Renewed hope. Letter to the exiles. Jeremiah 29:1-7, 10-14

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 –

Background

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.

Jeremiah’s 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.”

10 promises you can stand on

Series: Faith in God

Last time we talked about how, to have real faith, you need a word from God to stand on.  And when you don’t have a word to stand on, it’s called presumption, because you are presuming upon God to do something that he never said he would do. This leads us to have unwarranted confidence, which can lead to wrong actions, which leads to a mess.

As we saw, one of the things we need to do to avoid all this is to know what God’s promises are – their context, the scope of what they cover, and the conditions that are attached. We need to know what they mean. We need to know God’s will so that we can have faith in this and receive from God.

So today, I want to give you 10 promises that you can stand on; that apply to you. And I hope as we go through this, God will speak to you about where you need more of him and his blessings and that you will latch on to this by faith.  

1. God will forgive your sins

 “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” – Matthew 6:14

The condition certainly stands out right at the beginning. We have to give grace to receive grace. But if we do this, God tells us here, he will forgive our sins. As Psalm 103:12 says, God will remove our sins “as far as the east is from the west.” As 1 John 1:9 says, God will “forgive us our sins and . . . cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Others may not forgive us, we may struggle to forgive ourselves, but in faith we can stand on this promise that we are indeed forgiven by God.

2. God will give you the Holy Spirit

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” – Luke 11:13

In Luke 11 Jesus talks about asking with persistence in our prayers. And then he ends this teaching with this verse. So he is saying, ‘If we persistently ask for the Spirit, God will answer.’

It is the Spirit who gives us life. It is the Spirit who makes God’s presence known to us. It is the Spirit who gives us God’s guidance and comfort. It is the Spirit who empowers us to do God’s will and to minister in his name. So, this is a promise we all need. We need to be continually filled with the Spirit as followers of Jesus.

3. God will give you eternal life

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16

This is a familiar and popular promise and rightfully so. Because of God’s love for us and  what Jesus has done for us, if we believe in Jesus, we will not be judged, but we will have eternal life. That is to say, right now. No waiting. God’s life comes into us and this will continue on forever.

4. Jesus will set you free from bondage to sin

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” – John 8:36

Just before this, Jesus talks about how “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” But the promise is that Jesus is both able and willing to set us free; to break the chains of our bondage so that we can serve God and live a new life.

This doesn’t mean that it will always be easy, and that there won’t be hard choices and difficult times ahead. But Jesus will give us what we need to remain free.

If this is where you are, I encourage you to claim this promise by faith. Ask Jesus to come and set you free.

5. God will provide for your material needs

“But strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” – Matthew 6:33

Notice the condition: seek the kingdom and his righteousness. Give this more thought and time than worrying about how you will gather up what you need for this life. And then, Jesus tells us, God will provide.

Now this is no promise of great wealth. In this scripture here (Matthew 6) the promise is for food and clothing. Like in the Lord’s prayer, we ask for daily bread. The promise is that God will give us what we need, not what we want. But yet, God’s provision is all we truly need.

6. God will providentially watch over you

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than sparrows.” – Matthew 10:29-31

Jesus spoke this to the disciples while teaching them about persecution and the danger of death. Jesus promises that God watches over us as his disciples and knows what goes on in our lives, down to the details.

If we find ourselves in danger, and we are walking with God – we don’t need to fear. God knows what’s going on. Whether it goes badly for us, or we are rescued, we know that we are in God’s loving hands.

7. God will give you wisdom

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” – James 1:5

We need to ask, and we need to ask in faith as James goes on to say. But if we do this, God will give us guidance and good judgment in how to make decisions and how to live our lives. And who doesn’t need wisdom, really, every day of our lives? What a great promise!“It will be given.”

8. God will give you peace

Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7

We don’t need to be stressed out. Rather, we can lift up our burdens to the Lord, give them to him, and ask for his help. And the promise is that God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds to keep the stress away. Like a soldier keeping patrol.

Unless, of course we let our worries back in. We have to let go of them all, and give them to God knowing that he will take care of us.

9. Nothing God calls you to do will be impossible for you

“For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” – Matthew 17:20

 Jesus had commissioned and empowered the disciples to cast out demons as a part of their work. But they had a case they couldn’t handle. Why? Because they thought it was way too hard!

And so Jesus teaches them, and us, that whatever God calls us to do we will be able to do, if we simply trust in God to act for us in each situation. Even if it seems impossible, like moving a mountain from one place to another.

10. God will give you a blessed future

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven . . .. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

The promise is that Jesus will return. And when he does, all faithful Christians will be resurrected to new life, with a new body.

We have an amazing future ahead! Things might not be going well for us now, but we have blessings waiting for us. And we “will always be with the Lord.” We can keep this in mind when we are going through hard times. In faith, think on these things and be encouraged.

  1. God will forgive your sins.
  2. God will give you the Holy Spirit
  3. God will give you eternal life
  4. Jesus will set you free from bondage to sin
  5. God will provide for your material needs
  6. God will providentially watch over you
  7. God will give you wisdom
  8. God will give you peace
  9. Nothing God calls you to do will be impossible for you
  10. God will give you a blessed future

So these are some of the many “precious and very great promises” that God gives to us, to use the words of 2 Peter 1:4. We will not be presuming upon God if we ask for these things.

But we do have to trust in God to receive all that these verses talk about; to receive the blessings of God. As I have said several times now, without faith, we should not “expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:7). But with faith, “all things are possible” (Mark 9:23). We can receive all that God has for us.

And let’s not be satisfied with what we have already received. We need to up our game! For instance, we need more of the Spirit, some of us need more deliverance, we all need more wisdom, peace in difficult times and power to do God’s will. Let’s raise our expectations and trust in God to act for us, standing on his promises.