Carried Away Captives: Making the Best of a Bad Situation

A prominently displayed phrase around the campus of Brigham Young University (BYU) is “Enter to learn, go forth to serve.” I’ve always loved this phrase as a reminder of the goal of a BYU education – to serve others and spread light, truth, and knowledge.

Four verses in Jeremiah reminded me of that phrase: “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon; Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7).

Now what exactly do those verses have to do with that phrase seen often at BYU?

The prophet Jeremiah wrote a letter (an epistle in the terminology of the New Testament) to “the residue of the elders which were carried away captives, and to the priests, and to the prophets, and to all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon” (Jeremiah 29:1). This letter was sent to the diaspora Jews and other descendants of Israel. Jeremiah counseled those who were taken away captive to build houses, plant gardens, get married, have children, and so forth. They were to live their lives, just as the Israelites did in Egypt. Further, they were to “seek the peace of the city…and pray unto the Lord for it.”

So they were to put down roots. Captive Israelites were to prepare for their return but plant symbolic and real fruit trees. They were to strive to be good citizens and even pray for their captors – their enemies – for if their captors were at peace, they would have peace.

Now for our modern application. We should bloom where we are planted. We should build Zion wherever we are – good, bad, or mediocre. A BYU education is a call to service. Graduates have an opportunity, a responsibility, to go out and strengthen the stakes and enlarge the tent of Zion wherever they (we) are. If we are in a land of wickedness, if we are in a city full of oppressors, we should pray for them and pray and work for peace. This reminds me of a quote ascribed to Joseph Smith: “If we [the Saints] go to hell, we will turn the devils out of doors and make a heaven of it. Where this people are, there is good society.” (Teachings of Joseph Smith, chapter 45).

Wherever we are, we should have sons and daughters or risk being “diminished.” Wherever we are called to be in life, we can strive for peace around us and improve the shining moments. We might not be able to bid Babylon farewell to dwell in the mountains of Ephraim but it we merely wait for a Moses, we might be waiting a long time. Instead, we should build our houses upon the rock of our Redeemer and find peace in Babylon without becoming of Babylon. We can dwell in Babylon without it dwelling in us. That is the essence of a consecrated life – a life a holiness, dedicated to God, and separated (set apart) from the things of the world with Zion in our hearts and homes. We can build our own personal gardens and eat of their fruit rather than live on the fruit of the Assyrian gardens, impressive though they may appear, that do not produce the fruit of the Tree of Life.

"Hanging Gardens of Babylon". Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -
“Hanging Gardens of Babylon”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons –
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