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Light in the Gathering Gloom: Day 2

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce; 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…seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have called you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you will prosper, too.
Jeremiah 29:4-7

This passage was in a letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent to the exiles in Babylon. In it he gives them God’s instruction (that’s his job!) on how they are to live now that the long-warned of judgment of God has fallen and they have been taken from their home to a foreign land.

I love Jeremiah and it grieves me that he is so often misunderstood. The tears of “the weeping prophet” were as the tears of a parent who grieves for a prodigal child. Also, like a parent, he never ceases to love them, even as he never stops telling them the truth about their sin. His ministry to Judah during the final years of her rebellion and during her captivity to Babylon was motivated ultimately by his unfailing hope in God’s redemptive purposes.

In this letter Jeremiah doesn’t lecture or sermonize; instead he casts for them a beautiful vision of hope and grace: Build a house, plant a garden, be sheltered and nourished by them. Then do the thing that shows the world that you have faith in the future and the God who controls it: get married, have children, parent them with the goal that they will one day marry and raise up another generation.

He also instructs them to pray for the place of their exile and, insofar as they can, be a positive force in the culture. God will judge the wicked in His time. In the meantime, His people are to be His messengers to a pagan world. Twice Jeremiah reminds them that it was God’s will that they were taken to Babylon. For judgment? Yes. But in God’s plan, judgment is never an end, but a means to new blessings and deeper faith.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purposes” (Romans 8:28).

Nancy Shirah

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