It was mayhem. No one saw it coming. The army of Babylon had come in like a flood and had ravished Jerusalem. Thousands of people were ripped away from their homes, and families were unalterably separated. It must have been a horrendous scene. As slaves in a foreign land, their days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months. It seemed there was no one to rescue them from this turmoil. Certainly they had no future in this place. All hope was lost. But God had not forgotten His people. In fact, God had one prophet who was listening to Him, and so He directed Jeremiah to write a letter of encouragement and instruction to the exiles in Babylon.
The letter began like this:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters…; and multiply there and do not decrease. 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 have welfare.’” (Jeremiah 29:4-7)
I love how God speaks personally to the Jewish exiles and tells them right off the bat that HE HAS SENT them there. What? That doesn’t seem good at all. Why would a loving God cause this kind of suffering by sending His own people into exile to such a pagan place as Babylon? But that’s not all. There were exiled prophets trying to “speak for God” telling the people to resist their captors. But in this letter, God is not telling them to take up arms, but rather to put down roots in Babylon. Wow! The interesting thing was that the captives were actually the blessed ones. Those left behind in Jerusalem would suffer even more during this time. Is it possible that God would move us to the safety of captivity in order for us to find freedom and learn to be completely dependent upon Him in the midst of it?
It’s clear that GOD sent them to Babylon, and instructed them to “live” in the land. Next, He tells them to pray for their captors. Come again? They are slaves in a hostile place and they are told to pray for the welfare of the land. Why? Because the welfare of Babylon will directly affect their own welfare. And there’s more. In verse 10, God tells them exactly how long their trial will last; seventy years (Jeremiah 29:10).
And now we come to Jeremiah 29:11. One of the most quoted verses in the Bible. Still a part of this same letter to the exiles, God says, “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’”
When I read this verse in the context of the first ten verses of Jeremiah 29, I’m struck with the challenge that it must have been for the Lord to get the people to believe His words.
A few months ago, I was doing an event that would cause me to be away from the house for about seven hours. My Father- In-Law offered to take my dog, Chewy, to his house for the entire time. Chewy likes to go to “grandpa and grandma’s” house, and I felt really good about what we had planned for Chewy’s future that day. That being said, I knew of this plan much earlier in the day, but I couldn’t tell her until it was actually going to happen. Dogs don’t understand time. If I told her about our plans too early, she would get excited and freak out thinking that it was “now.” Then, when I made her wait, she might start to think that I had lied to her. I had to wait until we were leaving before I unveiled my plans for her bright future.
Maybe that’s the way it is with God and us. We can’t understand time like He does. He can’t tell us our future too soon because we would freak out, and think His word was not true when it didn’t come to pass right away.
If you’re feeling like you’ve been in exile for so long that you’ve lost all hope of a future, please consider how Jeremiah 29 could apply to you. Rest assured, for those of us who have a relationship with Jesus, He’s got good plans for us (Ephesians 2:10).
In a way, we are very similar to the people of God in Jeremiah 29, because no matter what turmoil surrounds us right now, we need to be patient and trust God’s word. When we can’t understand His ways, we need to trust His intentions. There’s no question about it, we have a bright future ahead of us.
Shalom! Big D