Society & Politics

Leadership Lessons from the Life of the Exiles Part 1


Preston Manning

This article is the first in a series by Preston Manning on leadership lessons from the life of the biblical exiles. A member of the Canadian House of Commons from 1993 to 2001, founder of two new political parties—the Reform Party of Canada and the Canadian Reform Conservative Allianceand the Leader of the Official Opposition from 1997 to 2000, Preston works with the MI on the development and communication of faith-informed approaches to political leadership and public policy.

Faith in the Sovereignty of God

Belief in the “sovereignty of God” is belief in God’s supremacy—that all things are under his rule and control and that nothing happens without his direction or permission. It is belief in the God “who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will”[1] and who declared to the Israelites through the prophet Isaiah, “What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that I will  do.”[2]

For the ancient Hebrews it may have been relatively easy to believe in the sovereignty of God when they were living in their own land under the Law of God, triumphing in battle over their pagan enemies, worshiping God in their own temple, and living under the rule of kings whom they believed to be “the Lord’s anointed.” But this faith in God’s supremacy was shaken to its foundations when Israel was conquered by the Assyrians and Judah by the Babylonians, when their rulers were executed or led away in chains, when the temple was desecrated and destroyed by a foreign army, and when the survivors of these disasters became exiles in foreign lands whose rulers and people were hostile or at best indifferent to the beliefs and practices of the people of God.

The question  “How could God allow…?”—the question believers and sceptics alike invariably ask in times of trouble and calamity—gnawed away at the very foundations of their faith. How could one believe in the sovereignty and supremacy of God after these calamities? And even if one retained one’s faith in God, how could one practise it in environments so indifferent or hostile to it?

Thus arose the sad lament of the believer in exile, “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”[3]

The Exile of the Modern Believer

Persecuted Christian minorities living in Muslim countries or under militantly atheistic regimes such as those in North Korea and China can readily identify with the situation of the Jewish exiles in Babylon. But so, too, can contemporary Christian believers living in the materialistic, humanistic, and secular societies of the western world.

At one time the Christian faith occupied a respected and influential position in these societies. Today it is increasingly banished to the private sphere or at worst attacked and declared irrelevant and antithetical to “progress” in education, science, law, the arts, the media, business, and politics.

In the political realm in Canada, it is now considered taboo to speak of your own most deeply held religious convictions, or those of your constituents, in the House of Commons or the provincial legislatures, notwithstanding the declarations of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms that “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: (a) freedom of conscience and religion; (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression….”[4]

Ironically, the preamble to that Charter actually begins with the phrase “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law….” But when this phrase—the supremacy of God—has been appealed to as relevant to moral issues before the courts, it has been dismissed as “a dead letter” and irrelevant to the secular Canada of today.

In a 1999 child pornography case before the BC Court of Appeal, the judge dismissed moral arguments rooted in the Charter’s recognition of the supremacy of God, with these words:

“I accept that the law of this country is rooted in its religious heritage.  But I know of no case on the Charter in which any court of this country has relied on the words Mr. Staley invokes [i.e., ‘principles that recognize the supremacy of God’].  They have become a dead letter and while I might have wished the contrary, this Court has no authority to breathe life into them for the purpose of interpreting the various provisions of the Charter….  The words of the preamble relied upon by Mr. Staley can only be resurrected by the Supreme Court of Canada.”[5]

Note that the judge not only dismisses arguments based on a Christian conception of morality, but does so in language as offensive as possible to Christians—pronouncing the supremacy of God to be a “dead letter” capable of “resurrection” only by the Supreme Court.

And as for the Supreme Court of Canada, in a 1993 case dealing with physician-assisted suicide, Chief Justice Lamer declared Canada to be a “secular society” in which the court was not obliged to be guided in any way by “theological considerations.”

“Can the right … to choose suicide, be described as an advantage of which the appellant is being deprived? In my opinion, the Court should answer this question without reference to the philosophical and theological considerations fuelling the debate on the morality of suicide or euthanasia.  It should consider the question before it from a legal perspective … while keeping in mind that the Charter has established the essentially secular nature of Canadian society.”[6]

And so as contemporary Christians many of us find ourselves asking the same questions which perplexed the Jewish exiles in Babylon centuries ago. How could a sovereign God allow this to happen? How can one continue to believe in the supremacy of God in such circumstances? And from a practical standpoint, even if we retain our faith, how can and should we practise it in indifferent or hostile environments?

