The Letter to the Captives — Righteous Living in an Unrighteous Society

| February 5, 2015

lightbulb_letter_to_the-CaptivesThe Babylonian Captivity is the time Old Testament history, when Judah was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar, its people systematically deported to Babylon, and its cities destroyed, until there was nothing left except the faith of those who held to the promises of God and to the words of Scripture.  These 70 years in Babylon are for us lessons for righteous living in an unrighteous society.

Babylon is the very definition in Scripture of worldliness and materialism, a culture of required political correctness where spin passes for religion – so much so that the Book of Revelation uses “Babylon” as a shorthand for the economic, social, political and religious systems of the world. For the believing Jews deported there, it was definitely not home: God was not honored, His word was not obeyed, His very existence was denied.

Nevertheless, the faithful of Israel survived.  They came back from that exile with their faith intact, and with their faith passed on to their children.  They survived as a nation, when no other ancient society did. And they did more than survive in that culture — they triumphed over it.

The principles of their success were laid out in a letter that the prophet Jeremiah wrote in the early years of that exile, recorded in Jeremiah 29.  In it, Jeremiah explains how they were to live and remain true to their faith, while they waited for the Lord’s promised redemption.

This Letter to the Captives is as timely today as it was 2,500 years ago.  It lays out four foundation principles, by which Christians today can live so as to greatly impact our society while remaining pure from it.

FIRST, BE FAITHFUL IN DAILY LIFE.   Jeremiah opens his letter, telling the exiles to Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit.  Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters—that you may be increased there, and not diminished.

Jeremiah tells the exiles to unpack their bags, and make a life in the world where they are.  Build houses, plant gardens, raise your family.

The triumph by the faithful of Israel will not be won by a dramatic deliverance or a great miracle.  Rather, it will be won by daily faithfulness — faithfulness in the way we keep our homes, run our businesses, and raise our families.  The Lord will be in everything that we do.

Our lives are the sum total of our days, and the sum total of our decisions.  The vast majority of our days and of our decisions are about commonplace things.

It is the delight of God to use the small things of life to bring about His great purposes. The Lord has chosen the foolish things, the weak things, and the base things of life to work His will.  So in whatever we do, in the most commonplace things of life, we do all in the name of Jesus Christ.

SECOND, BE ENGAGED IN YOUR COMMUNITY.  Jeremiah tells the captives to seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace.

Engagement in our community is honoring to the Lord.  We should seek the peace, the good, and the prosperity of the city (even Babylon).

There is too often today a thought among Christians to withdraw from the world; and that the only way to be separate from it is to be isolated in it.  Respectfully, I disagree.  In order to impact our society, we have to be engaged in it and be a part of it.

Throughout Scripture, we see people of faith, actively taking part of the world around them.  Abraham, who the Canaanites said was a mighty prince among them (Genesis 23: 6).

Isaac lived among the Philistines and prospered greatly.   Job sat in the gates of his city and was involved in its affairs – he said that men “waited for me as for the rain” (Job 29: 23).

Moses was “learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7 :22). Daniel and his companions put this principle into direct practice.  They did not withdraw from the court of Babylon, they excelled in it.

Most of all, the Lord Jesus Christ, engaged people in their daily lives – in the synagogues, in the marketplaces, at a well, at a wedding, along the road – He was not hard to find.

Christians should be involved in our communities and in its secular affairs.  We should support education, public works, the arts, museums, medicine, science, children’s programs and care for the aged.  We should seek the peace of the city, seek the good of the city, seek the advancement of the city and pray for it.

In the words of President George W. Bush, in his first inaugural address:
What you do is as important as anything government does. I ask you to seek a common good beyond your comfort …  to serve your nation, beginning with your neighbor. I ask you to be citizens: citizens, not spectators; citizens, not subjects …  building communities of service and a nation of character. … When this spirit of citizenship is missing, no government program can replace it.  When this spirit is present, no wrong can stand against it.

THIRD, DON’T LISTEN TO THE CHRISTIAN-SPEAK.   The Letter to the Captives then has a word directly from the Lord:  For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are in your midst deceive you, nor listen to your dreams which you cause to be dreamed.  For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them, says the Lord.

Throughout the days of the exile, there were prophets who told the people that the Lord would quickly deliver them.  The very occasion for the letter was the “prophecies” of Hananiah in Jeremiah 28, that within two years the power of Babylon would be broken, the captives of Israel would return, and the treasures of the Jerusalem would be restored.

The people rejoiced to hear it, but it wasn’t true.  It was just noise.

There is a lot of  Hananiah –Speak among Christians today, with success promised in the Name of the Lord. Christians in business are promised that God has set aside a measure of prosperity for them, so that by speaking a blessing or writing a vision, their success is assured. This is neither Biblical nor is it true, but rather is what the apostle Paul called “peddling the Word of God” (II Corinthians 2: 17).

Jeremiah pulls no punches as to how strongly the Lord feels about promises supposedly made in His Name:
Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you.
They make you worthless; They speak a vision of their own heart,
Not from the mouth of the Lord…. [they] prophesy lies in My name …  Indeed they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart,  who try to make My people forget My name by their dreams …  as their fathers forgot My name for Baal. (23: 16 – 27).

Essentially, building your faith on such ideas is the equivalent of turning to Baal – it looks religious, it sounds religious, but it is not real and it is certainly not the Lord.  And it will “make you worthless.”

Many Christians have suffered great loss, whether in finances or in relationships or sometimes even the loss in their faith.  Because when somebody like Hananiah makes you a promise that the Lord is supposed to fulfill, and it does not happen, then faith can be shaken to its core.

FOURTH, BE PATIENT AND HOPEFUL IN THE LORD.   This Letter to the Captives contains one of best known promises of the Lord’s deliverance (verses 10, 11): For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.

The Lord knows the world we live in, He knows our times, and He knows His own mind.  It was all going to be just as the Lord said that it would.  When 70 years were accomplished, the heart of Cyrus was stirred, a new decree was written, and the captives (or for the most part their children) would go home.

Today, we are their spiritual descendants.  Their faith is alive and well, while the glory of Babylon is long gone.  The Word of the Lord has been confirmed.

And one day, it is all going to happen for us just as the Word of the Lord has said it would, and all of us will get to go home together.

Until then, here in our Babylon – Be faithful in daily life; Be engaged in your community; Ignore the Christian-Speak and the noise; and Be ever hopeful in the Lord.

Category: Faith

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Email | Website | Thomas Schetelich is a founding principal in the law firm of Ferguson, Schetelich & Ballew in Baltimore, Maryland, and a member of the United States Supreme Court Bar. He heads both the firm’s corporate/ business law practice and its personal legal services department. He is an AV rated attorney awarded for highest standards of professional skill and ethical practice. Mr. Schetelich devotes much of his practice to assisting charitable and religious organizations, and is the President of The Christian Professional Network. He is a frequent speaker on Biblical and legal matters throughout the United States.