Sunday, October 11, 2020

Seek the Welfare of the City

This is a follow up post to yesterday’s article Are All Politics Local, in which we examined the Power of the Majority Party in the US Congress and noted several characteristics of Worldly and Godly Leaders.

Today, I’d like to discuss the application of Jeremiah 29 for the modern day Christian. In particular, we’ll address how God’s command in verse 7 for his people to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile” should apply to true believers in our earthly countries.

As our regular readers know, we must first look at what the verse meant to the original audience before we can begin applying it to ourselves. As I’ve said many times (I’m certainly not the first to say this), the three top rules for interpreting scripture are “Context, Context, and Context”. We know from verses 1-3 that the majority of the chapter contains a letter that the Prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the Jewish exiles that had been taken into exile to Babylon. So, looking at the immediate context, the letter begins:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jer 29:4-7)
At first glance, Jeremiah appears to be telling the people that their main objective is to become good citizens of Babylon. But looking at the entire chapter, along with the prevailing themes of the Book of Jeremiah as a whole, we find the narrative to be a bit more complicated.

Let’s begin with the bigger picture. The primary themes of the book are that a Holy God must punish His people for their constant disobedience to His covenant, but the Prophet also speaks of hope for the future. Thus, even though the people are currently in exile as punishment, they will later be restored to their homeland. In addition, there is also a running battle between Jeremiah the true prophet, and various false prophets who are constantly attempting to damage Jeremiah’s credibility among the people.

Continuing in verse 8, we read:

For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the LORD.

“For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

(Jer 29:8-14)
The false prophets were telling the people to resist rather than to serve the King of Babylon; that they would only be there for a short time. Jeremiah however, accurately informed the people that their captivity would last seventy years. Furthermore, this was God’s righteous judgment so any rebellion would also be against God.

So Jeremiah was basically telling the people to be good citizens in their temporary home for seventy years, but cautioning them not to get so comfortable that they would refuse to return to their homeland when it was time to leave. In addition, the command to multiply also looked forward to the end of captivity since it would primarily be the sons and daughters whose families would return.

Thus, the parallel we can draw for Christians in our modern day is that, while we’re here on this earth, we should likewise be good citizens, but we should not get so comfortable as to want to stay here forever. The Psalmist writes, The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away (Ps 90:10).

As the old saying goes, “We should be in the world, but not of the world” as we look forwward to our permanent home in Heaven.


Since this article is a follow-up to yesterday’s political post, I thought I’d address the meaning of the word “welfare” in our main verse. “Seek the welfare of the city” does not mean that we should vote for Socialist Democrats just because they’re attempting to turn the country into a welfare state (at least until they run out of everyone else’s money).

The word for welfare is translated “peace and prosperity”, “well-being”, or “the good” in various other Bible translations. It is the Hebrew word shalom that is most often translated “peace”, but also “welfare”, “safety” etc. Think of it as seeking the common good.

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