Jeremiah, God’s prophet from around 640 to 586 BC, was known as the Prophet of Doom and was told by God not to marry or have children because of the divine judgment and destruction coming on Judah due to their idolatry, following false prophets, and sometimes sacrificing their children to false gods.
Whoa. Sounds like very bad times. What’s in this for us? Well…keep reading. Because Jeremiah offers a message of hope for the Jewish people already in exile. It’s applicable to us today:
Thus says the Lord of hosts… to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare…
Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you…for it is a lie that they are prophesying …. I did not send them…Jeremiah 29:4-7, 10-14 ESV
When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you … and I will bring you back..
Message of Hope for Us
You probably know verse 11: “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for prosperity and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’” Unfortunately, it is often quoted as part of a prosperity gospel, and many people read this verse and think life will be easy or that God plans to give you everything. But this does not tell the full story about God.
Once you read the full context here, you will see that, though God does make this promise for our lives, He also says there will be hardship and pain.
Still, just like the exiles, we can have hope as we learn about three things: God’s timing, how to act in hard times, and what we need to do every day.
Look at God’s timing. The prosperity, future, and hope wasn’t going to come right away. In verse 10, the Lord says that once 70 years have been completed in exile, He would bring them out of Babylon and fulfill the promise He made in verse 11. In the meantime, they would still be in exile, living under an ungodly king. There would be hardship and suffering and ups and downs in life. It won’t be easy.
One thing we know from Jeremiah’s book and many others is that if we sin and go away from God, there will be a time that He will intervene to teach us a lesson. But, in this Scripture, God also shows us that He will be there throughout those hard times and will help us get through it.
God’s Instructions in Hard Times
God instructed the exiles to live full lives and make the best of it:
- Build houses and live comfortably; plant gardens and eat the fresh produce.
- Take wives; become fathers of sons and daughters; let your sons and daughters get married and multiply.
- Seek the welfare of the city; pray for the city and its welfare because its welfare will determine your welfare.
The fact that God sent this message to the exiles shows that He had not left them or forsaken them. Instead, He was with them, and even gave them instructions on how to live. In our suffering or hard times, we also must not decrease or “dwindle away.” Instead, accept our situations, live, and live well.
Note that the welfare of the city would determine their welfare. He said to pray for the city, and that meant to pray for the leaders even if they were oppressing them. Likewise, we must pray for our rulers to follow God, and we must help make our communities, cities, and countries prosper so we can prosper.
God’s Instructions for Daily Life
The Lord also reminded the exiles not to follow and be tricked by false prophets or fortune tellers. God didn’t want them (or us) to fall in the same trap they fell in prior to their exile. We have to know what God’s Word says and follow Him. Lastly, God said to seek Him with a true heart, and you will find Him and He will find you. He will bring you home again.
What it Means for Us
This is a Scripture we should hold close to our heart, because in good times as well in bad times we need to be seeking God wholeheartedly and be praying daily. A commentary said, “Gods gracious gift of prosperity is contingent on the people’s willingness to repent.”
God does have plans for us, but we must follow Him first. If we do not, he will act and do something to teach us. But when in hardship, be strong and live life as best as you can. Don’t dwindle away. Be humble and repent. In ALL times seek Him wholeheartedly, and you will find Him.
As He wrote in this letter, He is still there during those times of trouble. He will fulfill his promise in verse 11:
“For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for prosperity and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
Let us not forget that our hope and future is found in nothing else but Christ Jesus and in the life we will have in Heaven with Him.