Day 122: Praying for the Peace of Babylon

Jeremiah 29:1-7

Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the residue of the elders of the captivity, and to the priests, to the prophets, and to all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon, (after Jeconiah the king, the queen mother, the eunuchs, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the smiths, had departed from Jerusalem), by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan, and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, (whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon). It said:

Yahweh of Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives whom I have caused to be carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and dwell in them. Plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and father sons and daughters. Take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there, and don’t be diminished. Seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to Yahweh for it; for in its peace you will have peace.”

One thing that we get to enjoy in the Bible is the ability to read other people’s mail. This is one of those letters. This doesn’t mean that reading other people’s mail is a virtue. It’s OK to do here because it’s an “open letter” that God wanted everyone to see. In this case, it’s the letter that Jeremiah sent to the captives that had already been taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. It’s a letter that was meant to be spread around to all of them. This is the very same way that much of the New Testament was written. Many of those books are simply letters that were intended to be read by many people. Perhaps this letter was a pattern for the ones to come.

Jeremiah’s letter is actually very comforting. Not only does it give the people specific instructions from God, those instructions are that they should settle down and start building families in Babylon. He told them to go ahead and plant gardens and eat the fruit of the land. Not only were they to live in peace, God told them to seek the peace of the city. In fact, God bound the two together. Their peace would now depend on the peace of Babylon.

Right before I started writing this today, I listened to a message that stated that America is a secular government and it has become increasingly anti-Christian. In a way, America is one of the last parts of “western society” to become anti-Christian. Beside the fact that “secular government” is wrong and should never have been celebrated, what should our response be as Christians to the situation that we now find ourselves in?

Some have decided to protest. Others have become more politically active. This radio program suggested that the Gospel needed to be preached. All of these things sound good to me, but how do any of those things solve the identity problem America has. If we are secular, we can’t be “under God.” The two don’t go together because God clearly says that there should be no other gods before Him. If America is a secular nation, what should a Christian do about it? If we are to hate the world, should we fight against America? I would suggest that since God has not given us any other option, that we follow God’s word that Jeremiah gave to the captives. Let’s pray for the peace of America. That doesn’t mean that we accept secularism. Peace can’t come from secularism. It can only come from Christianity. When we pray for the peace of our nation, we are also praying for the Gospel and that America will become a nation that is under God, because without Jesus there can be no peace. When America is truly at peace, we will also be at peace.

Day 117: God Chooses King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon

Jeremiah 27:1-7

In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from Yahweh, saying, Yahweh says to me: “Make bonds and bars, and put them on your neck. Then send them to the king of Edom, to the king of Moab, to the king of the children of Ammon, to the king of Tyre, and to the king of Sidon, by the hand of the messengers who come to Jerusalem to Zedekiah king of Judah. Give them a command to their masters, saying, ‘Yahweh of Armies, the God of Israel says, “You shall tell your masters: ‘I have made the earth, the men, and the animals that are on the surface of the earth by my great power and by my outstretched arm. I give it to whom it seems right to me. Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant. I have also given the animals of the field to him to serve him. All the nations will serve him, his son, and his son’s son, until the time of his own land comes. Then many nations and great kings will make him their bondservant.

No one should ever accuse God of failing to communicate. God is the very best communicator and this book of Jeremiah is a great example. God has been speaking much the same message over and over in various ways to various people on earth through Jeremiah. Here, God chooses to send an illustration out with messengers to the nations in the middle east. He has Jeremiah make bonds and bars and then makes him wear them. Then, he gets messengers and sends these bonds and bars to five nations. You can imagine how getting a bond or a bar in the mail would get your attention. If the messenger was then to tell you that Jeremiah, a prophet in Israel, wore these and took them off to have me bring them to you. Then he would tell them that Jeremiah said that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon is going to take over your land and all of the land in the area because Israel’s God, the One who made it all, has decided. That would communicate don’t you think?

