Jeremiah 29 is where one of the most popular scripture verses came from, the one where we’re taught about God restoring us because He has the plans to prosper us and not harm us.
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord,
This part of the scripture has been preached on, modelled after, encouraged from and spoken to believers as well as non-believers all over the world. It is about God’s mighty plans for us.
This part of the scripture however came at a time when the people of Judah and Jerusalem were about to be sent into exile in Babylon. The mighty conqueror Nebuchadnezzar has been chosen by God to complete this mission for Him because behind this big emigration of the selected ones to arrive in Babylon was a plan to destroy Jerusalem and Judah through “famine, swords and plagues”, caused none other than by their own treacherous and rebellious ways against God. So if annihilation was the plan, why then are these few verses written in Jeremiah 29?
17 yes, this is what the Lord Almighty says: “I will send the sword, famine and plague against them and I will make them like figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten. 18 I will pursue them with the sword, famine and plague and will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth, a curse and an object of horror, of scorn and reproach, among all the nations where I drive them. 19 For they have not listened to my words,” declares the Lord, “words that I sent to them again and again by my servants the prophets. And you exiles have not listened either,” declares the Lord.
Just a few chapters before this, we have already spoken about the exiles’ special place in this plan but in case we’ve forgotten, let’s refresh our minds.
This selected group of people have been designated with a new assignment, if you will, to reestablish their relationship with God in a whole new way. If for whatever reason they were not able to worship or pray to God as fervently before this while still living in Jerusalem and Judah, this is now the time for God to rebuild their understanding and faith in Him.
To do this, God had to firstly remove them from their comfort zone and subsequently thrust them into a foreign land. But their status there would be far from a holidaymaker or a traveller because they were asked to go there as exiles.
Now think for one second what the reaction of the existing inhabitants or residents will be like when they see this group of foreigners entering their land and setting up homes as their own. Would they not be looked upon strangely and maybe also unwanted? If so was the case, the question that begs for an answer is this – if indeed this was God’s plan, why did it have such a negative connotation to it? Why did it feel so peculiar? Shouldn’t God’s plan be a smooth one without hindrances and obstructions? Shouldn’t these new foreigners be welcomed like they were god sent?
Sometimes God’s plans will come across as odd and too perplexed for our minds. We can’t seem to fathom what His agenda is when He points us to a certain direction. Take for example like dropping off the laundry at a cousin’s, to drive a neighbour to his workplace or even be asked to stay put in a sunset industry, God actually has His plans although it might seem to go against the grain of our norm. In such circumstances and given that we are His children, and as mind boggling as it can be, we are to obey and follow, period. But unbeknownst to most of us, residing with our obedience is where the fruit of His plan lies and sometimes it is through our own strict compliance to His calling is when we will witness His grand plan unfolding right before our very eyes.
So, while caught in the frenzy of the mass migration as exiles into a foreign land, I believe this popular scripture emerged from God to Jeremiah was purposed to comfort their anxiety and overcome their doubt. In not so many words, God was actually informing them that all this may look like a big deal but His plan was to ensure that they have the opportunity to continue to live on without any doubt or fear. In fact, He also mentioned quite early on in His message that He will prosper and not harm them. This was His way of assuring His people that His hands will always be over them.
In addition, He also gave instructions on what they ought to be doing when they were exiled and that is to build a life by eating the produce there and planting their roots in their new homes. Children are to marry so the community can continue to grow and multiply. Their integration into Babylon was equally crucial because this communal living and the sense of belonging shall pave the way for God to help keep them alive and not be sidelined from His blessings should men suddenly impose an expiry on this “captivity”.
4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 8 Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.
Of course, the scripture did not just stop there, it also informed Jeremiah to tell them that the life they lead in Babylon will only be for 70 years after which God was going to come and take them back to their original place in Jerusalem and Judah again. But different from the past, this time they will return after God has completely cleaned up the cities from the sinful kings and their followers. It will be a new chapter all over again for everyone.
10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.
The important thing we have to note here is that God ultimately has His plans, even when He has chosen to “cast” us into a foreign territory through a negative reason like being in exile. And this is where we must truly pay attention to His promptings because deep within such decisions are laid God’s mighty secrets. If we are not sensitive to this, we may decline the offer and deny ourselves the opportunity. If we were so hellbent on going our way, then we would have completely missed God’s divine purpose for us. But conversely, if we are all highly attuned to God’s frequency, we will find peace in questionable decisions and the boldness to move forth even when we are in uncharted territories.
Friends, the word “unprecedented” has been overused off late due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19) outbreak. This is a season where being an exiled could be a good thing where presumably if we were moved to a new place then we may be precluded from the risks of being infected with the disease. But unfortunately, this is not to be because instead of the ease of moving about as conveniently as before the pandemic, we are called to be at home to break the chain of the contagion. And as the numbers are now nearing 1 million infected patients worldwide, human lives that were seemingly wholesome and precious have just within these few months been reduced to mere numbers and statistics (originally written on 4 March 2020). We have lost our significance almost overnight and no longer be as invincible as we once thought we were.
In such a tragic time, we must ask God to pray and cover us from this virus and disease. We cannot for one second let our guards down when we go out to get groceries or medical supplies. We must exercise caution and extra care when we deliberately go out to stock up because like the exiles in Jeremiah, we have a duty to also remain alive for God and be His witness when all this is over.
Like those in exile, I believe this lockdown is akin to a season of discomfort in new territories. But the bonus for us at least is that we are now far more connected through the digital lines than the people of Jeremiah’s era ever were. This is luxury compared to those ancient days where they can only meet face to face without social connectivity online.
In our moments of being “exiled” at home, we must remember this popular scripture again where God in unquestionable fashion does indeed still have a plan to prosper us and not to harm us. When this Covid-19 “captivity” is over, we will again be asked to go back to the places we originally occupied and bask in the glory of His grand plan. When or what will that be like? We’ll have to stay close to God to find out.
14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.[b] I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
Looking at the whole scheme of things, and if it does play out in such a way, my guess is as good as yours, it is not bad being in exile for now so that we are blessed forever more after the “70 years” is over.
May God find His way into your hearts and may you also find time to connect with Him. Let’s believe in the Lord that this is a time of strategic proportions where God has us first in His mind to protect us, reestablish us and to nurture our faith in Him. When all this is over, we shall see the Lord prospering us and not harming us, and when we seek Him, we will surely find Him. Why? Because He has already taught us “how to” in this time of being in “exile”, in the miraculous name of Jesus, amen!
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