“Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem unto the residue of the elders which were carried away captives, and to the priests, and to the prophets, and to all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon.”
“Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. 13 And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. 14 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” (Jer. 29:1, 12-14).
As the people stood together, a heavy gloom hung in the air. Women had tear-stained faces. Little children sobbed. Men pulled at the chains binding their hands and feet. The Jews of Judea were about to be marched between rows of Chaldeans into exile. They felt that free life had ended for them. It was to be their lot to serve among the thousands of human beasts of burden. The history up to this moment dated back to 597 BC.
In that year a powerful world ruler named Nebuchadnezzar had led his victorious Chaldeans through the whole of Syria, including Judea. Judea was treated with surprising leniency. It would be allowed to remain as a dependent nation and still have its kings but it must pay tribute to Babylon (597 BC). The kings of Judea rebelled at the very idea with the result that the sacred temple was destroyed and Judea made a royal province. Gedaliah ben Ahikam, a Judean, was appointed royal governor by Nebuchadnezzar (586 BC).
The sacred Temple was destroyed in 586 B.C. because Nebuchadnezzar was determined to subdue the people. He would do that by destroying the institution of religion which united the people and he would break the spirit of the nation by removing every man of any importance. After the deportation of the Jews to distant Babylon the only people of Judea were the poor peasants and the shepherds scattered in their mountain villages. But even after the two calamities, the invasion in 597 B.C. and the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C some of the Jews were still not ready to submit to Babylon. A Judean prince who had escaped the captivity organized a new plot against Babylon. As a result, Gedaliah and the Babylonian garrison were murdered. Fearing Babylonian vengeance, many Judeans fled to Egypt taking with them Jeremiah the prophet.
Meanwhile, back in Babylon, the Jews discovered that Nebuchadnezzar was not the cruel conqueror they had feared he would be. He did not sell the people as slaves, he did not separate the families, nor did he take servants from the wealthy households. In a surprising move, Nebuchadnezzar settled the deported Jews on a fertile land well-watered by the river Chebar. The king of Babylon made it possible for the Jews to live in a comfortable manner and to prosper. The Jews did not understand. Some of the exiles sent a letter of complaint to the prophet Jeremiah. To their surprise, the prophet told them several things.
First, God had caused the deportation (Jer. 29:4). When the armies of Babylon rode to the city walls of Jerusalem, when the people were scared and terrified, when home were destroyed and lives were made unstable, God says, “I have caused all of this.” As pastors and parents, as administrators and authoritative figures, we can all understand this concept. It may be that a child will speak up and say, “Look at the blue marks on my bottom.” A responsible parent can step forward and say, “I have caused that wound and for good reason. My child disobeyed.” In such a context reasonable children understand and so do adults. Certain behavior demands harsh consequences.
God will not hesitate to destroy our toys of time to administer justice and to extract from His people a proper response.
We treasure our homes. If necessary, God will take them away in an instant.
We value our freedom. God knows how to bind people behind barbed wire fences.
We are proud of our military might. God knows how to allow several foreign wars to drain our resources and energies.
We are bold and militant in transgressions. God knows just what to do to make a people repent.
Bad things happen to bad people as an indicative of Divine justice.
Bad things happen to good people in part to display the sovereignty of God and to elicit virtue.
God never surrenders His sovereign control over even harmful, painful experiences.
Rather, God says, “I have caused it.”
Nebuchadnezzar may boast of being a great soldier and a world conqueror, yet he is best an instrument of Divine providence. The Jews may fight for freedom, but they will have peace only according to the good pleasure of God.
The second instruction Jeremiah gave the people in exile was to adjust themselves to a new land (Jer. 29:5-7).
God was not going to restore the people to the Land of Promise for a long time. No matter how many prayers were prayed, no matter how many revolutionary leaders arose, no matter how much hope was set forth, the will of God would be according to the ways of God. Since the people did not respond to the goodness of God, they would be forced to adjust themselves to His severity.
But, even in hardship there is still much mercy, for the people would have homes and food and grandchildren to enjoy. Still, they would be forced to submit not only to Babylonian rulers, but ultimately to God. These Jews had to learn to say with Job, “Though He slay me yet will I trust Him,” with Paul, “I have learned in whatever state I am in to be content,” and with Jesus, “Never the less not my will but thine be done.” The simple constant question of life is this: “Who is in charge?” “Who’s the boss?”
Whenever we try to build a world without God, even a religious world with beautiful buildings and traditions and ceremonies, it means nothing if there is not the cultivation of Christ. For the Jews in exile, in as far as they submitted to the new will of God, they could be happy. But if they hated the geographical will of God, if they rebelled against Divine Providence, they would never by happy. Submission to God is one of the highest virtues of the Christian life.
Third, Jeremiah counseled the people to pray for the peace of Babylon. The Jews already prayed for the peace of Jerusalem (Ps. 122:6). Now they had to pray for a godless city in a foreign country. The people were not to give up their faith. They were not to stop praying. They were not to stop trusting God. But they were to influence the society in which they lived. The Church is like that today. God calls a people unto Himself and commands the Church to have an impact upon the society in which it exists. Little by little we as a congregation need to have an impact and to pray for the area in which we live.
Like Babylon of old, there are false prophets and harmful philosophies of life. They are in the midst of us to deceive us. The harmful philosophies are summarized in the slogans we hear such as “Up with Communism! It is better to be Red then Dead”, “It is my body and I can do with it what I like”, and, “Gay Rights! No One has a Right to Tell Someone Else how to Live!”
The unholy concepts continue. The false dreams are dreamed by the world because their vision of God has failed. The challenge for spiritual Israel of old is the challenge for spiritual Israel today which is to keep the faith. How was the faith kept? Once again Jeremiah provides the answer.
First, there is to be a high view of the absolute sovereignty of God. If God caused Jerusalem to be destroyed, if God caused the deportation, then God can also in His sovereignty cause the return to the land of blessing (Jer. 29:10).
Second, there is to be the fundamental belief that God is good. When the pressures of life mount, when disease or death or financial destruction comes it is very easy to believe that God is not good. “A good God,” we say, “does not allow evil.” The truth of the matter is that no matter what happens in life, God is still inherently good (Jer. 29:10). Jesus said in Mark 10:18, “There is none good but one, that is, God.” Stephen Charnock declares that, “The goodness of God comprehends all His attributes.” When Moses asked to see the glory of God, God told Moses he would see His goodness (Ex. 33:19). “I will make all my goodness to pass before thee.”
Third, faith is maintained by believing that God really does have our best interests in His heart. If we are enemies of the Cross, if there is an open rebellion against Divine authority then God has His justice and righteousness in mind and a certain outpouring of Divine wrath will be noted. But God has a special love for His own people and even when His children rebel, He still has their best interest in His heart.
Because of all these things, Jeremiah tells the people that there will come a day when God shall be found. The implication is that people have lost faith; they have lost God.
How is God found? He is found by a search with the proper frame of reference. There are two phases. In phase one the search for God begins. In phase two the search for God must be made with all the heart.
A haphazard seeking after God is revolting to Him (Rev. 3:15-16).
God is looking for souls who believe that He really does exist. To those, God is willing to reveal Himself.
Why are so many churches all across the globe without spiritual power? One primary reason is that the people have stopped seeking God.
The Church must seek God.
The Church must seek God’s power.
The Church must search for God’s purpose.
The Church must discern God’s will.
The Church must long for God’s presence.
The Church must look for God to visit in glory and majesty.
The Church must never stop seeking after God and become satisfied with the blessing of God.
Behind all the gifts of Divine grace, there is the Giver.
While we enjoy the blessings of grace, we must still long for God.
The Church seek God in prayer.
The Church must seek God in the Sunday school hour.
The Church must seek God in the worship service.
The Church must seek God in the solution to our personal problems.
The Church must seek God in the communion meal.
The Church must seek God in the singing of songs.
But let us understand it is possible to be religious without being righteous.
A time searching after God requires energy, emotion, passion, and intensity bordering on madness.
Are you seeking God with your whole heart?
In Bible study, in prayer, in worship, is there a longing for God?
It is not too difficult to discern who has a longing after God, and who does not.
The reward of spiritual labor is sweet communion with God Himself. Whatever the Church does must have this goal in mind, is to bring souls into contact with God. The Church does not exist to entertain, but to enjoy fellowship with God.
For those who labor in their searching after God, there will be a day when God is encountered. When will that day come? The answer is simple: when there is a serious searching for God.