Jeremiah's Letter to the People
1-2 I had been left in Jerusalem when King Nebuchadnezzar took many of the people of Jerusalem and Judah to Babylonia as prisoners, including King Jehoiachin, his mother, his officials, and the metal workers and others in Jerusalem who were skilled in making things. So I wrote a letter to the priests, the prophets, the leaders, and the rest of our people in Babylonia. 3I gave the letter to Elasah and Gemariah, two men that King Zedekiah of Judah was sending to Babylon to talk with Nebuchadnezzar. In the letter, I wrote 4that the Lord All-Powerful, the God of Israel, had said:
I had you taken from Jerusalem to Babylonia. Now I tell you 5to settle there and build houses. Plant gardens and eat what you grow in them. 6Get married and have children, then help your sons find wives and help your daughters find husbands, so they can have children as well. I want your numbers to grow, not to get smaller.
7Pray for peace in Babylonia and work hard to make it prosperous. The more successful that nation is, the better off you will be.
8-9Some of your people there in Babylonia are fortunetellers, and you have asked them to tell you what will happen in the future. But they will only lead you astray with their dreams. And don't let the prophets fool you, either. They speak in my name, but they are liars. I have not spoken to them.
10 After Babylonia has been the strongest nation for 70 years, I will be kind and bring you back to Jerusalem, just as I have promised. 11I will bless you with a future filled with hope—a future of success, not of suffering. 12You will turn back to me and ask for help, and I will answer your prayers. 13 You will worship me with all your heart, and I will be with you 14and accept your worship. Then I will gather you from all the nations where I scattered you, and you will return to Jerusalem.
The Middle East, it seems, has been a battleground for centuries. At the end of the seventh century B.C. three empires were vying for power: Egypt, Assyria and Babylonia. Israel stood seemingly helpless in the middle of it all. In 609 Israel’s king Josiah was killed at Megiddo as he attempted to prevent Egypt from coming to the aid of Assyria in facing Babylonia. Four years later the three powers met at Carchemish and Babylon, under Nebuchadnezzar, emerged supreme. In 597 Nebuchadnezzar deported Jehoiachin to Babylon, along with people of power and influence and skilled craftsmen, especially metal workers. The prophet Ezekiel was among these.
Jeremiah’s letter, recorded in this chapter, is God’s message to the exiles. They had been listening to their own “prophets” telling them that this exile would only be short-lived. Jeremiah’s message stood in sharp and shocking contrast. It was not what they wanted to hear.
• It was God who had sent them into exile (v 4). That’s right, God. This punishment had been a long time coming. God had warned them of the consequences of disobedience when they first entered the land (Deuteronomy 29:24-28).
• They would be there a long time (vv 5-6). They were to pray for their enemies and for the prosperity of the land they were now living in, as their own prosperity was bound up in it.
• They would one day return, when they sought the Lord with their whole heart (vv 10-14). God had not abandoned them. He had “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (v 11, NIV).
Before we lift verse 11 out of context as God’s promise to us, let’s remember that this promise comes to the people of Judah only after the devastating experience of seeing the Babylonians looting the temple and tearing down their walls, losing the promised land, living through the cruelty of deportation and living in exile. God’s word to us is two-fold. His blessing depends on our readiness to hear and obey with our whole hearts. We will read more of this in the next chapters.
Forgive us, Father, that we too so often hear only what we want to hear. We memorize verses that promise us blessing, but close our ears to your warnings. Help us to hear both, and follow you with our whole hearts. In Jesus’ name, Amen.