Finding Hope in Reverse ExileBy Karl Whittingstall
February 18, 2021
As 2020 has rolled into 2021 I have been thinking a lot about the people of God in Exile. It’s been easy to feel like an exile; alone, missing normal, disconnected from conveniences and social norms. However, the key component of being an exile is not being at home. Even though we may feel the same thing that God’s people in exile felt, we are actually in a reverse exile. For the most part, we haven’t been ripped from our homes and forced to leave our countries. Actually, we are encouraged not to leave our homes and we can’t leave the country. As I write this now, where I am, we are in a lockdown. All of our schools are online, all businesses are limited to essential services only, and churches are functioning online or in groups of no more than ten people. Have you been where I am, in reverse exile?
God spoke often to his people in exile! Through Jeremiah 29 the Lord has been encouraging me and I pray he will to you as well.
In this chapter, Jeremiah is writing to God’s people in the early part of a long exile (really hoping our pandemic doesn’t go on for another 70 years as their exile would!). Read with me what Jeremiah wrote:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 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. 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.“
I want you to see three points that the Lord has encouraged me with. Maybe you need to hear these, and maybe people in your life and church need to hear these too.
1. God Is In Control
The first comes from verse four: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” God’s people in their exile had to remember that the Lord of hosts, the God of their ancestor Israel was in control of how they landed where they were and still is in control. Matthew Henry wrote “It will help very much to reconcile us to our troubles, and to make us patient under them, to consider that they are what God has appointed us to.” We must not allow our circumstances to change our understanding of God. Our circumstances are not only compatible with God’s plan for our lives—they are his plan for our lives. Wherever you are, in exile or reverse exile, you are there because God willed it. There is always peace to be found in trusting God, who loved us enough that while we were sinners Christ died for us. Wherever God has you is no worse than from where he has rescued you.
2. Embrace Where You Are
Even in exile, God tells his people what to do: build houses and live in them, plant gardens and eat of them, take wives, be given in marriage and multiply and do not decrease. This exile was not going to end any time soon. But here we see God encouraging them to embrace where they are because he put them there. It isn’t a mistake. A global pandemic can be exhausting. Many people have stalled out in life hoping to “get things going” again when it is over. The Israelites were going to be in exile for 70 years and God didn’t want them to waste it. God doesn’t want us to waste this reverse exile either. Ministry isn’t easy on Zoom, in smaller gatherings, unable to give a hug and hiding behind masks, but this is where we are. Building homes and planting gardens in a foreign land wasn’t ideal either, but that was God’s plan. Even in reverse exile, with everything not as we would like it, the call for all of us is to make the best of this and serve the Lord, whenever he has us. The time you have entrusted to you is from the Lord to use well, it might not be easy or ideal, but it must not be wasted.
3. Call Upon the Lord
The last point, taken from verse seven, is a call for prayer, specifically of those in the city around you. I have been praying a lot this past year—but for my city and the “welfare” of those around me? Not as much as I should have. On the subject of praying for the city the people of God lived in, God said “ in its welfare you will find your welfare.” That has been very true over the last year wherever you live. If the pandemic numbers are going up or the welfare of your city is endangered, then everything, including your welfare, will begin to change. Whether we want to be where we are, God sent us, or we got ourselves into some mess, prayer must be our go-to. Prayer is our declaration of our need for God, it is faith articulated and it is how God has called us to endure this life.
He Will Care For You
Exile from home and country would have been far more difficult than I can imagine. Reverse exile has not been how most people had hoped to spend the last year or so, but this is where we are. Where we are is by design. The God who loves us, cares for us, and watches over us is in control. So wherever he has you, embrace it, live in it, don’t waste it but faithfully make the best of it. We can’t do it alone. We need his help. So pray.
Maybe you know all this, like I did, but needed to hear it again. I also know others who need to hear the truth of God’s sovereignty, care and plan for them, as described in His word. So share the truth of God’s care, God’s plan, and God’s love as you seek the Lord with others to make it through this reverse exile.