“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” (Jer. 29:11)
This verse in Jeremiah 29:11 is used very often in Christianity today to teach that God has “a future and a hope” for all people in this world to encourage seeking the Lord’s will. Oftentimes, it is even used to promote guaranteed prosperity in this world, that we will only have peace in our lives if we are truly following God. Instead, the proper interpretation of this verse, and our life experiences as well, shows that this world is the opposite of peaceful and our path in life will rarely be easy. What is our response to the tribulation and challenges in this life? We faithfully endure suffering in bondage now looking forward in hope to our final “expected end” in heaven with our God. Jesus promised us tribulation in this world (John 16:33). The Old Testament Israelites in Babylon knew well the tribulation and suffering that bondage inflicts upon God’s people. However, in the midst of bondage, pain, and suffering, we are given hope. We are given hope of a better day; hope that after the suffering of this world, there will be a restoration of perfect peace in the promised land with our God. Let us serve God faithfully in bondage today, looking expectantly towards the everlasting peace we will receive in our eternal expected end in heaven.
First, we must understand the historical context of this prophecy by Jeremiah and its meaning to its original audience. Then, we will consider its spiritual application to God’s people today. Judah was in the middle of three separate sieges and exiles by the Babylonians. The first of three Babylonian exiles occurred around 605 BC and began the countdown of 70 years of captivity, which ultimately ended in 536 BC with Judah’s return to Jerusalem. Jeremiah prophesies to the second group of Jews that were taken captive possibly around 597 BC with King Jeconiah to Babylon. This is still quite a few years before the third siege and total destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC by the Babylonians. This particular letter to the captives was probably delivered sometime after 593 BC (Jer. 28:1) and before 586 BC. Therefore, Judah was already at least 13 years into these 70 years of captivity when this is written. Those already exiled to Babylon were no doubt hoping for a return back home soon, but Jeremiah delivers them this message of encouragement to settle down into life in Babylon because there is still at least 57 years left to go before they would return home.
Another very important context of Jeremiah’s letter was the constant atmosphere of false prophets during this time who were telling Judah lies that everything was going to be fine. Jeremiah had already been prophesying for many years of God’s judgment upon Judah for sin and rebellion against God. He had consistently prophesied that because of Judah’s sin they would serve the king of Babylon for 70 years (Jer. 25:11). At the beginning of King Jehoiakim’s reign, there were false prophets that began to prophesy lies to the king that Judah would not serve Babylon at all (Jer. 27:1-15). Then, in the 4th year of Zedekiah, around 593 BC (4 years after the 2nd exile in 597 BC), Hananiah begins to prophesy that there will only be 2 more years of the Babylonian captivity – when there was actually 57 years left (Jer. 28:1-4). Hananiah was actually delivering this false prophecy in the house of the Lord and in the presence of all the priests and all the people (v.1). Therefore, Jeremiah had to promptly rebuke Hananiah publicly in the presence of all the people (Jer. 28:5-11). Then, Jeremiah even prophesies that Hananiah would die that year for prophesying a lie, and then Hananiah promptly dies that year, showing he was a false prophet (Jer. 28:12-17). Therefore, a lot of Judah, and possibly even some of those taken captive, were wanting to believe the false prophets that they would be back home very soon. Instead, Jeremiah delivers the sobering reality to the Jewish captives in Babylon to get settled in to bondage because it’s going to be a long time before you return home.
Exposition of the Immediate Context
Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon. (v.4) Jeremiah writes to all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon (v.1-3). God reminds his people that he is still the Lord of hosts and the God of Israel. The same God who delivered the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage centuries ago is the same God of Israel today who will eventually lead his people again out of captivity again. God’s sovereignty has not been overtaken by the king of Babylon. God is still in control. God only suffered Nebuchadnezzar to overtake Israel as a divine chastisement of his children. God says here “I have caused” you to be carried away into captivity. God suffered this to occur to chastise his people for their sin. God has not lost control of the destiny of his people. God is not out of control of this situation. God suffered this chastisement, according to his will, and the same God of Israel will liberate his people from captivity again at the appointed time.
Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished. (v.5-6) The kings of Judah and false prophets had been telling the people that there would be no bondage at all or only for a short period, such as Hananiah’s 2 years. Instead, Jeremiah delivers the sobering reality to these captives that they won’t be going home soon, not for another 57 years. No doubt many of them would die in captivity, not living to see the day of the restoration and return. Therefore, what is the response for God’s people in captivity? Don’t be bitter and pine away for the homeland. No, build houses, plant gardens, take wives, have children, and marry your children. Live life in Babylon. Make the best of the difficult situation you are in. Don’t compromise your commitment to Jehovah God but assimilate to the culture around you. Build houses, plant gardens, marry, have children, that God may “increase” you in Babylon. What would have happened if all of God’s people moped around in Babylon for 70 years and didn’t marry and have children? There would be no Israelite seed to eventually return to the homeland. They would have all died out in captivity and there would be no children to return to fulfill God’s promise. Therefore, live life in Babylon, and God will “increase” you in captivity, not be diminished.
And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace. (v.7) While you are living in captivity, seek the peace of the city. God’s people – both in Babylon and today – should not be going around causing problems in society or inciting insurrection against the government. God calls us to be subject to governmental authority, regardless of if they are ungodly or moral or not (Rom. 13:1-7). There are times to obey God rather than man (such as Daniel and the 3 Hebrew men in Babylon), but generally, God’s people should promote peace in our cities. They were also to pray for the peace of Babylon because their peace would be in the peace in Babylon. If Babylon was attacked by a foreign army because of foolish decisions by the leaders, then the Israelites would be in danger. If the city of Babylon was in peace and safety, then the captives in Babylon should be in peace and safety as well. We are required to pray for all men, especially kings and those in authority that we can lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty (1 Tim. 2:1-3). Jeremiah essentially says the exact same thing here in the Old Testament as Paul in the New Testament. Pray for your leaders. Pray for your city, even if your leaders and the society around you are ungodly. Actually, the more ungodly the culture is around us, the more we need to pray for the peace of the city. If our country and society are at peace, then God’s people will be at peace too. However, if our country is in danger and peril so are God’s people. Therefore, we need to pray for the peace of our city and to promote peace by our actions as well.
For thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Let not your prophets and your diviners, that be in the midst of you, deceive you, neither hearken to your dreams which ye cause to be dreamed. For they prophesy falsely unto you in my name: I have not sent them, saith the Lord. (v.8-9) Then, God tells the people to reject the false prophets that have deceived the people. The false prophets were telling the people to not settle in, don’t build houses, don’t plant gardens, don’t marry and have children because you’ll be home really quickly. No, they probably had at least 57 years left before their return. Many of them would not even return to Jerusalem but would die in captivity. Therefore, Jeremiah says reject these false prophets that have deceived your thinking and listen to God’s word to you. I have not sent these false prophets, but they prophesy falsely in my name. Reject these false teachers. Today, in the church as well, we must try the spirits to see if they are of God, to reject the false teachers among God’s people (1 John 4:1).
For thus saith the Lord, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. (v.10) God would not shortcut his judgment of his people. Israel rejected God’s command to allow their land to have a sabbath year’s rest every 7 years. They rejected God’s command for 490 years, skipping 70 sabbath year’s rests. Therefore, God said, my land shall have its rest, and the only way it will have its rest is if my people are in captivity because they are so disobedient to my word. God would not shortcut the judgment of Judah, but his land would have its rest (2 Chron. 36:21). However, as a good Father, the Lord always promises restoration after chastisement! Praise God! Even in the promise of judgment, fully reaping the sin you’ve sown, God still promises the hope of restoration! God’s people shall return unto the promised land to Jerusalem. After you’ve fully reaped what you’ve sown, after the judgment is up, then God promises to visit his people and keep his good word to you and liberate his people from bondage, just as he did from Egypt centuries before. Even though God’s people fail at keeping his word, the Lord will always keep his word! Praise God, the Lord always gives the hope of restoration, even in the midst of severe judgment!
