The past is another country they do things differently there, someone said. “By the rivers of Babylon,” the poet begins, “There we sat down, and there we wept when we remembered Zion.” Psalm 137:1 begins to expose the grief and loss of all they had come to know in this place, “we are the landless people of God,” the Psalmist must have been thinking.
In the first 39 chapters, Isaiah talks about the loss the people of God will experience and spend the rest of the book offering them a distant hope. It is a book about loss and restoration, and honestly, isn’t that what your life is about too.
Your life is not about trying to find happiness and just grow old and die. No, your life is about trying to figure out how to faithfully follow Jesus in the midst of hell breaking out in your life.
Ezekiel and Jeremiah talk about not getting a miracle rescue and ending up in captivity. You can track the themes of exile and restoration for the people who have lost their place. They are genuinely placeless. They are overwhelmed by grief for the way things used to be. They have to make a new home in a strange and different place, all because of him, Nebuchadnezzar, this King of this evil government, had taken them from the familiar place and destroyed their most precious landmark, Solomon’s Temple.
Darla and I have seen this breath-taking city in its glorious splendor. Riding on a tour bus that drove on a road sliced through the mountain as the ancient city of David from 3000 years ago now make this story of loss more real. I can see why they were weeping down by the river. I can only imagine what they would have felt having Solomon’s Temple taken from them, its artifacts stolen, and their entire civilization conquered. No more pilgrimages, they would have thought.
They would not have known that in a little over 500 years, the angels would appear to the shepherds in the fields announcing that glad tidings had come to the world. This evil empire’s armies also carried off anyone associated with the King’s court and their artist and craftsman. They were indeed a landless people. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? (Psalm 134:4)
Their weeping turned to grief and then to anger and venomous bitterness as they sit reflecting on what has been lost. All the temple prophets had told the people that God would do a miracle. That God would come through with a miraculous turnaround. “God promised David and Solomon that someone would always sit on the throne of David.” And God won’t lie, they told the tribes of Israel. There was only one voice that disagreed with the mainstream temple prophets, and he would be labeled a treasonous liberal, that Jeremiah, not defending the motherland.
God is doing something new, Jeremiah would tell them. He is going to make a new covenant with His people. Do not stake your life on what these prophets are telling you, these prophetic words are misinformed, and they are using them for their comfort and desire to keep things the same. The Temple has become about political manipulation and not about transcendence and meeting with God, Jeremiah would tell them.
Jeremiah told them to let go of their despair, that God never abandoned His people even if it felt like it, God would be with them, even in this landless place. Oh, how I know these feelings well. God will do a miracle people prophesied. And it only made sense. He’s made promises to us as a family, and obedient children always live a long time, don’t they?
Jeremiah 29:1-9 reveals Jeremiah’s contradictory advice from Hananiah as he schemes underground resistant movements to overthrow this evil government. God will help us and give us what we want, he promises. Jeremiah disagrees and advises don’t fight and scheme about resistance against this regime but instead work for the city’s welfare and this empire. Oh, don’t give up on your future. Go on living as normal as possible. You have lost your home, but you must make one here and now and do good under the view of empire. Trust that God sees you and has not abandoned you.
You will have to find a new expression of your old faith as you learn to live as the landless people of God with Solomon’s ornate Temple lying in the dust. Jeremiah gives them hope by reminding them:
1) The place you are currently is not intended to be your forever home anyway.
2) You are ambassadors in a culture that doesn’t serve your King anyway.
3) Your King doesn’t allow you the luxury to withdraw from this culture and create your own separate existence but rather be bright lights within it.
Jeremiah has good advice for times like these. The past is like another country, they do things differently there.