Jeremiah 29:1-14

True or False Hope?

        July 7, 2002                                           2002, J.W. Carter              Scripture quotes from KJV

This portion of scripture is a letter that Jeremiah wrote to those in exile. These folks needed hope. False prophets and leaders were misguiding them, leading them into errors that would cause them to suffer. In the previous chapter, God used Jeremiah to expose the false prophet Hananiah who was leading people to rebel against the Babylonian government. He gave them the false hope that such a rebellion would be successful, and they would be able to return home to Judah in two years. Jeremiah had quite a different message from God.

Judah was taken into exile in three stages. In 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar took some of Judah's choice young people, including Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. The chief official gave them new names: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, respectively. In 657 BC Nebuchadnezzar deported King Jeconiah, his household, artisans, and the temple treasures. In 587 BC Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians, the temple was destroyed, and those who survived the plagues prophesied by Jeremiah were taken off to Babylon. This letter was sent shortly after the second stage when King Jeconiah was taken captive.

Remember Jeremiah's earlier prophesy that the yoke of wood would be replaced by a yoke of iron if the people did not give way to Nebuchadnezzar. Obviously, his prophesy came true. Whereas, now that the people have been thoroughly defeated and taken captive, they are left without hope. Jeremiah's letter is intended to give them hope in the presence of their difficulty.

Jeremiah 29:1-2.

Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem unto the residue of the elders which were carried away captives, and to the priests, and to the prophets, and to all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon; 2(After that Jeconiah the king, and the queen, and the eunuchs, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, and the carpenters, and the smiths, were departed from Jerusalem;)

"Surviving elders" or "residue" probably refers to those tribal leaders who survived the Babylonian aggression and the trip into captivity. It can be inferred that many did not survive. This is probably the only direct reference in this passage to the amount of suffering those of Judah endured. During the period prior to the Babylonian attack their refusal to bow to Nebuchadnezzar coincided with a severe drought and famine. Recall that Jeremiah had also prophesied this.

What, do you suppose are some of the feelings and thoughts that the people had? What are some circumstances that cause people to lose hope? The most significant crises in our own lives involve the changing of our expectations and plans. We establish a set of hopes and dreams only to see them shattered by a consequent crisis. I know this is true, and I know of several in our circle of relationships who even today are severely hurting from previous and unresolved crises. People are hurting because they perceive those significant changes in life's direction as a crisis of loss, and have consequently responded to that crisis in a self-destructive manner. The Jews did this in their experience with the Babylonian captivity. They were so wrapped up in their interface with their circumstances that they were blinded to God's part in the process. Jeremiah sought, in this letter, to turn their hearts and minds to the truth of God's sovereignty and God's provision and purpose for these circumstances. If they would listen to his prophesy they would find hope and encouragement. However, they did not do so.

Even in exile the Hebrews continued to look to false prophets and to diviners who sought God's word from natural forces or animal parts. Change of scenery and economic conditions did nothing to change their sinful attempts to create revelation rather than depending on God for it. Prophets receiving divine revelation appeared to some observers to be made (v 26). Compare 1 Sa 21:15; 2 Ki 9:11.

Jeremiah 29:3.

By the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan, and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, (whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent unto Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon) saying,

The couriers were from priestly families connected with the reform of Josiah. It is possible that Gemariah was the son of Hilkiah, the famous priest of Josiah's day. Their mission almost certainly included the carrying of tribute or payment to Nebuchadnezzar from Zedekiah, showing the latter's loyalty.

Jeremiah 29:4.

Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon;

Who, does this verse, say carried the people off to Babylon? (God did, see 25:1-4) What part does God play in those circumstances that cause us grief and despair? Does God put together circumstances to test us?

James 1:12-15.   Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Though God may have not willed our circumstances, as we turn away from him and suffer the circumstances of our sin, we know that God uses those circumstances for our good.

James 1:2-4. Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

This verse describes a significant concept of endurance. When we are enduring trials, we are to let those trials complete the work they are to produce. This is similar to the message that Jeremiah is delivering to the Jews.

Jeremiah 29:5-7.

Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; 6Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished. 7And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.

What was God's instruction for the Jews?  Rather than waste their efforts in fruitless rebellion that would destroy their own lives, they were to provide for their families, making the best of a terrible situation. The word 'houses' refers to permanent homes rather than the temporary shacks they were currently building. What does such instruction imply?  Jeremiah is prophesying that they will be there long enough to justify the building of the permanent houses, and they can enjoy them while they are there.

Likewise, they are instructed to plant gardens to provide them with food.

