Pray For Your Enemies!
The date was 597 B.C. and Nebuchadnezzar and his powerful armies attacked the people of Judah and overpowered their defenses. They broke down the walls surrounding Jerusalem and captured the city. After ransacking the homes and destroying Solomon’s’ temple, the Babylonians set fire to the city as the people of Judah stood by helplessly and watched.
After stealing everything of value, the soldiers from Babylon rounded up nearly everyone since workers and artisans were always needed back home. Thousands of terrified Israelites would be shackled together in chains and led away to Babylon. It would be a mass human exile – with crying and moaning and tears - a whole nation kidnapped and on a forced march into slavery. According to Jeremiah 29:2, this group included all of the leaders in Judah, the king, the queen mother and the royal court, and all the workers and artists. Thousands of Israelites would be forced against their will to live among those who had taken them from their homes. Only a few of the poor and the infirmed were left behind in the smoldering ruins of Jerusalem.
It was during this dark time that God speaks to the frightened people. Jeremiah the prophet of God writes a letter to the Israelites after they had arrived in Babylon and were trying to adjust to their new life as slaves in a foreign land. Jeremiah writes this letter from Jerusalem which is now a broken and desolate city. This once busy city- now lonely -almost a ghost town,- its’ leaders and farmers and artisans and builders all carried away. Parents and children gone. Noise and laughter and hope gone. Only a remnant of the once proud nation of Judah, a few stragglers left there in the rubble.
These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent to the homesick Jews as they were settling into their new lives in Babylon. “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 what they 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.” (Jeremiah 29: 4-7)
The prophets of old had a difficult job – since they carried God’s word to people even when often it was rejected. The people of Judah had never wanted to hear Jeremiah’s messages. For years he had warned them that if they continued worshiping idols and breaking Gods’ laws they would be exiled from their homeland into slavery. For years God, speaking through Jeremiah, had begged the Israelites to return to Him. But the people had refused to listen. They refused to give up their idols. They laughed at Jeremiah and refused to return to God.
So now all of God’s warnings had come true. Jeremiah’s prophecies of what would happen if they didn’t repent had finally taken place. Their exile to Babylon was a punishment for their rejection of God and they knew it.
And now God speaks again to them through Jeremiah, telling them how to live their lives among the people who had forced them to leave their homeland. Jeremiahs’ prophecy doesn’t tell the people to fight the Babylonians. He doesn’t write a letter full of anger or revenge. Instead, he instructs the people to carry forward- to marry, have children, plant gardens, eat and drink and build houses. He even tells the people to pray for the Babylonians – pray for the people who took them away from their homeland!
Can you imagine receiving this letter and reading that you were to pray for the very people who had stolen your home? To work for their welfare? The people of Judah had a radical God. But doesn’t Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies as well? (Matthew 5:44) To do good to those who hate us and seek their welfare? We have a radical God too!
It seems that so often we put forth quality time and energy hating our enemies. And these efforts spent hating enemies just might take away from time we could spend loving those closest to us. God called the people of Judah to pray for their captors – their enemies- and work for their welfare. Instead of using up time hating and undermining the Babylonians, they were to fall in love, have children, plant gardens, eat and drink and build houses. And God also calls us to let up on our enemies and rather focus on creating and tending and on family and caring. In other words we are to live a life of love- and not of hate.
God still loved the people of Judah even though they had broken His heart by their rejection. Through Jeremiah’s messages God promised the people that He would bring them back from Babylon in seventy years and restore them to their homeland. He tells them: “For I know the thoughts that I have toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. …You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with your whole heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11and 13). Even though the people of Judah had given up on God, He hadn’t given up on them.
I believe that God has some of the same messages for us as He did for his people so long ago. He is hurt if we reject Him just as He was hurt back then with the people of Judah. And He wants good things for us and wants to give us a future and a hope as He wanted that for them. He also instructs us to pray for our enemies and to work for their welfare. That’s because like them we are to live a life focused on love and not on hate.
Pray for your Enemies!