OPPRESSED BELIEVERS MUST REJECT FALSE PROMISES AND PURSUE GOD’S WILL WHILE CLINGING TO FUTURE HOPE
Sometimes God’s people find themselves in unpleasant and oppressive circumstances. In the case of the Jews exiled for the 70 year Babylonian Captivity, it was a matter of divine discipline for their rebellion and idolatry. You can imagine the types of negative and discouraging thoughts that must have plagued them as day in and day out they longed for the prosperity and privileges they had known before in the Promised Land.
In other historical examples, the oppression might not be sin-related. Certainly Christians find themselves today living in a culture that opposes a biblical worldview and the righteousness of God. How can we please God in such circumstances and endure the suffering and discouragement of such bleak times? There is no magic bullet that is going to provide instant deliverance. God’s kingdom agenda includes enduring suffering while continuing to walk by faith. The temptation is to look for a quick fix and be led astray by attractive false promises of prosperity and relief.
OPPRESSED BELIEVERS MUST REJECT FALSE PROMISES AND PURSUE GOD’S WILL WHILE CLINGING TO FUTURE HOPE
Mackay: The community in exile was facing a crisis in their faith and in their personal circumstances. How should they react to the trauma of deportation? Were they to treat their present circumstances as temporary, or should they settle down for a long stay? . . Often in crisis situations it is the optimistic word of a speedy resolution that seems to be called for, but optimism that is not based on divine revelation is pernicious and delusive. By engendering false hopes it leads to greater problems in the long run. Blind optimism is never the true answer to human catastrophe; only a reaction based on the word of God will provide the genuine answers that are needed. In thinking through their dramatically changed circumstances of exile, the community was not to be beguiled by the alluring voices of a false resolution, but was rather to learn to hear and respond correctly to the message that comes from God.
I. (:1-14) THE GAMEPLAN FOR SUCCESSFUL LIVING IN OPPRESSIVE CIRCUMSTANCES (ADDRESSED TO THOSE IN EXILE IN BABYLON)
(:1-3) Particulars Regarding Jeremiah’s Instructions to the Exiles
1. (:1) Author and Recipients
“Now these are the words of the letter which Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the rest of the elders of the exile, the priests, the prophets and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.”
2. (:2) Historical Reference Point
“(This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the court officials, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem.)”
3. (:3) Letter Carriers – Delivery Service
“The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan, and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, saying,”
Parunak: the means by which the letter was sent. Zechariah was sending diplomatic mail to Nebuchadnezzar, and Jer’s letter hitch-hikes along in the diplomatic mail-pouch.
A. (:4-7) Prescription for Successful Living in Exile – Focus on Doing God’s Will in Your Present Circumstances
1. (:4-5) Work Responsibly to Provide for Essential Needs
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce.’”
– Shelter – build, live
– Food – plant, eat
These can seem like mundane responsibilities. But we have the opportunity to please God in our daily living.
Mackay: Crisis of faith – had the Lord let them down and deserted his people? Could they really rely on the covenant promises? The assertion that it was God who had controlled their destiny is made to assure them that they have not been forgotten, and that they play a particular part in the divine purpose. They were where they were by divine initiative and control (24:5); they had a future. Nebuchadnezzar was merely the agent whom the Lord had used to carry out his purposes. They should accept their circumstances, because the Lord was in control of them. . .
The mention of gardens rather than fields probably indicates that they were unable to acquire extensive land-holdings, but as tenants would have been allotted plots of ground in the vicinity of their houses.
2. (:6) Grow Your Families
“Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease.”
The blessing of family is independent of our wealth and financial opportunity and cultural domination.
3. (:7) Pursue Peace and Divine Favor
“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile,
and pray to the LORD on its behalf;
for in its welfare you will have welfare.”
We must understand how God’s sovereignty over the nations is administered through the authority structures He has established. We need to seek the peace of the city where He has placed us. We need to bloom where we have been planted. Always longing for where the grass is greener robs us of the opportunity to serve God in our present surroundings.
