In the tent city in Babylon, a young man in the crowd heard Jeremiah’s letter and believed that it meant a new vocational call on his life. From that moment, he totally committed his life to working for the shalom, the peace and well-being, of the great city of Babylon. The young man’s name was Daniel.
We can find no better model for vocational calling in the Old Testament than the story of God’s call on Daniel’s life. Like Daniel and the other Hebrew exiles, we are strangers in a strange land. If we take our Christian worldview seriously, we will find ourselves at odds with much of the surrounding culture, just as Daniel found himself. Yet, like Daniel, we must not withdraw from the world in which we live, but rather engage it in obedience to God’s call on our lives, working for God’s glory and the common good.
Daniel’s approach to life in Babylon as a public servant meant that he sought to use his gifts through his vocational calling to transform the culture around him. He wanted Babylonian life to be shaped by the values of the one true God, not by prevailing pagan values. At the same time, he worked for the flourishing of all of Babylon.
Daniel was able to identify the shared ground where his values and Babylonian values overlapped. Through Daniel’s conscientious work, his Babylonian overlords became convinced of the excellence of Daniel’s vision of their shared future.
There was a limit, however, to what Daniel was willing to do. When his government demanded ultimate loyalty, he refused, choosing instead what appeared to be certain death in the lion’s den. God saved Daniel and continued to use him as a great witness within the Babylonian Empire.
In Jeremiah’s letter to the Babylonian exiles, he is reminding them of the “Cultural Mandate.” In Jeremiah 29: 5-7, he tells them to, “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.”
In other words, be fruitful and multiply, fill this part of the world to which he has brought them with His images. Second, he tells them to, “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” This is what taking dominion should look like for the exiles. For them, taking dominion is reweaving shalom. Jeremiah has given us a big picture of not only what the exiles’ vocational calling looked like but what ours is as well. David Dark in his book Everyday Apocalypse says it this way:
The movement called Christianity . . . cannot be understood apart from the Jewish concept of shalom. The Christian gospel does not call people to give their mental assent to a certain list of correct propositions, nor does it provide its adherents with a password that will gain them disembodied bliss when they die and the pleasure of confidently awaiting their escape until then. Shalom is a way of being in the world. The Christian gospel invites us to partake in shalom, to embody shalom, and to anticipate its full realization in the coming kingdom of God.
Jeremiah’s message to the exiled people of Israel was simple. God meant them to be a blessing to the world even while they lived in Babylon. God intends the same for us. We are called to work for the shalom of the city, whatever or wherever that city is, where God has put us. We are to be a blessing in our time and place. This is possible only because we have found our identity in Christ, the Prince of Shalom. Because of Him we know what real shalom is supposed to be.
Like Daniel, we have a decision to make. Will we join those who conform, or those who renew and transform? Or will we, like Daniel, embrace our Biblical call to vocation to become agents, models and witnesses to shalom?
We will never create full shalom in this current age. Such fulfillment awaits the age to come, when Jesus will establish everlasting shalom in the New Heaven and the New Earth. Still, like the exiles in Babylon, we can build toward that future. The work we do in the here and now is important to God and serves as a signpost to point others to the New City, the City of God, where all of God’s children will live one day in perfect shalom. Until then our calling is to work for the shalom of this present world to the glory of God, by the grace of God reweaving the unraveled fabric of our broken world.
Question: What does it look like to work for the shalom of the place to which God has called you? Leave a comment here.