“The Abrahamic Position in Babylon”

 I recently spoke to a friend about how Jeremiah’s letter (Jer. 29) to the Jewish exiles in Babylon is quite applicable to Christians today – in whatever country they live.  I like how Christopher Wright talks about this on pages 99-100 of The Mission of GodNote: I’ve edited it slightly for the purpose of space.

“Babylon was not their permanent home, but it was their present home.  This, however, was far from a despairing resignation to their fate.   Jeremiah goes on: ‘Increase in number there; do not decrease’ (Jer. 29:6).  The echo of the Abrahamic covenant is surely not accidental.  …Israel would not die out but prosper – as other prophets likewise affirmed (Is. 44:1-5; 49:19-21; Ezek. 36:8-12).”

And based on Jeremiah 29:7, we can say this:

“The exiles had a task – a mission no less – even in the midst of the city of their enemies.  And the task was to seek the welfare of that city and to pray for the blessing of YHWH upon it.  So they were not only to be the beneficiaries of God’s promise to Abraham…they were also to be the agents of God’s promise to Abraham that through his descendants the nations would be blessed. …So let Israel assume the Abrahamic position in Babylon.  …Let them be a blessing there to those they live among by seeking and praying for their welfare.”

“There is something deeply ironic about this since of course the whole story of Israel had begun with Abraham being called out of the land of Babylon-Babel.  It might seem that history is going into reverse, with Israel being exiled ‘from Jerusalem to Babylon’ (Jer. 29:1, 4) – the opposite direction from the whole narrative of Israel thus far.  But in the mysterious purpose of God, the descendants of the one called out of Babylon in order to be the fount of blessing to the nations now return to Babylon in captivity and are instructed to fulfill that promise right there.  There is a typically divine irony, possibly noticed by Jesus, in this challenge to Israel to be a blessing to the nations by first all praying for their enemies (cf. the combination of blessing and prayer in Mt. 5:11, 44).”

“Such teaching, conveyed by Jeremiah’s letter, turned victims into visionaries.  Israel not only had a hope for the future (in the famous words of vv. 11-14), they also had a mission in the present.  Even in Babylon they could be a community of prayer and shalom.  As Ezekiel saw, YHWH was just as much alive and present in Babylon as in Jerusalem.  His universal power and glory would be felt in judgment, but would also protect and preserve his people through judgment for the sake of God’s own name, and for the fulfillment of his wider purposes among the nations.”

Christopher Wright, The Mission of God (Downers Grove: IVP, 2006).

shane lems

1 thought on ““The Abrahamic Position in Babylon””

  1. Hey, that is great stuff! This is common grace in working clothes. It is very helpful in placing the church’s role in society. Much of the frustration with USA politics that Bible believing Christians have is the sense that “they are taking away our country from us”–a country founded (at least in part) upon Christian principles, etc., now, in the voice of its “chattering classes”, treats us a freaks and bumpkins. So resentment and resignation creep in; but the Jeremiah 29 passage (and so many others in the Bible, of course) help us to see that we can bless and influence society even if we cannot run the show. In fact, often when Christians are booted from the saddle, they do much better work, because they can then concentrate on what God calls them to do.

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