This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. . .
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “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 gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 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. 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 seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and I 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.”
(Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7, 10-14, NIV)
The prophet Jeremiah lived during the tumultuous days when the Kingdom of Judah was a pawn battered about by the “superpowers” of his day. The land of Palestine was a battleground for the ravaging armies of Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon and the Jews were caught in the middle of the violence. Jeremiah tells the people of Judah that God’s judgment is coming for their disobedience and that their sins of idolatry and injustice have brought on the collapse of their small, beleaguered kingdom.
The context for today’s verses is Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning the exile of the Jews to Babylon which is recorded in chapters 25-33. Our devotional is the text of a letter Jeremiah sent to the exiles in 597 B.C. In the midst of despair, defeat and deportation, Jeremiah has a surprising message for the exiles: build houses, plant gardens, marry, have children and “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” to which they had been relocated. The Lord Almighty, through the prophet Jeremiah, instructs his exiled people to seek shalom within the borders of the nation that had just conquered their land and deported their people.
Sometimes Christians are caught in political situations beyond their control. They are forced to flee their mother country, are trapped in nations with repressive political regimes of the Right or Left, or are politically powerless because of economic deprivation or other reasons. Yet the Biblical message for practicing peacemaking has relevance in these contexts as well: seek the peace of the city where God has put you. Even if Christians are not able to have an impact on the national or international level, everyone can be a peacemaker in their city, neighborhood, and family. Like the exiled Jews, Christians can be people of hope because they know God’s promise: “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” (v. 11). The practice of peacemaking for ordinary Christians begins right where they are.
Lord of history, we praise you as Creator and Sustainer of the world. We rejoice in the confidence that you are in control of history. In times of despair, we need the strength of your Holy Spirit to be people of hope who practice peace in our immediate surroundings while chaos threatens our world. Help us to trust in your promise that you have plans to give us “hope and a future.” Amen.