Before I proceed with my response to the question of living in exile I would like for you to read Jeremiah 29:1–23. Please pay very careful attention to the italicized portions of the text that I have added.
1 These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 This was after King Jeconiah, and the queen mother, the court officials, the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the artisans, and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem. 3 The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah son of Shaphan and Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom King Zedekiah of Judah sent to Babylon to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. It said: 4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 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. 7 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. 8 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, 9 for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord.
10 For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
15 Because you have said, “The Lord has raised up prophets for us in Babylon,”— 16 Thus says the Lord concerning the king who sits on the throne of David, and concerning all the people who live in this city, your kinsfolk who did not go out with you into exile: 17 Thus says the Lord of hosts, I am going to let loose on them sword, famine, and pestilence, and I will make them like rotten figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten. 18 I will pursue them with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, and will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be an object of cursing, and horror, and hissing, and a derision among all the nations where I have driven them, 19 because they did not heed my words, says the Lord, when I persistently sent to you my servants the prophets, but they would not listen, says the Lord. 20 But now, all you exiles whom I sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon, hear the word of the Lord: 21 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning Ahab son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying a lie to you in my name: I am going to deliver them into the hand of King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, and he shall kill them before your eyes. 22 And on account of them this curse shall be used by all the exiles from Judah in Babylon: “The Lord make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire,” 23 because they have perpetrated outrage in Israel and have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives, and have spoken in my name lying words that I did not command them; I am the one who knows and bears witness, says the Lord (NRSV).
I would like to draw your attention to the verse above that most underscores what I believe our strategy ought to be in our present cultural captivity. I refer to verse 7 which says: “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.”
Chapter 29 contains the letter that Jeremiah wrote to the Judean exiles in Babylon, who were taken there in 597 BC. Jeremiah takes advantage of a diplomatic mission from King Zedekiah to Nebuchadnezzar to send his letter, entrusting it to two envoys of Zedekiah. What follows in the letter is a prophecy. It foretells the future but, much more importantly, it exhorts the exiles about life in a foreign land, a strange culture that was radically opposed to their worship and practice. We read in verse 4 that it was the Lord himself who deported his people to Babylon. Put very simply, because God is the Lord of history they should pay particular attention to what he desires for their future obedience.
This news was most likely not what the exiles expected to hear. It was clearly not the message many “false” prophets were giving to them. So note what God tells these exiles to do: (1) Build houses in which to live; (2) Plant gardens and vineyards. There are two verbs here: build and plant. In Jeremiah 1:10 these same verbs were used but there the meaning appears to be spiritual while here it clearly is physical.
In verse six the exiles are told to marry and have children. The number of exiles must increase! (In new covenant terms this includes having families and children but it also takes on the added perspective of preaching the gospel and adding to the family of God through conversion!) This command is rooted in the mandate of Genesis 1:22, 28 as well as 9:1 when God tells the sons of Noah to do the same.