In Jeremiah 29, two different kinds of preachers are giving sermons to the Israelites in exile. The one is Jeremiah who speaks from God. He tells the exiles that they will have to reimagaine life where they are. They aren’t going anywhere for 70 years. This means that all but the babies born at the time will have passed away and finished their lives in exile, away from the Promised Land. The babies will have lived most of their lives by the time a chance to go back “home” arrives. The message is hard to take.
Another group of preachers is saying the opposite. “Don’t put down roots!” they are saying. “God wouldn’t keep you in exile like this!” “He is going to get you out of here!” “This place is temporary; get ready to move!”
Which church would you prefer to attend while in exile? I think I’d prefer not to listen to Jeremiah. In fact, a verse from this passage is quoted to cast a vision for the future. “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 (Jeremiahs 29:11).”
What I failed to realize as I take up this wonderful promise is that almost everyone who originally heard it knew that they would never experience its fulfillment in Jerusalem, where they wanted to be. They had to grapple instead with the truth that the future and the hope for them with God would take place right where they were in exile–where they would live and die. Their great grandchildren would experience the fullness of the future and the hope back in Jerusalem. The next generation would get to move but not them.
What does it mean for us if the future and the hope that God has for our welfare means that we will have to trust Him right where we are?