HOPE AND A FUTURE
Lord, thank You for encouragement while we are still here on earth.
Read JEREMIAH 29:1–14
A Letter to the Exiles
29 This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 (This was after King Jehoiachin and the queen mother, the court officials and the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the skilled workers and the artisans had gone into exile from Jerusalem.) 3 He entrusted the letter to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. It said:
4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 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.” 8 Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.
10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 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. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Jeremiah’s famous letter made the rounds. See Daniel 9:2.
There is no doubt that Jeremiah’s primary calling is to the community remaining in Judah, specifically in Jerusalem, rather than to those already exiled to Babylon. However, that doesn’t mean that he isn’t also concerned about them. Our tendency to focus on our own ministry doesn’t mean a total disregard for God’s other interests! Jeremiah could not preach to the exiles, but, as today’s reading tells us, he could at least send a letter. The last part of this letter concentrates again on judgment, making sure that the exiles understand that those still in Judah are not exempt, but the first part, which we are looking at today, is much more positive.
Verse 11, probably the best-known verse in Jeremiah, is often recruited to apply universally to every believer in every situation. However, it is important to recognize the original context. Jeremiah has two sets of advice for the exiles: first, advice about how to get along in their present circumstances. Basically he says to settle down, get on with life, and accept that they will be there long enough for their children to grow old. Second, he then turns to the future and God’s promise that, after their lengthy stay in Babylon, they will be returned to their own land. This is the hope that Jeremiah articulates. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 makes it clear that his followers are not of this world, so perhaps Jeremiah’s advice to the exiles in Babylon can be reinterpreted and applied to those of us awaiting return to our natural home in the world to come. We can’t interpret verse 11 as a promise that everything will work out happily in this world, but we can be sure that one day we are going home.
Try spending some time this week thinking about how your attitude to life now is, or should be, affected by your hope for an eternal future home.
Lord, although we are sojourners down here, in the world but not of it, we nonetheless maintain our expectancy of a much better world to come in which You reign and rule.