JEREMIAH: CLAIMING GOD’S PROMISES

Jeremiah 29:10—14

This chapter of Jeremiah’s collection of prophecies and sermons is a little different because the content of two letters makes up its content. Both letters were written by Jeremiah to Jews taken into captivity by the Babylonians. The first letter has to do with the general welfare of the exiles with a strong warning against listening to false prophets. In the second letter, addressed to all the exiles, Jeremiah deals specifically with one false prophet in particular.

The citizens of Judah didn’t go into captivity all at once. Before the final onslaught of the Babylonian horde, Judah experienced two small exiles in 605 BC and 597 BC before the last and greatest Exile of 587 BC. This letter went out to the small groups of exiles taken first. While in exile, they had been hearing from false prophets among them that their exile would be short; that it would soon come to an end and they would be allowed to return home. If only that had been true!

1. The setting, verses 1—9

This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. (This was after King Jehoiachin and the queen mother, the court officials and the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen and the artisans had gone into exile from Jerusalem.) He entrusted the letter to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon.

Apparently during these early captivities, there were regular communications between Judah and Babylon, and Jeremiah was able to have his letter carried by emissaries from King Zedekiah traveling to see King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. We don’t know much about these emissaries, Elash and Gemariah, but Jeremiah must have trusted them to get this letter to its intended destination.

It must have been a strange and stressful time for both the Jews in Judah and the group of Jews in Babylon. Both knew of each other’s existence, both seemed to be able to communicate to the other, and both had to deal with false prophets. In Judah, the false prophets were still running around telling anybody who would listen that things were going to get better. In Babylon, the false prophets among those in exile were peddling the same, upbeat lie: things would get better and they would be heading home any day. This makes Jeremiah’s advice to the exiles even more important. What he wrote to them was, as it were, the Word of the Lord for them. The following verses constitute God’s will for the exiles, and it was not good news at all. God’s will is, admittedly, hard to take some times, but it is God’s will nonetheless. We, His children, aren’t called to understand the “why’s” of it. We are called, simply to obey it.

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 number there; do not decrease. 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.” (verses 5—7)

This advice from God by way of Jeremiah’s letter was in complete opposition to what the false prophets were saying. Far from their rosy predictions of a short “vacation” among the pagans in Babylon, theirs was to be an extended stay! So long, in fact, that they might as well get used to the idea and start building lives for themselves and their families among the Babylonians. Thoughts of Egypt must have rushed through their minds! Could it be that God was abandoning them again to some heathen land? Of course not! God was angry with His people, but they remained HIS people. All they needed was some stern discipline.

They were build homes, have children, and work to support themselves in whatever city they found themselves living. In fact, they were to do even more than that. Here, in Jeremiah 29:7 we see the very first admonition to “pray for your enemies” in Scripture. If they, the exiled Jews were to prosper, the Babylonians were to prosper too! Now, that was a mighty big pill for them to swallow!

2. The plans of God, verse 11

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.”

We often hear this verse recited at funeral services, but here we see its proper context. It has nothing to do with death, but everything to do with life and hope for the future in spite of the present. All great men in history thought great plans. We serve a God greater than all these great men put together and His plans are so far above ours as to be unbelievable. He said as much to another prophet, Habakkuk:

Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. (Habakkuk 1:5)

Here is what God’s plan looks like:

I know the plans I have for you… First of all, God always deals with the individual. Science and philosophy cannot discern the mind of God. God’s will for a person cannot be found in a library or a petrie dish or in the halls of a university. It is not up to doctors or parents or employers to tell you what God wants for you. The heavens may declare the glory of God, but only His Word can tell you what He wants for you. God has a plan for each and every person ever born or ever to be born. For those who don’t know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, that plan involves eternal separation from Him. But for those who claim His Son, God’s plans are “out of this world!”

…plans to prosper you and not to harm you… The future for the exiles looked bleak in the natural. In the natural, the future is always bleak because it depends on too many “natural” variables beyond our control. Think about it for a moment. For most Americans, their future depends on paper with numbers printed on it. But who controls what that paper is worth? Things like rain or a frost or wind or decisions made a world away can determine your future. Why would anybody take the chance? God’s plans for the exiles in Babylon are the same as His plans for modern-day exiles on earth: plans of prosperity and peace.

to give you hope and a future. God will secure for all exiles, past, present, and future, a blessed future. Think about it. God’s plans for Judah have not yet come to past. Consider:

On that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem. “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. (Zechariah 12:9, 10)

And God’s plans for His Church are inexpressible:

…in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:7)

The thoughts and plans of God, revealed to us and believed by us, ought to encourage us and inspire us with new hope and fresh anticipation, not only for a blessed future here in this world, but also in the next. The psalmist said it right:

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! (Psalm 139:17)

3. The expectation of God, verses 12, 13

Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Now that you know what God’s plans are, what do you about them? God has an expectation of those to whom He has revealed His thoughts.

…you will call upon me… A glimpse of God demands a pursuit of God. God’s Word, when it gets into your heart, burns like a fire. It can propel you deeper and deeper in a quest to know Him more. God’s Word so often involves promises, yet all too often those promises go unclaimed because we who know better, are ignorant of them. Some Christians think God is a stingy miser because they keep asking for things already given to them, because they don’t reach out in faith to lay hold of them! When you know God and you have an understanding, however imperfect, of His Word, you will call to Him.

…come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. Not only will you call to God, but you will “come to Him” or “seek” Him out. A lover of God wants to be spend time with God! The more you get to know God, the more you want to talk to Him. And His promise is clear: He will listen to you. God knows what you sound like. He never fails to listen to every word prayed in faith.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. What a comfort! What a promise! Those who are earnestly seeking God will always find Him! God is not elusive. God does not play games like “Hide and Seek” with anybody. The sinner crying out for forgiveness in repentance will always find God. The saint who is desperate for more of God will never be disappointed.

But all this is what God expects from those who know Him. It is your responsibility to take the initiative when you have been given a glimpse of God and His plans for you.

4. The promises of God, verse 14

I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

These promises given by God to the exiles in Babylon are proofs of just how much God loves His people and how precious are His plans for them.

I will be found by you… God is there to be found. This is, of course, man’s perspective. God isn’t lost so he can’t be found. When anybody “finds” God, that person is actually drawn to God by God, but to that one, God is found like gold nugget in a stream. When one seeks God with an earnest heart; when one prays to God, God is THERE in Person, listening. God doesn’t find ways to avoid you. God’s not on the “other line” when you call. In fact, God longs to be found found you.

[I will] bring you back from captivity. God promised to deliver the exiles just as He has promised to set repentant sinners free from their bondage to sin. If Jesus is your Lord, sin has no more claim on you; God has set you free from that sin as surely as those exiles were set free.

I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” The accumulated sins of the people drove them away, but God’s grace will bring them back. Christ suffered, the sinless for sinners, to bring them back to God.

Seventy years after the exile began, the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem. Many went back, many chose to remain in the Persian Empire. There will come a day when all of God’s people will be gathered to Himself. What happened to the Jews back then is an imperfect preview of what will happen when Christ returns.

In Acts 15:14, we read this:

Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself.

God has always called for Himself people from out of this world. and set them apart from all others. First the Jews, then from among the ranks of the Gentiles. God wants a holy, set apart people to call His own.

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