Jeremiah 29


This is mixed up, it keeps jumping back and forth. Verses 16-19 seem to be an insert talking back to the kings of Judah. Then it goes back into exile. It is difficult to sort out.

Jeremiah is telling people what will take place in exile. Many had gone into exile, but others were still left.

‘The prophet Jeremiah sent a letter to the exiles Nebuchadnezzar had carried off from Jerusalem to Babylon. It was addressed to the elders who were left among the exiles, to the priests, to the prophets, and to all the other people who were exiled in Babylon. He sent it after King Jeconiah, the queen mother, the palace officials, the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metal workers had been exiled from Jerusalem. He sent it with Elasah son of Shaphan1 and Gemariah son of Hilkiah. King Zedekiah of Judah had sent these men to Babylon to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The letter said: ‘The LORD God of Israel who rules over all says to all those he sent into exile to Babylon from Jerusalem, ‘Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters. Find wives for your sons and allow your daughters get married so that they too can have sons and daughters. Grow in number; do not dwindle away. Jeremiah 29:1-6

Nebuchadnezzar had taken those who could later pose a threat of rebellion. Without craftsmen, they could not make weapons. It was always the policy of Nebuchadnezzar and other foreign leaders to leave the sick and poor in the land under the ruler of the king’s choice. So, this message is sent by these two priests to the exiles in Babylon.

1. The first thing that God tells them is, to resume life.

Being captives could very easily cause life to lose its meaning. A ‘don’t care’, attitude could fall on them. God says, don’t let that happen. They are encouraged to live normal lives.

2. Replenish life.

God had told Jeremiah not to get married because of the problems that would arise. At that time marriage was an unhappy thing. But now God says, build up your numbers. You have lost many people through drought, pestilence and war, so there is a need to reproduce.

‘Work to see that the city where I sent you as exiles enjoys peace and prosperity. Pray to the LORD for it. For as it prospers you will prosper.’ ‘For the LORD God of Israel who rules over all says, ‘Do not let the prophets or those among you who claim to be able to predict the future by divination deceive you. And do not pay any attention to the dreams that you are encouraging them to dream. They are prophesying lies to you and claiming my authority to do so. But I did not send them. I, the LORD, affirm it!’ Jeremiah 29:7-9

Here we have a message of respect for your captors. If you do so, everything will be okay with you.

Pray to the Lord, respect your Creator. God sent you there. Pray for the city’s good and your own good. There is a reward for this, you will have peace. God still cares for His people even in exile. Do these things and all will be well.

This is speaking about false prophets. Some translations say, ‘seducers’. They were seducing people into believing lies. Make the most of the 70 years in captivity. I have not changed my mind, says God, it will be 70 years, I have said so.

‘For the LORD says, ‘Only when the seventy years of Babylonian rule are over will I again take up consideration for you. Then I will fulfil my gracious promise to you and restore you to your homeland. For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the LORD. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope. When you call out to me and come to me in prayer, I will hear your prayers. When you seek me in prayer and worship, you will find me available to you. If you seek me with all your heart and soul, I will make myself available to you,’ says the LORD. ‘Then I will reverse your plight and will regather you from all the nations and all the places where I have exiled you,’ says the LORD. ‘I will bring you back to the place from which I exiled you.’ Jeremiah 29:10-14

I will fulfil my promise to bring you back. But you will call upon me and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, why? Daniel 9.

‘You seek me with all your heart’. They will have learnt their lesson. You will prosper, you will not be harmed. Whenever God punishes, which he will do, it doesn’t mean that he has broken a covenant. In captivity, they were more devoted to preserving and studying the word of God. Daniel is a good example of this. Their eyes were refocused on God, so they set up the synagogues.

An aside thought. Some people say that the early church worship was based on the synagogues. They try to prove that instrumental music was changed at the time of the early church. In the synagogue, they put behind them what should not have been included in worship, including abolishing instrumental music.

‘You say, ‘The LORD has raised up prophets of good news for us here in Babylon.’ But just listen to what the LORD has to say about the king who occupies David’s throne and all your fellow countrymen who are still living in this city of Jerusalem and were not carried off into exile with you. The LORD who rules over all says, ‘I will bring war, starvation, and disease on them. I will treat them like figs that are so rotten they cannot be eaten. I will chase after them with war, starvation, and disease. I will make all the kingdoms of the earth horrified at what happens to them. I will make them examples of those who are cursed, objects of horror, hissing scorn, and ridicule among all the nations where I exile them. For they have not paid attention to what I said to them through my servants the prophets whom I sent to them over and over again,’ says the LORD. ‘And you exiles have not paid any attention to them either,’ says the LORD.’ Jeremiah 29:15-19

In all of Jeremiah 29, we see that the deception and departure of the past from the faith was, and is, a definite possibility in the present. The exiles believed that the false prophets were from God. They made the people feel good. God says, this is not right, why did these prophets lie? For money. For position. It would give them a good reputation, but they would be shamed because they were proved wrong.

