We’re still on break from our series in the Gospel of Mark and we’re back in Jeremiah today, in chapter 29, looking at a letter Jeremiah wrote to the Judean exiles. This is a very well-known passage of Scripture and I want us to see what it has to say to us today.
Last week in Jeremiah’s temple sermon, in chapter 7, we saw how he called the people to repentance so that they wouldn’t be taken away into exile in a foreign land. And he called them to lay aside their deception and false security – that just because the temple was in their midst, God wouldn’t judge them.
As we saw, Jeremiah had to speak some hard words to the people. In chapter 1:10, at his calling to be a prophet, God said that he is “to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow.” That is, he was to be a prophet who had much to say about judgment. But that wasn’t the entirety of his call. v. 10 also says that he’s called, “to build and to plant.” That is, he’s not just a prophet of doom. He’s also a prophet of hope for the future; for the remnant. And this is what we see in our passage today.
Let’s start with some –
Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon has now come, as Jeremiah said he would, and deposed the Judean king Jeconiah (Jehoiachin), and set someone else in his place – Zedekiah. And he has taken away Jeconiah and his court along with a number of other important people from Jerusalem into exile in Babylon, 700 miles away. This took place in 597 BC. (2 Kings 24:10-17)
Jeremiah’s letter is written to this first wave of exiles not too long after they arrived. So this letter was sent somewhere between 11 and 14 years after his temple sermon.
The worst, however, is still to come with regard to Judah. At this time the city and temple are still standing. They will be destroyed and the rest of the people taken into exile in 587- some 8 or so years after this letter.
– has this for an introduction:
1These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the eunuchs, the officials of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metal workers had departed from Jerusalem.
Verse 3 goes on to tell us that –
3The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.
Elasah was a part of a powerful family that was friendly to Jeremiah. And Gemariah was the son of Hilkiah, who may be the same Hilkiah who was Josiah’s high priest and a leader of the reform of Judah under that righteous king’s reign. So Jeremiah has some friends in powerful places. These two men were on a mission to Babylon, perhaps to bring tribute – and also then brought this letter along with them.
If before the false prophets were saying Judah would be just fine, now that some have been taken away into exile they are saying that they would only be there a short time. (Hananiah predicted it would only be two years – 28:11) It seems that some of these prophets among the exiles were even stirring up rebellion against Babylon.
Jeremiah has a lot to say about these false prophets in his letter, but we won’t get into that part. We’ll focus on what he has to say to the exiles themselves about their situation.
4Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:
Although Nebuchadnezzar would have boasted of his great triumph, the Lord makes clear here that he is simply a pawn in God’s greater plan. God says, I have sent them into exile. Nebuchadnezzar is merely his instrument of judgment on Judah.
5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6Take 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.
In contrast to the false prophets, Jeremiah tells them to settle down for the long haul (29:28). They will be there a long time. So instead of rebelling and fighting against it – he’s saying, ‘start a new life in Babylon.’ They are to multiply even as Israel did while they were in the foreign land of Egypt. (Genesis 1:28) (Notice that the key words from the positive, hopeful part of his calling are mentioned here – “build” “plant.”)
Deuteronomy 20:5-8 excuses people from military service if they have just built a house or planted and vineyard or are newly married. That Jeremiah references these very situations communicates to the exiles that this isn’t the time to rebel and fight against Babylon.
This also shows that the exiles are not under God’s curse. Deuteronomy 28:30-32 speaks of these same activities – taking a wife, building a house and planting a vineyard, but in the context of judgment, these things are taken away. Here they are granted. The exiles are under God’s blessing despite all the judgment going on back in Judah with more to come (Also Jeremiah 24:4-7).
7But 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.
This is very counter-intuitive. The Babylonians are their enemies and they are captives in the land of Babylon. And the Babylonians are about to destroy Jerusalem and the temple. Yet they are to seek Babylon’s welfare. The word “welfare” is shalom which means peace, well-being, wholeness; what’s best for them.
And they are to pray for them as well, for their welfare. Their destiny, at least for now, is tied up with Babylon’s and so this will also be a blessing for them.
Then we skip to v. 10 –
10For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.
Jeremiah is saying to them you will not make it back to the promised land. And maybe not even your kids. But your grand kids will go back to Judah.
God’s promise here refers to Deuteronomy 30 where God states that if his people are sent into exile, and they repent, he will bring them back to the land. (And this is also stated in Jeremiah 24:4-7. And see 1 Kings 8:46-53).
11For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
This is the really well-known verse in our passage.
God has not forsaken the exiles. He has not abandoned his people or his promises or his plans. Things are terrible now, but God has plans for their good, not their harm. They should not give up in despair, God has a future for them and so there’s hope. He will bring them back after 70 years.
12Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
This is an expanded paraphrase of Deuteronomy 4:29 where Moses talks about how if the people are sent into exile – and they pray, God will hear them. This verse says, “seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart, and with all your soul.”
And v. 31 goes on to say, “For the Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.”
God will hear their prayers of repentance and seeking and bring them home.
And then we have –
The rest of the story
As you know, the exiles eventually listened to Jeremiah and settled in. And after 70 years many began the process of returning to the land, as we see in the book of Ezra. They rebuilt the temple and Jerusalem and its walls as we see in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Haggai.
God brought them back and his plan for his people continued on.
Let me end by asking –
Do you have hope?
First of all, the hope that God gives to his people in this world? Did you know that the New Testament has the same understanding of our place in the world as the exiles here?
- We are living in exile, God’s people, among the nations of the world. And we will live out our lives in these nations (James 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1, 17; 2:11; Hebrews 11:13). 1 Peter 2:11 says that we are “sojourners and exiles” among the nations.
- And we are to pray for the peace and seek the peace of the country we live in: Canadians for Canada, Russians for Russia, Venezuelans for Venezuela, Americans for America, Iranians for Iran. Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:2 that we are to pray for “kings and all who are in high positions that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life.” This comes from Jeremiah 29. In their peace we will find our peace.
- And God has plans for us – a future with hope. Jesus will return and gather us up to be with him in the kingdom of God, just as he promised to gather the Judean exiles and bring them home. Mark 13:27 says that when Jesus returns, “he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” Jesus will gather us from the nations and bring us home.
This world is not our home. The place where we live, wherever it may be, is not our true country. We are just traveling through, sisters and brothers. Our hope as Christians is to come to “the city. . . whose designer and builder is God” – Hebrews 11:12. Our hope is “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” – Hebrews 11:16.
God does indeed have “plans for our welfare and not for evil, to give us a future and a hope.” We will be with him in the kingdom of God, forever.
What about in your personal life as we dwell here on this earth? Maybe you’ve failed God and he has been disciplining you and things are hard – like with the exiles in our passage. Well, if you turn to him, just as with these exiles, God will have mercy on you too. And the promise in Jeremiah is the promise to us, God will hear you. God will not give up on you or abandon you. God has “plans for your welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Maybe you haven’t failed, but things are still hard. God allows this to train us and to accomplish his work in our lives, just as Jesus went through hard times. Don’t fret. God has not abandoned you. Rather God has plans for you; God has a purpose he is working in you. “Plans for your welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”