Welfare, A Future, and Hope.

These 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. This 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. The 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. It said: “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; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take 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. But 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. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.

“For 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. For 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. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear 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 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.

“Because you have said, ‘The Lord has raised up prophets for us in Babylon,’ thus says the Lord concerning the king who sits on the throne of David, and concerning all the people who dwell in this city, your kinsmen who did not go out with you into exile: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, behold, I am sending on them sword, famine, and pestilence, and I will make them like vile figs that are so rotten they cannot be eaten. I will pursue them with sword, famine, and pestilence, and will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse, a terror, a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them, because they did not pay attention to my words, declares the Lord, that I persistently sent to you by my servants the prophets, but you would not listen, declares the Lord.’ Hear the word of the Lord, all you exiles whom I sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning Ahab the son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying a lie to you in my name: Behold, I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall strike them down before your eyes. Because of them this curse shall be used by all the exiles from Judah in Babylon: “The Lord make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire,” because they have done an outrageous thing in Israel, they have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives, and they have spoken in my name lying words that I did not command them. I am the one who knows, and I am witness, declares the Lord.’” Jeremiah 29:1-23 ESV

Jeremiah was in Jerusalem, where he remained with a contingent of the people who had been left behind by King Nebuchadnezzar when he defeated the city in 597 B.C. and took more than 10,000 of its inhabitants captive to Babylon, including the king, Jeconiah (2 Kings 24:10-17). Jeconiah, also known as Jehoachin, had surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar when the Babylonians had laid siege to the city. After being deposed and deported to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, Jehoachin was replaced as king by his uncle, Mattaniah, who became a vassal to Nebuchadnezzar and had his name changed to Zedekiah. He would prove to be the last king to sit on the throne of David in Judah. At least for a very long time.

Those who had been deported to Babylon have been out of sight and out of mind up until this point in the book of Jeremiah. All the focus has been on those who remained behind. Jeremiah has continued his assignment as God’s messenger, delivering His call to repentance to the people who found themselves still living in the land of Judah, but surrounded by Babylonian troops. God had warned them to submit to the Babylonians as if they were submitting to Him. If they did, they would survive. If they didn’t, they would face death by sword or famine. Now, God turns His attention to the captives. He has not forgotten them. And in His omniscience, He knows exactly what they have been up to during their brief time in exile. So, God has Jeremiah write a letter containing a message for those who found themselves suffering God’s judgment as captives in Babylon.

“Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” – Jeremiah 29:5-7 NLT

When you think about it, this is a somewhat perplexing message. The people who received it would have probably been a bit confused by it. Essentially, God was telling them to make the best of a what appeared to be a bad situation. I am sure they looked at their circumstances in Babylon and saw nothing good about it at all. They were living like refugees in a strange land. They were relegated to living in a restricted area near the Kabar canal. They weren’t even considered second-class citizens by the Babylonians. They were little more than slaves, with no rights or privileges. And here was God telling them to build homes, plant gardens, marry, have babies, and do everything they could do to help make their new home prosperous and successful. Essentially, God was telling them to settle down for the long-haul. There wasn’t going to be any quick reprieve or divine deliverance. In fact, God lets them know that exactly how long they will remain in the land of Babylon.

“You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again.” – Jeremiah 29:10 NLT

Seventy years. Seven decades. Long enough for a whole new generation to be born and raised in captivity. Based on the average life span in those days, most of those who were taken captive would probably end up dying in Babylon. It would be their sons and daughters who would end up returning after the 70 years was up. That’s why God commanded them to have children and to give their sons and daughters in marriage. Life was to go on, because God had plans for them. Very specific plans.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

Again, this message had to have come across as a bit odd. How in the world could 70 years of captivity be good? But God had a long-term perspective. He was focused on the future. He knew the outcome and saw the Babylonian captivity as nothing more than a blip on the radar screen of eternity. If you recall, God had told Abraham that His descendants would be slaves in Egypt for 400 years, but then He would rescue them and return them to the land He had promised to give Abraham. And it all happened just as God had said.

Then the Lord said to Abram, “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.) After four generations your descendants will return here to this land.” – Genesis 15:13-16 NLT

Once again, God was providing insight into future events and encouraging His people that He had their future covered. What appeared to be an unmitigated disaster was actually part of God’s sovereign plan for their lives. God tells them that when the 70 years us up, He will act.

“In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” – Jeremiah 29:12-14 NLT

What is interesting about God’s promise is that while it seems to be tied to the actions of the people of Judah who are living as exiles in Babylon. He says, “If you will look for me wholeheartedly…”. But according to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, the people never really did look for God. They never really called out to God. In fact, the book of Ezra opens up with the words:

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order to fulfill the Lord’s message spoken through Jeremiah, the Lord stirred the mind of King Cyrus of Persia. – Ezra 1:1 NLT

God moved the heart of a pagan king to issue a decree authorizing the return of the people of Judah to their land and to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple. Not only that, He was going to make sure they had enough funds to pay for their trip and to cover the costs of construction.

The Lord God of heaven has … has instructed me to build a temple for him in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Anyone from his people among you (may his God be with him!) may go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and may build the temple of the Lord God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. Anyone who survives in any of those places where he is a resident foreigner must be helped by his neighbors with silver, gold, equipment, and animals, along with voluntary offerings for the temple of God which is in Jerusalem.” – Ezra 1:2-4 NLT

This was a God-thing. There is no indication that the people called out to God. There are no signs of repentance on their part. In fact, it is more likely that the new generation of Israelites living in Babylon had become quite acclimated to their new surroundings, even adopting the gods of Babylon as their own. But God kept His word. He fulfilled what He had promised to do. After 70 years was up, the people were able to return to the land of Judah.

But before that could happen, God was going to deal with those who remained behind. He had warned them that they must submit to the yoke of Babylon. If they did, they would prosper. If they didn’t, they would suffer the consequences. And under King Zedekiah’s lousy leadership, the people of Judah who remained behind would refuse to bow before Nebuchadnezzar, essentially refusing to submit to God’s will for them. So, in 588 B.C., after 11 years of siege, the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem and completely destroyed the temple of God. Zedekiah was captured and forced to watch the execution of his sons before having his eyes gouged out. The walls of Jerusalem were destroyed. The homes within the walls were burned. Everything of value was taken as plunder. And the people scattered to the four winds, leaving the once great city of David deserted. And it would remain so until the remnant returned to restore and repopulate the city and rebuild the temple of God.

God was going to start over. A new generation would occupy the land. But God’s plans for their welfare were far from over. It would not be until His Son came to earth as the Messiah that the full extend of His promise was fulfilled. And it will not be until Jesus returns at His Second Coming that God’s final plans for the people of Israel are fully complete. His plans are focused on the future. His will is not yet complete. The outcome of His plans for Israel has yet to happen, but it will. Because He has promised.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson