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The historical situation of this chapter is that in 597 BC some 3,000 Jews were carried away into exile with Jehoiachin, including a number of priests and false prophets, along with the royal household. In Jerusalem, Jeremiah hears that some exiled false prophets are predicting a speedy fall of Babylon and a speedy restoration of the exiles.
Jeremiah therefore writes several letters to the exiles. In them he warns them against this deception and urges them to wait patiently for God’s time. We read the first letter in Jer 29:1-23, the second in Jer 29:24-28, addressed to Shemaiah, a false prophet in Babylon, the third in Jer 29:31-32.
The Letter of Jeremiah
Jeremiah has so far always spoken to those who have remained in the land. Now we see here that the LORD is also concerned with those who have been taken into exile to Babylon. Jeremiah shares His feelings and writes them a letter (Jer 29:1). The letter is not only addressed to the elders, but to all the exiles.
Among those who left for Babylon are the political leaders and also “the craftsmen and the smiths” (Jer 29:2). The latter are the executors of what the politicians devise. By taking them all away, both the government and the executive are broken and there is nothing left to fear from Israel. The queen mother is Nehushta (Jer 13:18; 2Kgs 24:8).
Zedekiah has the letter delivered by two men in Babylon (Jer 29:3). It may be that these men are an envoy going to Babylon to remit the tax to Nebuchadnezzar and assure him of Zedekiah’s loyalty. Babylon probably allows communication between those left behind in Judah and the exiles. The exiles are as exposed to the message of the false prophets as the people in Jerusalem are. The hope of a soon end to the exile is also proclaimed in Babylon by the false prophets.
Prescriptions for Living in Babylon
Jeremiah speaks in his letter on behalf of “the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel” (Jer 29:4). God remains the God of His people even though they are in Babylon. Jeremiah in his letter calls the people to settle in Babylon and submit to the authority of the king of Babylon. This means acknowledging God’s judgment. Obedience is the basis for the promised blessing.
They are to do everything there that belongs to normal life. They are to build houses to live in and gardens to live from (Jer 29:5). They are also to establish families there (Jer 29:6). By settling there as families, children will be born who will soon be able to go back to the promised land. In the city where they reside, they are not to seek to overthrow the authority of their heathen rulers, who are certainly not well disposed to them, but they are to seek peace for them (Jer 29:7). They are even instructed to pray for them (cf. Ezra 6:10; Psa 122:6; cf. Mt 5:43-44). The result will be that they will then have peace themselves.
Jeremiah exhorts them to live like this because their false prophets who are there with them say that the time of sojourn in Babylon will be but short (Jer 29:8). Therefore, they declare, there is no need to settle there. The exiles, however, should not listen to them, for those prophets prophesy lies in the name of the LORD (Jer 29:9). Nor has He sent them. True hope is grounded in what God says in His Word and not in the dreams of fantasists. Jeremiah confirms in his letter the duration of the exile. This is at the same time an encouragement, for he also speaks of its end.
Seventy Years Exile
The LORD has determined the time period of exile for His people (Jer 29:10; Jer 25:11-12). That period will not be exceeded. After seventy years, He will visit them. Then He will fulfill His good word and bring them back to Jerusalem. He knows His plans for His people. That are good plans, plans for welfare and not for calamity.
His plans that He communicates are about the future of His people with which He wants to give them hope (Jer 29:11). He knows these plans, it keeps Him busy and He carries them out. Do we also know His good plans for us? Do we entrust ourselves to them? For us there is “a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1Pet 1:3).
Trusting in the goodness of the LORD will be evident in calling on and praying to Him (Jer 29:12). He will listen to that. He will be found by those who seek Him and ask for Him with their whole heart (Jer 29:13). The temple service is not needed as a means of drawing near to Him and the false prophets are certainly not needed for that purpose.
When someone approaches Him with a sincere heart, He will listen and hear. They may feel abandoned, but He will let Himself be found if they seek Him in spirit and in truth (cf. Jn 4:23-24). The LORD here links deliverance from exile to the prayer of His people, prayed to Him far away from the temple (Jer 29:14; 1Kgs 8:46-51). How this works we see in what Daniel does (Dan 9:2-3).
The majority of the people will not live to see the deliverance; it is mostly the young among them. Nevertheless, even the older ones are called to pray for it. By doing so, they can show that they trust the LORD to fulfill His Word and will encourage the young people to also pray and trust in His promises for the future.
