Today we’re sharing an adapted excerpt from Jennifer Rothschild’s upcoming study, Take Courage, available July 2020. This particular section comes from the transcripts of her Session 2 video teaching. View more teaching clips and preorder your copy of Take Courage at Lifeway.com/TakeCourage.
Exile is nothing new. The Jews were in exile because Jerusalem was sacked; the temple was destroyed. They were in exile in Babylon. It’s nothing new to them. That’s their backstory.
But it might be your right-now story. When the Jews were in exile, they said they could not sing the songs of Zion in a foreign land (Ps. 137:3-4). That’s exactly what exile is: a foreign land. It’s a place in our lives that feels foreign to us. We feel separated. We feel disenfranchised.
When the Jews were in exile, they didn’t have their temple. They didn’t have their life they had once known. They felt far removed. They were no longer living within the promised land. And that’s kind of what exile feels like for us: We’re far removed. We’re isolated. We’re just not in that promised land we expected to be living in.
I’m going to give you three practices of a woman in exile, and these three practices are based on a letter found in Jeremiah 29 that the prophet wrote to the exiles.
1. Participate with your exile. In Jeremiah 29, the Bible says to “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their 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 …” (vv. 5-6a, ESV). In other words, you multiply. You do not decrease; you increase, and then you seek the welfare of the city of your exile, and you pray for it, because in its welfare is your welfare (v. 7). See, God says, if you’re in exile, I don’t want you to just go sit in the corner and wait until it ends. I want you to be all in. I want you to participate with your exile.
Build something. That’s what the Jews were told (v. 5a)! In other words, it may be temporary, but you can still be all in—so you build something. Exile is about construction, not destruction. So if you’re a woman in exile, what could you be building? Could you build a new habit in exile? The first building blocks of a ministry? Maybe there’s some relationships you build in exile? It’s about constructing and growing and building.
But we’re also told to plant gardens and eat what they produce (v. 5b). Now clearly, they were supposed to take that literally. They were supposed to be self-sustaining. They were supposed to be nourished in exile. So are you. You’re not supposed to starve to death in exile, but you get to participate in that. You get to plant something. Do you know what it means to plant? It means to set something in the ground for growth. In other words, you gotta get some seeds, and you gotta plant them. They might be seeds of faith that you plant; they might be seeds of a new hobby that you plant. But it’s about doing something that nourishes your soul because that’s the point of planting—so you can be nourished by that which is produced during exile.
The Jews were also told that they were to take husbands and have babies and have those babies have babies and take wives for those babies so they can have babies. OK—the point is multiply (v. 6). The point is increase in relationships. How can you increase in relationships if you’re in exile?
You can increase in authenticity in your relationships. You can learn to increase in the way you love people in your capacity to relate to people.
Verse 7 says we’re to “seek the welfare.” To seek the welfare of this exile. Do you know what that means for you? It means you seek the good in your exile. Now here’s the point. It doesn’t feel well, and it doesn’t feel fair. So we just have to get over that part. But we can seek the welfare.
What is it that God has allowed this for in our lives? As we seek welfare within our exile, then we will experience welfare. Right. So participate with your exile.
2. Pursue God in your exile. That’s what you do when you’re in exile. You pursue God. This is based on Jeremiah 29:8-9. “… Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the LORD.”
I believe God was so generous to His people when He gave this command because it acknowledges that when we’re in exile, we’re vulnerable. We’re ready to fall for anything in exile because exile is hard, and the only way you are protected from the lies that could entrap you within exile is to know the truth. That’s why you pursue God in exile.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I’m in exile, I want to become an exile expert. I’m going to Google everything there is to know about my exile. I’m going to watch YouTube videos. I’m going to create a Facebook group for all of my fellow exiles. And not that any of that is bad, but that is not a substitute for pursuing God and pursuing truth in exile because if you do not know the truth, you will not recognize a lie. So we pursue God in exile, and then we don’t fall for the false prophets and the false hope they can grant. In fact, Philippians 3:10 tells us our goal of exile is “to know him and the power of his resurrection” in the fellowship of His sufferings.
That’s what we want to do in exile: pursue God.
3. Be patient in your exile. Patience is hard. And here’s the thing: exile has a very long shelf life. Sometimes it feels like it just goes on and on and on. Don’t you know for the Jews that is how they felt? They’re reading this letter, and it’s saying, OK, I want you to marry, then I want you to get your kids married, then I want them to have kids, and I want your kids to marry … And they’re thinking: How long is this gonna last? It’s decade after decade.
Exile has a long shelf life, but it does have an expiration date. And that’s why we choose to be patient with our exile.
For some of you, it might be that you need to show a little patience towards yourself. In exile, some of you might need to show a little more patience with the process of exile. And I beg you to show patience with God in exile—because He promises exile will end. That’s what Jeremiah 29:10 tells us: When seventy years is up, I will come get you, and I’m going to take you back home.
The Jews knew this might last a while, and they didn’t know how long it was going to last. But what they did know is God said it had an expiration date. And if we’re going to be patient with our exile, then we need to have our focus on God’s promise, not on our calendar. It’ll help us to be patient.
Because here’s the thing: there’s a promise of exile, and that’s what Jeremiah 29:11 really is. It is the promise of exile.
We might think it’s a great verse to tweet. Or we might call it our life verse. But for the Jews, it was their lifeline. Because they clung to that promise in exile when God said to them, I know the plans I have for you. And they are good ones. They are not to harm you. They are not for calamity, but they are to give you a hope and a future.
That’s the promise of exile.
But sometimes, you don’t get to that hope—into that future—until you go through the exile. And when we’ve been through exile, we don’t know where the current of God’s will and His plan is going to take us. But we know He has promised His plans for us are to give us a hope and a future. That might mean sometimes there are storms, and it might mean sometimes the waves are so high you don’t think you’re going to make it.
But that’s when you can take courage because you know God’s plans for you are not for your calamity but for your good. Therefore, you ride the wind. You go with the flow. Because eventually, exile will end. And you will find yourself in the very place God intended you to be.
Exile will not last forever. But God’s faithfulness will.