JEREMIAH’S LETTER TO THE JEWS WHO WERE IN CAPTIVITY IN BABYLON

King Nebuchadnezzar of the mighty Babylonian Empire conquered Judah (often called “the Southern Kingdom”) and carried a number of Jews into captivity in Babylon. Before the final fall of Jerusalem and Judah in B.C. 586, Jeremiah wrote a letter to the Jews who already had been taken forcefully to Babylon.

That letter is recorded in Jeremiah 29. Its message is touching, insightful, and encouraging. Let us consider some of the thoughts of the first fourteen verses, remembering that the Old Testament was written for our learning (Romans 15:4). Our observations on this section will be written with God speaking in the first person (“I”) to the Jews.

Reminder: You did not get booted out of your land and hauled off to Babylon by accident (29:4). God said He caused it to happen. Why would He do such a thing to His beloved people? Because of their rebellion against Him. Seventy years of captivity would give them ample time to reflect, repent, and reform.

You are going to be in Babylon “for the long haul,” so act accordingly (29:5,6). Build houses, plant gardens, harvest your crops, get married, and just do what you do in “a normal life.” While we might find ourselves in some unpleasant or less- than-ideal scenarios, we must do our best to move forward in our lives. And, do not forget: we can serve God faithfully from any place on the planet.

Seek peace and pray: “And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace” (29:7). God’s children should be people of prayer who long for peace and pray for civil leaders so we can be blessed with a peaceful environment in which to serve Him (1 Timothy 2:1,2).

Do not be deceived by diviners and fake prophets: “Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are in your midst deceive you . . .” (29:8,9). The prophets were counterfeits, making empty promises which gave the people false hope. It was the Jews’ responsibility to keep their minds from being deceived by false messages. The same is true for us today: we must be well-grounded in the truth and not allow false messengers to trick us (1 John 4:1). If they do deceive us, then shame on them, and shame on us, too.

I will visit you and cause you to return to your homeland. It is not uncommon to read in the Old Testament that Jehovah was going to “visit” a person, city, or nation. God visited some to punish them; He visited others to bless them. In the case of the Jews in captivity, God’s comforting words were, “After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place” (9:10). Who made the captivity of the Jews last for seven decades? The Lord. Who limited the length of the captivity to seventy years and not seven full centuries? God did.

God’s pledge was, “I will perform My good word” (29:10). In the context, He was speaking about His promise to return the Jews to their homeland. In this case, did the Lord keep His promise? He always does! Yes, “He who promised is faithful,” and His faithfulness motivates us to hold fast our faith without wavering (Hebrews 10:23).

I want you to have a future and a hope: “. . . the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (29:11). People struggle to be optimistic about life when they are convinced that they do not have a positive future in front of them. With the Lord, who is “the God of hope” (Romans 15:13), there is hope for a great future. Regardless of what the future might hold for us on earth, there is God’s unchanging promise of an eternal inheritance in heaven. Now that is a reason to be hopeful! (1 Peter 1:3,4).

When you seek Me with your whole heart, you will find Me (29:13,14). Wait a minute. Are these not the people who turned their back on God? Why would He be willing to show lovingkindness on such people? God’s lovingkindness never changes, despite what humans do. He extended His arm of mercy to the Jews, and if they would take it (by seeking Him and submitting to Him with their whole heart), they would be blessed. Yes, there was a road back to the Lord and His arms of safety, if they would take it on His terms. Are we listening?

“I will bring you back from your captivity” (29:14). As unpleasant as the Jews’ captivity must have been, both mentally and physically, how encouraged they must have been to hear that Jehovah had not forgotten them or His pledge. We read about the fulfillment of God’s promise to deliver them from captivity in the book of Ezra: first when Zerubbabel and Joshua led a group of Jews back to Judah (Ezra 2), then later when Ezra led a second group of Jews back home (Ezra 7).

Imagine how you and I would have felt if we had been living in Babylon and received such a letter from Jehovah through Jeremiah. How encouraging and comforting it would have been. All that God had done in His dealings with His people was done with their best interest at heart. They needed to “buy into” that thought and learn to trust in Him at all times.

— Roger D. Campbell

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