‘So, pay attention to what I, the LORD, have said, all you exiles whom I have sent to Babylon from Jerusalem.’ ‘The LORD God of Israel who rules over all also has something to say about Ahab son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying lies to you and claiming my authority to do so. ‘I will hand them over to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and he will execute them before your very eyes. And all the exiles of Judah who are in Babylon will use them as examples when they put a curse on anyone. They will say, ‘May the LORD treat you like Zedekiah and Ahab whom the king of Babylon roasted to death in the fire!’ This will happen to them because they have done what is shameful in Israel. They have committed adultery with their neighbours’ wives and have spoken lies while claiming my authority. They have spoken words that I did not command them to speak. I know what they have done. I have been a witness to it,’ says the LORD.’ Jeremiah 29:20-23

The curse. Maybe the Lord will treat you like Zedekiah and Ahab, bum you in the fire. Remember these two were not the kings of Judah, they were false prophets, who were prophesying in Babylon. Shemaiah, is another false teacher, prophesying falsely to God’s people in Babylon. He was a kind of second in command to the high priest. There was rank in the priesthood, 2 Kings 28:4.

‘The commander of the guard took as prisoners Seraiah the chief priest, Zephaniah the priest next in rank and the three door-keepers.’ 2 Kings 25:18

This man was saying, God has put me in this position. He has by-passed Jehoiada, read 2 Kings 11:1-20 for details of Jehoiada. Shemaiah wrote a letter saying that Jeremiah should be locked up.

The high priest reads this letter to Jeremiah. Then God told Jeremiah He was going to act against Shemaiah. Shemaiah is going in captivity. So is all of his family. He will have no successors. He has talked about rebellion against the Lord. God hadn’t sent him, and he had led the exiles in Babylon to believe a lie. So, he is going to be put in his place. He obviously suffered from grandeur.

‘The LORD told Jeremiah, ‘Tell Shemaiah the Nehelamite that the LORD God of Israel who rules over all has a message for him. Tell him, ‘On your own initiative you sent a letter to the priest Zephaniah son of Maaseiah and to all the other priests and to all the people in Jerusalem. In your letter you said to Zephaniah, ‘The LORD has made you priest in place of Jehoiada. He has put you in charge in the LORD’s temple of controlling any lunatic who pretends to be a prophet. And it is your duty to put any such person in the stocks with an iron collar around his neck. You should have reprimanded Jeremiah from Anathoth who is pretending to be a prophet among you! For he has even sent a message to us here in Babylon. He wrote and told us, ‘You will be there a long time. Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what they produce.’ Zephaniah the priest read that letter to the prophet Jeremiah. Then the LORD spoke to Jeremiah. ‘Send a message to all the exiles in Babylon. Tell them, ‘The LORD has spoken about Shemaiah the Nehelamite. ‘Shemaiah has spoken to you as a prophet even though I did not send him. He is making you trust in a lie. Because he has done this,’ the LORD says, ‘I will punish Shemaiah the Nehelamite and his whole family. There will not be any of them left to experience the good things that I will do for my people. I, the LORD, affirm it! For he counselled rebellion against the LORD.’ Jeremiah 29:24-32

A former letter of Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon contradicted the preaching of Shemaiah. Shemaiah then wrote an angry letter to Zephaniah, a priest in Jerusalem. Shemaiah wanted Jeremiah thrown in prison. He accused Jeremiah of being demented, one who had presumptuously made himself a prophet of God.

Those prophets who called themselves into the ministry, as Shemaiah, assumed that every other prophet had also presumptuously assumed the ministry and position of a prophet. Religious men who seek positions and support from the people will often give themselves titles by which they can exalt themselves over the people.

The pronouncement of judgment that was laid on Shemaiah for his slander was that he would have no descendant who would enjoy the happiness and freedom that God would eventually bring to His people when they were allowed to return to their homeland.

A closer look at this letter

You will remember that Daniel read this letter. He released that they would return after 70 years if they prayed, so he prayed and even as he was praying, the angel appeared to tell him, that God has heard his prayer and they would be returning. Daniel 9:20-23.

In his letter to the people of Judah, who had been captured and exiled to Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah wrote, ‘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.’

