challenges.
There is a great song my son Joel loves to play that seems an appropriate prayer for this day. Here are the lyrics.
Build Your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Win this nation back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here