They were to raise families and multiply, just as they had done in Egypt. Note that it was their great numbers that first caused Pharaoh to consider dealing with them, ultimately leading to their freedom.  It would be similar success in their society that would ultimately lead to their freedom to return home.

Finally, they were to settle down and seek and pray for the well-being (Shalom) of Babylon and the cities in which they lived. Why? Their well-being depended upon the well-being of Babylon. 

We all, at some time in our lives, establish hopes and dreams, only to find them shattered. How do we react at such times?  Often we think we have experienced a devastating and irreparable loss, and we even may think that our lire, as we knew it, is over.  What tragic error are we making? How do we reconcile our plans with God's plans when we again consider:

Isaiah 5:8-9 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD.  "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

If we set before us a single plan, we are setting ourselves up for a fall. I experienced this first-hand when I planned out a future in upstate New York that included profession, mission, and ministry.  Our exodus from upstate New York was unexpected and ill-received, resulting in a period of confusion, and no little bitterness.

These verses really give us four responses on dealing with changes in our plans.

(1) God is in control. Usually we think when our dreams are destroyed that God has left us. Remember that our dreams most likely were leading us away from God.
(2) Establish yourselves in the path that God has placed you in. This can be a tough one, particularly if our hearts and minds are still on the other path, considering all that took place a "loss" rather than gaining what God has provided for us.
(3) Grow your families. What does this mean? Tend to the important priorities first. Oftentimes we get so wrapped up on feeling sorry for ourselves that we forget our responsibilities to others. Dwelling on the other path we desired is destructive to the welfare of all those to whom we have responsibility.
(4) Be peaceful citizens. Accept the path that God has chosen and look for doors to open that He has provided.

Jeremiah 29:8-9.

For thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Let not your prophets and your diviners, that be in the midst of you, deceive you, neither hearken to your dreams which ye cause to be dreamed. 9For they prophesy falsely unto you in my name: I have not sent them, saith the LORD.

The false prophets were teaching that the people would soon return home. What would have happened if the people had listened to them?  The Jews would not have established themselves, would have become disillusioned, would stayed at the bottom of the economic ladder, and would have decreased in number.  Conflict would arise between the people, the prophets, and the pagan government.

Who do we listen to in times of crisis? Unfortunately, it is often anyone who is willing to listen to us. And, since we do not have the answers ourselves, we are ready to jump at anything that sounds reasonable. Some people look for signs and give them liberal interpretations and undue authority. Some people listen to the advice of anyone they respect, and maybe even some that they do not. The Jews did both of these, and suffered for their actions. When we are in trouble, there is no shortage of people who will give us their opinions, and usually those with the wisdom to give us real help are either silent or out of reach.

What wise advice do you see in these verses, relating to our source of help in times of crisis? We find in the previous chapter of Jeremiah that we have to be very discerning of the Holy Spirit's part in the advice we receive from others. We must be able to separate those who are false prophets who would lead us further away from God's ways from those who are truly filled with the Spirit and can offer real hope.

How can you tell the difference? The real prophet will always offer love, peace, and true hope. His prophesy will not be intermixed with judgmental and prejudiced attitudes and actions. The true prophet will leave you encouraged and at peace, whereas the false prophet will prepare you for war, leaving you discouraged and without true hope. You will see God's name in the life and testimony of the true prophet. The following verses contain that message of love, peace and true hope as presented by Jeremiah, the true prophet.

Jeremiah 29:10-11.

For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. 11For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.

God gave the people two reasons to have hope in this promise. What were they? (1) They would be returned to their land, and (2) they would be prospered and unharmed. The fundamental truth here is based upon the source of our plans. Though we may not see what our future is, what do these verses tell us about it? God knows the future, and has in place His plans for our prosperity and safety.

If we truly want to experience peace, we need to take our eyes off of our own plans and seek to bring them in line with God's plan for our lives.  What is going to happen to us if we insist on maintaining our focus on our own, flawed, plans? We will become hurt and disillusioned, we will not see God, and our prayer life will be damaged. We will not experience the peace and prosperity that God has already provided!

Are you suffering because you are still focused upon the crises of the past? Are you beating yourself up and consequently beating up others because you have not let go of the pathway of your own plans? Sometimes we cannot hear the solution in prayer. In the next verses God provides some direct words of solution:

Jeremiah 29:12-14.

Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. 13And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. 14And I will be found of you, saith the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the LORD; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive.

What are the factors involved in God's returning the people from exile?

(1) The people will call upon Him.
(2) They would go to Him in prayer.
(3) He would answer their prayers.
(4) They would seek the Lord.
(5) They would find the Lord.
(6) God would release them from their captivity.
(7) God would restore them to their land, His original plan.

How are we to respond now to the crises of our past? The same way.