The people of Israel are in distress. Taken from their homes and now in exile in Babylon, they sing songs of desolation and long for the time when they will return to the land God promised them. Their prophets say this will be soon. Jeremiah brings them a message from God, but is it the one they are looking for and how does it bring them comfort in the midst of their suffering?
Words for the Week
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 …
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 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. 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.”
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. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.
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. 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. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 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.”
1 Peter 1:1-7
I, Peter, am an apostle on assignment by Jesus, the Messiah, writing to exiles scattered to the four winds. Not one is missing, not one forgotten. God the Father has his eye on each of you, and has determined by the work of the Spirit to keep you obedient through the sacrifice of Jesus. May everything good from God be yours!
What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven — and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all — life healed and whole.
I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.
Jeremiah 29:11 is a favourite verse of mine. When I’m facing a difficult decision – or even a difficult day – it is reassuring to know that God ‘knows the plans he has for me’ and that they include ‘a hope and a future’. Even though I don’t know what will happen I can rest assured that God does, and he will bring good out of whatever situation I am facing.
But how often do we see this verse as a kind of get out of jail free card promising immediate relief, and not really understand it’s context. Written to the exiles in Babylon, God is actually saying “yes, you as a community of God’s people will be restored – but not yet. It’s going to be 70 years – which means it will likely be your children – not you – who go back.” In the meantime, they are experiencing ‘life in the gap’.
This resonates with the New Testament ‘now and not yet’ of the kingdom. In 1 Peter 1, we are also called exiles who, just like the Jews, have our allegiance to another place and are looking toward the day of restoration. Jeremiah’s surprising directive to the Jews was to “Make yourselves at home there and work for the country’s welfare. Pray for Babylon’s well-being. If things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you.” (Jeremiah 29:7). Translated for today, we are to live for God just where he has put us, reflecting kingdom values as we seek the welfare of our city.
‘How are exiles to live? By carrying on doing what we have been called to do as those made in the image of God’
Anthony Billingham, LICC
But even in exile, God does not forsake us. He brings comfort through a vision of the future and, most importantly, a restored relationship with Him. Back in Israel, the Jews had ignored the warnings of the prophets and suffered the consequences of rejecting God. Now God was using their suffering in exile to get their attention. He reassures them that if they call on him, he will answer and be found by them. Like it was for them, our suffering can be used to deepen our faith and make us more like Christ, and this ultimately is the comfort and the victory of following God.
Own it personally…
Where are you finding things difficult and looking for an immediate way out? What is God saying to you about this situation? Remember, he has promised to walk alongside you in whatever situation you find yourself.
Jeremiah’s words brought comfort and hope to people who were in a really difficult situation. Who does God want you to be an encouragement to today? Ask him to show you.
How can you ‘seek the peace and prosperity of Bristol’ (or wherever you live)? There are lots of fantastic local initiatives working with many different groups of people. Are you being called to get involved with one of these? Look out for information about HOPE18 happening over Easter 2018.
Speak it Out
Action often follows prayer. Find out how to pray for the city from 24/7 prayer