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  • Writer's picturePastor Brett

Bloom Where You're Planted

Jeremiah 29:1-14

            CONTEXT (1-4) = In 597 B.C., the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar conquered the city of Jerusalem.  In a practice typical to that time, the conquering nation deported citizens of the defeated nation.  This practice had some practical advantages:

- It improved the conqueror’s situation as they brought the best and brightest of the conquered peoples to work for them.

- It helped to subjugate the conquered peoples as their promising young people, their future, were taken away.  The removal of their leaders left an immediate leadership vacuum which kept the people left behind from organizing any kind of rebellion.

            The idea was that the exiles would fully assimilate into the conqueror’s culture, making permanent improvements in their new host nation.  We know that controlled immigration is necessary for a nation’s long-term survival.  Uncontrolled migration has just the opposite effect, however.

            The prophet Jeremiah ministered to the people of Judah before and after the exile.  In Jeremiah 52:28 that 3,028 Jews were taken into exile in Babylon.  The total number of exiles was undoubtedly much higher than that.  The list of exiles in v. 2 includes royalty, court officials, craftsmen, and artisans. 

            The largest settlement of Jews was near Nippur, a city situated on the Kabar canal.  From sources other than Jeremiah, we learn that there had been some disturbances among the Jewish exiles in the years 595-594 B.C.  Some false prophets were urging the exiles to rebel against the Babylonians, inviting disaster in the form of a harsh military reprisal.  Jeremiah was given a message from God and wrote a letter to the exiles to defuse the situation and silence the false prophets before real trouble ensued.

            Verse four makes it clear that Nebuchadnezzar was God’s instrument in all this.  Yes, there is all these human decisions and activity, but the exiles were put into exile because it was God’s will for them.  He used the Babylonians and their warrior’s lust for conquest to discipline His people for their egregious sin and rebellion against Him. 

            This is human nature.  It’s hard, when you know God is with you, to acknowledge that troubles and trials are part of His plan for you.  It’s hard to admit you deserve far worse than what you’re suffering.  For these reasons and many others, the people who were deported from their homes and carried off to distant Babylon had an immense challenge ahead of them: how were they to live as captives in a foreign land?

Prosper where God puts you.

1. The exiles were to bloom in the enemy’s land. (5-7)

            Put down roots = BUILD HOMES, PLAN TO STAY.  Don’t exist in temporary structures, build for the long haul.

            Draw nourishment through them = PLANT GARDENS AND EAT THEIR PRODUCE. From Daniel we learn the place of vegetables in the diet of the Jewish exiles.  God wanted them to feed themselves and not become dependent on the government.

            Reproduce = MARRY AND HAVE CHILDREN AND MANY GRANDCHILDREN.  These would be the people who would eventually return to Judah and restore Jerusalem.

            Blossom = WORK and PRAY FOR THE PEACE AND PROSPERITY OF YOUR CITY.  To pray for one’s captors must’ve seemed like a radical demand to make.  (Jesus commanded it in Matthew 5:42!)  But when you live in a place, the prosperity of the place is your prosperity.

            On the surface, these commands might’ve seemed like they were supporting the aims of the enemy.  The Babylonians wanted conquered peoples to assimilate into their culture, becoming a permanent part of their nation.  According to the biblical record, God used His people to make changes to the Babylonian culture!

            This was an interim situation, but nonetheless, God wanted them to make the very best of it.  Making the best of it would make the 70 years a time of preparation for leaving under the very best possible conditions.

            However, God’s plan was that the Jews would be a temporary addition to Babylon, residing there just 70 years.  Why 70 years, you ask?  We can speculate: Psalm 90:10 allows for 70-80 years of human lifespan.  So, it’s possible God wanted the disobedient generation to die off, replaced by their children and grandchildren.

            God’s will was the opposite of what the false prophets had been telling them, trying to incite the people to rebellion.  The false prophets did not want them to settle down and make a life in Babylon.  They wanted them to fight to escape Babylon.  Any attempt at rebellion was going to fail.  Not just because of the military power of the Babylonians, but because it was God’s will that they stay in exile for 70 years.  At the end of that period, it was not rebellion that got the exiles their freedom, it was the respect they’d earned by being good, productive citizens.  They’d earned the king’s favor and he granted them their freedom.

2. The exiles were not to compromise their faith. (8-9)

            The exiles were to not listen to false prophets.  As usual, they were telling people things they wanted to hear, not the truth.  In this case, they promised prompt deliverance from Babylon.  The false prophets were telling them the period of captivity would be brief, so don’t get used to their surroundings.

