Content in Exile

As the people of Judah were led away to Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah told them to expect a lengthy stay — to build houses, plant crops, have children, and live productive lives (Jeremiah 29:1-7). And despite the hardships and heartaches of being in a strange land, most Jews adjusted quite well to life in Babylon. During their seventy years there they adopted Babylon’s lunar cal­endar and its language of Aramaic. They worked, engaged in commerce, and prospered, with some even rising to high positions in government, like Daniel or Mordecai. As Walter C. Kaiser observes, “In comparison with those who had remained in the land of Judah, the exiles had the better deal.”

In 538 BC, the Persian king Cyrus finally decreed that the Jews could go home. This was in keeping with God’s promise to restore them to their land (see Jeremiah 29:10-14). Nearly 50,000 left for Palestine immediately (Ezra 1-6). Yet the book of Esther reveals that over fifty years later there was still a large Jewish popu­lation in Babylon and Persia. And the book of Nehemiah shows Jews prospering there nearly a century after Cyrus’ decree. In fact, an­cient writers such as Josephus tell us that most Jews were unwilling to return to Palestine. Why? Because life in Babylon was comfort­able; indeed, it was all many of them had ever known. Palestine was a long way away, and the prospect of returning there and rebuilding was diffi­cult. So most Jews were content to remain in exile.

It’s sad to think that so many of God’s people chose to stay in a foreign land rather than return to the home He had promised them. It’s sadder still to think that the same thing may be true of many of God’s people today.

Christians are “aliens and exiles” in this world (1 Peter 2:11, NRSV). Our stay on earth is only a journey; our destination — our home — is heaven (Philippians 3:20-21). But there is constant pressure to get comfortable here. That’s really what we mean when we talk about worldliness — becoming so satisfied with life in this foreign country that we forget about going home.

Satan wants us to dwell on the comforts of life here and the difficulties of the way that leads home, so that we’ll decide to pitch our tents in his kingdom permanently. But that is a fatal mistake, because “the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17).

Never forget that this world is not where you belong. The way Christ offers is not an easy way (Matthew 7:13-14), but it is the only way home. Never turn aside from it. Never be content to re­main in exile.