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. Jeremiah 29:4-9
I love this passage. It is an excerpt from a letter that Jeremiah wrote and sent from Jerusalem to those who were in exile in Babylon. Jeremiah chapter 29 is gritty and real. It’s a letter written in the context of bloodshed, war and captivity. In addition, Jeremiah places it in this context intentionally. It describes, with attention only given to historical reality, the person who who carried this letter “Elasah the son of Shaphan and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.” Whew. That’s a long name! But, this specificity is in Scripture for a reason. It reminds us that this was a letter that Jeremiah truly wrote, and truly sent to the exiles. Jeremiah is continuing to call out false teachers, self-styled prophets who are saying that God is going to bring his people right out of Babylon. Hananiah, a false prophet, had promised that Jerusalem would be restored in just 2 years! This false message may have brought comfort to those weary, forced refugees. Think about it! Jerusalem was flying a flag not her own, and such words would have brought a faux comfort, reassurance that all would be well, but it was false comfort.
The Lord had different plans for his people. “Plans to prosper and not to harm,” yes. But that plan didn’t look like that from the surface. It looked like 70 long hard years of exile. In this time of exile, the Lord told them to put down roots. Don’t build lean-tos. Build houses. Don’t forage or graze, invest in the land you live in. Build gardens, plant, hoe, weed, and cultivate. Eat from those gardens. You’ll be there a long time. Get married. Have kids. Raise your kids. Marry off your kids. Have grandkids. Not only that, but as you live in a foreign place, with foreign gods and foreign beliefs, intercede for those people. Pray for their welfare. Identify with them. Yet, remain distinctly my people.
It would have been tempting for the Israelites to believe the false prophets, because they provided easy hope. It is however; only God’s long standing faithfulness and love that provides true hope.
Sometimes we face similar temptations today. We live in a society of instant gratification. Three steps to this, or ten principles for a better that. We like to think in terms of blitzes or sprints, but God often calls us to think in terms of ground war and marathons. We love to think that promises of rapid fulfillment are the answer, but God’s promises are always sure, and always in his time, not ours. We do well to place our trust in the God of never stopping, never giving up love–because he never fails to keep his promises. So, as we look at the needs of our own, our family, and our community, let us press into those challenges by looking in trust towards God. Know that God’s vision for flourishing is in the context of the long game (try eternity), and find comfort in his faithfulness!