I served for two years as a Christian English teacher in China. In those days before email and Skype, handwritten letters meant a lot. Each letter took about three weeks one way, so even if the recipient wrote back immediately it was a six-week turnaround. Being far from home, I wrote about two dozen letters every month.
An initial group of Jewish exiles had been taken to Babylon in 597 B.C. Jeremiah wrote them a letter from home, a letter with a word from the Lord (vv. 1–3). Perhaps they were excited to read it...until they opened it. The message wasn’t at all what they wanted to hear. They’d been hoping to return home soon.
Jeremiah, however, told them to build houses, get their children married, and settle down in Babylon (vv. 4–7). God had decreed they’d be there for 70 years (v. 10; see also Dan. 9:2). Furthermore, they were to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile” (v. 7). If it prospered, so would they. Since all authority is ordained by God (Rom. 13:1), good citizenship applied even under these circumstances.
Jeremiah also instructed them to stop listening to false prophets and pagan diviners (vv. 8–9). This is part of what had gotten Judah into trouble in the first place! Why were they continuing to sin in this way? Apparently, they hadn’t really gotten the message that sin leads to judgment. So the prophet sent them the same message he was proclaiming back home.
Despite all this, Jeremiah’s letter ended with hope (vv. 10–14). After the 70 years, the relationship between God and His people would be renewed. They would seek Him and find Him. He would gather them from their places of exile and bring them home!
>> Today’s verse is well known— and unfortunately, often quoted out of context. Now that you know the historical and literary context, how will you interpret and apply this verse?
In today’s passage, we see the love that tempers Your discipline. Even when You were punishing Your people, You still made a way for them to prosper and promised them eventual deliverance. We praise You for Your compassion!