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A Letter to the Exiles May 20, 2017

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 29:1-23.

Summary: In this passage, Jeremiah pens a letter to the exiles in Babylon where he makes the following points:

  • they should adjust to life in Babylon – instead of pining for their homeland; moreover, they should pray for Babylon – and its rulers
  • God will restore them to their homeland after seventy years; moreover, He will restore them to a proper relationship with Himself
  • they should not envy their compatriots who remain in Jerusalem – as He will punish them with the sword, famine and the plague for their sinfulness
  • He will punish the false prophets in their midst, including Ahab son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah son of Maaseiah, for uttering lies in His name; in particular, King Nebuchadnezzar will burn them to death.

Thoughts: In verses 4-7, we see that God commands the exiles in Babylon to adjust to life in that foreign land. I am curious as to how those exiles responded to this command. Did they view Jeremiah as a false prophet who was essentially exhorting them to commit treason by praying for Babylon? Did they view Ahab and Zedekiah as genuine – and patriotic – prophets who were encouraging them through their promises of a brief confinement in Babylon? Or did God miraculously enable them to respond to Him appropriately? If so, how did they pray for their new masters? Did they intermarry with their new masters?

Verse 11 is a popular memory verse; thus, I was eager to comprehend it in its proper context when I read through this passage. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 13:

But God shows that the right time would not come until their prayers proceeded from a right feeling; this is what he means by with all your heart. Of course, people never turn to God with their whole heart, nor is the whole heart engaged in prayer as much as it should be. But the prophet contrasts the whole heart with the double heart. So we should understand here not perfection (which can never be found in human beings) but integrity and sincerity.

Thus, we see that verse 11 does not constitute an unconditional promise on the part of God – as He will not bless us if we do not make a genuine effort to draw closer to Him. Another thought is that in verse 10, we see that the exile in Babylon would last for seventy years. In that case, most of the exiles would pass away in Babylon – and never return to their homeland. This sobering fact confronts us with this larger point: we will not receive most of the blessings of God until the next life. In light of that fact, perhaps we should view verse 11 as an exhortation for us to anticipate the greater blessings of the next life – which is manifested in a fruitful relationship with God in this life.

In verses 20-23, we see that Jeremiah curses the false prophets, Ahab and Zedekiah, for presuming to speak in God’s name. Their eventual fate reminded me of the trial that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego experienced when they refused to worship the idol that King Nebuchadnezzar had constructed in Babylon. In that case, we know that God intervened to deliver them from the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. In this case, God does not intervene, and so Ahab and Zedekiah experienced a painful demise. Indeed, the notion of being burned to death is revolting; perhaps Ahab and Zedekiah perished slowly, screaming as the flames consumed their flesh. Yet this account should spur us to reflect on God and His holiness; His zeal for His name is great, and we must not besmirch it.