Committed to Trusting God
Jeremiah 28, 29
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Outline Jeremiah’s letter to the captives.
2. Outline a letter that a modern Jeremiah could write to people of his own society.
3. Suggest one or two ways that he or she can seek the Lord more wholeheartedly on a daily basis.
How to Say It
Gemariah. Gem-uh-RYE-uh (G as in get).
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, July 23—The Goodness of the Lord (Psalm 145:13–21)
Tuesday, July 24—God Restores (Jeremiah 30:18–22)
Wednesday, July 25—Loved with an Everlasting Love (Jeremiah 31:1–9)
Thursday, July 26—Shepherd of the Flock (Jeremiah 31:10–14)
Friday, July 27—They Shall Be My People (Jeremiah 31:33–37)
Saturday, July 28—Jeremiah Writes the Exiles (Jeremiah 29:1–9)
Sunday, July 29—God’s Good Plans (Jeremiah 29:10–14)
“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.”
Why Teach this Lesson?
Waiting is not a popular thing. In a culture of broadband Internet connections, automatic teller machines, instant text messaging, microwave ovens, fast food, e-mail, and pay-at-the-pump gasoline, to wait on anything seems “so twentieth century.” The old line, “God give me patience and give it to me now” is humorous because it reflects a mind-set that really does exist.
Scripture, though, challenges this kind of lifestyle, this desire for instant and sometimes continual gratification. God is not bound by time nor is he a servant to our schedules. Today’s lesson will confront your students’ “right now” mind-set with God's expectation that they are to wait on him. Life gets better when we do because we begin to look to God’s strength instead of our own as we wait on his perfect timing. “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).
A. Desperate Living
I saw her again the other day. She was in the frozen-food section at the supermarket. This time she was tall and very thin. She had dark hair and a light complexion. At first I thought her face was dirty. Then I realized that even her heavy makeup could not hide the bruises. Her eyes were downcast, her expression blank.
But our eyes met for just an instant as our shopping carts passed, and I was stunned by her look of fear and pain. Who had beaten her? Boyfriend? Husband? Father? I realized that I had seen her too many times. Sometimes she had been short and blond. Other times her skin had been dark. She was the woman betrayed by a man who should have protected her, and she saw no way out of her wretched situation. She finished her shopping and returned to her world of horror.
Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) wrote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” This is still true. We drag ourselves through each day, overwhelmed by commitments, bills, and worries. We live vicariously through pop celebrities, sports heroes, or other media creations. When we are asked how we are doing, we automatically say, “Fine.” But we aren’t “fine.” In our heart of hearts, many of us have given up hope and see nothing in the future but playing out a life of drudgery
This is not what God intends for us, though. God wants us to be people of hope, not fear. God created us to live with confident assurance, not daily desperation and aimless distraction. Today’s lesson gives a clear view of the irrefutable fact that God intends the very best for his people. He asks that we trust him and obey him. He will give us full, rich lives.
B. Lesson Background
It is difficult to imagine a more desperate time in history than the Jerusalem of Jeremiah’s day. Religious and moral confusion reigned in the city and the surrounding countryside (Jeremiah 5:1; 11:13). The city was under constant danger from foreign invaders (1:15; 6:1). The threat of God’s wrath was against the city (4:4); the Lord Almighty promised to lay the city in ruins (6:8; 9:11). Jeremiah constantly preached that the future for Jerusalem was dismal (see 13:16).
In spite of these dire warnings from Jeremiah and other prophets such as Zephaniah and Habakkuk, the leaders of the nation did not respond. Instead, they continued in ways of rank wickedness (see Jeremiah 22:17; 29:19). The few who understood the implications of Jeremiah’s condemnation must have felt powerless, helpless, and without hope. National disaster would destroy them too even if, individually, they heeded Jeremiah’s call to repent.
The Babylonians controlled Judah for many years before the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 b.c. This control began about 605 b.c., after the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians at the epic Battle of Carchemish (Jeremiah 46:2). After that, the Babylonians were the masters of the ancient world, including Jerusalem and Judah.
Three distinct groups of citizens from Judah were transported to Babylon (Jeremiah 52:28–30). Daniel was likely a member of the first group, taken about 605 b.c. Ezekiel was a member of a group that was transported after the capture of Jerusalem in about 597 b.c. The largest group was taken after Jerusalem’s destruction in 586 b.c. Jeremiah himself was not taken to Babylon but ended up in Egypt after the city was destroyed.