God is also communicating to us right now through this message. He’s reminding us that He “made the earth, the men, and the animals that are on the surface of the earth” by His power. It reminds us that He is the One who is in complete control of all of the leadership on the face of the earth. Notice that eventually, even Nebuchadnezzar’s time of judgment was to come and at that time, the land was to be taken from him. I’m not sure that Nebuchadnezzar was willing to admit that He was God’s servant at first, yet, that’s what God called him. The Bible tells us that God calls all who have positions of authority, His servants. God even chose us to be parents or older siblings or aunts and uncles. We were given authority by our birth order not by our power. God has and always will control the governments of the world and we have nothing to worry about. Our job is to depend on God’s good purposes and obey His word.

Day 97: God Directly Confronts the Government Officials

Jeremiah 22:1-5

Yahweh said, “Go down to the house of the king of Judah, and speak this word, there: ‘Hear Yahweh’s word, king of Judah, who sits on David’s throne, you, your servants, and your people who enter in by these gates. Yahweh says: “Execute justice and righteousness, and deliver him who is robbed out of the hand of the oppressor. Do no wrong. Do no violence to the foreigner, the fatherless, or the widow. Don’t shed innocent blood in this place. For if you do this thing indeed, then kings sitting on David’s throne will enter in by the gates of this house, riding in chariots and on horses, he, his servants, and his people. But if you will not hear these words, I swear by myself,” says Yahweh, “that this house will become a desolation.” ’ ”

When we read passages like these, we get to hear some of the specific duties that government officials have been assigned by God. With passages like these available, it’s impossible to say that we don’t know what God’s will is for a government. By giving us this historic documentation, we know what God expected of Israel and since Israel is an example for other nations, we know what God expects of our nation’s leaders as well.

God expected the leadership to “execute justice and righteousness”“deliver him who is robbed out of the hand of the oppressor”“do no wrong”“do no violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow”, and “Don’t shed innocent blood.” God said that a failure to follow these rules would result in the government becoming “a desolation.”

Notice that God made this clear by sending a messenger directly to the government to speak on His behalf. Just in case the word of Jeremiah’s speaking out at Gehenna and in the temple courts didn’t make its way to the king, God sends Jeremiah directly to him. I believe that God sends messengers directly to government leaders today too. These leaders have a responsibility to listen to the will of God when they lead. They are not supposed to be mistreating Christians when they have not done anything wrong. They are not supposed to be promoting those who do evil because of their bribes or because they are afraid of them. They are not supposed to be permitting and encouraging abortion which is the shedding of innocent blood. Government leaders are supposed to be representatives of God Himself on earth. They aren’t supposed to be doing anything He wouldn’t do. To suggest that the Bible teaches that there should be a separation of God and state, is absurd. God obviously expects government leaders to be in tune with Him as they make every decision because the God of Israel is the ultimate authority over the earth. Let’s not allow the tricky comments of modern leaders to deceive us on this issue.

Day 96: How God Deals with a Misbehaving Government

Jeremiah 21:11-14

“Concerning the house of the king of Judah, hear Yahweh’s word: House of David, Yahweh says,
‘Execute justice in the morning,
and deliver him who is robbed out of the hand of the oppressor,
lest my wrath go out like fire,
and burn so that no one can quench it,
because of the evil of your doings.
Behold, I am against you, O inhabitant of the valley,
and of the rock of the plain,’ says Yahweh.
‘You that say, “Who would come down against us?”
or “Who would enter into our homes?”
I will punish you according to the fruit of your doings, says Yahweh;
and I will kindle a fire in her forest,
and it will devour all that is around her.’ ”

It’s not unusual for sinners to become so comfortable with God’s patience that they start to believe that they are immune from any trouble. David’s family was blessed by God, but they were never immune from God’s wrath. God said that if his family were to ever stray from His law, they would be severely punished and that’s exactly what was about to happen to them.

If you were to hear a word from the Lord, you wouldn’t ever want it to be like this one. God’s word to His people was one of great judgment. I have heard people act as if we shouldn’t preach to people about God’s judgment as a means to get them to consider salvation. I definitely don’t agree with that suggestion. It is true that it is God’s goodness that leads us to salvation, but how would we ever understand God’s goodness unless we are told about our impending judgment? God’s goodness comes from the fact that the judgment that we should have received was taken away.

