To be in exile is to be removed from your home and not allowed back. It’s a horrible punishment, but one that is not very common in U.S. However, in other parts of the world, it’s much more common. Here are some recent headlines I recently came across that mentioned exile:
Afghan Christians live in fear of jail, exile, or worse
Guinea’s president says former coup leader may return from exile
Exiled Islamist party leader set to return to Tunisia after 20 years
Exile has been a common punishment over the years. Consider these two famous exiles…
Victor Hugo (1802 – 1885)
French novelist (Les Miserables, Hunchback of Notre-Dame), playwright, poet, human rights campaigner. In exile from 1851 – 1870 after declaring Napoleon III a traitor to France; returned to France in 1870 and was celebrated as a national treasure until his death in 1885. He was away from France for 20 years, but he still remained very much French during that time.
The Dalai Lama (1935 – )
Head of the now-defunct theocracy that ruled a formerly independent Tibet. He’s been in exile since 1959 after the failure of a Tibetan uprising against Chinese occupation. He now lives in India, but he has established a Tibetan government-in-exile in India. He’s been away from Tibet for more than 50 years, but he’s still very much Tibetan.
As long as there have been people on earth, individuals, people groups, and entire nations have suffered the banishment of exile. And though we may not understand it fully, the Bible says that God’s people have been and even are today living in exile. We are not at home. We are living in exile as aliens and strangers, but many of us don’t realize it. And many of us are living as if this land, this kingdom, this culture we are living in is our own…but it’s not.
The book of 1 Peter was originally a letter designed to instruct believers on how to endure persecution without wavering in their faith. It also speaks to the believer’s position in Christ and their future hope as citizens of God’s kingdom – a kingdom that will never end. Peter wrote the letter to remind Christ-followers that we are merely sojourners here on earth. This is not our home; we’re just here on a layover, so we mustn’t get comfortable.
Peter addresses this letter with these words: Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion…(1 Peter 1:1). He calls the recipients “exiles” even though none of them were literal exiles. He was writing to a mostly Gentile church who were scattered all over northern Asia. He calls them exiles right from the start to make a point that God’s people will always live in exile as long as they live on this earth.
Are we living as exiles here or not? Are we living as citizens of God’s kingdom while here on earth, or are we imbibing the culture, customs, beliefs, and practices of the kingdom in which we are living? Victor Hugo and the Dahlia Lama both set for us good examples of what it should look like to live in exile while at the same time maintaining loyalty and allegiance to their country (culture, customs, beliefs, and practices) from which they were in exile. Hugo never lost sight of being a Frenchman, and after 20 years in exile, he returned as a national hero. And after more than 50 years in exile, the Dahlia Lama is still very much Tibetan as he has established and leads the government of Tibet while being exiled from his homeland. Are we doing the same? Are we living like citizens of another kingdom and followers of another King or not?
1 Peter 1:17 says, And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile… In other words: “If you call Jesus your King, then subject yourself to Him while you are living in exile on this earth.”
We see examples of those who did this and those who didn’t when we look at the nation of Israel in exile in the Old Testament. Daniel 1 records the first wave of exile into Babylon, and Jeremiah 52 and 2 Kings 24-25 record other waves. Thousands of Israelites taken into exile in Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar. Ultimately, the exile was God’s discipline on His people for their unfaithfulness to Him, and when they arrived in Babylon, God instructed them to prepare for the long-haul there:
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 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. 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 exiled Israelites were going to be in exile for a long time, and so God instructed them to live life, marry and have more God-following children, and even pray for the Babylonian Empire knowing that their welfare would be connected to its welfare. However, God did make it clear that while there, they were not to forget their true King and His kingdom.
So, how’d they do? Well, Ezekiel 14 and 20 reports that many people forgot their King and His kingdom while in exile. And the root cause of this was materialism. Many became successful and wealthy while in Babylon, and their devotion to materialism led to conformity to Babylonian customs. Many adopted the Babylonian language, and many began worshipping their gods and idols. The historian Josephus records that when King Cyrus released Israel from exile years later that many did not want to leave because they didn’t want to leave their possessions behind. They had become assimilated into the Babylonian culture.
Daniel 1 and 3 reports a different story, but unfortunately, it seems that this was not the norm for the exiles in Babylon. In Daniel 1:8, it says that Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank… Daniel – along with men like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – resolved not to become assimilated into the Babylonian culture. They came to a definite or earnest decision not to conform. They determined that they would stay strong no matter what, and here’s how that resolve played out over the years:
Daniel 1:12-16 – They respectfully refused to eat the king’s unclean food.
Daniel 2:36-45 – Daniel boldly and bravely spoke of the coming judgment of God to the king. In essence, Daniel told the king that another kingdom is coming that will trump his.
Daniel 3:12 – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship the king, thus risking their lives.
Daniel 6:10 – Daniel refused to pray to the king, thus risking his life. Instead, he continued to pray to God.
These men – along with others, I’m sure – stood strong while they were in exile. They fought off the temptation to be assimilated into the Babylonian culture and continued to worship, serve, and remain loyal to God their King the entire time. This did not mean that they did not exercise some allegiance to the Babylonian king as I’m sure Daniel did during his 66 years of service to him, but Daniel never lost sight of who his true King was. He continued to worship Him and remained true to Him the entire time he was in exile.
So, what will it be for us? Will we be like the majority of the Babylonian exiles of Israel? Will we allow the materialism of our time to lead to assimilation and compromise. Will we allow our ultimate allegiance to be shifted from God the King and His kingdom to the kings and kingdoms of our time? Or will we be like the minority of Babylonian exiles of Israel – like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – and resolve not to cave into the pull of materialism that will lead to assimilation?
As Christians, this is not our home. We’re just here on a layover, and we must hold onto everything here loosely. Our allegiances, our loyalties, and our hearts must remain with our King and His kingdom while we are in exile here. May God strengthen us to live lives loyal to Him while we live in exile here.