            God commanded the exiles to assimilate in every way except spiritually and religiously. The LORD’s instructions through Jeremiah were to settle in, survive and even prosper in cooperation with their captors.  However, they were not to worship their idols or accept their ethics.  They were not to remove themselves from the culture but were to preserve their faith within it.

3. The exiles were to keep their hope in God, trusting His promises. (10-14)

            Their situation would feel permanent, but it was only temporary, just 70 years.  By the usual human scale, 70 years is a lifetime.  But on God’s scale, 70 years is a puff of vapor.  It’s temporary.  Regardless of our perceptions of time, God promised His people that their exile would not be a permanent thing.  Hard as it may be to believe, God’s ultimate purpose is causing them to lose the war and be taken captive was to bless them.  This is just the way life is, friends.  God wants to bless us through the difficulties He’s set in our path.

            Verse eleven is one of those verses that is quoted frequently.  It appears on a lot of pictures, postcards, posters, and other stuff you find to buy in Christian bookstores.  However, very few of those who quote it communicate its context, that it is a word of hope for people looking at 70 years of captivity in a foreign land!  Verse eleven gave the exiles hope that their situation was not a sign of God’s abandonment; God plan was to be with them and to restore them.  I count SEVEN promises God made to His people in exile.  Let’s look at the particulars of God’s PLANS:

- To COME FOR THEM (10), to GATHER them OUT OF THE NATIONS to which He’d sent them (14).

- To END their CAPTIVITY (13) and BRING them HOME AGAIN (10+14).

- The goal of His PLANS was to do GOOD THINGS for them (10), not for DISASTER (11).

- To give them a FUTURE AND A HOPE (11), having things to look forward to is a big help in overcoming current sorrows.

- Answered prayer (12).

- Wholehearted seekers will find God (13).

- To RESTORE their FORTUNES is not limited to material things, but all the blessings that God provides (14).

            Had they rebelled as the false prophets incited them to do, the rebels would have lost out on all these wonderful promises God made to them.

Prosper where God puts you.

            Philippians 3:20 reminds followers of Jesus who we truly serve: BUT WE ARE CITIZENS OF HEAVEN, WHERE THE LORD JESUS CHRIST LIVES.  AND WE ARE EAGERLY WAITING FOR HIM TO RETURN AS OUR SAVIOR.  Here the Apostle Paul reminds us that wherever we live on Earth, our true citizenship is in Heaven.  Our greatest loyalty is to God.  There is nothing in this world that can compete with the blessings God offers to those who love and obey Him.

            In this sense, we are in a situation similar to the Jewish exiles in Babylon: we’re not living where we belong.  We’re in a foreign place run by a hostile power.

            This means the commands given to the Jewish exiles are for us too.  It means the promises made to the Jewish exiles hold promise for us too.

            God wants us to live in the world fully.  We’re to do what we must to not just survive, but to thrive in this world.  This doesn’t mean we all must get rich, working toward our prosperity as our first priority.  It means we are to leave peaceably and redemptively where God has put us.  We’re to be creative, intentional, even assertive about making for ourselves the best possible life we can.  Not selfishly, but to the betterment of all persons.

            I feel like we’re living in a culture of increasing hostility to the Gospel.  We’re in a time of active and unscrupulous opposition to God.  I feel like an exile.  Maybe you do too.  That’s not a bad thing; Jeremiah’s letter made plain what exiles are supposed to do.

            There is another analogy that is handy for understanding our relationship to the world as it is: ambassadorship. 

2 Corinthians 5:20 tells us, SO WE ARE CHRIST’S AMBASSADORS; GOD IS MAKING HIS APPEAL THROUGH US.  WE SPEAK FOR CHRIST WHEN WE PLEAD, “COME BACK TO GOD!”

            Unlike an exile, an ambassador is not a captive, he is someone sent to a foreign place to work with a foreign government.  It is an ambassador’s job to represent his own government in a way that facilitates good relations.  It is also his job to assist his countrymen who also reside in that foreign land, ensuring good relations between the land. 

            We are ambassador from the Kingdom of God to the people of Earth.  Earthly ambassadors want to have good relations with their host peoples to promote the mutual interests of the two nations.  Paul says our ambassadorship is aimed at pleading with unsaved folks (those who are merely worldly) to return to God that they may be saved.  That word “pleading” underscores how seriously we are to take the command of God to speak His words and save souls.

            Both these roles - exiles and ambassadors - require us to understand that this world is not our true home.  While we live and work and aim to prosper in this world, that is not our priority.  Our priority is to put our time in this world to the best possible use so that before God calls us home to Heaven, we will have profoundly influenced as many people as possible to turn back to God.  Before we go home, we aim to live in a winsome way in the hopes of taking as many of these folks with us!

RESOURCES:

            Message #396

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