Jeremiah wrote this letter to the exiles in Babylon. In Jeremiah 28:1, we are introduced to another prophet, whose name was Hananiah. Hananiah was saying to the people, that this captivity is only going to last for about two years. By then it will all be over, and we will be going home. So, don’t worry about it, everything is going to be fine. Believe me, you are going back to Jerusalem within two years. But God said, through Jeremiah, Hananiah is not MY prophet. Within a year he is going to die. And two months later he was dead. It’s no small matter to trifle with the words that come from God.

In this letter, in Jeremiah 29, Jeremiah names other prophets. Verse 21 says, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says about Ahab’.

This is not Ahab, the king of Israel. This is Ahab, a prophet. Also, this verse talks about Zedekiah. This is not Zedekiah, the last king of Judah. This is Zedekiah, a prophet. They were, according to them, speaking in the name of God. They were, in fact, prophesying lies in the name of God. God, through Jeremiah, says that these two prophets are going to be slain by the Babylonians, and they were.

Later, in Jeremiah 29:24, he mentions a third prophet, Shemaiah. He came with the same kind of false message, and God said that he would end up just like the others, and he too was slain. There were false prophets, and there were prophets like Jeremiah, who spoke the words of God.

Then there were the kings. There was Jehoiakim. He reigned from the death of Josiah down to the second invasion of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. Remember there were three invasions altogether of the Babylonians on Jerusalem. We sometimes confuse his son, Jehoiachin, because their name is similar. The son reigned for three months only.

The Scripture tells us that Nebuchadnezzar intended to take Jehoiakim, that’s the father, to Egypt, but it seems that he died before he had the opportunity to do so. So, after Jehoiachin, the son, had reigned for three months, Nebuchadnezzar took him to Babylon.

Why am I mentioning these prophets and kings?

In order to make a point, that point is, as you already know, there were three invasions of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. One was in 606 B.C. This is when Nebuchadnezzar came and didn’t have any intention of destroying the city. He merely came and wanted the king, Jehoiakim, to pay him tribute, which Jehoiakim did.

But Nebuchadnezzar did take the very finest young men of Jerusalem back with him to Babylon. Among them was a young man called Daniel. In fact, we learn of these events in the opening chapter of Daniel.

Then again in 597 B.C., about nine years later, Nebuchadnezzar returned to Jerusalem. This was to be his second invasion. He took all of the skilled people, the best people that were left in Jerusalem, back to Babylon. That still left a lot of people in Jerusalem, but their best people were already gone.

Then he returned in 586 B.C. This is when he completely destroyed the city of Jerusalem. He took nearly all the people back to Babylon and left just a handful there. The temple in Jerusalem was burned and destroyed. Many people lost their lives.

This letter, in Jeremiah 29, that Jeremiah wrote to the captives, was written after the second of these three invasions. We can therefore see that when Jeremiah wrote this letter, some men from Jerusalem were already in Babylon. Two groups of hand-picked people were in Babylon, but most of the people were still in Jerusalem.

The city was still standing when he wrote this letter. The temple was still there. And that is why this false prophet could say, with some credibility, that in two years’ time everybody is going home. Okay, Jerusalem is still there, Jerusalem is still filled with people, and the temple is still there. And the false prophet says you will be going back to all of this in two years’ time. Many of the people believed him.

Why? Because they wanted to believe him. They wanted everything to be just as it had been. But God had already said, through Jeremiah, you are going into Babylon, and you are not coming home for 70 years. Jeremiah repeats this in his letter to the exiles.

Remember, this is after the second invasion of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Even though all the people were not taken into Babylon at this time, the exile was a reality. It had already begun. And it had not occurred because Babylon was so strong.

Having said that, I am sure that the Babylonians were strong enough to defeat Jerusalem and Judah. But that is not the reason that Jerusalem was destroyed. The reason that they went into exile was because they did not remember God.

Even after the siege of Jerusalem had begun, Jeremiah would still say, if you repent God will spare the city. And when it was apparent that they would not repent he said, surrender. Surrender, and you will spare a lot of lives. Surrender, and you will spare your city. Surrender, and you will spare the temple. Still, the people looked at him as though he was a traitor.

So, at the end of the book, we see that the city of Jerusalem was destroyed. God sent Nebuchadnezzar there to complete the job. The captivity was the work of God. It was because of the sins of the people. Throughout all of history, God has blessed nations that thought of Him and has brought down nations who did not think of Him. He did this even to His own people, the people who lived in Judah, during the time of Jeremiah.

But let’s return to the people of Judah. The people in exile down in Babylon, how did they feel? What did these people think?

