Jeremiah the prophet frequently spoke with the Lord and listened to His explanations of the future for Judah. His emotions were conflicting: He was angry that his people lied, committed adultery, and worshiped idols, but at the same time, he had compassion on them. He was truly an advocate for his people. After listing their sins, the Lord posed a question to Jeremiah: "Should I not punish them for this? Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this?" (Jeremiah 9:9) The Lord's conclusion is the following: "I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins." (Jeremiah 9:11) "It is because they have forsaken my law, which I set before them; they have not obeyed me or followed my law, instead, they have followed the stubbornness of their hearts..." (Jeremiah 9:13-14)
At the time when Babylon came to Judah their evil king, Jehoiachin, was only 18 years old and reigned for only three months. Jeremiah had warned the young king that the Lord was not pleased with him and that he would be handed over to King Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah was the only prophet that told the truth. He was in a constant battle with the false prophets. Just as Jeremiah prophesied, the people of Judah were overcome by the Babylonians, and many were taken into exile to Babylon. Afterward, Jeremiah had a vision of two baskets filled with figs. One basket was filled with fresh, ripe figs while the other was filled with rotten ones. The rotten figs represented those people who remained in Jerusalem or who left for Egypt. God made it clear that those in exile would be cared for. "I will watch over and care for them, and I will bring them back here again. I will build them up and not tear them down. I will plant them and not uproot them. I will give them hearts that recognize me as the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me wholeheartedly." (Jeremiah 24:6-7 - NLT)
Encouraged by the Lord's words, Jeremiah wrote to the captives in Babylon with instructions to move forward with their lives and to pray for their captors. His letter to the exiles is contained in Jeremiah 29. "This is what the Lord of Heaven's Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives He has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: 'Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.'" (Jeremiah 29:4-7 - NLT)
The Lord continued to give details of the plans He had for His people in captivity. "'You will be in Babylon for 70 years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,' says the Lord. 'They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,' says the Lord. 'I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.'" (Jeremiah 29:10-14 - NLT)
We cannot allow discouragement or dire circumstances or distressing situations to overcome us. We must move forward knowing that God is with us. "He will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6) Many of us are discouraged by the way our country seems to be headed and about the decisions our government leaders are making. Let's be encouraged (brought to courage) by the truth that nothing can separate us from the love of God. He has plans for our future. The exiles in Babylon were told to pray for the welfare of the nation where they lived. They were instructed to continue living their lives in the way they did in Jerusalem. We need to take these instructions to heart. Let us continue to live our lives in the fear and admonition of the Lord and to pray for those who are leading us at this moment. At the appointed time, the glory of the Lord will cover the earth and revival will spring up. We will see the transformation of our world as many come to know our Savior. The way we live our lives can be a testimony of God's love and peace to those who do not know Him yet. Our prayers will make a difference. The Lord looks for agreement from us for His plans for a hope and a future for us. Let us bring heaven's plans to earth!
Joan E. Mathias