‘For I know the thoughts I think towards you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope’ (Jeremiah 29:11).
Jeremiah wrote this wonderful promise during the Babylonian exile, in a letter addressed to all the people of Israel – including elders and priests – whom Nebuchad-nezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon.
To state that Jeremiah’s countrymen were unhappy in their new surroundings would be a gross understatement. They had been uprooted from Jerusalem, meaning the ‘city of peace’, to idolatrous Babylon, the ‘gateway to the gods’. Their current predicament reminded them forcibly of Israel’s former bondage in Egypt.
Peace in Babylon
Yet, paradoxically, God commanded Israel to seek the peace of the city of Babylon and pray for it, as in its peace they would have peace. Moreover, God had caused them to be carried away to Babylon (Jeremiah 29:4,7) and would cause them to return to Jerusalem (v.10).
Similarly, believers today can know the peace of God in their hearts, irrespective of their geographical surroundings, and even if they have to live in ‘Babylon’. A right relationship with God is of far greater significance than what is happening around us, however distressing particular events may be.
Daniel had read Jeremiah’s letter and understood that 70 years would pass before the Jews would return to Jerusalem (Daniel 9:2). Soon after Babylon’s collapse, Cyrus, King of Persia, knew that the Lord God of heaven had given him all the kingdoms of the earth, and issued his decree for the temple in Jerusalem to be rebuilt (2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4).
In the time of Christ, the Pharisees and Sadducees (ironically, themselves also under occupation) were rebuked by Jesus for being able to chart the weather yet being incapable of discerning the times (Matthew 16:3)! How much should believers comprehend the times from Scripture and pray for God’s peace, so that the kingdom of Christ may be built.
Prophets and diviners within the Jewish community had ‘prophesied’ in God’s name and promised a speedy return to Jerusalem. Hananiah declared that the yoke of Babylon had been broken and the captives would return within two years along with the temple vessels.
Jeremiah spoke plainly to Hananiah, stating that God had not sent Hananiah and that he would die – and he did (Jeremiah 28)! The false prophets were trying to advance above and beyond Scripture. They resorted to the mindset of Babylon in order to try to free themselves from Babylon.
Today, God’s people should turn away from false prophets – those who distort God’s Word – and from a humanistic pursuit of peace at any price. God’s Word remains his plumb line for his people to understand his good plans and intentions for them.
The reason for Israel’s exile was their persistent unfaithfulness and refusal to listen to the Lord (Jeremiah 25:4-13). Nevertheless, God was faithful to his Word, and sovereignly brought about their political redemption – a precursor and type of salvation through the Messiah, still to come.
God had promised that on the exiles’ return, ‘I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people, and I shall be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart’ (Jeremiah 24:7).
There was no hope or future for them in Babylon, and neither today is there any hope in false religion or humanistic philosophy. There is only lasting hope in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The restoration from exile under Cyrus fulfilled Jeremiah 29:10-14 and was an earnest of salvation through Christ. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and for ever (Hebrews 13:8). As he greatly desires us to understand him and know his ways (Jeremiah 9:23-24), we must keep on asking, seeking and knocking and we will find (Matthew 7:7-8).
Jeremiah 29:12 promises: ‘Then you will call upon me, and I will listen to you’. This promise is for those who will honour God. We will find the Lord when we search for him with all our heart (Jeremiah 29:13).