I spent several years of my life teaching young children, and one of the topics I got to teach was the Bible. The curriculum for my class covered Exodus through Judges, with readings from the New Testament scattered throughout the year. The children frequently laughed at the Children of Israels’ antics, wondering how they could keep disobeying the Lord and getting themselves into trouble when the Lord’s rules were so simple! And as an adult, I’d have my own private laugh because, of course, like the Children of Israel we make the same mistakes again and again…. Why don’t we learn? In revisiting a couple of my favorite OT passages a few months ago, I realized they were linked by the common thread of captivity, and I thought I’d briefly share my musings on the topic.
On the brink of entering the Land of Canaan after a 40-year “wander,” Moses gave a long final speech. Toward the end of that talk, he outlined the Lord’s law, and the choice between life and death: following the Lord’s law and living a blessed life, or turning away from Him, worshiping other gods, and living a cursed life, which he predicts will ultimately lead to captivity. But the story doesn’t end in captivity. Moses says that when the Children of Israel return to the Lord, He will gather them and bring them back to a fruitful, prosperous life in the Land of Canaan. Then comes my favorite part:
“For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.
“See, I have set before you today life and death, good and evil, in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess. But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in and possess. I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.” (Deuteronomy 30:11-20)
Another favorite passage is Jeremiah 29, the letter to the captives. The Children of Israel have lived through judges, prophets, and kings, and have turned away from the Lord again and again. Finally, as predicted, their enemies get the better of them, carrying them away to Babylon…. But even in this dark place, in spite of their infidelity, the Lord does not abandon them:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon:
Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters—that you may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are in your midst deceive you, nor listen to your dreams which you cause to be dreamed.For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them, says the Lord.
For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.”
Many times in life, we’re not exactly where we’d choose to be. Maybe our spiritual progress is slower than we hoped it would be. We make a selfish choice that hurts someone; get our priorities wrong; fall yet again into an unhealthy pattern that We’ve battled in the past… Or it can be a more external matter, like a job or living situation not feeling like a perfect fit, or not having the relationship or family that we dreamed of.
To me, this passage is a tender reminder that the only way out of captivity is to build and dwell, plant and eat, marry and have offspring, and pray for peace right where I am. In other words, don’t stop and wallow: move forward, follow the Lord, and be productive! Make positive changes, change your attitude, spend your energy on helping others. Enjoy God’s wonderful gifts, and share them. “Bloom where you’re planted,” and trust that the Lord will bring peace and lead you home when the time is right.