A Future and a Hope
by Nathan Combs

In the context of Jeremiah 29, the nation of Judah was in its death throes. The wicked and worthless grandson of the righteous king Josiah, Jeconiah (also known in scripture as Coniah and Jehoiachin) had been taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 597 B.C. Along with him went his mother, the important officials, and the skilled craftsmen of Judah, leaving the rest of the country crippled and impotent. Jeremiah wrote a letter to these exiles, telling them that their stay in Babylon was not going to be a temporary arrangement and that they would experience exile for seventy years (vs. 10). Therefore, they would need to build houses, plant gardens, marry, and bear children. In vs. 11, probably the best-known verse of the chapter, God tells the exiles that His ultimate plan for the people was not destruction and discouragement but "a future and a hope." In this text, we see both the dangers that threatened to prevent the Jews from having hope and the blessings that would accompany the fulfillment of this hope. 

The primary danger the exiles faced was believing the lies of false prophets. In the Bible, false prophets frequently manifested their dishonesty by painting rosy pictures that had no foundation in truth. For example, Ahab's prophets falsely told him that God would give Ramoth-Gilead into his hand (1 Ki. 22:12). During Jeremiah's ministry, the prophet Hananiah told all the people of Judah that God would bring back the temple vessels and all the exiles within two years (Jer. 28:2-4). And apparently in Babylon, just as in Judah, there were false prophets spreading erroneous messages about the length of their exile. In vs. 21, we learn the specific names of two false prophets, Ahab the son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, who spoke lies to the exiles (as well as sleeping with their neighbors' wives!) and met a gruesome end as a result (vss. 21-22). Such lies posed a danger because rather than building their lives on the bedrock of God's promises, they comforted themselves with empty hopes. 

Do we harbor false hopes? Do we rest in comfortable assumptions that have no basis in Biblical reality? The expectation that my Christian life will be carefree and without pain or friction in my relationships is false (2 Tim. 3:12). So is the expectation that my Christian community revolves around me and my needs (Matt. 20:25-28), or that I can live a secluded, secretive life and not allow other Christians to help me with my spiritual struggles (Jas. 5:16). The expectation that I will be able to schedule and compartmentalize my relationship with Jesus so that it is contained and doesn't demand too much of my life is false (Lk. 9:23-24). The danger of false messages of hope lies not only in trusting words that are not from God but also in neglecting the real promises that God actually did make and ignoring the requirements He sets to participate in their fullness. 

In contrast to the lies of Ahab and Zedekiah, Jeremiah told the people the truth about the duration of their banishment and the horrific punishment that would swiftly come to Judah and "all the kingdoms of the earth" because they didn't pay attention to God's messages. However, the prophet not only gave a sweeping declaration of doom but also focused on the blessings that would come from God in this coming future. For example, in contrast to other statements in the book about God ignoring their belated cries for help in the day of punishment (Jer. 11:11), in this future God's people would be able to pray and He would hear them and answer them (vs. 12). God promised to be found if sought by the exiles with their whole hearts, which strongly correlates to promises that Jesus made to His disciples in the New Testament (Matt. 7;7-11). God also vowed in this passage that the Jewish captives would eventually be brought back from their exile (a promise which he kept) and strongly hints of a future time when he would unite His people under the banner of the Messiah, Jesus. 

Do we possess a strong hope in the accessibility of God—that He is not distant from us if He is sought diligently? Do we constantly search for Him in prayer in order to deepen our relationship with Him, or do we only cry out to Him after facing the pain of our sin? Do we find ways to remind ourselves of the promise that God will someday set His broken creation to rights by bringing us back from our exile in sin into a promised land of rest where we will be united together with Him throughout eternity? Such promises provide a firm foundation in the midst of discouragement, punishment, or pain. 

Godly hope is never unrealistic or untrue. Godly hope is not based on our desires, wishes, or whims but is firmly anchored in the reality of promises that God makes. Rather than tempt us with sugar-coated lies which conceal our true spiritual condition, God exposes the horror of our own sin to us in order to bring us back from spiritual exile. Surely the reality of hope is infinitely more satisfying than the delusion of sin! 

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