Jeremiah paces around the room, unable to quench this fire eating away at his bones. His faithful scribe Baruch looks up every now and then, concerned, as Jeremiah dictates a letter to those exiled in Babylon.
Jeremiah had been born as King Josiah was inaugurated. He probably entered his ministry as Zephaniah began lambasting Josiah and his government. An Assyrian empire had leveled the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Many of the people were carted off to Assyria and resettled there. Other people from other defeated countries were resettled into Israel, effectively obliterating their cultural and religious heritage. Already God’s words were coming true (Deut 28:36-37).
Assyria had turned to do the same to Judah, but God had intervened. Yet, even after the Assyrian army finished off the Northern Kingdom, and Judah celebrated that they had been spared, Jeremiah had stood in God’s temple and shouted, “Do not think for a minute this place makes us special! Look at the way we’re treating immigrants and foster kids! Look at our senseless abuse and addictions!” God himself had told him, then and there, not to even pray for the nation (7:1-16). The threat of exile still loomed over them.
No matter how hard they had tried, no matter how many times God warned the kings of Judah, they would not listen. Several times, Jeremiah had received death threats and even attempts at his life. No one wanted to hear this message. All throughout their culture, the religious experts were predicting peace and revival. But there would be no peace (8:11). Hadn’t Micah told them their wound was incurable? (Jer 15:18; 30:12) Why were they slapping around band aids trying to preserve their institutions?
The Southern Kingdom must have thought they were lucky. Maybe they could dodge Moses’ prediction (Deut 32)? Maybe they had already skirted disaster and would just skip to God blessing them again? They had narrowly avoided Assyria’s army. But they had not escaped the curses the had sworn upon themselves. Another army finally showed up. Assyria had faded, but Babylon was just getting started. They raided the country and exiled most leaders and educated people to Babylon. It is to those people, those surviving leaders, that Jeremiah is writing.
“This is what God is saying to those of you He carried off into exile . . . purse the peace of Babylon! There is no plan for insurgency. This new normal will not be over anytime soon, as some are saying. Things are not going back to the way they were. So plant yourselves where you are: live your life. You’re going to be here for a long time. But don’t worry, I know the plans I have for you . . . And I’ll bring you back one day.”
God had specifically told Jeremiah to not pray for these people (7:16; 11:14; 14:11). How ironic it is that these people are now told to pray for Babylon (1). But this was part of God disciplining them. As Moses had seen, their hearts were still not loyal to God. But one day, Jeremiah had Baruch take this down:
I’m going to marry Israel/Judah again. Not like before when I led them out of Egypt and they were unfaithful to me, even though we had just gotten married. No, I’m going to commit myself to them again. Only this time, I’m going to put My law in their minds and inscribe it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people (31:31-33).
A glimpse of hope for the future.
- Michael L. Brown, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Jeremiah (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 358-59.
Listen: Jeremiah 29