The Word Made Fresh
1Jeremiah composed a letter which he sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles in Babylon, including priests and prophets and others from Jerusalem whom Nebuchadnezzar had banished from their homeland. 2This was after King Jeconiah and his mother had left Jerusalem, along with the court officials and leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, artisans and smiths. 3The letter was sent by Elasah son of Shaphan and Genariah son of Hilkiah whom King Zedekiah of Judah sent to king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.
The letter said, 4“This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all the exiles I have sent from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live there. Plant gardens and eat what you grow there. 6Take wives and have children and find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage so that they, too, can have children. Grow your families there and don’t let your numbers decrease. 7Seek peace and prosperity for the city to which I have sent you, and pray to the LORD for its welfare, for there you will find your own welfare. 8The LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says don’t let the prophets and seers with you deceive you and don’t listen to the dreams they say they have dreamed, 9because it would be a lie to say they prophesy in my name. I did not send them, says the LORD.”
10The LORD says this: “When you have been in Babylon seventy years I will visit you, and I will keep my promise that I will return you to this place. 11I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD; plans for your welfare and not your harm, to give you a future with hope. 12Then, when you come and pray to me and call my name, I will hear you. 13When you seek me you will find me. If you seek me wholeheartedly 14I will let you find me,” the LORD says, “and I will restore your well-being and gather you from all the nations and places to which I have driven you. I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile, says the LORD.
15“When you begin to say that the LORD has raised up prophets for you in Babylon, 16the LORD will make this declaration concerning the king who sits on the throne of David and for all the people who live in this city – your relatives who didn’t go with you into exile: 17Thus says the LORD Almighty – I am going to afflict them with sword, famine and pestilence, and I will make them like rotten figs unfit to eat. 18I will beset them with sword and famine and pestilence and will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. They will become the subject of cursing and horror and tongue-wagging. They will be derided by all the nations where I have driven them, 19because they didn’t obey my words,” says the LORD, “when I sent my servants the prophets to them over and over. They wouldn’t listen.” 20But now, all you who have been exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon, hear what the LORD says: 21The God of Israel says this concerning Ahab son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah son of Maaseiah who are prophesying lies to you in my name: “I am going to hand them over to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and he will put them to death before your very eyes. 22Because of them, all the exiles who were sent from Jerusalem to Babylon shall say this as a curse: ‘May the LORD make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, who were burned in the fire by the king of Babylon, 23because they have fomented an outrage in Israel. They have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives and have spoken lies in my name that did not come from me. I am the one who knows and declares these things, says the LORD.’”
24Tell Shemaiah of Nehelam, 25“This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: In your own name you sent a letter to the people of Jerusalem and to the priest Zephaniah son of Maaseiah and all the other priests. The letter says, 26“The LORD has made you priest instead of Jehoiada so that there will be officials in the LORD’s house to control any idiot who pretends to be a prophet, and to put him in the stocks with a collar. 27So, why have you not rebuked Jeremiah, son of Anathoth, who plays the role of prophet for you? 28He has actually contacted us in Babylon and told us that we will be there a long time, and we should build houses to live in, and plant gardens to have food to eat.”
29The priest Zephaniah read this letter to the prophet Jeremiah. 30Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying, 31“Send this message to all the exiles: This is what the LORD says with regards to Shemaiah of Nehelam: Because Shemaiah has prophesied to you without my approval, and has lied to you,” 32the LORD says, “I am going to punish Shemaiah of Nehelam and his descendants. No one in his family will see the good that I am going to do for my people because he has said words of rebellion against the LORD.”
1-9: Jeremiah sends a letter to the exiles in Babylon via an emissary King Zedekiah is sending to Nebuchadnezzar, probably a periodic delivery of whatever tribute Nebuchadnezzar requires. Jeremiah’s letter is surprising and shows that the “battle of the prophets” has escalated beyond the city walls of Jerusalem.
10-14: You have to stay there 70 years, he tells them, so hunker down; build houses, get involved in the community.
15-23: The people left behind in Jerusalem are going to be subjected to the remainder of God’s wrath, he says, which I’m sure he thought would make them feel better about being in Babylon. The real reason, however, that he is writing the letter is because two self-styled prophets in exile with them, Ahab and Zedekiah (no relation to the current king of Judah) have spoken lying words in God’s name. He tells them that Ahab and Zedekiah are going to be roasted alive by Nebuchadnezzar. I don’t know how he knew that but given what happened to Hananiah I don’t think I would want to be Ahab or Zedekiah right about now.
24-28: In addition, some guy named Shemaiah had written the priest Zephaniah in Jerusalem asking them why they haven’t arrested Jeremiah for advising the exiles to build houses and settle in Babylon.
28-32: Unfortunately for Shemaiah, Zephaniah let Jeremiah read the letter, so Jeremiah tells Shemaiah that he won’t have a single descendant return to Jerusalem when the exiles are freed in 70 years. So says the LORD.
Jeremiah for years warned the people in Jerusalem that the LORD was not happy with them and would send them into exile. Now he is telling them that their exile is actually God’s way of arranging a blessing for Jerusalem and the people of Judea. Our times of suffering can also be times of blessing.