Those Who Remained in Jerusalem
Also in Babylon are lying prophets of whom the people say that the LORD has raised them up (Jer 29:15). But surely it is clear that the word of Jeremiah has come true, establishing the falsity of their prophecies, isn’t it? Despite this, they still refuse to bow under God’s judgment. Now they are told by the LORD what will happen to those who remained in Jerusalem, who did not leave with them into exile (Jer 29:16). Zedekiah is not mentioned by name, but he is spoken of as “the king who sits on the throne of David”, which emphasizes his great responsibility.
Those left behind in Jerusalem should not think that they can escape God’s judgment. The LORD will send the sword, famine and pestilence among them (Jer 29:17). As a result, they will become like split-open figs that are so bad that they cannot be eaten (cf. Jer 24:2-3).
The LORD will know how to find them when He will go after them with the sword, famine and pestilence (Jer 29:18). Besides being miserable themselves, they will be made a terror to all the kingdoms by the LORD. No one will have regard for them. They will be a mockery and reproach among all the nations to which they will be driven by the LORD. The reason is that they have not listened to His words (Jer 29:19). This is the cause of all the misery in the world, for God’s people and every person, believer or unbeliever.
Indictment of Two False Prophets
To the exiles comes another word from the LORD (Jer 29:20). Once again He reminds them that He Himself sent them away to Babylon. He does so emphatically by the calling: “Hear the word of the LORD.” In this we hear a deep compassion that they will listen to Him, lest, even in exile, they be deceived by the false prophets.
He points them to two lying prophets, Ahab and Zedekiah (Jer 29:21). Because they have prophesied lies, He will hand them over into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar who will slay them before the eyes of the exiles. Nebuchadnezzar will do this because these two men have called for them not to submit to him. They will witness with their own eyes the fate of those who abuse the Name of the LORD and prophesy lies in His Name.
Their names they shall keep in remembrance (Jer 29:22). These will always be mentioned as a proverbial curse. Thus they will pass on the warning not to oppose the king of Babylon and more so the LORD. If they do, they will be roasted in the fire just as they were. It seems that burning is a general death sentence in Babylon. We also see this with the friends of Daniel (Dan 3:19-22).
The LORD communicates why He is subjecting them to this judgment (Jer 29:23). They have lived morally unsound lives by committing adultery with the wives of their neighbors. In addition, they have also prophesied lies. These two always go together. Those who live in immorality live in lies and spread lies. God’s judgment on that does not slumber.
Judgment on Shemaiah
There is also a word for Shemaiah, the Nehelamite (Jer 29:24). This man wrote letters in his own name and sent them from Babylon to Jerusalem. In those letters he addresses the people and the priests (Jer 29:25). In particular, he addresses the priest Zephaniah to take charge of his task as overseer in the house of the LORD, a task he has been given in place of the priest Jehoiada (Jer 29:26). He points out to the priests that, because of their responsibility, they are obligated to throw into prison anyone who has the insane notion of being a prophet (cf. Hos 9:7b) and to chain him in such a way that it is impossible for him to speak to the people.
If this is so, why do they let this madman Jeremiah roam free (Jer 29:27)? That man pretends to be a prophet who, by the way, dared to send a letter to them in Babylon saying that they should stay there for a long time and build houses and gardens to eat their produce (Jer 29:28). Surely such a man must be gagged so that he cannot continue to spread his falsehood. The priest Zephaniah reads the letter to Jeremiah (Jer 29:29). Why he does this is not clear. Is it to intimidate him, or is it to warn him?
After this word of a man the word of the LORD comes to Jeremiah (Jer 29:30). Jeremiah is to send a new message on His behalf to all the exiles, this time about Shemaiah (Jer 29:31). In it the LORD declares how it really is. Shemaiah prophesied, but did so on his own initiative. The content of his prophecy is falsehood and its effect is that the people trust in falsehood and not in the word of the LORD.
The LORD declares that He will punish Shemaiah and also his descendants (Jer 29:32). The punishment is severe. He will have no one who belongs to and is a part of God’s people. He himself will “not see the good” that the LORD will do to His people. This “good” is explained in more detail in the following chapters, Jeremiah 30-33. Shemaiah himself is completely out of it, as well as his descendants. The way away from God you never go alone. His descendants share in that fate because they themselves chose to heed their father’s call to apostasy from the LORD.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Jeremiah 29". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20