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. (v.11) God has not forgotten his people in captivity. They are still on the Lord’s mind. God knows the thoughts that he thinks towards them. God never has thoughts of evil towards his people but only peace and love. There comes a time, just like any loving Father, where God must chastise his children for their disobedience. However, even when bringing the sword of judgment by Nebuchadnezzar, God’s thoughts towards his people had never changed. God’s thoughts towards his people are always peace and love and never evil. God’s thoughts are always restoration and not total annihilation. God’s thoughts towards his people are to give them an expected end. The word “end” here can also be rendered “posterity”. In other words, you don’t need to be afraid you are all going to die in captivity. You will have a “posterity” that will return home, even if you personally die in captivity. Don’t feel like God has forsaken you during your challenging time in captivity. Remember, you have a seed and posterity that will return to your homeland. Those children you have in faith during captivity shall be able to see the joys of the homeland. Don’t think that God has forgotten about you. Instead, remember that God has promised restoration and your “expected end” is to return home to the promised land.
Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the Lord: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the Lord; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive. (v.12-14) When you and your posterity return back to the promised land, then shall you call and pray unto me, and I will answer. You will seek me, and you shall find me. God’s people were currently enduring judgment and did most likely not feel the manifest presence of God in captivity the way they did back in Jerusalem and in the temple. God had not totally forsaken them, but he had removed some of his manifest presence from his people in captivity because of their disobedience. However, after his children had been appropriately chastised, then God would restore his fellowship and manifest presence to his people. They would pray, and he would hear. They would seek and find Jehovah God. They would be brought back into the land from all nations. They would have restoration from their captivity. Then, in the remainder of the chapter, God goes on to say that he would judge those remaining in Jerusalem with sword, famine, pestilence, and death because they have not hearkened unto his word and rejected his prophets (v.15-19). God also promised to judge their corrupt false prophets, Ahab and Zedekiah, who lied to the people. These false prophets would be slain before the eyes of Judah and they would be roasted in the fire by Nebuchadnezzar because they spoke lying words to God’s people (v.20-23).
Application to God’s People Today
Now that we have considered the immediate context of this verse to the captives in Babylon during Jeremiah’s day in the 6th century BC, what application does this text have for us today? God many times uses the historical occurrences of his chosen natural nation of Israel to teach spiritual lessons to his chosen people in the New Testament kingdom today. Therefore, let us consider the spiritual application for God’s spiritual Jews today. This verse does not guarantee that God will give us prosperity and comfort in our lives – peace, an expected end, a future, and a hope. Instead, this text actually teaches the exact opposite. We live in this world in captivity, under cruel and wicked rulers, many times who make decisions not in accordance with God’s word. God’s people are living in spiritual Babylon today (Rev. 17:1-7), in bondage in this world. We are pilgrims and strangers in this world, separated from our homeland, not content with our surroundings, but we look for a city and better country that God has prepared for us (Heb. 11:10-16). God’s people are separated from their heavenly promised land in this world.
What are God’s people to do in spiritual Babylon, in bondage and captivity in this world? We are to live life godly here in bondage. We are to build houses, plant gardens, marry, have children, marry our children off, so that God will increase his people in this world. God’s people are called to be salt and light in the darkness and wickedness of Babylon. We are called to seek the peace of the city in which we are temporarily sojourners. We need to pray for the peace of our cities, states, and country. We need to pray for our leaders to make decisions that would promote peace and not strife. We are to reject false teachers who teach contrary to the word of God. We need to remember that God has not forgotten us. God’s thoughts of peace towards us have never changed, even in bondage. We are to remember the promise of God that he will take us home to the promised land. What is the final, future “expected end” for God’s people? God predestinated the “expected end” for his people before the world began. God predestinated that after we have suffered a little while in bondage in Babylon, we would be brought home to be with God in heaven for all eternity! That is our ultimate expected end! Just like the returning Jews, God will “gather” his people from “all nations” to the promised land in heaven!
This verse is not teaching that we will have peace and comfort in our lives today in spiritual Babylon. Instead, we will most likely have to endure much heartache and suffering during our earthly bondage. “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Jesus promised that in this world we would have tribulation. However, don’t let the constant tribulation of this world get you down or discouraged because we still have peace in Jesus Christ and have cheerful joy because Christ has overcome the world. This verse today lifts our eyes from the wickedness of the Babylonian culture around us and directs our vision towards that better country, our expected end, the promised land with the Lord. The hope of the promised land of heaven is how we can be faithful in bondage in our lives here today. Live life here in bondage. Impact the culture. Pray and promote the peace of the city. Raise godly families. Reject false teaching and stand for truth. Look forward in hope towards our expected end in heaven with Jehovah God!
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