To God's people in Exile, the Lord speaks challenging words through the prophet, Jeremiah:
“Seek the welfare of the city… and pray to the Lord on its behalf.” (Jeremiah 29:7)
This challenge connects to the covenant of old, in which God told Abraham He would bless him that Abraham and his children might be a blessing to the whole world. It does not matter that God’s people have been taken from Jerusalem; they are still able to fulfill their covenant purpose of being a covenant community of faith and blessing those among whom they lived.
There are several points about this challenge to “seek the welfare of the city” that I want to lift out. First is the meaning of the word translated here as “welfare” (or 'peace'). The underlying word here is shalom. Depending on context and shade of meaning, it can mean peace, well-being, completeness, wholeness, blessing, or as translated here, welfare. The use of shalom here stands in marked contrast to what the Jewish exiles seem to have lost. Taken from home, they felt lost, broken, incomplete, and cursed – anything but shalom. Yet God asks – even commands – that they pray on behalf of the city of Babylon for the very thing that they feel is missing. Can you imagine? I think some of you can, as you are identifying with the kind of loss the Exiles experienced.
“What about me, Lord? What about MY welfare?"
Interestingly, God says, “In the city’s welfare you will have welfare.” Pray for the shalom of this city and her people – the place where you are exiled – and as they experience my peace, healing, and wholeness, then YOU will experience my peace, healing, and wholeness.
“But Lord, I had those things back in Jerusalem. I just want to get home.” In this case, the Lord had them in Babylon for a reason, and peace was not to be found in returning to the place from which they had come. Peace and healing and wholeness and blessing was to be found in their praying and God’s providing shalom for the city of Babylon.
The New Testament talks about some teaching as milk and some as meat. Well this, I believe, is a thick bit of steak. The shalom that I long for – that I NEED, Lord –
...is not found in the place I came from,
...nor where I think I might go,
...but in obediently following the Lord to the place He leads.
Adapted from the full sermon here.