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.
‘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.