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. (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.) 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:
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to 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 number there; do not decrease. 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.” 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. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.
This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “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,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” (NIV)
Whenever I am in a conversation with a Christian, I often ask them what their favorite Bible verse or passage of Scripture is. Hands down, the most often cited verse is Jeremiah 29:11 –
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV)
It certainly is a wonderful verse. Yet, there is a distinct situation and context surrounding that verse about the future, which is very much rooted in the present. The nation of Judah had been invaded and taken into captivity to Babylon. Understandably, the people were longing to go back home. They did not want to be in Babylon. So, Jeremiah (who remained in Judah) sent them a letter, warning them not to listen to false prophets who would give them an easy answer about getting out of Babylon quickly. Instead, he instructed them to make a good life for themselves in their captive land. He essentially told them to “bloom where you are planted.”
The people, although in a place and in a situation which they neither wanted nor expected, needed to be present to their surroundings and settle down. They were to pray for peace, both for themselves and for their captors, because their own success in life was inextricably tied to their geographical place in Babylonia. The sooner the people listened to Jeremiah on this, the better off they would be.
Plans to give us a hope and future only have meaning for us today when we:
- Understand that we are to work hard, right where we are, in a place we do not want to be.
- Pray for that place, its people, and their welfare.
- Thrive in our present hard circumstance.
- Only then, can we look to the bright future of hope.
Our present sufferings are incomparable to the coming glory yet to be revealed. That future hope only occurs if we persevere and find ways of flourishing in the place and situation where we are today.
So, how will you thrive in the place God has you right now? We always have the choice to practice resilience and make the absolute best of unwanted circumstances – or sit and stew over our misfortune to the point of becoming bitter and hard. It is important to choose wisely.
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought me in safety to this new day. Preserve with your mighty power so that I might not just wish for a different today and are not able to see what you have for me in this place. May I not be overcome by adversity, but in all things direct me to the fulfilling of your purposes, through Jesus Christ, my Lord in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Amen.