To refresh our memories, God deported the Jews to Babylon for a lifetime (70 years). This prosperity preacher’s opus (Jeremiah 29:11) is part (only part) of the letter to the exiles that he inspired Jeremiah to write.
If you’ll look at the entire letter you’ll see that just four verses before he commanded them to:
“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
Again, though the NIV uses the word “prosper,” (three times!) in each case God used the Hebrew term rife with meaning, “shalom,” which means something much more and much better than personal prosperity. Oh, and when the translators of the NIV rendered it, “Seek peace and prosperity,” they’re translating one word, “shalom,” into those two words. The verse actually says, “Seek the shalom of the city… because if it has shalom you too will have shalom.”
I’m not trying to be technical here, but my point is that if we’re going to be seeking something we should know what it is! It’s not prosperity, at least not in its common connotation. We might be wise to remember Jesus’ command to “Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added to you.” That is, set your sights on the kingdom, and the things you need, which Jesus had just said were having enough to wear, drink and eat, would come serendipitously. Note that he was speaking of basic human needs and that the “all these things” were not better houses, cars, and wardrobes. So Jesus and Jeremiah were saying something similar – seek shalom/the kingdom and God will give you the stuff you need.
Jeremiah told them to seek shalom, though not for themselves, but for the city in which they were exiles. His promise of shalom for themselves was conditioned on their willingness to pray and work for the shalom of their captors! “Seek Babylon’s shalom and its shalom leads to your shalom.” I would add, “Seek it for yourself and you’re likely, if not destined, to miss it altogether.” Again, Jesus: “He who wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”
This is one of the most disturbing things about a Christianity oriented to prosperity. It begins and ends with me, myself, and I, and has little to no regard for the us. And I don’t mean just the us under the same roof, but the us under the same sky, i.e. all of us, including faithless Babylonians! Jeremiah makes it clear that the path to shalom is by seeking it for the community. In our individualistic Western mindset, we seldom think about our interwovenness with the rest of humanity.
The only way to reweave and strengthen the fabric is by weaving yourself into it. Human beings are like those threads thrown together onto a table. If we keep our money, time, and power to ourselves, for ourselves, instead of sending them out into our neighbors’ lives, then we may be literally on top of one another, but we are not interwoven socially, relationally, financially, and emotionally. Reweaving shalom means to sacrificially thread, lace, and press your time, goods, power, and resources into the lives and needs of others. Tim Keller
“Seek peace for Babylon… Pray to the Lord for it…” Amen! Wait. What? “I’ve been praying for judgment for Babylon and peace for Jerusalem like we’re commanded!”
Funny how things get emphasized in the way we live out our faith, how one aspect of truth gets more attention than others. None of us come to the Bible with a blank slate. We all have our own cultural and preferential lenses through which we look at the Word. Peace for Jerusalem and for Babylon, judgment!
If I’ve heard people quote the verse about praying for “the peace of Jerusalem” once I’ve heard it a thousand times (conservatively speaking). I mean no knock on praying for the peace of national Israel. It’s such a mess in the Middle East, and we should be praying for peace. There is that one place in Scripture to warrant focusing our peace prayers on Jerusalem (Psalm 122). But never once have I heard a call to pray for the “peace of Babylon!” Leaving you in suspense about how to do that for the moment…
Why in the world would Jeremiah’s countrymen want to pray for Babylonians to experience shalom? The Babylonians had just decimated their capital, killed thousands of their family members and friends, and took the rest hostage in their foreign land. Where did God get the audacity to ask them to pray for peace (shalom) for Babylon? The same place Jesus got his audacity to tell his disciples, who were under a brutal Roman domination, to love their enemies and bless them!
To summarize: How do we get “prosperity” (shalom) for ourselves? By bringing it to Babylon! Shalom comes to us as we give it away.