Whole Life Whole Bible Day 22
Jeremiah 25:1 (NASB)
1 The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah (that was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon),
Jeremiah 25:8-9 (NASB)
8 “Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Because you have not obeyed My words, 9 behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will send to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land and against its inhabitants and against all these nations round about; and I will utterly destroy them and make them a horror and a hissing, and an everlasting desolation.
Jeremiah 25:11-12 (NASB)
11 This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.
12 ‘Then it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,’ declares the Lord, ‘for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it an everlasting desolation.
21: Loss and opportunity
Destruction of cities, despoliation of land, deportation of people. Then, as now, whole nations were vulnerable to military defeat.
Jeremiah declares the end game in the slow decline of the southern kingdom of Judah (the northern kingdom having been laid waste 150 years earlier), with a series of invasions by Babylon, culminating in the death blow of 586 bc, when Jerusalem fell, the temple and royal palace were destroyed, and much of the population was forcibly removed.
Aside from the geographical dislocation and political breakdown involved, the exile was an upheaval that shook the foundations of the very existence of God’s people, calling into question major sources of significance — the land that God had promised Abraham; the throne of David that would last for ever; the city of Zion that would never fall; the temple of the Lord, his dwelling-place, along with its priesthood and sacrificial apparatus. All were reduced to rubble.
Small wonder that the exile forced deep reflection about matters of identity, grounds of hope, reasons for suffering and symbols of faith. What had gone wrong? Was the Lord too weak? Or had he given up on his promises? Was there any future for the people of Israel?
Small wonder, too, that they responded in ways that disclose the intensity of the grieving experience: shock, anger, denial, guilt, nostalgia, acceptance. In fact, a substantial portion of the Old Testament writings flows out of the exile, reflecting different dimensions and articulating different responses — cries of lament, curses against enemies, expressions of doubt, protests of innocence and pleas for forgiveness — all directed to God. The common thread that runs through these responses is that although judgment comes from him, it will not be his last word: he remains committed to the covenant and his people.
It is sometimes said that churches today find themselves in a situation akin to ‘exile’, largely without privilege, no longer enjoying broad support, in an environment that is indifferent or hostile. But, as Israel’s history demonstrates, in God’s providence a time of exile can prove rich and fertile, where God’s people can live out an alternative lifestyle within the dominant culture, which doesn’t involve repudiating the culture. On the contrary, exiles who ‘seek the peace and prosperity of the city’ (Jeremiah 29:7) find their vocation in the here and now of the contemporary world, in the ‘secular’ sphere where the church must necessarily live.
Christian identity and mission are forged in the crucible of exile.
For further reflection and action
Read 2 Kings 25, the historical description of what was prophesied by Jeremiah.
‘Cries of lament, curses against enemies, expressions of doubt, protests of innocence and pleas for forgiveness.’ When things go wrong, which response — if any — is your default mode, and why?
Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in chapter 29 calls on them to ‘seek the peace and prosperity of the city’ (29:7) to which they have been carried in exile. What might that look like for ‘exiles’ in the contemporary world? In what concrete ways might you be able to do it today?
Visit LICC to find out more or get an overview of the Biblical narrative and the ways it can shape us by reading the Introduction to Whole Life, Whole Bible from the Whole Life, Whole Bible book.