Reflection: Psalm 137; Jeremiah 29:1-14; Matthew 5:13-16.
The bitterness of captivity that resulted from the Babylonian deportation of the top echelon of the population of Jerusalem and Judah was recalled in Psalm 137 with a deep sense of sorrow, pain and vindictive anger. “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” was an understandable refrain. It would not be an exaggeration to surmise that the Jewish diaspora became a physical and spiritual enclave, having rejected everything Babylonian.
God had initiated the deportation process for more reasons than merely as a disciplinary lesson, but the Jewish siege mentality was becoming hateful (verses 8-9). Their human and environmental hang-ups were tearing them apart. So He instructed Jeremiah to be His voice (verses 5-7): “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” Jeremiah also prophesied that it would be seventy years later before repatriation, an implication that perhaps a whole generation may not outlive the exile. To treat Babylon as ‘home’ would require a staggering change of worldview for any deportee, but to play a part in the life of the nation is beyond ordinary comprehension.
The word ‘welfare’ is the Hebrew ‘shalom,’ and it includes elements of peace, justice and prosperity. The astounding message was clear – stop complaining, forget Jerusalem for now, and get on with life. Why? Because God cares about the world. He is as concerned for their welfare as He is for the interests of the Babylonians. They were to put their roots down, speak up and work for the peace and prosperity of Babylon. Incredible! But that has been God’s expansive heart all along. They were meant to be God’s light and salt in Babylon, but it would take Divine faith and courage to accomplish it.
Likewise, wherever He locates us, as part of His church, we are God’s testimonial. God’s people through the centuries have played a significant role in being their nations’ conscience (2 Samuel 12:1-15; 1 Kings 21; Matthew 14; Lord William Wilberforce; Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, among the well-known ones). There is nothing politically incorrect for His people to stand up against unrighteousness, inequity and evil. There is a need for the Christian voice to be heard, whether in captivity or otherwise. The proviso is that it be accomplished on the basis of “Shalom.”
In Singapore, we are going through some economic and social structural minefields due to the Government’s botched planning policies in the last two decades. The online social media’s response, an indication of Singaporean’s obvious ire, is distressing. What bothers me is the malice and hostility that typifies responses from both sides of the political spectrum. Parliamentary exchanges are as defensive and toxic. As a Christian, my sympathy lies with those who had been disadvantaged by policy mishaps. Apart from praying, I am challenged as to how I ought to respond in Christ-like shalom – by being the light and the salt in my community, and not just to complain (as I too have been guilty) and do nothing else! The welfare of the Singaporean Christian community is inextricably tied into the welfare of the ordinary Singaporean. This is an eternal lesson the Jews and us have to learn.