Parunak: The exhortation takes the form of a series of commands, each emphasizing a longer duration for the captivity than the preceding.
a) 5a, Build shelter–it will be longer than a few days.
b) 5b, Plant gardens–it will be longer than the growing season.
c) 6, Marry and propagate–it will be longer than a generation.
d) 7, Seek the peace of Babylon, for it is tied up with your own peace. Does not imply any horizon at all.
Application: This letter is a good guide for us on our pilgrimage. Our home is the heavenly Jerusalem; we are presently living in the enemy’s land, a planet whose god is Satan. Yet God does not call us to live as hermits, or in constant rebellion against the social structures of our culture. We, like the captives of old, must “seek the peace of Babylon,” even as we bear witness against her errors and refuse to participate in her sins.
B. (:8-9) Prophecy of Deception Must Be Rejected – False Prophets Only Offer False Hope and Deceive
“For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream. For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them,’ declares the LORD.”
You can’t be suckered by false promises and assurances of safety and deliverance when the tough times call for endurance and perseverance.
You must make sure you are getting your spiritual direction from the proper sources.
C. (:10-14) Promise of Restoration – Focus on Future Hope of Divine Favor and Restoration
1. (:10-11) Future Agenda
a. (:10) Restoration After 70 Year Subjugation
“For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.’”
b. (:11) Providential Masterplan
“’For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD,
‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’”
What a tremendous perspective – to understand that God is for us and working on our behalf. We have a bright future. We need to cling to that hope.
Mackay: This is the essence of the divine message for those in exile. A shaft of light pierces the gloom of their present situation when the Lord says he has plans for their future. But realization of these plans was contingent upon their attitude. They were called to exercise faith without the accompaniments of Temple, sacrifice and sacred city, which the people had previously so identified with true religion that they had lost sight of the need to trust simply in God. He would deliver them, but on his time scale and not the one that they considered to be appropriate. The passing of the years would tend to encourage among them a right disposition towards the Lord, one of obediently waiting on his will, as opposed to the automatic claim they thought they had on his blessing.
2. (:12-14) Seeking and Finding
a. (:12-13) Wholehearted Seeking After God
“Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”
b. (:14-15) Restoration Back in the Promised Land
“‘I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’”
Parunak: The mechanism of the return: God will first incline the people’s heart toward him, so that they seek him, and then he will restore them in response to their quest. Each of vv. 12, 13-14a depicts this sequence of seeking the Lord and his gracious response.
Note that this is not a condition, “If you seek me, then you shall find me,” but a continued prophecy of what will happen after 70 years. Our faith is itself a gift of God, under his sovereign control.
Application: God exercises his sovereign control through our real decisions and actions. The doctrine of his control should encourage us in our efforts for him, not tempt us to do nothing.
Constable: Since the exiles did not seek the Lord wholeheartedly, and since He did not return all of them to the land at the end of the Exile, premillennialists look for a fulfillment of these promises in the future. [Note: See Kaiser, pp110-12; and Feinberg, p555.] The returns from exile under Zerubbabel, Ezra , and Nehemiah were only partial fulfillments of these promises. Most of the exiles chose not to return (e.g, Mordecai and Esther). Perhaps others of them could not return (e.g, Daniel , Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego).
II. (:15-20) THE GRIM DESTINY OF THOSE REMAINING IN THE LAND OF JUDAH SHOULD GET THE ATTENTION OF THE EXILES
You think you have it rough – consider the destiny of those who refused to submit to the Lord’s discipline – Learn the lessons from history
(:15-17a) Discernment Problem
1. (:15) Listening to the Wrong Prophets
“Because you have said, ‘The LORD has raised up prophets for us in Babylon’— “
2. (:16) Learning the Consequences of Their Disobedience
“for thus says the LORD concerning the king who sits on the throne of David, and concerning all the people who dwell in this city, your brothers who did not go with you into exile—”
Kidner: In Babylon it was tempting for the first main wave of exiles to pin their hopes on the fact that, after all, Jerusalem was still intact, still inhabited, and possessed of the temple and a Davidic king. In Babylon too, as at home, there were prophets (15) stirring up these sentiments. So the truth about the homeland and the truth about these prophets had to be told.
