Thanks to Boney M, the story of Israel’s response when asked to sing while in Babylonian exile is well known: they sat down and wept, horrified at the idea of singing the Lord’s song in a strange land.
We can understand their dilemma, yet God wanted them to have the mindset where they could make the most of where they were – ‘to occupy’, as Christ describes in the parable of the talents.
As the story goes in Luke 19:12-13, the nobleman or master goes on a journey to receive for himself a kingdom, leaving his servants with an investment and this instruction: occupy until I come.
Occupy, invest, buy and sell, engage in business
That’s the NKJ translation. The English Standard Version translates this as ‘Engage in business until I come.’ The New Living Translation emphasizes ownership of the money: ‘Invest this for me while I am gone.’ Today’s New International Version, translates it as ‘Put this money to work,’ and the Amplified Bible says ‘Buy and sell with these while I go and then return.’
Occupy, invest, buy and sell, engage in business – the message is still the same: we are to make the most of what we have been given to bring forth a harvest.
Okay, so what does it mean to occupy? The word refers to (1) use of our time and space; (2) what we keep our minds on; (3) where we live; (4) to take possession or control over things or places; or (5) to hold a position, as in an office. It therefore refers to how we live our whole lives.
Make the land prosperous
When God instructed Jeremiah to write to the people of Judah taken captive in Babylonia telling them to occupy, He made it quite clear what this meant: ‘Now I tell you to settle there and build houses. Plant gardens and eat what you grow in them. Get married and have children, then help your sons find wives and help your daughters find husbands, so they can have children as well. I want your numbers to grow, not to get smaller. Pray for peace in Babylonia and work hard to make it prosperous. The more successful that nation is, the better off you will be.’ Jeremiah 29:4-7 (Contemporary English Version).
How similar is the message Jesus Christ has given to us! ‘Occupy till I come,’ He says. ‘Use the investment to do business, invest, put my money to work, build things, plant things, make things happen, make the place where you are prosperous – the more you do so, the better off you will be.’
Hostility shall come, but persevere
Of course you will have opposition, as the next verse, Luke 19:14, tells us that the master’s citizens hated him and would not have him rule over them. So we know that the environment is hostile toward the Master, like the business environment and indeed our society, which have regard for neither kingdom principles nor its Master.
However, the story goes on to tell us that it is quite possible to occupy and do business and to make a great success of it in a way that pleases God.
So, in the words of 1 Thessalonians 4:10-12 (NIV): ‘Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.’