The Lord of heavenly forces, the God of Israel, proclaims to all the exiles I have carried off from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and settle down; cultivate gardens and eat what they produce. Get married and have children; then help your sons find wives and your daughters find husbands in order that they too may have children. Increase in number there so that you don’t dwindle away. Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because your future depends on its welfare.
The Lord of heavenly forces, the God of Israel, proclaims: Don’t let the prophets and diviners in your midst mislead you. Don’t pay attention to your dreams. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I didn’t send them, declares the Lord.
The Lord proclaims: When Babylon’s seventy years are up, I will come and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me. I will be present for you, declares the Lord, and I will end your captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have scattered you, and I will bring you home after your long exile, declares the Lord.
“I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope.”
Jeremiah 29:11 has been a favorite memory verse for generations: a reminder that God is at work even when our situation seems the most hopeless. That’s not an inaccurate reading. However, when we look at this scripture in context, it may be an incomplete one.
Jeremiah’s prophecy comes at the moment when Jerusalem is about to be destroyed by Babylon, its leading citizens carried into exile. While false prophets predict a victory, Jeremiah is much more candid: “No,” he says, “this is a battle we won’t win.”
Instead, Jeremiah’s brand of hope comes from something else: acceptance of the situation, being willing to make the most of it, investing in the place where you find yourself, even if it’s not one you would have chosen for yourself. This is not feel-good stuff. It’s incredibly hard.
But history demonstrates that it’s exactly what the Exiles did. Jewish culture and religion flourished in Babylon. The people’s experience in that time became a model for life in the diaspora for millennia to come.
Sometimes, the hope God gives is not of a better situation. It’s making the best of the situation we’re in.
For Pondering & Prayer
Is there a situation or circumstance of your life that you have been praying for God to change? What might happen if your prayers shifted toward acceptance and making the best of it?
What would happen if we applied this same idea to difficult people in our lives – instead of praying for them to change, what would happen if we asked God for the ability to accept them, flaws and all?