What a remarkable letter Jeremiah wrote to the exiles in Babylon, recorded in Jeremiah 29, and especially verses 1-14. It was written to people experiencing severe trauma, confusion and questioning.
Jeremiah offered the exiles three things.
- A fresh perspective: to see the situation in the light of God’s sovereignty (vs. 4-6). The narrator talks about the people whom Nebuchadnezzar carried into exile (which was the human truth). God talks about the people whom I carried into exile. Both were true. A human, historical event in a fallen and evil world; but something that was still within the sovereign rule of God. Like the coronavirus? That did not make it “all OK; God’s in control” – It was still evil and indeed an outworking of God’s judgment. But it did mean that God was there with them in Babylon, as much as in Jerusalem. So be there with him. Be where he has taken you.
- A fresh challenge: to see their responsibility in the light of God’s mission (v. 7). This is a startling verse that must have been shocking and angering for the exiles to hear. They probably thought they could not pray in Babylon, let alone pray for Babylon, still less seek the welfare of their enemies (Remember Ps. 137). But God recalls them to their original mandate, the Abrahamic mission to be the means of blessing to all nations – even including enemy nations. “Seek the welfare” (shalom) – is so broad, and there are multiple ways that believers can do just that, serving society, caring for the needy, sharing the good news, teaching the scriptures, doing our jobs, being honest citizens, etc etc. The mission goes on – even in exile. Even in lockdown.
- A fresh hope: to see their future in the light of God’s promise (vs. 11-14). There would be no quick fix, no V shaped bounce back, life would never be “normal” as in pre-exilic Israel. But it was not the end, for them, for God or for God’s purposes for the world through them. So verse 11 is a wonderful promise – but we should never forget the context: it is a word spoken into acute suffering and the experienced judgment of God. And the “you” is plural. It’s not just “God’s going to be nice to me and do me lots of good”. It is a word of hope for the future of God’s people as a whole. And the response needs to be verses 12-13 – to turn back to God and seek him with all our hearts.
Jeremiah’s word to the exiles was one that could turn them from mourners into missionaries, from victims into visionaries.