The Hebrew letter written to New Testament Christians nearly two thousand years ago declares that “the word of God is alive and active …” (Hebrews 4:12a).
Can the same be claimed for the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah’s book, written six hundred years before the time of Christ? In 29:10 he declares: “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those carried into exile from Israel to Babylon.”
The background is this: The mighty Nebuchadnezzar had nearly destroyed the city of Jerusalem in approximately 586 BC, toppling its massive walls into the valleys below, burning to the ground both the temple built earlier by King Solomon and the current King Zedekiah’s palace, carting temple treasures and the majority of the Jewish people to Babylon, a distance of approximately 1700 miles (2 Chronicles 36:15ff).
Now that this population had been relocated against their will, what were they to do? Organize and riot? Form tightly closed ethnic communities? Assimilate completely into this alien culture?
They needed an answer from the Lord. It came from Jeremiah, who remained in destroyed and plundered Jerusalem and its environs. He prophesied a long exile, which led some fellow citizens to threaten him with death.
His letter to the exiles was not sent secretly to rebels among the exiled masses. Rather, it was delivered openly and formally to Zedekiah, the captive king of Israel at the time, and in turn Zedekiah delivered Jeremiah’s prophecy to Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon’s emperor. Here is Jeremiah’s first instruction to the exiles living in Babylon:
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 numbers there; do not decrease. (Jeremiah 29:4-6)
The Lord’s instruction added:
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. (29:7)
A cautionary word is added for the exiles:
Do not let the false prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them … (Jeremiah 29:8b-9)
One particular false prophet named Hananiah contradicted Jeremiah’s prophecies about the upcoming exile. He ripped apart a harness Jeremiah had been wearing as an object lesson to the people. He tried to reduce the severity of Jeremiah’s prophecy. False prophets characteristically tended to edit or even cover up the prophetic words of God.
Jeremiah would not relent from communicating what God had told him to say (28:15-17). Soon, his words shift to the future. The prophet adds this comforting prophecy from the Lord:
When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place [Jerusalem]. For I know the plans I have for you … plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on 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 … (Jeremiah 29:10a-14a)
Although the exiles will have to endure a long stay in a foreign land, the long term will have a good end and will be planned mercifully by God. The Lord God gives them this assurance.
In this account — similarly to the passage in Hebrews — we discern the word of the Eternal and Everlasting God as indeed “alive and active.” He speaks his word with promise and it comes to pass.
And what happened seventy years later? The long exile was in fact completed and the people were returned to Jerusalem. And what can we take from this ancient prophecy come true? That when God makes a promise to his people, he will fulfill it.
To be continued next week.
Photo credit: ThoroughlyReviewed (via flickr.com)