There is an indication that they pitied themselves. They felt sorry for themselves. And they reasoned along these lines, we certainly aren’t perfect. But the people back in Jerusalem aren’t either. So, why are we in Babylon, and they are still back there? That is how they responded.

Jeremiah wrote this letter to tell them that there would be no quick return to Jerusalem. And this letter was written to encourage them. It was to tell them how to live their lives for the 70 years that they would be in Babylon. It’s going to be a long time. It’s going to be a hard time. But God has promised, through Jeremiah, that he will bring them back. That is the background of this letter, Jeremiah basically says four things in this letter to the exiles in Babylon, and I would like you to notice them with me.

First of all, look at Jeremiah 29:4, we read, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.’

God is saying, I called you to be there. This was no accident. This didn’t just happen by chance. It is God who has done it. And the reason that He did it was because you forgot Him.

And then at Jeremiah 29:5, we read, ‘Build houses and settle down.’

In other words, do the best you can while you are there. ‘Plant gardens.’ In other words, be productive. You are in a place that you don’t want to be. You are with people that you don’t want to be with. But, do the best that you can where you are. Be productive while you are there. Don’t be sorry for yourselves. Don’t keep complaining. Just do something worthwhile. Build houses, and plant gardens.

And the third thing he says is this, ‘Marry and have sons and daughters’. Have families while you are down there. Keep looking to the future, prepare for the future, because it’s not over yet. Some of those in Babylon would live long enough to go back home.

True, they would have had to be young men when they went, and so they are going to be old when they go back, but some are going to live through the captivity. It’s also true that a lot will die in Babylon. But that doesn’t mean that their faith should die. That doesn’t mean that their cause should die. That doesn’t mean that the purpose of God is going to die. So, look to the future.

And then in Jeremiah 29:7 he says, ‘pray’.

‘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.’ So, pray and find God’s peace in His purpose. God is working something out. So, fall into the rhythm of God’s purpose, and be prayerful. Why does he say, pray for Babylon? So that you can have peace. If Babylon has peace, you will have peace.

Isn’t it right to pray for the country that you are in, whether or not it’s your home country or some far-off country? Whether or not it is where you want to be, or where you don’t want to be? Whether or not you are with people you don’t want to be with? Don’t we want to experience peace, wherever we may be?

So, God said, through Jeremiah, ‘Pray for Babylon’. Pray for Babylon’s peace so that you will have peace.

It seems to me that Jeremiah’s letter to the captives was an invitation to them. And in a sense, an invitation to us. There is something to be learnt from this kind of encouragement. Let me mention three things.

First, live in hope. No matter how dark the hour, live in hope.

It was a dark time for the people from Jerusalem. At this point, the worst was still to come. The false prophets were saying, don’t worry, two years only and you will be going home. But they didn’t go home in two years.

A few years later they learned that Jerusalem had been besieged, that the walls had been breached, that the city had been burned, that the temple had been ransacked, that the people were being killed, and that there were a lot more people coming into Babylon. Then they no longer believed that they were going home soon. In fact, they believed that they would never go home.

The prophet Ezekiel was one of those who were in exile in Babylon. And while Jeremiah was preaching in Jerusalem, Ezekiel was preaching in Babylon. When the people were convinced that they were not going home in two years’ time, or maybe wouldn’t go home at all, Ezekiel was trying to encourage them, yes, you are going home, but not until after 70 years. The people in Babylon needed to live in hope. Why?

Secondly, they needed to look for the best.

While the captives were in Babylon they again found their God. They had abandoned Him. So, God brought captivity upon them. But in Babylon, they had a renewal of their faith. One of the key issues involved in the Babylonian captivity was idolatry. All through Judah’s history, you see the people going after strange gods, worshipping them, forgetting to worship God in heaven. Because of idolatry, God sent them to Babylon.

But after the Babylonian captivity, the Jewish people were never bothered again by the problem of idolatry. From then, till now, the Jewish people have never been bothered with idolatry. So, while they were there, looking for the best, they found the best, because they found God. When God brought them back He nurtured them in the land, in that land that had been destroyed, so that they could produce the Messiah.

The third thing that is emphasised in Jeremiah’s letter is this, learn to love the Lord.

Just listen to these lines, written to the exiles in Jeremiah 29:10, ‘This is what the Lord says, ‘When 70 years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfil my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord.’

And listen to this, I believe that this is the highlight of the book, ‘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.’

God is punishing His people by sending them into Babylon. But here He is already promising that they will return, they have a future. And they have to have a future to fulfil the prophesy, because the Messiah is going to come, through the tribe of Judah.

Go To Jeremiah 30



"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."