Another thing to pay attention to is what God tells them that they should be doing. The House of David was the house of kings. God was making a political statement here. Once again we see that politics are a large part of God’s message in the Bible and what we read here reminds us of the legitimate function of a good government. God clearly tells us that the work of a government is to “execute justice in the morning, and deliver him who is robbed out of the hand of the oppressor…” God’s comment to His government comes with a severe warning. As to the consequences of not doing what they are supposed to do, God says: “lest my wrath go out like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.” So when you hear government officials talking about doing something that goes against what God says in the Bible, you know what God thinks about it and what will eventually be done to them. If God didn’t spare David’s family, He definitely won’t spare our leaders.

Day 39: Clash of Worldviews

John 5:10-14 : So the Jews said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath. It is not lawful for you to carry the mat.” He answered them, “He who made me well, the same said to me, ‘Take up your mat, and walk.'” Then they asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your mat, and walk’?” But he who was healed didn’t know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a crowd being in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “Behold, you are made well. Sin no more, so that nothing worse happens to you.”

Here’s another interesting exchange. The Jewish leadership caught the man who was healed walking around carrying his mat. Instead of asking how he was able to walk around, all they could see was that he was breaking their rules. It is amazing how blinding self-righteousness is. A miracle can happen and it can be ignored entirely. Later, in this book, we will see the Jewish leadership not only ignore a huge miracle, but attempt to destroy all the evidence. I have a hard time understanding this behavior. It is a reminder to me that some are so wicked in leadership that they will stop at nothing to maintain power.

Jesus found the man again and warned him not to sin anymore. This may be a case in which the man was sick because of sin in his life. Here way can see that Jesus was willing to heals sinners. He told this man to stop sinning so that nothing worse happens to him. You might be asking, “What could be worse?” Well, there is death, but there is also eternal punishment. Jesus maintained his focus on the eternal. If this man were to continue in his sin, he very well could end up on his way to Hell. Merely being sick would be fun compared to that. How good it is for us to follow Jesus’ example and see things from an eternal perspective.

I also want to mention that, at the time of Jesus’ ministry, the Jews were responsible under God to keep the Law of Moses as described in the Old Testament. Sacrifices were also required as a payment for sins. Things changed after Jesus’ death as we shall read more about later. This man was responsible under the Law, to be righteous, or face the penalties. Jesus knew the law well enough that He held this man responsible for his sins and also knew that it was not unlawful to heal or carry mats on the Sabbath.

The Government and the Gospel

The Bible shows us that Christians do have a responsibility to be involved in government. In my article: Exploring the Limits of Civil Government, I explain that Jesus’ commands apply to governments, not just to individuals and because they do, we have an obvious responsibility to inform our governments about God’s law. There’s another important reason for us to be involved, though, and that’s because the government plays a role in our ability to spread the Gospel.

The Separation of Church and State

Here in the United States, a Christian’s involvement in political matters may bring up concerns about “the separation of church and state,” but God calls us to make sure that everything we do and think is based on His word. The separation of church and state is not be taken to mean that the government is supposed to be neutral to all religions. Not only is this not a rational way of thinking, it is an immoral one too. I discuss that in my article: Christianity and the Separation of Church and State.

Both John the Baptist and Jesus Himself came announcing the arrival of the Kingdom of God. These things were very political in that day. It’s true that His kingdom wasn’t going to be coming to earth right away, but there definitely wasn’t a separation between the disciple of Jesus and politics.

Jesus’ clear command to us as His followers, is to spread the Gospel. Some have attempted to use this as an excuse to not be involved in politics, but the truth is that the Gospel is the very reason we should be involved in government.

God’s Moral Law

When I think of the Gospel, I usually think of God’s grace. I think of the fact that Jesus died for our sins and came back to life again so that we could live forever in Him. These are the facts of the Gospel, but these facts depend on whether or not we understand what is meant by “our sins.” Jesus had to die because of these sins. If a person doesn’t understand what his sins are, he could miss out on what Jesus is actually dying for. It is possible that if a person doesn’t understand sin properly, he may not even believe that he has sinned and if he hasn’t really sinned, he doesn’t really need Jesus to die for anything. A wrong view of sin leads to a wrong view of the Gospel and that leads people away from God and closer to hell.

