PREPARATION FOR THE YEAR 2000: JEREMIAH 29:4-14
The first batch of exiles have been dragged off to Babylon. They will be joined by others in a few years time. Back in Jerusalem, Jeremiah cannot forget them and under the inspiration of the Lord God he writes them a pastoral letter.
vs 4-6 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to 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 numbers and do not decrease.
1. Be Normal The exiles are not to sit around moping, nor are they to be odd or eccentric in any way. Rather they are to get on with life normally as normal members of the community. They are going to have to be different and distinctive in a number of ways but not by being oddities. Even the New Testament with its instruction to ‘overcome evil with good’ and to ‘adorn the doctrine of God’ by ‘perfect courtesy toward all men’ hardly outstrips the boldness of this teaching. Notice the starting-point: God has sent these exiles into Babylon. At the very least, then, they should accept the situation. God has little time for grudging attitudes. This gloriously positive call provides liberation from the paralysing sullenness for inertia and self-pity, into doing for a start what comes to hand and makes for growth. The Bible is an enemy of fanaticism and oddity. Be normal!
V.7 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.
2. Be Concerned This is definitely not normal! In today’s society when most people are just out for themselves, this concern for the welfare, both physical and spiritual, of the surrounding community is very striking. Jeremiah’s plea amounts to a call for a spiritual Neighbourhood Watch scheme. It ought always to be this way – God’s people concerned for and a blessing to the people with whom they live and work. It is part of being salt and light and reflects the fact that all God’s standards are good for us and so when they are implemented they are bound to have a beneficial effect. Be concerned!
vs 8-9 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 that you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them, says the Lord.
3. Be Patient. The false prophets Jeremiah warns against are not from the cults of the New Age but from the community of believers and they begin to promise what everybody wants to hear. They are especially dangerous in times of hardship and persecution when we are longing for hope and encouragement. We have to beware especially when the date moves towards some nought at the turn of a century or a millennium. “It won’t be long now; it will soon be over; revival is about to break out; the year 2000 is the year to watch; things aren’t as bad as Jeremiah and the doomsters say; the ball is at our feet” Because we so long for it to be thus we can be easy prey for these false teachers with their over-realised eschatology, promising heaven on earth in the here and now rather than patiently waiting for it in the then and there. Be patient!
vs 10-14 This is what the Lord says: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfil my gracious promises 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…
4. Be Confident. Here we encounter some of the grandest promises of the whole Bible. How can we afford to be normal, concerned, patient? Only if we have the conviction that His plans for us are for good and not for evil. There may well have to be a time of waiting, and like the exiles in Babylon we may be serving a generation yet unborn. Nonetheless, we can have total confidence in our own eventual destiny if we are those who ‘seek Him with all our heart’ (v.13) This true hope (along with faith and love, but these days less emphasised) is to be one of the hallmarks of the Christian. Indeed one recent definition of a Christian is that he or she is the one who can humbly stand before God on the day of judgment unafraid, such is the totality of our assurance of the trustworthiness of His promise. Moreover we are to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us (I Peter 1 v.15)
We do not trust the short term promises of the false teachers who say “Peace, peace, when there is no peace” but we have complete confidence in the promises of a God who will never break His word.
So: be normal, be concerned, be patient and be confident!
Jonathan Fletcher, the author of this exposition, is a member of the Emmanuel, Wimbledon ministry team and teaches the Bible in this country and overseas.