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A Question of When

Updated: Jul 28, 2022

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 29:5-7 NIV)

This past Friday was Sarah’s and my 10-year wedding anniversary, and we had planned a nice trip, with both sets of grandparents scheduled to come and spend half a week each with the kids. As you will not be surprised to read, the current situation of needed social distancing postponed those plans indefinitely—with us and both sets of grandparents safely at home and flights canceled all around.

The verses above (Jer. 29:5-7) are far less quoted than the much more infamous Jeremiah 29:11, which we hear quoted quite frequently (I would guess a third of all the graduation cards I received quoted Jeremiah 29:11). If you don’t recall it off the top of your head, it reads “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.” I’ve always had a bit of a pet peeve with how it is quoted by itself, as it’s usually taken out of context. The issue isn’t that it doesn’t mean what it says, the issue is that it’s missing the context of who it was said to and why.

Jeremiah 29:1 sets up the rest: “This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” Then he continues in verse four, “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon,” which leads into the verses that begin this post.

In church a few weeks ago, Pastor Mark showed a video that summarized the good and bad kings of Israel (there weren’t many good). God keeps warning the people, “shape up or you’ll be kicked out.” Eventually God has had enough and sends Nebuchadnezzar to conquer the kingdom of Judah (after the kingdom of Israel had been conquered years earlier). Nebuchadnezzar carries most of Judah’s people off to Babylon as slaves, which God allows to happen as judgement for their many years of sin.

Jeremiah is writing a letter to people who were carried off as slaves. In that context, he tells them to settle in (v5-7) and not believe people who lie and say it’s going to end quickly (v8-9), and reminds them this is going to last for 70 years before they can come home (v10) because “he knows the plans he has for them” (v11). So God is effectively making this promise to their grandchildren and beyond.

I’m guessing we all had plans, whether big or small, that have been significantly disrupted by the current social distancing rules—just as I’m sure the Israelites all had plans prior to being conquered that didn’t involve living as captives in a foreign land. I have no doubt that God has a plan in what’s going on in the world right now, but it’s quite likely that His timing isn’t our timing, and we’ll have to wait longer for the resolution than we’d like. However, we know that God has plans for our hope and future, it’s just a question of “when.”

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