For answers to these questions, let us then look to the experience of the Jewish exiles and the initial leadership given to them by the prophet Jeremiah.

Jeremiah’s Letter—Expanding the Exiles’ Conception of the Sovereignty of God

Jeremiah as you may recall was the prophet who ministered from about 626 to 586 B.C. and witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 587 BC. He prophesied the destruction of Judah as a nation and the exile of the Jewish people to Babylon as a result of their alienation from God by sin. But he also ministered to the exiles with messages of instruction concerning how they were to live in their new circumstances and messages of hope for the future.

This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent … to the people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. …

“This is what the Lord Almighty, God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in numbers there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”[7]

Note the radical proposition which Jeremiah advances—that the Lord Almighty says that he, not Nebuchadnezzar, is the one who has carried them into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. In the same letter he repeats this assertion twice: “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. … Therefore, hear the word of the Lord all you exiles whom I have sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon.”[8]

Just as God’s people were in his hand when they were in the promised land singing psalms by the river Jordan and under the authority of divinely anointed kings, so are they still in his hand while exiled to a foreign land, in mourning by the rivers of Babylon, and subject to foreign kings who are also ultimately under God’s authority. In other words, the first prerequisite for God’s people to survive and serve him in exile conditions is an expanded belief in the sovereignty of God.

Jeremiah’s Letter—Instruction on How to Live Faithfully in Exile

The exiles are then given God’s instructions through Jeremiah as to how they are to live faithfully in exile.

  1. Settle Down and Build

    Settle down, build houses and families, engage in productive work (agriculture) that you may increase in number and not decrease.

  2. Pray

    God is reachable by prayer from Babylon just as he was from Judea. Pray specifically for the peace and prosperity of the place where God has relocated you so that you may prosper from its prosperity.

  3. Disregard False Spiritual Advice

    You are to disregard the voices and visions of false and immoral prophets who counsel you to act contrary to these instructions.

    This is apparently a reference to false prophets like Hananiah whose confrontation with Jeremiah is described in the chapter preceding Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles.[9] Hananiah, like Jeremiah, prefaces his instructions to the exiles with “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says.” But in effect he tells the exiles there is no need to settle down in or to pray for Babylon. Your exile there, he tells them, will be temporary because “within two years” God will “break the yoke of the king of Babylon” and bring you back to Judah. Hananiah’s advice to the exiles is similar to that of self-proclaimed prophets today who instruct Christians not to involve themselves in the societies, environments, and places where God has placed them because the return of Christ is imminent. It is particularly significant that Jeremiah appears to be more concerned about the exiles’ being led astray by false prophets from among their own religious community than he is about their being led astray by the influence of the Babylonians.

  4. Trust the Promises

    Lastly, God, through Jeremiah, seeks to restore the courage and morale of the exiles by challenging them to trust in his promise of their ultimate spiritual and political restoration.

This is what the Lord says:

“When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Lessons in Leadership

In subsequent articles we will look at lessons in leadership by the exiles in the hostile spiritual and political environment in which they found themselves. But in Jeremiah’s letter we have an example of leadership being provided to the exiles by the prophet. What then would be the equivalent leadership message to believers living in exile among the materialistic, humanistic, and secular societies of today?

If those in positions of spiritual leadership were to draft letters under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to believers embedded by the sovereignty of God in the business, academic, media, science, trades, or political communities of today, what might those letters say?

Or if those in such leadership positions were to draft letters analogous to those of the Apostle Paul—written to the small first-century Christian communities embedded by the sovereignty of God in larger, hostile societies—what might be the focus and content of the Epistle to the Believers in the Academy, the Epistle to the Believers in the Business Community, the Epistle to the Believers in the Media, the Epistle to the Believers in the Science Community, or the Epistle to the Believers in the Political Community of today?

An Epistle to Believers in the Political Community

In the vast literature of Christendom there are volumes of commentary and instruction relevant to believers embedded in all the various functional constituencies of today’s world, including the political. But I must say that when I was in active politics I was never aware of receiving or reading an “Epistle to the Believers in the Political Community” as explicit and instructional as the letter sent by Jeremiah to the believing exiles embedded in Babylon.[11] In retrospect, if I had, it might have read something like the following:

This is what the Lord Almighty says[12] to all those he has carried into a hostile political environment.
Recognize and believe that you are where you are, not by your own efforts or design or by those of your adversaries, but by my grace and sovereignty.[13] Conduct yourself therefore as one who lives politically in a country “founded on principles that recognize the supremacy of God” even if the politicians, media, judges, and citizenry of your country do not.

Settle down there, build and plant.[14] Settle down in the constituencies, in the parties, in the interest groups, in the political offices, in the parliaments, legislatures, and municipal councils of that country—wherever I have led you politically—and be a constructive influence there. Seek a “better country” while serving the country where I have placed you.[15]

Expand my influence there by wisdom and graciousness,[16] and by persuasive example, so that your numbers do not decrease but increase because others are attracted to you and your positions. Be salt and light.[17]

Seek the enlightenment and peace of the political community—serving where possible as truth tellers[18] and reconcilers of conflicting interests.[19]

Pray for the political community, for your opponents, and for all those in authority, that it may be well with you and the community at large.[20]

Pray that my kingdom may come and my will be done on earth as it is in heaven.[21]
Disregard the voices and visions of false prophets who counsel you to retreat into a private sphere, isolating yourself from the political community in a false holiness. And reject the counsel of the zealots who urge you to seek to arbitrarily impose your beliefs on others. This is not the way of Jesus who invites rather than compels acceptance of his person and his teachings.

Be strong and courageous, trusting in my promise to some day make the kingdoms of this world My kingdoms.[22]

Be assured that I have plans to prosper you (as I define prosperity) and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future in the places where you are and to which I lead you.[23]


One of the God-given tasks of some of the believers reading this article may well be to draft and communicate such leadership epistles, declaring the sovereignty of God in and over all those diverse places in this present world where God has planted his people.

And is it not the responsibility of those of us so planted to receive such instruction and to act in the light of the expanded conception of the sovereignty of God that such epistles proclaim?


  1. Ephesians 1:11.
  2. Isaiah 46:11.
  3. Psalm 137:1-4. “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs. Our tormentors demanded songs of joy; They said, ’Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”
  4. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Part I of The Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c. 11.
  5. R. V. Sharpe, 1999 BCCA 416, 175 D.L.R. (4th) 1 (CA), CanLll at para. 79-80.

  6. Rodriguez v. British Columbia (Attorney General), [1993] 3 S.C.R. 519, 1993 CanLll 75 (SCC)

  7. Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7.

  8. Jeremiah 29:7, 20.

  9. See Jeremiah 28.

  10. Jeremiah 29:10-11.
  11. From 1967 to 1987 I was peripherally and sporadically involved in provincial and federal politics in the province of Alberta. But from 1987 to 1993 I was fully involved in the creation of a new federal political party, the Reform Party of Canada. And from 1993 to 2002 I was the federal Member of Parliament for Calgary Southwest in the Canadian House of Commons.

  12. In making any such assertion, the writer of the epistle needs to be absolutely sure that the words written are God’s words and not merely those of the writer, i.e., they must be scripturally based in every respect.

  13. Daniel 4:25. As Daniel communicated to Nebuchadnezzar, “… the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.”

  14. Jeremiah 29:5-6.

  15. Membership in the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest civilian order, is accorded to those who exemplify the order's Latin motto, desiderantes meliorem patriam, meaning "they desire a better country," a phrase taken from Hebrews 11:16 (KJV).

  16. Matthew 10:16. This is the “Great Guideline” that Jesus gave to his earliest followers before sending them out to do “public work” in his name: be wise as serpents and gracious as doves.

  17. Matthew 5:13-16. At the very outset of his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs his followers to be salt and light, performing good deeds before men (publicly) that will cause them to praise God.

  18. Philippians 4:8-9; Ephesians 4:15. Not only are believers to “think about” whatever is true, but we are also to be “speaking the truth in love.”

  19. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21. At its highest level, politics, especially for those in government, is about the reconciliation of conflicting interests. In the Christian doctrine and teaching on the “ministry of reconciliation” through the exercise of self-sacrificial love, we have Christ’s example of how to reconcile conflicting interests at the deepest level.

  20. 1 Timothy 2:1-3. “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior….”

  21. As Jesus taught us to pray in the “Lord’s Prayer,” Matthew 6:10.

  22. Revelation 11:15.

  23. Jeremiah 29:11. The great promise given by Jeremiah to the believing exiles in Babylon.

Source: Marketplace Institute

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