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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.