Jeremiah 29: Dealing with the Stigma of Exile

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

This blog post is, like many of my theological insights, completely spontaneous. I was re-reading Jeremiah 29, the passage that my pastor preached on this past Sunday, and I got an additional insight. Unlike most exegeses of Jeremiah 29, this one does not include Jeremiah 29:11, in which the Lord tells the exiled Israelites: “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.” This exclusion wasn’t on purpose. My brain just took a different turn.

Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had taken many of the Israelites into exile/captivity. All they wanted was to go home (see Psalm 137: “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”). However, through the prophet Jeremiah, God tells them to get ready to stay for seventy years; to plan to settle down and get comfortable (Jer. 29:5-10):

“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….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.'”

exile

(Photo credit: http://treasureboxmy.blogspot.com/2016/03/the-babylonian-captivity-exile-2.html)

Unfortunately, the people did not want to hear this message. In fact, a man named Shemaiah from Nehelaim accused Jeremiah of being a false prophet. Surely the Lord would not want us to endure exile! He will come and save us, just like He saved us in Egypt!

(Author’s Note: How long were y’all in Egypt, again? *insert quirky, motivational message about waiting on God through our circumstances*).

Shemaiah then asked Zephaniah to punish Jeremiah, like they had been punishing all of the prophets who spoke unfavorable prophecies:

“The LORD has appointed you priest in place of Jehoiada to be in charge of the house of the LORD, you should put any maniac who acts like a prophet into the stocks and neck-irons. So why have you not reprimanded Jeremiah from Anathoth, who poses as a prophet among you? He has sent this message to us in Babylon: It will be a long time. Therefore, build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce” (29:27-28).

(Invoking the Lord’s name to do something the Lord did NOT command you to do? Hmm…this should end well…)

Re-reading this passage could not have come at a better time for me. Even though I have no plans to move, a thought that keeps running through my mind is that I don’t want to learn how to drive or buy a car because such a major purchase implies that I am ready to settle down somewhere and stay; I wanted to always allow for the possibility of packing up and leaving without too many personal items. It’s an irrational thought, because I have nowhere to go, yet I think it quite often.

I am not in exile. I am in a town where I spent most of my childhood before going away (not that far away) for college and seminary. But I can relate to the Israelites. There is a stigma attached to many places in the United States, and, like the Israelites, I just want to go home. But I have nowhere that I could call home. At least not anymore.

So I have to take to heart the words of Jeremiah to be content where I am, whether on a national or local level. To make my mom’s old apartment into a home of which I can be proud and where I can be the domestic hostess I’ve always dreamt of being; to participate in the social life of my community instead of always running off to “the best old place of all”; and, especially, to seek the welfare of my city (and country) through prayer, civic engagement, and political participation.

God has a purpose for us where He has put us. Acts 17:26 states, “From one man [God] made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.”

The English Revised Version states: “God began by making one man, and from him he made all the different people who live everywhere in the world. He decided exactly when and where they would live.”

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