October 13, 2019
A brief Old Testament history review… We know the period of the kings begins with Saul and then David. Not too many years down the line, when the throne has passed from Solomon’s hands, there is great strife in the Promised Land and the tribes of Judah and Benjamin break off from the rest of the tribes and they form the southern kingdom. This territory includes Jerusalem. From that point on the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel are on separate but very similar trajectories. Similar in that both have a whole series of kings. Some of them are bright spots, but overall the kings lead their people into an increasingly sinful way of life. The prophets start swinging into gear – Isaiah and Micah in the southern kingdom of Judah and Elijah, Elisha and Amos in the northern kingdom of Israel. Israel meets its end sooner. Around 740bc, the Assyrians invade and take many into captivity for the next period of time. Judah hangs on until 605bc when the King of Babylon lays siege to Jerusalem and only withdraws when Judah agrees to pay a tax and hand over some of their most promising young men, including, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. This continues for a few years until Judah’s king, Jehoiachin, refuses to keep paying the tax. At that point Babylon invades and in 597 deports the best and the brightest, the movers and the shakers of Judah. Ezekiel is one of those deported at this time. It’s thought he was around 25 and had not yet received his prophetic call from God.
All this is the context we need as we begin to look at our lectionary passage from Jeremiah. Now the book of Jeremiah covers a span of many years. But chapter 29 is set right around 594-593bc. Jeremiah is still in Jerusalem. He hasn’t been deported, and he’s writing this letter and sending it to Babylon, some 700 miles away. I’m using “The Message” Bible today because I want us to hear some of these scripture passages with fresh ears. Okay, reading now Jeremiah 29:1-3.
“This is the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to what was left of the elders among the exiles, to the priests and prophets and all the exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken to Babylon from Jerusalem, including King Jehoiachin, the queen mother, the government leaders, and all the skilled laborers and craftsmen. The letter was carried by Elasah son of Shaphan and Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah, king of Judah, had sent to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.”
Because of the care taken here in describing who the letter was written to and how the letter was delivered, I’m going to assume this letter went on to become a very important message for the exiled Judahites. That in conversation years later someone might say, “Remember what Jeremiah’s letter said.” And everyone would know exactly what was being referred to. I think this letter came to occupy a pretty prominent place in their thought.
Before I start reading the actual letter though I want you to think about how you might have felt in the exiles’ place. Think of whichever community you feel most connected to – Inman, Buhler, Moundridge or Hesston – and imagine you and your family along with 200 of the wealthiest, most intelligent, most gifted people from town are taken captive against your will and relocated some 700 miles away in enemy territory. What would your group do? What do you think? