Reading the Bible from Below (3): The Future’s so Bright I Have to Wear Shades. Or: Was I Blinded by the Light?

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2015-03-22 by Jeremy Clarke

Preacher: Michael Nimz
22nd March 2015
Reading: Jeremiah 29: 4-14

Jeremiah 29: 4-14

4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:
5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.
6 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.
7 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.”
8 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.
9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.

10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfil my good promise to bring you back to this place.
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.
12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.
13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
14 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.”

As we look at today’s Scripture, we find that the some of the people of Judah were in captivity in Babylon. Not all of the people of Judah, but the leaders, the court officials, the artisans, the smiths, basically the best and the brightest were taken off to be vassals to King Nebuchadnezzar and his court. The farmers, the laborers and many of the shop keepers were left in Judah and Jerusalem to carry on as they had before.

In my thinking, this was particularly clever of King Nebuchadnezzar. He removed the people who were most likely to raise up a rebellion. He left the country mostly intact to carry on and continue producing, which would make him even more wealthy. All he needed to do was place some of his own people in charge of government duties that needed to continue, strategically place some troops around the country and move on to his next conquest.

With the former leadership of Judah in close proximity, he could watch all their activities. He could more easily prevent them from putting together a plot to retake their land. He could also put them in positions that they would considered very demeaning and break their spirit or make good use of their talents. With these people put in places of servitude, they would have little opportunity or time to come together and devise plans to reclaim Judah.

As we understand Scripture, it was God’s plan to have the people of Judah become servants to the people of Babylon. The reason the Israelites were in Babylon was because they didn’t pray and ask for God’s advice. God was not at the centre of their life. They had stopped following God’s ways and were being punished. They had stepped outside of God’s plan and they needed to relearn what that plan was so they could get back on track.

God has everything planned out. God will know if we will wisely follow His advice, or if we foolishly won’t. We first need to figure out what God’s plan is so that we live in accordance with it. God hasn’t told us exactly what His plan is, though. So we need to make God the centre of our lives, read the Scriptures, every day and pray hard to try to figure that out. If we do this, we will find out what His plan is and then we will do what is in that plan. How can we not? Once we know God’s plan it will be the only thing that make perfect sense. Anything else will be complete nonsense and a waste of everyone’s time.

It is when we get God’s plan in our head that things really begin to happen. When we are living in accordance to the plan, then our future is bright! God will look after our welfare and there will be so much hope that we won’t be able to contain it! Life will be so utterly amazing with God in our lives and us in His that people will be amazed at the outpouring of His blessings on His people. We will be the bright shining light on the hill for all to see!

We will be shiny happy people! God’s favour will be on us and we will know it. How will we know it? We will know it all kinds of ways, some big and some little. We will know when we are in a hurry to get somewhere and we need to take care of something first, that could potentially make us late. It will be the little things, like finding an easy place to park in the car park, or a short queue at the shop. This is God’s favour. We will be able to get in and out so that we can get on to what God really has in mind for us to do.

It will be the big things, the promotion at work because of our Christian work ethic. It will be the things we can do with the bigger paycheck that will advance God’s kingdom. It will be in the comfort that comes with that, the life that God has always wanted for us, the life that is good and provides more time to devote to Him and to be grateful to Him for what He has given us. This is God’s favour.

When people see what is happening, they will want to have what you have. They will want to be like you. They will want God’s favour. Then you will be in the perfect place to show them just what they need to do. They will be ready to find out what God’s plan is and how they can be a part of it.

This is it, What more do we need? Jeremiah 29:11 tells us God has a plan for us! He has plans for our welfare and for our future. God has got everything planned out and set for us. That’s all we need to know. So, we are good to go. Go forth and live in God’s plan! The glory that comes to God when this happens is beyond our imagination! People all over will be blinded by the light of the glory of God as we live in God’s plan. Yes, the future will be so bright, we will have to wear shades!

Or, are we just being blinded by the light with this understanding? Is this what is really happening in this Scripture? Or is it as is more frequently being said, a text without a context is a con?