3. (:17a) Listening to the Prophecy From the Lord
“thus says the LORD of hosts,”
A. (:17b-18) Destiny of Death and Destruction
1. (:17) Destiny Proclaimed – Round 1
a. (:17b) Calamities of Death and Destruction
“Behold, I am sending upon them the sword, famine andnpestilence,”
b. (:17c) Catastrophic Impact
“and I will make them like split-open figs that cannot be eaten due to rottenness.”
2. (:18) Destiny Proclaimed – Round 2
a. (:18a) Calamities of Death and Destruction
“I will pursue them with the sword, with famine and with pestilence;”
b. (:18b) Catastrophic Impact
“and I will make them a terror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse and a horror and a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them,”
Talk about the Grim Reaper
B. (:19-20) Application: Watch and Learn
1. (:19) What Happens When You Fail to Listen and Obey
“’because they have not listened to My words,’ declares the LORD,
‘which I sent to them again and again by My servants the prophets;
But you did not listen,’ declares the LORD.”
2. (:20) Command to Listen and Obey
“You, therefore, hear the word of the LORD, all you exiles,
whom I have sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon.”
III. (:21-32) THE GULLIBILITY IN EMBRACING DECEPTION NECESSITATES THE DESTRUCTION OF THE FALSE PROPHETS
A. (:21-23) Curse Against Ahab and Zedekiah
1. (:21a) Identification
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning Ahab the son of Kolaiah and concerning Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying to you falsely in My name,”
2. (:22-23) Indictment
“Behold, I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he will slay them before your eyes. Because of them a curse will be used by all the exiles from Judah who are in Babylon, saying, ‘May the LORD make you like Zedekiah and like Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire, because they have acted foolishly in Israel, and have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives and have spoken words in My name falsely, which I did not command them; and I am He who knows and am a witness,’ declares the LORD.”
Kidner: Marks of false prophets:
– incitement to serve other gods (even when it was supported by signs and wonders and true predictions, Dt. 13-5)
– predictions that failed (Dt. 18:20-22, cf. Je. 28:9)
– indulgent preaching (Je. 23:17, 32)
– and here, immoral living (29:23)
B. (:24-28) Rebuke of Shemaiah
“To Shemaiah the Nehelamite you shall speak, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel,’”
1. (:25-26) Arrogant Attack
“Because you have sent letters in your own name to all the people who are in Jerusalem, and to Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah, the priest, and to all the priests, saying, ‘The LORD has made you priest instead of Jehoiada the priest, to be the overseer in the house of the LORD over every madman who prophesies, to put him in the stocks and in the iron collar,’”
Constable: “The irony is that Zephaniah would, according to Deuteronomy 28:34, become a madman himself when he witnessed the judgment coming upon Jerusalem.” [Note: Scalise, p79.]
Feinberg: The background of Shemaiah’s letter is clear. Jeremiah’s letter understandably angered the false prophets in Babylon. Shemaiah, who was one of them, wrote the deputy priest Zephaniah to silence Jeremiah. Instead, Zephaniah read Shemaiah’s letter to Jeremiah, who replied in a message predicting the doom of Shemaiah for denying Jeremiah’s authority (v. 27). The false prophets had apparently overlooked the promises Jeremiah had given (vv. 10-14).
2. (:27-28) Sarcastic Suggestion
“now then, why have you not rebuked Jeremiah of Anathoth who prophesies to you? For he has sent to us in Babylon, saying, ‘The exile will be long; build houses and live in them and plant gardens and eat their produce.’”
C. (:29-32) Punishment of Shemaiah
“Zephaniah the priest read this letter to Jeremiah the prophet.”
“Then came the word of the LORD to Jeremiah, saying, ‘Send to all the exiles, saying, Thus says the LORD concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite,’”
“Because Shemaiah has prophesied to you, although I did not send him, and he has made you trust in a lie, therefore thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I am about to punish Shemaiah the Nehelamite and his descendants; he will not have anyone living among this people, and he will not see the good that I am about to do to My people,’ declares the LORD, ‘because he has preached rebellion against the LORD.’”
Longman: Because he has falsely prophesied, God will punish him and his descendants. He will not live to see the future day of salvation, the good things God will do for his people. Precisely what those good things are is the subject of the next section of the book of Jeremiah, the so-called Book of Consolation (chs. 30-33).