The Christmas holiday interrupted the 3-part series on Jeremiah 29. I know you’ve been anxiously waiting for the final installment. In the last post (to read what I said about Soul Surfer, Carrie Underwood and Jeremiah 29 previously, click here for post 1 and post 2), I ended by noting that Jeremiah 29:11 (everyone’s favorite verse in the whole Bible), isn’t even the best verse in Jeremiah 29. But first a quick review of the context.
Jeremiah has been commissioned by YHWH to write a letter to the Judean exiles in Babylon. They had just experienced a crisis far worse than 9/11, tens of thousands of people killed or exiled to a foreign land. They were hoping and expecting to return to Israel soon. God wanted to encourage them that he had plans for their welfare, for a future with hope (Jere. 29:11). But he had told them that they would remain in that foreign land of Babylon for 70 years! The juxtaposition of hope with remaining as exiles 70 more years would have been incomprehensible to Jeremiah’s audience. Israel thought it was enough bad to have to do 40 years of “laps” in the wilderness (Numbers 14:33), now they have to remain as exiles for 70.
Now we can get to the best verse of the chapter. A few verses before everyone’s favorite verse to take out of context, YHWH told Jeremiah to tell his audience:
Seek the welfare of the city where I sent you into exile, pray to YHWH on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (Jer 29:7).
What? Yes, those brutal, barbarian Babylonians who ravaged your land and enslaved you, you need to love them, bless them and pray for them. That sounds like something Jesus would say (Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you: Matt. 5:44).
I think it’s wonderful that God has plans to bless me and give me a future and a hope, but according to Jeremiah 29:7 that promise is tied up with me seeking the welfare of my enemy-neighbors. God wants to bless me, and part of the way that he does that is by calling me to be a blessing to others, even people who I could reasonably hate.
Who are the “Babylonians” that you need to seek the welfare of and to pray for? Any other nominations for verse taken out of context the most?