“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.” (Jeremiah 29:10-11 )
Many years ago I got a pocket calender that included a card with verse 11 from Jeremiah chapter 29 on it. The calender is long gone, but I still have the card taped up on my desk. It serves to remind me, whenever I am feeling lost, that God has plans for me and that they are for my good. That theory has been tested many times, and while I am going through things I do not see how they can possibly be for my good. But I can see in hindsight where I have been lead and how I have grown.
I am sure the exiles in Babylon wondered too how seventy years in captivity could result in some good things. But each time God’s people were taken into captivity, they were also lead out of captivity. Notice though that it is God’s people, the chosen, and not the same people who were taken. Jeremiah told those taken to build houses and make a life for themselves there in Babylon. Because while there is hope that God’s people will not always be under Babylonian rule, even a child born in Babylon may die there also.
If you think about it, giving this card to people in a calender that will last only one year is pretty ironic considering the background of the verse. In one year’s time will the holder of the calender be lead in AND out of tough times? We tend to gloss over the fact and phrase of ‘in God’s time’. I do not know about you, but my tough times to not start and resolve themselves in neat and orderly time periods. In fact, quite the opposite can be true. Trials and travails last from day to day, week to week, month after month, and spanning years. Of course, not quite seventy years, or even the forty years the Hebrews spent in the desert.
But then, neither have I felt that God has abandoned me totally during my times of trial. And if truth be told, God has never abandoned me. At times I felt more distant from God, but God was always there. This is the message that Jeremiah was sending to the exiles in Babylon. God had not forgotten they were there, and they as a people were still part of God’s overall plan. That is the point though, they were part of the plan and not the whole plan. What they did and where they were was not the summation of all that God was doing. We can read in the book of Jeremiah that other things were happening to in Jerusalem; that God’s presence was being felt in other places.
And who is to say what effect it had on Babylon and the Babylonians there during God’s chosen people’s time in the city. Jeremiah in his letter to them encourages them to live, to marry, to raise families, and contribute to the shalom (peace and prosperity: verse 7) of the city. In fact, Jeremiah tells them to do the very things that we as Christians are to do where we live. We, as Anabaptists, Mennonites, and Christians, say we are in the world but not of the world. The exiles are being told, I think, the same thing. It may seem like they will be in Babylon a lifetime, but they will be lead out and to the places that God has made for them.
The promises given to the exiles in Babylon are the same promises that we hold to; that God has a plan for us, and it is for our good. The plans may not fit neatly into a year, or even into a lifetime. But God holds the chosen people gently and lovingly in the Divine’s hand. There is not promise that trial and travail will not come upon us, that we will always be in circumstances that are ideal and delightful. But that where ever we are, we are in God’s care and never out of the Lord’s sight.
May you gentle reader be in God’s care as you wait for all good to come about in God’s time. Selah!