29 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. 2 (This was after King Jehoiachin and the queen mother, the court officials and the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the skilled workers and the artisans had gone into exile from Jerusalem.) 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:
4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 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. 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.” 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. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.
(Jeremiah 29:1-9 NIV)
As we move from Chapter 28 to Chapter 29, the theme of lying prophets continues. In Chapter 28, Jeremiah had a face-to-face confrontation in Jerusalem with Hananiah. Hananiah claimed to have a word from the Lord, and told everyone that Judah would experience freedom from their Babylonian rulers, and the captives would return, along with all the Temple articles. Instead, Hananiah died in two months.
In Chapter 29, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah regarding the captives in Babylon. Jeremiah wrote them a letter and sent it with two of the trusted men who were on their way to Babylon. Apparently, there were regular groups of envoys (ambassadors?) back and forth between Jerusalem and Babylon. We see several pertinent sections of letters exchanged between Jerusalem and Babylon in Chapter 29.
The period is during King Zedekiah’s reign after King Jehoiachin was taken to Babylon. The events of this passage would have been sometime between 597 BC (when the first major waves of exiles were taken to Babylon) and 586 BC (when Jerusalem fell and was abandoned).
The Lord gives very specific instructions to the people living in exile. Notice in verse 4, the Lord speaks in the first person: “… to all those I carried into exile…”. Those in Babylon were not victims of Nebuchadnezzar’s plot of world domination; they were in God’s hands.
As we look at the entire context of verses 4 – 9, it seems that the lies of the prophets had permeated the minds of the exiles as well as those in Jerusalem. The people believed they would soon be leaving Babylon, and so they lived with only one goal – going back to Jerusalem.
The Lord tells the exiles that it’s going to be a long time until He restores them to Jerusalem – seventy years, as we know from previous passages. So what does the Lord say? Settle down and start living, and get out of survival mode. Build houses, plant gardens, let your kids get married and have children of their own – all part of thriving and not surviving (vv. 5-6). This command was not “common sense” – this was the Lord calling His people to step out in faith and trust Him.
Verse 7 had to be a huge shock to the exiles. The Lord told them to pray for the peace and prosperity of Babylon and its inhabitants. The Lord makes a direct correlation between the welfare of Babylon and their well-being. Up till this point, their sole purpose was to throw off the chains of Babylonian bondage. The Lord’s call to pray for their captors was their ultimate step of faith and trust in Him.
Last but not least, the Lord warns the people not to believe the false prophets.
There are many lessons learned from today’s passage.
First, a reminder of God’s sovereignty over everything. Yes, the Lord had put His people in exile, and promised to restore them. Nebuchadnezzar was the Lord’s servant, even if he did not recognize the Lord or His rule.
Second, the Lord calls us to bloom where we’re planted. We should not put our lives on hold because of our circumstances. Granted, there will be times when we are in transition and cannot put down “roots”, but we can still obey the Lord and move forward in our walk with Him. The exiles from Judah living in Babylon probably longed to worship the Lord in His Temple in Jerusalem. However, the Lord did not make the exiles’ worship and walk with Him contingent on their being in the Temple.
Third, and maybe the hardest lesson of all is to pray for our enemies. The Lord told the exiles to seek peace with their captors and to pray for their peace and prosperity. The people were taught from an early age to pray for the shalom, the peace and well-being of Jerusalem. Now the Lord was telling them to do the same for their captors. Jesus said basically the same thing in Matthew 5:44-48. The Apostle Paul said something very similar in Romans 12:14-21. This step of faith certainly puts a new light on “loving your neighbor as yourself”, doesn’t it?