Jeremiah 29=Letter to the Exiles
Bible Background: The warnings and calls for the people of Judah to turn back to God went mostly unheeded, and two deportations occurred: one in 597 BCE (mostly carrying off to Babylon the ‘higher ups’, like the skilled craftsmen and leaders), and one around 587 BCE when Jerusalem was destroyed (carrying off some of the more ‘ordinary’ folks.) This letter was addressed to that first group, living in exile in Babylon. Some prophets were saying “Don’t worry! It won’t be long before God comes to your rescue!” Jeremiah was saying “No, you’re there for the long haul. So get on with your lives!”
Digging Deeper: 1. “Exile” means you’ve been torn or sent away from your homeland; you are out of your comfort zone; you are having to adapt to life in a strange culture and place; and you are most likely longing for home. It was the experience of God’s people at more than one time in history. And it’s the experience of many in the world today (including refugees.) The difference in Jeremiah 29, is that these people actually have a place to settle! They have to decide how they will live in that strange land!
2. The “I” language of Jeremiah 29 is worth noting: Yahweh says “I have sent you into exile!” Jeremiah is expressing 2 truths here: #1-God is still in charge. The god of the Babylonians (Marduk) did not “conquer”. Yahweh is still God! And, #2-Theologically, the people are to understand their circumstances as a result of God’s appropriate judgement on them and their nation.
3. “Build houses…take wives…give your children in marriage…seek the welfare of the city…” Again, several things are being expressed here: 1.-This time of exile is not going to end soon. In fact, it will be 70 years (70, like 40, can also mean “a long period of time”. It may not be exactly 70 years, but it’s going to be a long haul.) That suggests that neither they, nor their children, are going back to the land of Palestine, although their grandchildren may. 2.-So, it’s time to get on with living! Which also suggests, there will be things to celebrate in this new land: there will be weddings! There will be births to celebrate! All is not lost! And, 3.-Your host country may not be your chosen place, but it’s your home, and it’s your job to pray for/work for the well-being of this place and these people! Babylon is not “the Promised Land”, but it’s still part of God’s world and God’s concern!
4. 29:13-14 are two of the most beautiful verses in Jeremiah, and verse 13 often shows up on a religious-themed graduation card: “I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD….plans for a future, with hope!” We do take those words out of context, but we need to hear that same promise for our lives!
And verse 14 “You will seek me and find me…” is important too: God is not turning God’s back on the people. God is not leaving them on their own (though they may deserve to be!) God is still available, even when things in life have not gone the way we had planned.
5. One of the paradoxes of the Christian life is that, in some way, we are like exiles. We have one foot in the kingdom of heaven, and one foot in the kingdoms of this world, and we live somewhat ‘torn’ between the two. Jeremiah 29 is a word of guidance and a word of hope about life now, and life to come. One of our dear souls, buried in the cemetery has a message on his gravestone “Heaven is My Home” (from the song/poem: “I am but a stranger here, heaven is my home!”).