Judgment for Judah
Selections from Jeremiah 26–29, 34–45
Despite the persistent warnings, God’s people refused to listen to Jeremiah. Because of their unfaithfulness, they would face punishment for the sins at the hand of Babylon. These chapters remind us of the seriousness of sin and the consequences for our sin. Yet even in the upheaval of judgment, there are glimmers of hope, for God keeps his promises. As we read these chapters in the midst of Advent, we enter into the sorrow God’s people must have felt watching their home country be destroyed. We also enter into their sorrow as they wait for God to come and deliver them. In some ways, their waiting mirrors ours, as we, too, wait for Christ to come again and to make right all that is broken in this world and in our hearts.
The 29th chapter of Jeremiah—especially verse 11—is among the most quoted and beloved of all of Jeremiah’s prophecy. And while it is beautiful to rest in the promise that God has a plan for us, in the context of the full letter we are reminded that plan might not always be the easy path we might have hoped for.
The context of Jeremiah’s letter is to set the theological framework for the people’s exile to Babylon and to give them a concrete plan for moving into the future. Their well-deserved exile is assured, as is their not-at-all deserved homecoming to the Promised Land. God’s justice is matched by his mercy. But this journey from exile to restoration will not be a short one. A full generation—70 years—will be lived in a place that is not their home. What can they do as they await God’s promise being fulfilled (especially when a large number of them almost certainly won’t live to see it happen)? Jeremiah provides the answer:
“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” (Jeremiah 29:5–7 NIV).
In short, even while they wait, they need to live abundant lives and care deeply for the place in which they are temporarily residing.
Advent is well known as the season of waiting for the coming of the Lord as a baby at Christmas. It is also a reminder that we still await the fulfillment of God’s promise that Christ will come again. Some Christians have been misguided, believing that, because Jesus is coming back someday, nothing that happens here and now is of any importance. While they might not say it, their actions demonstrate their belief that “the world can go to hell because I’m going to Jesus.”
Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles doesn’t let us hold onto that false and unfaithful way of living. We are called to live full, abundant, and purpose-filled lives even as we wait for Jesus to come. We are not to treat the here and now as a waiting room for the sweet by-and-by. We are to seek the welfare of the place God has us. Advent reminds us that all God’s promises are trustworthy. God holds our future, so we need not be anxious as we wait. Instead, we are to be hard at work in our waiting—building, settling, planting, eating, marrying, increasing, praying, and prospering—in order that as we wait for Christ to come, we might be used of God as an answer to the prayer Jesus taught us to pray: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”