It has become quite customary to take a verse, a part of a verse, or groups of verses that contain the same word to establish a systematic theology. It has allowed for some of the worst work done in the theology and Scriptural understanding. It can lead on to all kinds of conclusions from the Bible, that are more often than not, merely justification for some of the worst of human nature, claiming it is ordained by God.

From the first few verses of the chapter, we find that this is from a letter that was sent by Jeremiah to the leaders who were taken to Babylon. From this, we know that Jeremiah didn’t go with them. He sought safety somewhere else. We are even told who carried the letter to the people of Israel. An interesting detail, which, to us, really has no significance. It might to some PhD. student somewhere, though.

Through Jeremiah, God tells those in exile to settle into the land where they have been taken. They are to build houses, get married, have children, and plant gardens. They are told to let their children marry and have children, to increase in numbers while they are there. Basically, Jeremiah tells them that they are told they are going to be there for a long time.

They are told that they are to seek the welfare of the city they live. As Spock would have said, live long and prosper. Even though they live under the rule of conquerors, pray for the people in power, and have faith in God. Be very careful about the diviners and those who claim to be prophets, because the Lord did not send them in exile with the others. They are deceivers. Do these things and eventually the people will be returned to the land of Israel.

Could what Jeremiah was telling the people be God’s plan for His people? Not something vague that they need to figure out, but to settle down and wait, build houses, have children and grandchildren. Work hard for the benefit of the land in which they live, which may or may not make their lives better, but then it might. And even though they are far away from Jerusalem and the Temple is ruined, God will be faithful and hear their prayers. In a way, God will be with them as they struggle and build lives in a foreign land that is not theirs, under rulers who may not be exactly kind.

I think we can get the idea that God is telling the people that everything isn’t going to be perfect, but make the best of it. If they do what God tells them, then their future will be good, it will have hope. It won’t be this way forever. You won’t have to live here forever. You, or at least your loved ones will return to the land they came from. God wants something better, but it will take time. It will take persistence. This promise of something better is the beginning of hope.

Another thing of note that I think may go unnoticed, God tells His people what to do and what to expect. Repeatedly, leading up to the exile, God had sent prophets to the people of Israel and told them what they needed to do. If they didn’t do that, then there would be consequences, serious consequences. The Scripture never gives us the idea that God had a plan and never told the people of Israel. God also never told them after the fact that what had happened was a part of the plan, like we often hear religious leaders tell us today. And God never told the people of Israel; something’s going to happen and you need to figure out what it is and why it is going to happen.

What can be extremely difficult in figuring out what God has planned is knowing who to listen to. God sent prophets, but at the same time there were other people claiming to be prophets who were claiming something different than the ones that God had sent. While we can look back and see who the true prophets were, because they are the ones that got written about. It is much more difficult in the present. But, we can compare what someone is saying to what we have in Scripture. If it doesn’t match, it’s probably wrong.

I think that when we see God telling the people to settle down, wait and do the best they can, we can see that this is a message with consistency and lasting power. I think we find it in the writings of Paul when he tells the people that the Lord will return, but until then keep doing what Jesus taught, persevere until the end. Something amazing is yet to come.

I would say that Jesus’ ministry takes on some of the characteristics we see in this chapter of Jeremiah. While Jesus’ ministry grows and gains wide attention, in the end, he needs to struggle with what it is to which God had called him. There was a time when it was extremely difficult, but then came the resurrection. Jesus tells his disciples that to follow him they will need to take up their own cross. They will need to deal with difficult times, but it will get better.

And, I might suggest that what Jeremiah told the people could be seen as loving their enemy. They were told to do what was best for the welfare of their captors. They were told to pray for them.

Not everyone leading up to the exile was unfaithful. Some were very faithful and they carried that with them in to Babylon. Sometimes, following God will be wonderful. Sometimes, following God will be difficult. When times get difficult, maybe we just need to settle down and wait. We need to do what is best for where we are. It won’t be difficult forever. It will get better.

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