Somehow, those we wish to bring the Gospel to, must learn about their sins and the only way for them to learn about them, is to have a proper understanding of God’s laws. A good summary of God’s laws are found in The Ten Commandments, and these laws are clarified even more by the rest of the Bible.

Cultural Immortality

When you consider the need for our culture to understand what sin means, it exposes a pretty wide gap in knowledge, depending on what culture you find yourself in. In some cultures, The Ten Commandments are pretty obvious because those cultures are already well aware of them. In other cultures, these commandments may not only be unknown, they may actually assume the opposite to be true.

In the United States, it used to be quite common for people to know about the actual Ten Commandments. I hope that when you read this it is becoming more and more popular to know them again, but if not, it still exposes a major reason for us to be involved in our governments.

When Government Ignores God’s Laws

There are many reasons why a culture drifts away from God, but a big one is that governments have chosen to ignore God’s laws in the Bible. Some of them purposefully oppose God, the Bible and The Ten Commandments. When this happens, it distorts the people’s understanding of right and wrong. Good things are considered to be bad, while bad things are considered to be good.

I have recently heard famous politicians boast about their efforts to make abortion easier for people to get. Not too long ago, politicians used to say that they were personally pro-life, but that they believed that everyone should have a choice. Things have changed quickly. Abortion went from something somewhat bad, to something you can choose, to something you have a right or even a responsibility to do! This all started about 50 years before this writing when the United States government decided to declare to the people that abortion was good. The Bible clearly says that abortion is murder. It is also a violation of God’s first command to mankind which was to fill the earth. These government actions not only destroy lives on earth, they are leading people to hell by harming the Gospel message.

As I explain in Christianity and the Separation of Church and State, God actually holds governments responsible to enforce certain parts of God’s law, such as the law to not commit murder. It’s true that we have blood on their hands if they don’t, but because they have corrupted the culture’s understanding of what is right and what is wrong, they have also made it difficult for Christians to spread the Gospel.

When a government says something is good and a Christian says that it is bad, the people have a conflict to overcome before they can even say that Jesus died for sin. In the most difficult cases, the Christian finds himself opposing the government just to speak out about the Gospel. The minds of the people are also being perverted as to what is right and wrong causing damage to the Gospel message. Because of the government’s stance on moral issues, people are more inclined to ignore the Gospel and continue in their sinful lifestyles.

When Government Upholds God’s Laws

When a government is acting properly, it punishes people for violating the civil laws found in the Bible. This makes it clear to people that the sin described in the Bible and reflected in their conscience is inexcusable. A person doesn’t have to be arrested for a sin to sense their own tendency to lean that way either. That’s where Jesus’ words have a greater effect for the Gospel. He told us that even if we hate our neighbor, we commit murder inside. The government can’t and shouldn’t be involved in punishing hate crime, but God does use our conscience to let us know when we are doing it. If the government says that abortion isn’t murder, for instance, it creates a conflict with our conscience. A person can still hate their own unborn child with little cultural accountability. They may even harbor a rebellious desire to stop filling the earth as God commanded, and pervert their conscience to the point at which they think it’s a virtuous thing.

Keeping Our Eyes on the Goal

When we do get into government issues, it is important for us to stay focused on our goal. Our focus isn’t on who wins elections. Our focus is on our Great Commission. That being said, we should also not assume that we have no responsibility to the governments of the world. The Bible tells us that we are the salt and light of the earth. Salt and light won’t do much good inside of our church walls. If we don’t participate in teaching our government their responsibility to obey God and promote His civil laws, this will also harm our efforts to obey the Great Commission as well.

Further Study

J.C. Ryle on the Government’s Role
This respected English pastor wrote about the separation of church and state over 100 years ago. Here’s some of what he had to say as it relates to Jesus’ comment to Pilate in John 18:36, when He tells him that His kingdom is not of this world.

Exploring the Limits of Civil Government
When is the government taking on too much? When isn’t it doing enough? In this article, I focus on the what government’s biblical responsibilities are and are not.

Christianity and the Separation of Church and State
What does the separation of church and state really mean? In this article, I explain that the separation of church and state does not mean that a government is supposed to be neutral when it comes to governing according to religious principles.