Jeremiah is often portrayed as a prophet of doom. Yet his book also offers hope for the future. Although Judah would be devastated, virtually ceasing to exist, God planned to gather a remnant of faithful people to rebuild the city (Jeremiah 23:3). This would be the cause of great rejoicing (31:7–14). This ray of hope shines brightly in Jeremiah 29, the focus of today’s lesson.
I. Communication in Captivity (Jeremiah 29:1–3)
In the tense periods between Nebuchadnezzar’s initial deportation of hostages and exiles (605 b.c.), the capture of Jerusalem (597 b.c.), and the city’s destruction (586 b.c.), Jeremiah works actively as a spokesman for God. In that role he interprets these judgmental events for the nation. His ministry even involves communication with the leaders in exile, those who had been transported to Babylon in 597 b.c. or earlier.
A. Judah Is Uprooted (vv. 1, 2)
1. This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
If you were to travel straight across the desert from Jerusalem to ancient Babylon, the distance would be about 500 miles. But following the northern route, through the Babylonian administrative center of Riblah and down the Euphrates River valley, would make the distance more like 880 miles.
This is a well-traveled road in Jeremiah’s day, and it takes six to eight weeks to make the journey. In the period between Jerusalem’s capture and its destruction, those left in the city seem to communicate regularly with their exiled brothers and sisters in Babylon. Jeremiah’s ability to send the exiles a letter is a confirmation of this.
2. (This was after King Jehoiachin and the queen mother, the court officials and the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen and the artisans had gone into exile from Jerusalem.)
Jehoiachin was the son of Jehoiakim. His surrender of Jerusalem in 597 b.c. allowed Nebuchadnezzar to sack the city and loot the temple (see 2 Kings 24:11–15). This verse thus dates the prophecy we are studying between 597 and 586 b.c., during the reign of King Zedekiah in Jerusalem. Daniel and Ezekiel, who are in Babylon, are among the possible recipients of this letter. (See Daniel 9:2, which shows his acquaintance with the writings of Jeremiah.)
B. Judah Is Not Forgotten (v. 3)
3. He entrusted the letter to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. It said:
King Zedekiah uses two emissaries to communicate with his master, King Nebuchadnezzar. These men, Elasah and Gemariah, also serve the purpose of carrying Jeremiah’s letter to the proper recipients in exile. The people in Jeremiah’s target audience have been displaced. But he has not forgotten them.
What Do You Think?
Name some individuals in your life who brought you the Word of God even though they seemed to have been working behind the scenes. In what ways are you doing the same for someone else?
II. Waiting in Captivity (Jeremiah 29:4–9)
The actual content of the letter begins with Jeremiah 29:4.
A. Build Lives While Waiting (vv. 4–6)
4. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:
The letter begins with two titles for God. First, he is the Lord Almighty. Older versions of the Bible translate this as Lord of hosts, meaning “master of the hosts of heavenly armies.” It is a strong affirmation of the power of God.
Second, he is the God of Israel. The capture of Jerusalem and exile of its leaders do not mean that God has ceased to be Israel’s God. He is still in control and has even caused the captivity according to his plan.
5, 6. “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. Increase in number there; do not decrease.
Even after tragedy, life goes on. After disaster, you must pick up the pieces and keep living. God is telling Israel not to wait for some kind of quick solution and a return to Jerusalem. They need to understand that they are there for many years, so they should make the best of it. God still cares for them. His will is that their lives improve and that they have opportunities to flourish. He is still their God and wants to bless them.
What Do You Think?
What steps do you need to take so you can adjust your purposes to God’s purposes in your current situation?
Timing is everything may be a bit of an overstatement but not by much! Often knowing when to do something is at least as important—if not more so—than knowing how to do it. During the American Civil War, Union General George B. McClellan was a genius when it came to organization and discipline but a failure at timing.
McClellan had overwhelming superiority during the Peninsular Campaign of 1862. But he was hesitant to attack. Ultimately, Confederate General Robert E. Lee took the initiative and forced McClellan out of Virginia. Later at Antietam, McClellan had a copy of Lee’s battle plan. But still McClellan hesitated. He never threw all his forces into the battle. There is a time to be cautious, but there is also a time to attack. McClellan never seemed to know the difference.
