Jeremiah’s Letter to the Exiles, 1-23

29:1 The prophet Jeremiah sent a letter to the exiles Nebuchadnezzar had carried off from Jerusalem to Babylon. It was addressed to the elders who were left among the exiles, to the priests, to the prophets, and to all the other people who were exiled in Babylon. 29:2 He sent it after King Jeconiah, the queen mother, the palace officials, the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metal workers had been exiled from Jerusalem. 29:3 He sent it with Elasah son of Shaphan and Gemariah son of Hilkiah. King Zedekiah of Judah had sent these men to Babylon to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The letter said:
29:4 “The LORD God of Israel who rules over all says to all those he sent into exile to Babylon from Jerusalem, 29:5 ‘Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what they produce. 29:6 Marry and have sons and daughters. Find wives for your sons and allow your daughters get married so that they too can have sons and daughters. Grow in number; do not dwindle away. 29:7 Work to see that the city where I sent you as exiles enjoys peace and prosperity. Pray to the LORD for it. For as it prospers you will prosper.’

It is as if God is saying: “Accept your punishment; get used to living in exile.  You will not be here for ever, but you will be here for many years.  If you regard Babylon as simply ‘the enemy’ and yourselves as ‘the victims’, then you will neither take proper responsibility for what you have done nor find peace in the land to which you have been exiled.”

Therefore, ‘the exiles should pray for Babylon because it is their home and because in the near future, the fate of Babylon will be the fate of the people as well. God will continue to use the enemy to instruct his people. Perhaps the people will offer some witness to the “enemy” and thereby lead to another aspect of God’s instruction—to be a light to the nations (Isa. 42:6; 49:6; 51:4).’ (NIVAC)

29:8 “For the LORD God of Israel who rules over all says, ‘Do not let the prophets or those among you who claim to be able to predict the future by divination deceive you. And do not pay any attention to the dreams that you are encouraging them to dream. 29:9 They are prophesying lies to you and claiming my authority to do so. But I did not send them. I, the LORD, affirm it!’

‘True hope is based on the revealed Word of God, not on the “dream messages” of self-appointed prophets’ (Wiersbe)

29:10 “For the LORD says, ‘Only when the seventy years of Babylonian rule are over will I again take up consideration for you. Then I will fulfill my gracious promise to you and restore you to your homeland. 29:11 For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the LORD. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope. 29:12 When you call out to me and come to me in prayer, I will hear your prayers. 29:13 When you seek me in prayer and worship, you will find me available to you. If you seek me with all your heart and soul, 29:14 I will make myself available to you,’ says the LORD. ‘Then I will reverse your plight and will regather you from all the nations and all the places where I have exiled you,’ says the LORD. ‘I will bring you back to the place from which I exiled you.’

“When seventy years are completed for Babylon” – this in contradiction of the false prophets, v8f, who were predicting that the exile in Babylon would be of short duration, and that the people should therefore not put roots down there. Note, we should not only oppose false teaching, but present the truth. You won’t persuade someone to pull down the house he has built on the sand, unless you can also point to a rock which will provide a surer foundation. (Henry)

‘Though the deliverance of the church do not come in our time, it is sufficient that it will come in God’s time, and we are sure that that is the best time.’ (Henry)

“I will…fulfill my gracious promise” – ‘Let not the failing of those predictions which are delivered as from God lessen the reputation of those that really are from him.’ (Henry)

“I know the plans” – Though we often do not know our own minds, and when we do, our actions are often far different, it is not so with God. He knows his own mind, and his actions perfectly match his thoughts.

“Plans to prosper you and not to harm you” – It would be easy to suppose, during a time of protracted adversity, that God’s purposes were against us. But he knows that the contrary is the case. Even that which seem evil is designed for good.

‘From what is said in vv. 4–9 the recipients of the letter would not see this change from judgment to redemption, but perhaps their children or grandchildren would.’ (Longman)

“Plans to give you hope and a future” – ‘The nation shall not come to an end; the exile shall be followed by a restoration.’ (Barnes)

This verse is one of the most beloved verses in the Bible.  But it has all too often been taken out of context and therefore misapplied.

In context, this wonderful promise was given to his people during their time exile.  The fulfilment of the promise to restore Israel’s fortunes would not be seen by the present generation, but rather their children or even their grandchildren (v10).  The promise is framed in terms that demand an earnest seeking and praying to the Lord (v12f).  For these reasons, it would be quite wrong to apply this verse glibly and indiscriminately to ourselves today.

Plans to prosper and not to harm – really?

John Lennox asks what it meant then, and what it means now, for God to have ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you’.  It certainly didn’t look like that to Daniel and his three young friends, as they stumbled out of Jerusalem, looking back (as we may supposed) with tear-filled eyes at the sorrowful faces of their parents.

What does Jeremiah mean when he says that God has plans not to harm us? Were Daniel and his friends not harmed by being wrenched from the stability of their homes and taken to Babylon? Is a person not harmed by injury or disease, persecution or famine? Does a cancer that takes a wife from her husband, or a mother from her children, not harm that husband and family? What then can it mean, that God has plans not to harm us?

Lennox points us to the words of Jesus, when he makes it clear that the kind of harm that kills the body is not harm as God sees it (Mt 10:28-31).  And Peter follows suit, when he teaches that when we suffer for righteousness’ sake we will be blessed (1 Pet 3:13f).

We need, then, to look at harm, and the ultimate ‘harm’ (death) from an eternal perspective:-

‘If physical death is the end of existence, as atheists assert, then Peter’s words are utterly empty. Worse than that, they are positively deceitful. If death is not the end, but a doorway that marks a transition into something much bigger, everything looks different.’

Daniel himself was given this assurance from a heavenly messenger:- ‘But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.’ (Daniel 12:13.)

That is a perspective that a naturalistic worldview cannot envisage:-

‘By definition, a supernatural hole in history cannot be seen through the lens of a materialistic (or naturalistic) world-view. But that does not prove it isn’t there. A physical apparatus that is designed only to detect light in the visible spectrum will never detect X-rays, but it doesn’t prove that X-rays don’t exist.’

Lennox, John C. Against the Flow: The inspiration of Daniel in an age of relativism

‘When God designs mercy, he puts it into the hearts of his people to pray for the mercy designed. When such a spirit of prayer is poured out, it is a sure sign of coming mercy.’ (JFB)

This promise of exquisite tenderness echoes Deut 4:29-30, and anticipates Mt 7:8.

29:15 “You say, ‘The LORD has raised up prophets of good news for us here in Babylon.’ 29:16 But just listen to what the LORD has to say about the king who occupies David’s throne and all your fellow countrymen who are still living in this city of Jerusalem and were not carried off into exile with you. 29:17 The LORD who rules over all says, ‘I will bring war, starvation, and disease on them. I will treat them like figs that are so rotten they cannot be eaten. 29:18 I will chase after them with war, starvation, and disease. I will make all the kingdoms of the earth horrified at what happens to them. I will make them examples of those who are cursed, objects of horror, hissing scorn, and ridicule among all the nations where I exile them. 29:19 For they have not paid attention to what I said to them through my servants the prophets whom I sent to them over and over again,’ says the LORD. ‘And you exiles have not paid any attention to them either,’ says the LORD. 29:20 ‘So pay attention to what I, the LORD, have said, all you exiles whom I have sent to Babylon from Jerusalem.’
29:21 “The LORD God of Israel who rules over all also has something to say about Ahab son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying lies to you and claiming my authority to do so. ‘I will hand them over to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and he will execute them before your very eyes. 29:22 And all the exiles of Judah who are in Babylon will use them as examples when they put a curse on anyone. They will say, “May the LORD treat you like Zedekiah and Ahab whom the king of Babylon roasted to death in the fire!” 29:23 This will happen to them because they have done what is shameful in Israel. They have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives and have spoken lies while claiming my authority. They have spoken words that I did not command them to speak. I know what they have done. I have been a witness to it,’ says the LORD.”

A Response to the Letter and a Subsequent Letter, 24-32

29:24 The LORD told Jeremiah, “Tell Shemaiah the Nehelamite 29:25 that the LORD God of Israel who rules over all has a message for him. Tell him, ‘On your own initiative you sent a letter to the priest Zephaniah son of Maaseiah and to all the other priests and to all the people in Jerusalem. In your letter you said to Zephaniah, 29:26 “The LORD has made you priest in place of Jehoiada. He has put you in charge in the LORD’s temple of controlling any lunatic who pretends to be a prophet. And it is your duty to put any such person in the stocks with an iron collar around his neck. 29:27 You should have reprimanded Jeremiah from Anathoth who is pretending to be a prophet among you! 29:28 For he has even sent a message to us here in Babylon. He wrote and told us, “You will be there a long time. Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what they produce.” ’ ”
29:29 Zephaniah the priest read that letter to the prophet Jeremiah. 29:30 Then the LORD spoke to Jeremiah. 29:31 “Send a message to all the exiles in Babylon. Tell them, ‘The LORD has spoken about Shemaiah the Nehelamite. “Shemaiah has spoken to you as a prophet even though I did not send him. He is making you trust in a lie. 29:32 Because he has done this,” the LORD says, “I will punish Shemaiah the Nehelamite and his whole family. There will not be any of them left to experience the good things that I will do for my people. I, the LORD, affirm it! For he counseled rebellion against the LORD.” ’ ”