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Jeremiah 29:1-23 – Jeremiah’s Letter to the Exiles: Seek the Welfare of the City


Jeremiah sends a letter to exiles that addresses their concerns regarding life in captivity.


Jeremiah sends this letter to exiles in Babylon sometime following the deportation from Jerusalem in 597 B.C.E. Jeremiah addresses issues faced by the exiles. His word that their stay in Babylon would be lengthy was disputed by several false prophets who were fomenting unrest among them. Jeremiah's basic response to the exiles is to settle in for the long haul, but they should know that God has not forgotten them.

The letter of Jeremiah consists of the following: the exiles are to build their homes in Babylon and to live peacefully there (29:5-7), ignore the false prophets who dream of an early restoration (29:8-9), be assured that God has their welfare in mind and that they will be returned to the land (29:10-14), and understand that judgment will fall on those who trust in the words of the false prophets (29:15-23). God's plans for the exiles are laid out clearly: "plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope" (29:11). God is present and active among them for their good.

The opening section of the letter (29:5-7) has received the most attention. Given the length of the stay (some seventy years), the exiles should build houses, plant gardens, marry and have children, and even plan for marriages of their children. The assumption is that God will be present and active in their daily lives even in this foreign land and among people they could name as their enemies. Even more, the exiles are not only to be concerned about their own life, but the life of the people among whom they are living. Indeed, they are to promote the well-being of the Babylonians and even pray for them (see also Proverbs 25:21-22; Matthew 5:44)! The word commonly translated "welfare" (shalom) occurs three times (and in Jeremiah 29:11). God is concerned about the welfare of a "pagan" city, including individuals and the community as a whole. Such activities would affect their own lives in a positive way.

The exiles' prayers on behalf of the Babylonians assume that God is present and active in the lives of those who do not acknowledge him as Lord. God's work will be effective among them for good, even though they may not realize that Israel's God is so involved. Such an understanding assumes an understanding of God as creator.

Jeremiah 29:1-23

Jeremiah’s Letter to the Exiles in Babylon

29These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2This was after King Jeconiah, and the queen mother, the court officials, the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the artisans, and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem. 3The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah son of Shaphan and Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom King Zedekiah of Judah sent to Babylon to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. It said: 4Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But 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 find your welfare. 8For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream,* 9for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord.

10 For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfil to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

15 Because you have said, ‘The Lord has raised up prophets for us in Babylon’— 16thus says the Lord concerning the king who sits on the throne of David, and concerning all the people who live in this city, your kinsfolk who did not go out with you into exile: 17Thus says the Lord of hosts, I am going to let loose on them sword, famine, and pestilence, and I will make them like rotten figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten. 18I will pursue them with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, and will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be an object of cursing, and horror, and hissing, and a derision among all the nations where I have driven them, 19because they did not heed my words, says the Lord, when I persistently sent to you my servants the prophets, but they* would not listen, says the Lord. 20But now, all you exiles whom I sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon, hear the word of the Lord: 21Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning Ahab son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying a lie to you in my name: I am going to deliver them into the hand of King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, and he shall kill them before your eyes. 22And on account of them this curse shall be used by all the exiles from Judah in Babylon: ‘The Lord make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire’, 23because they have perpetrated outrage in Israel and have committed adultery with their neighbours’ wives, and have spoken in my name lying words that I did not command them; I am the one who knows and bears witness, says the Lord.

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