The Bible says in Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” It was a dark and difficult time for the children of Judah. They had been uprooted from their homes, separated from their families, and placed in a pagan land. Their songs were not sung, their language was not spoken, and their God was not worshipped. In the midst of this seventy-year captivity, Jeremiah came with a message of hope, help, and encouragement. It was a message of rest in a time of turmoil.
But it was also a message of correction. Judah’s sin was that they had, for 490 years, neglected to keep the Sabbath. God’s sentence was that they would spend 70 years in captivity. They owed God 70 years of Sabbaths. They would pay it to Him from Babylon.
And it was a message of confusion. Jeremiah said, “…Let not your prophets and your diviners, that be in the midst of you, deceive you…” (Jeremiah 29:8). There were those who “prophesied” that the captivity would be short-lived, that in a few years they would get out. “Something good is going to happen to you!” they said to the people who were experiencing the judgment of God.
Ours is not the only day in which divergent messages confuse sincere people. The devil has been trying to sow discord, encourage disobedience, and deceive God’s people since the Garden of Eden. There are “so many voices”—from the pop psychologists to the talk show hosts to the “experts” who would weaken the church’s message, eliminate its stand against sin, and water down its gospel. There are those who “prophesy falsely” in the name of our Lord (Jeremiah 29:9).
But in the midst of all this, Jeremiah came with a message of comfort: “I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” This message dealt with the purpose of God. It was a message of peace. The Hebrew word for peace is, of course, the word shalom. When I looked it up, the first three synonyms were “safe”, “well”, and “happy.” How wonderful that our God wants us to have peace. He genuinely wants us to be safe, well, and happy.
God’s purpose was that they have an expected end. The word expected means “hopeful.” It is used that way by Charles Dickens in the book Great Expectations, which tells the story of a young man who was in limited and modest circumstances and yet had hope for a more substantial and prosperous future. God has a hopeful end for His people.
But this message of comfort also was a message about the presence of God: “Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:12–13). I’m glad that our God “is not far” from every one of us. I’m glad that whenever we “draw nigh unto God,” He will “draw nigh unto [us]” (James 4:8).
But Jeremiah’s message of comfort also included a prescription for the people of God. Listen to God’s instruction to His people who were in captivity in a pagan land:
Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.—Jeremiah 29:5–7
They are told to settle down; to build houses. A 50-year-old would be 120 years old before the captivity ended. A 30-year-old, 100; and a 7-year-old, 77. If any of them were to own a house, they had to own it in Babylon. If they built a house, they had to build it in Babylon. In other words, God said, “Accept the situation in which you find yourself and make the best of it.”
His prescription also told them to succeed. They were to plant gardens and eat the fruit of them. What an amazing instruction. In the midst of God’s judgment, God wanted them to be prosperous. In the midst of His judgment, He wanted them to settle down, have children, and live in their own homes. How good is our God that He mingles marvelous mercy with His judgment!
But God’s prescription also included that they “seek the peace of the city” where they found themselves to be captives. How easy it is for us to rail against the wrongs of our society. How hard for us to be “salt and light” and seek the very best for the place in which God has sent us to serve Him. No one will be happy until they accept and make the best of unchangeable circumstances.
I am told that in 1890 the Stead family took a holiday to the beach in New York. While Lily, the little girl, and Louisa, the mother, made a sandcastle, Mr. Stead looked out at the water. He saw a young man, struggling. Though he was not trained in lifesaving techniques, Mr. Stead hastened into the water to try to rescue the one who was in peril. When he reached the drowning man, the man threw his arms around Mr. Stead and locked him in a death grip. Both the young man and his intended rescuer perished.
Louisa did the best she could to care for Lily, but in 1890 there was no Aid for Dependent Children; there were no food stamps; there was no social safety net. One night, as Louisa and Lily prepared for bed, Louisa said, “We need to pray and ask Jesus to give us some food because if He doesn’t, we don’t have anything to eat tomorrow.” Then she looked down and saw Lily’s worn, scuffed shoes with her toes sticking out the end. She said, “We should also ask Jesus to give us some money to buy you a pair of shoes.”
They prayed and went to sleep. The next morning, when Louisa went to open the front door of their home, she sensed there was something against it. She was able to push it open enough to stick her head around and find a large box filled with groceries. Inside the box was an envelope, and inside the envelope was a $10 bill—more than enough money to buy a pair of shoes for Lily.
Louisa happily began to make a breakfast, but before she ate anything, she sat down, took out a pen and a piece of paper, and wrote:
Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord.”
They ate the breakfast, went to town, and bought Lily a pair of shoes. As Louisa watched Lily running happily around the yard, no longer concerned about stepping on stones, pieces of glass, or pickers, she wrote these words:
I’m so glad I learned to trust Thee,
Precious Jesus, Saviour, Friend;
And I know that Thou art with me,
Wilt be with me to the end. Jesus,
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er,
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more!”