When Grant faced Lee two years later, he knew it was time to attack. So he moved his army south. Even after the bloody battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, Grant moved south. When it was time for movement, he moved. When it was time for trench warfare at Petersburg, he dug in. When the Confederate line cracked and Lee pulled out, Grant followed him and forced his surrender. Grant understood timing.
The Jews hungered for a return to Jerusalem, but Jeremiah knew that that was premature; return would occur decades later. Jeremiah was sensitive to God’s timetable. Are we? —J. B. N.
B. Seek Peace While Waiting (v. 7)
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.”
Peace is a loaded term in the Old Testament. Coming from the word shalom, it means much more than simple absence of warfare. It has the added sense of prosperity and welfare. God’s message for the exiles is that they should desire and pray for the peace and prosperity of their new community (Babylon), even though they have been brought there against their will. As Babylon prospers, so they will prosper. When Jeremiah writes, the prosperity of the exiled Jews is dependent upon the peace of this city, not the peace of Jerusalem.
C. Reject Deception While Waiting (vv. 8, 9)
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.
There are prophets among the exiles who are telling them that freedom is just around the corner. Their dreams and longings are focused on going home. The mighty God of Israel warns against this deception. This can be either self-deception (the dreams you encourage them to have) or an attempt to deceive the exiles by false prophecy.
9. “They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.
The false prophet is a long-standing problem in the nation of Israel. Such people have contributed to circumstances leading to the capture of Jerusalem. The false prophets blamed the captivity in Babylon on the wrong reasons; they failed to pronounce that God was punishing Judah for its iniquity (Lamentations 2:14). Ezekiel, who prophesies in Babylon at about the same time Jeremiah is working in Jerusalem, sees the core problem when he says these prophets invoke the name of the Lord “when the Lord has not spoken” (Ezekiel 22:28).
A true prophet speaks for God, with God’s authority. The nature of this position makes it easily susceptible to abuse and fakery. Even today, we should be careful whenever we encounter someone claiming to speak directly for God as a prophet. God has given us his Scripture to measure such words. The biblical pattern is that true prophets usually point out sin and call for repentance rather than tell people that prosperity is just around the corner (Jeremiah 6:13-14).
What Do You Think?
How can your church help fortify Christians so they can discern between God’s message and the messages of false teachers?
[Be sure to look at 2 Timothy 4:1–4!]
III. Promised Freedom from Captivity (Jeremiah 29:10–14)
Having warned against the false prophets and having given strategies for the survival of the exile, Jeremiah now lays out a set of four promises from the Lord for the future of his people.
A. Promise of Return (v. 10)
10. This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.
Jeremiah begins with a promise of return to Jerusalem. This is a classic good news/bad news message. The good news? The exile will not last forever. The bad news? Most adults hearing this will not live to see it, for it will be two or three generations down the road.
The prophecy of seventy years proves to be accurate. The first group of exiles (including Daniel) was taken to Babylon when Nebuchadnezzar became the king, about 605 b.c. The Babylonian empire falls to King Cyrus of Persia in 538 b.c. Cyrus serves as God’s war club to break the power of the Babylonians (see Jeremiah 51:20). Cyrus then grants permission for the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. That return begins in about 536 b.c. (see Daniel 9:2).
B. Promise of Prosperity (v. 11)
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.
God plans that the exiles will see peace, meaning future prosperity rather than new devastation. They will gain the future they hope for. This will be a return to the land of their inheritance (Judah), to their holy city (Jerusalem). There they will rebuild the house of the Lord (the temple). This is the second promise, the promise of future prosperity for Israel.
Although this promise was made to the exiles of ancient Judah, it still has application for us today. God’s desire is that we prosper. Our Lord is not a vengeful, cruel God who delights in punishing us. He waits for our trust and obedience so that he may bless us with his bounty.
What Do You Think?
How do you encourage those who have lost trust in God because God did not respond in the way they expected?
Captives. The word itself has a quite negative ring to it. The immediate word-picture is that of people confined and held against their will, probably herded off to some distant place they don’t want to go.
History is filled with stories of captives. The Romans took many captives from their conquered lands, using their muscle power as the fuel to drive the empire. People from Africa were captured, sold into slavery, and transported to the New World. One of my ancestors was a 7-year-old running the streets of London in 1750. He woke up one morning on a ship bound for America. He had been kidnapped and was then sold as an indentured servant in colonial Virginia.
Many people are “captives” of their jobs, economically dependent on their employment but disliking every moment spent at work. We are captives of our culture, the values of our generation rather than those of previous or future generations. The fact is, we are all captives in one way or another. That’s why the words of hope and comfort that Jeremiah speaks to those held captive centuries ago can apply to us today. —J. B. N.
C. Promise of Accessibility (vv. 12–14a)
12–14a. “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord.
Visual for Lesson 9
Use this visual to introduce this question: “How do you think God is planning for you to prosper in His service?”
To call upon the Lord is Bible language for earnest prayer. It particularly refers to calling on God for assistance in the time of need. This practice began in the book of Genesis (Genesis 4:26). The psalmist taught that God was near to those who called upon him, but only if they did so in truth (Psalm 145:18). Another principle taught in Psalms is that God turns a deaf ear to our pleas if we cherish sin in our hearts (Psalm 66:18).
After the time of Jeremiah, the prophet Zechariah will teach that God refused to hear the pleas of Israel during the Babylonian period because of their hard hearts (Zechariah 7:13). Israel’s restoration needs to involve more than temple reconstruction. It needs to include a restored relationship with God, a time of renewed prayer and worship. This is the third promise, the promise of renewed accessibility to God in prayer (compare Zephaniah 3:9).
D. Promise of Restoration (v. 14b)
14b. “… and will bring you back from captivity. 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.”
God ends this section by reminding the exiles of his sovereignty. It was God who scattered the Israelites, first by the Assyrians and then by the Babylonians (see Jeremiah 50:17). It is only God, then, who can restore Israel (see 27:22). This is the fourth promise, a promise of restoration.
In the big picture of the Bible, Israel is to be restored for more than simply rebuilding the city of Jerusalem and its temple. Restored Israel is to be the nation that produces God’s Messiah. This will bring “salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). The nation of Israel, whether in exile or restored, is not an end unto itself. It is intended by God to be the vehicle that allows for his Messiah to come and restore humanity to him. This is God’s ultimate plan to give peace and well-being. The message of the New Testament is that we can be at peace with God through Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).
Reading Jeremiah allows us to take “the long view.” We can see beyond temporary adversity to a time of restoration and blessing. We can get through tragedy without doubting God’s love for us. We can pray to God in our times of need, knowing that he is listening and gives us hope.
The horror of Jerusalem’s destruction is almost incomprehensible to us today. The survivors of this catastrophe wept uncontrollably when they arrived in Babylon (Psalm 137:1). Most of us have faced personal tragedy that left us feeling the same way. Think of a time when you endured great pain and sorrow. Maybe some are in this state now, this week.
In this dark night of the soul, it is easy to think that we will never be happy again. This is particularly true when misfortunes come at us in waves. Will this never stop? Why is this happening to me? What did I do wrong?
What Do You Think?
How can the account of God’s actions with Judah serve as a model for parents as they deal with the misbehavior of their children?
We should be careful not to see every bad thing in our lives as God’s punishment for sin. Bad things sometimes happen to good people because our world is full of sin, and this sin affects us directly and indirectly. We can, however, see that every tragedy will be followed eventually by God’s blessings and peace. We are, after all, children of the light (1 Thessalonians 5:5).
Even after the horrific events of Jerusalem’s destruction in 586 b.c., Jeremiah saw hope in the future (see Lamentations 3:21–24; written by Jeremiah). His hope was based on eternal promises. First, God’s compassion and mercy are inexhaustible; his fountain of blessings never runs dry. Second, God’s faithfulness is great and continually renewed. We can depend on God, for he never betrays our trust. This is our antidote for the sickness of hopelessness. These promises are ours too.
Thought to Remember
When feeling defeated, look up!
God of hope, God of truth, we trust you with our futures. We trust you when our lives are challenging, for in you we have hope. May you give us the strength always to depend on you. We pray this in the name of your instrument of hope and peace, Jesus Christ, amen.
Underwood, Jonathan ; Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing