To enjoy the beauty of Jeremiah 29, let us back up to last week’s ending, chapter 24. Jeremiah is to prophecy using figs–good and bad. And before we begin, ponder the idea that His plans for your future are better than you can imagine, and are not merely temporal. These are some of my notes from a study on Jeremiah 24-29.
Figs, Exile, and Hope
The people deported to Babylon in 597 are good figs, leaving behind in Jerusalem the bad figs who will experience the judgment of chapter 24 (29:17). The good figs will be brought back to the land (29:10-14); the good figs have a hope and a future that begins with exile, with losing everything, with having their lives ripped away from the idols they worshipped. They had forgotten God, were not good stewards of the land, and had severely mistreated people. Their hope and future started with discipline (read Hebrews 12 again.)
Jeremiah 25-28 Throughout this section, keep in mind that the original audience did not crave a linear story as we modern Westerns do. This section hops back and forth in time to make a point about God’s redemptive plan. Just as God once used the conquest to judge several nations for their evil deeds, so He is now using this time in history to judge several nations concerning the evil of their ways–nations that border Israel, but also Israel and Judah.
He gives freedom, free will, to act and do as we desire. But we will face the consequences of those choices, as we are creatures and not at all sovereign, we are all under the authority of the Creator.
Over and Over and Over Again…
Punctuating the retelling of their deeds, the current events and coming consequences comes the remembrance of their refusal to hear God’s words. They did not listen, they forgot, they did not incline their ears. Again and again.
“From the thirteenth year of Josiah, the son of Amon, king of Judah, even to this day, these twenty-three years the word of the LORD has come to me, and I have spoken to you again and again, but you have not listened. And the LORD has sent to you all HIs servants the prophets again and again, but you have not listened nor inclined your ear to hear, saying, ‘Turn now everyone from his evil way and from the evil of your deeds, and dwell on the land which the LORD has given to you and your forefathers forever and ever; and do not go after other gods to serve them and to worship them, and do not provoke Me to anger with the work of your hands, and I will do you no harm.’ Yet you have not listened to Me,” declares the LORD… (25:3-7)
God was always speaking, sending His Word through the prophets, calling His people to repentance. The invitation was very real, yet always refused. Jeremiah recalls being sent to the court of the LORD’s house where all coming in and out would see and hear. “Speak to all the cities of Judah who have come to worship in the LORD’s house all the words that I have commanded you to speak to them. Do not omit a word! …And you will say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD, “If you will not listen to Me, to walk in My law which I have set before you, to listen to the words of My servants the prophets, whom I have been sending to you again and again, but you have not listened; then I will make this house like Shiloh…” (26:3-6)
Until the Time…
Another theme that presents itself in this section is God’s Sovereignty. He has ordained our days, and we forget that. Or we kick against that. As does all humanity, especially those who do not care to listen to His words. He uses the phrase “until the time” or “until the day I visit them” to remind us of His timing, His patience, His Sovereign plan for redemption. We cannot hurry His plans, we cannot change them. When He says “Until the day I visit…” we should ponder, hmmm, visit? Is He not always present? Is He not Omnipresent?
Yes, He is always present. This verb “visit” is often used of times when God would manifest His care for His people. It is also used in 29:10, and in the book of Ruth. Ruth is in the foreign land, having become a widow and lost her sons, when the report of God visiting Israel comes. Israel once again has food to eat. When God visits His people in this context, what will the blessing be? What portion of His character will be revealed? When God visits, what will He do that will hint at their true hope and true future? Remember, the physical blessings of land and provision and rest from war against neighboring countries is all but a shadow, “The substance belongs to Christ.” (see Colossians 2 and Hebrews 8-9).
Then comes another physical prophecy, in chapter 28, wherein Jeremiah wears a yoke. A false prophet comes, removes the yoke, and promises peaceful easy feelings, a bed of roses, a life of ease. He tickles their ears. He is the prophet so many people listen to, even now. Vengeance is the LORD’s, and He speaks of the false prophet’s outcome.
His Plans, Our Hope
Chapter 29 The plans He has, for the good figs, include exile and cleansing; this promise is not for the bad figs! The good figs will be removed from all that tainted their worship, the land will be given its sabbath rest, and when He brings them back… ahhh, the hope and the future. For them, some temporal things took place. For us, we know this points us to our ultimate hope, our eternal hope, the hope of heaven. We hope for what we do not see, we welcome it from a distance. He is not ashamed to be called our God, because we seek the city that is to come rather than setting our ‘hopes’ on temporal fulfillment of His eternal promises.
Hope has not changed. It was not physical blessing for them, but intangible blessing for us. It was an already/not yet situation. The promise had a beginning fulfillment which we can read about in Ezra and Nehemiah; but its complete fulfillment involved a far distant future. The Messiah would come, Emmanuel would come down to dwell with His people, and eventually He would speak more plainly of the hope and future we all long for–see John 14.
There are many who read the verse, 29:11, without studying the book; and they have it on bookmarks, artwork on their walls, graduation gifts, and countless memes. And so we reduce our hope and our future to OUR own plans, our dreams, our temporal experience. We want His plans of welfare apart from exile, from cleansing, from discipline, from having to do hard things. When He sanctifies, it is good; and it implies that He will be pruning (John 15) and cutting away all that is not of the Spirit (Hebrews 4:12-13).
His promise here is not one of an easy life, it is part of His metapromise to be our God, to be with His people, to be for us all we need, to sanctify us for His purposes, to work out everything for our good and His glory, to create for Himself a people for His own possession (see Titus 2!), a bride who will embrace Him (oooh, next week’s discussion!). He is fitting us for our true home. Christ in you, the hope of glory! (Colossians)