Summary: God assures Jeremiah and all of his people that “God knows the plans he has for us.”
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14 “In God’s Hands”
While serving a congregation in Appleton, Wisconsin, Faye and I decided to dine out one Sunday evening. We went to a popular Italian restaurant, Vittorio’s, which is owned by a Latino family—go figure. Most of the people in the restaurant were wearing Green Bay Packer apparel, since the Green Bay Packers had played the Minnesota Vikings that afternoon. I believe that the Vikings had trounced the Packer as they often do. We had just been served our meals when a family entered the dining room dressed in purple and white jerseys. Suddenly all conversation stopped. Everyone turned and stared at the family. The family tried valiantly to ignore the stares and the whispered comments, as they were ushered to a table. I’m sure, though, they felt out of place and may have even regretted their choice of restaurants.
I’m sure that every one of us has experienced those times when we have been someplace and would have given anything to have been someplace else. Perhaps it was when we were the new kid in class. It could have been we step off the plane in Minnesota in December wearing flip flops, cargo shorts and an aloha shirt. That time when we pulled into a gas station in the middle of the night and realized that we were in the wrong part of town might have been another time.
Jeremiah’s words today are written to a people who are in a place they do not want to be. He had much to say to his intended audience—and much to say to you and me today.
GOD DID IT
In 597 BCE, the crème-de-la-crème of Jewish society was exiled to Babylon as punishment after a failed rebellion. The exiles felt out of place. They had been separated from their homeland, society, culture, and religion. They were homesick for the good old days.
At this time in history, gods were thought to be territorial. Yahweh was the God over Judah and Israel. Marduk was the god of Babylon. The defeat of Judah and the exile of its leadership were interpreted to mean that Marduk was stronger than Yahweh, and had won the war.
Verse four of Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles came as a shock to them. It boldly proclaims that Yahweh did not lose to Marduk. Rather, Jeremiah records God’s words as writes, “… to all the exiles whom I have sent to Babylon …” God intended for them to be exiled. Later they will find out that it was because of their rebelliousness, idolatry and lack of commitment to serve Yahweh, which was the cause of their defeat and exile. The important point, however, is that Yahweh put them in Babylon.
There is an important lesson for us in these words. We are often in situations where we are uncomfortable. Sometimes we are in jobs that we do not want to be in, and cities where we’d rather not live. We might be with a group of people what we are not particularly close to, or engaged in an activity that we simply don’t want to do. We at times convince ourselves that God is far away, otherwise God wouldn’t have allowed us to be in the situation that we find ourselves. Jeremiah would assert that God put us where we are.
I’m not arguing for destiny, predestination, or foreknowledge. What I want to stress and us to celebrate is that God is actively moving in our lives and in our world. God is working to achieve his purposes. Even though God’s ways may be hidden to us, that doesn’t mean that God isn’t involved. Wherever we are, we can celebrate that God knows that we are there and God is with us.
BLOOM WHERE YOU ARE PLANTED
In verses five and six, God instructs the exiles to build houses, plant gardens, and take wives. In verse seven the exiles are even told to seek the welfare of the city where they have been sent. Our common phrase for this is to, “Bloom where they are planted.”
Often we think that when we are in a situation, in which we are uncomfortable or believe is wrong, that we cannot be used by God there. This is not true. Even though conditions may not be ideal God can use us and we can bloom where we have been planted.
We don’t need to wait for things to change. Though our situation that we are in may not be our ultimate calling it is most certainly our present calling. We have both the freedom and the ability to live lives that are empowered by the Holy Spirit and that shine brightly for the LORD.
THE REASON FOR HOPE
We may begin to feel trapped at times in those places where we don’t feel that we belong. Speaking through Jeremiah God gives the exiles and us a reason to hope. In verse eleven, Jeremiah pens one of the most memorable and favorite verses of the Old Testament. Jeremiah writes, “For 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.”