I love the Bible. I love how you can open it up to any passage and, if you study it deeply enough, you can find something new. It’s so exciting when you read a passage you’ve read a million times, but then it suddenly becomes fresh to you. It’s that feeling of uncovering one of those “hidden mysteries of God.” The other night right before bed, I had one of those quiet revelation moments. I turned off my TV show, put on some worship music (UPPERROOM livestreams on YouTube are always my go-to), and pulled out my Bible. I flipped through the pages for a while, continuously falling on some of the many passages that spoke of all the times the Lord promised captive Israel that He would deliver them from their oppressors and restore them to the land of promise – something that really spoke to where I’ve been at as I wait for the Lord’s leading into a new and better season. Finally, I landed on Jeremiah 29.
Most of you probably instantly think of Jeremiah 29:11. And that’s such a good verse, but it’s actually the 10 verse before that that caught my attention. The title of this portion of Scripture in my Bible was “The Message to the Exiles.” And instantly it resonated within my spirit.
“Now these are the words of the letter which Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the rest of the elders of the exile, the priests, the prophets and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” (Jeremiah 29:1)
If you’ve ever taken a Biblical interpretation class, you know that part of the process of understanding Scripture is a contextual study. In other words, “What did this passage mean to the original audience?” We have to ask ourselves this question before asking ourselves “What does this passage mean to us today?” Verse 1 of this chapter shows us the context of the original audience. This, in my opinion, only makes verse 11 that much more profound. So let me break down these next few verses for you because they are so, so powerful and I want to make sure we understand what the Lord was saying then and what He’s saying now.
“‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, “Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease.”’” (Jeremiah 29:4-6)
When I read this I thought it was so interesting that the Lord was basically telling His people to get comfortable in the land of exile, the place they’d been taken into captivity in. The last line sealed it for me though. Multiply there and do not decrease. To me, this speaks of fruitfulness. So often, when we as modern-day followers of Jesus are walking through seasons where we feel like everything is going wrong, or the Lord is distant, or we’re under constant attack and oppression from the enemy, we fall into this cycle of withdrawing from everything. We withdraw from the community of God. We withdraw from the presence of Jesus. We withdraw from our positions and responsibilities and disciplines as followers of Jesus. But I believe that just like the Lord told His captive people to be fruitful in the midst of captivity, He is also telling us to be fruitful in the midst of captivity.
If this is you, if your life hasn’t turned out like it was supposed to, if you’re wandering through a desert season in your faith or life, the Lord is saying DO NOT DECREASE. Don’t withdraw! Rather, press in. This land that holds you captive? Take it for yourself! This dry place? Water it! This ground that has brought pain and grief? Dance on it! It’s yours!
“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.’” (Jeremiah 29:7)
Interesting… The Lord is also telling His captive people to love, value, and care for this city that holds them hostage? To me, this speaks of honor. (John Bevere has an excellent book called Under Cover that takes a Biblical look at honor, obedience, and submission to the authorities in place over us – even the bad ones.) What if we honored our season? What if we honored the wilderness in which we sojourned? What if we honored the lows of our faith? Because the truth is that it is in these wilderness and wandering seasons where we are tried, tested, and weathered. The Israelites wandered for 40 years before they were allowed entrance to the land of promise. They were only allowed entrance afterthe rebellious generation passed away. The Lord was purifying His people! Honor your season! Honor the painful process you endured to get to that place of healing and forgiveness. Honor the seasons where the Lord felt far away because He was teaching you how to seek Him in the closeness and in the distance! Honor your season and what it is teaching and purifying in you.
“For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream. For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29:8-9)
The Lord also warned His captive people, making sure they knew not to listen to every voice that claimed to be from Him. To me, this speaks of being wary of the voices we give our ear to during our season of exile. Sometimes when we’re in a tough place in our walk with the Lord, we can give our ears to voices that have not earned our attention. We listen to the lies, the accusations of the enemy. We listen to the deceptive and flattering words of those who have no right to speak into our lives. We listen to temptation, fatigue, weariness, heaviness, hurt, bitterness, and fear. Oftentimes it’s not because we’re actively rebelling against the Lord; sometimes (and I’m very guilty of this) it’s because we’re too tired and worn out to put in the effort it takes to turn our ears to the right voices. But we have to be vigilant! Because just as the face of the Father is ever turned toward us, so are the eyes of the enemy. His mission is to take you out and he will use whatever he can to do that. Be careful who you give ear to! Watch the voices you allow to speak into your life during your captive season.
“For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. 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 search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’” (Jeremiah 29:10-14)
Then comes the promise! After all these reminders and cautions the Lord gives us for these difficult seasons, He assures us of the promise to come! I love that first part where He says, “When seventy years have been completed…” Know this: whatever your season, the Lord has already determined its end! Your season of brokenness has a deadline. Your season of grief and heartache will run its course. Your season of confusion and weariness will come to completion. The Lord will bring you out! Don’t get so caught up in the pain of the here and now that you forget that you have a hope and a future. The present struggle is not your future reality. The Lord sees you. His face is turned toward you even as you dwell in the desert. Deliverance will come. The promise will be fulfilled. The Lord is already speaking it over you!
But wait! There’s more… On the other side of our promise, a response is required of us. People often park at verse 11, but look what verse 12 says: “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 search for Me with all your heart.” What’s this? A two-sided relationship? Could it be that the promises of God hinge upon our level of pursuit? So many in the Church today just want the Lord to fulfill verse 11 in their lives, but they don’t want to commit themselves to verse 12. Sometimes people want the promise, but not the pursuit. But that’s not the kind of people the Lord is looking for! When He says, “I will be found by you,” He’s talking directly to the ones who actively seek Him. Don’t step into the promise and forget about the pursuit! It is those who pursue the Lord even after they have received their promise who will be restored and gathered into His presence.
Do hear what the Lord is saying in this letter?
This message is for the exiles, the ones whose lives didn’t turn out like they were supposed to, who have been waiting in the wilderness and dwelling in the desert, who wonder where God-with-us has gone, who are questioning and doubting and grieving, who are yearning for yesterday’s anointing when tomorrow’s is on its way, who don’t know where to go or what to do in this season of ache, whose spirits are wounded and crushed.
This is for the exiles: press into your season and do not withdraw, honor your season and what it is teaching you and purifying in you, be careful of the voices you listen to, know that the promise is on its way, and pursue the Lord even after it comes.
If this is you, I hope this post encouraged you, challenged you, or lifted you up in some way. I recommend watching the below video as well as reading all over Jeremiah 29 for yourself. “He turns our mourning into whirling dancing.”