Seek The Welfare Of The City

Rob Campbell   -  

As we have journeyed through the book of Daniel with our Wednesday night small group, I have really been struck by some of the parallels between Daniel and the book of Jeremiah. They would have been contemporaries of one another so the book of Jeremiah provides very helpful details regarding what God was doing in what seems to be a very difficult mess of a situation. I mean after all, having families separated from one another and taken far away to a very pagan nation is hard to comprehend. What is happening and where is God in this?

Apparently there were people in Jeremiah and Daniel’s day trying to explain the situation in terms that, I think, were meant to give God’s people in captivity the hope they desperately needed. One such person is recorded in Jeremiah 28. His name is Hananiah. Now, my Bible gives me a heads up with the heading before the chapter – Hanahiah the False Prophet. It doesn’t appear that way at first. Hananiah says in summary, God is going to bring back the exiles, their king, and their worship. He is going to do this by “breaking the yoke” of domination by the king of Babylon. He even gives a timeframe this will happen, within two years. Wow, that is all such wonderful news if you are in captivity! It gives people something to hold on to. The only problem was, it was false. Babylon would indeed be overthrown, but not anywhere near the timeframe predicted. Jeremiah tells this false prophet in Jer. 28:15, “you have made this people trust in a lie.” So, what was the truth?

Jeremiah 29 is the letter written by Jeremiah which contains the true words of God. And the words are quite startling:

Jeremiah 29:4–5
4 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 
5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.

The passage goes on and tells them to get married and have children. God’s words are for these believing people is to settle down in this pagan city for what seems like a very long time. This then raises the question, how does a believer in God live in an increasingly secular culture without assimilating into godless practices and thinking? How do you live a holy life in a very unholy place? Listen to God’s words given through Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 29:7
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.

The Hebrew word for “welfare” is “shalom.” The word shalom carries more than just a mere keeping the peace between people. To seek the shalom of a person means caring for all that touches that person’s sphere of living. The things that person cares about, we now care about because we are seeking their shalom. Think about what God is telling the people living during Daniel’s time in Babylon – “seek the shalom of the city…for in its shalom you will find your shalom.” Babylon was godless and wicked. They did not have any sort of biblical worldview. Yet, God says that their welfare would be found in seeking the welfare of Babylon. How then can God’s people seek the welfare of a godless society?

What we find in Daniel’s life is a person who sought to live out God’s words to seek the shalom of a city. What did he do? He did not assimilate himself totally into the cultural practices of the city where he lived or else he would be like people of Judges who were gutted of their courage and convictions. Nor did Daniel separate himself from the city so as to put a gap between himself and unbelieving people. We know this because in Daniel 2 he is one of the wise men of Babylon. This means he would have been schooled in the finest of Chaldean education. He and his three friends were “competent to stand in the king’s palace” and were taught “the literature and language of the Chaldeans” (Dan. 1:4). He was given a Babylonian name (1:7) and would have wore the clothing of Babylonians. Yet, Daniel knew where to draw the line with his convictions. He would not eat the food of the king because, I believe, it was the type of food that Hebrew people were instructed was unclean (1:8). The three friends would not bow down to the statue in the famous incident and were thrown into a fiery furnace (3:20). Daniel continued to pray three times a day and faced the breath and gaze of lions (6:16). Daniel lived a very long life away from his boyhood Hebrew home and settled into a very pagan culture. What can we conclude from this kind of living?

It is possible to live a courageous Christian life and live in an ungodly society without becoming totally assimilated.

I think that sometimes we think that removal is always the answer, and indeed, sometimes it is. We are not to stay in places of temptation or put ourselves in places where even non-Christians question our involvement. But Daniel’s life, and Joseph’s life in Egypt, and Esther’s life in Persia were all lived well within godless society’s.

One of the key components of not becoming like the ungodly  culture around us is to “pray to the Lord on its behalf” (Jer. 29:7).

No doubt, this obviously means prayer, but I think that little phrase has more involved. Behind that prayer is a heart of compassion for human beings and their flourishing. Praying “on behalf” of someone is seeking for them to know God in a way they have never known before because they simply do not know God at all.

We learn from Daniel and friends that whether we are accepted by our communities and they will hear of our God (Dan. 2:46) or they become enraged and we face lions and furnaces (Dan. 3:13), God is still strong and sovereign over it all.

This is at the very heart of the prayer Daniel prays earlier in the book:

Daniel 2:20–22
20 Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. 
21 He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; 
22 he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.

And great is that light that dwells with Him! Christ is the light of the world that will shine even into the darkest places. So how are we doing seeking the _shalom_ of the communities where God has placed us? Do we pray specifically for services in our community such as police departments, medical professionals, firefighters, and local school boards? How are we doing with our neighbors? Do we know their names? Would we consider building bridges to share a meal with a neighbor? Are we known for being merely religious people since they see our car drive away every Sunday or are we known for being loving people? Are we people who genuinely care for the cares of our neighbors such as sick family members or the death of their pet? Do we even have time to care for these things? I am not asking these questions to lay more guilt on us but I ask because I genuinely wonder if some of us have crafted lives that look more like being separate from the concerns of our communities verses seeking their shalom. Let’s lean in toward making this passage a vital part of our living:

Jeremiah 29:7
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.

Where has God sent you?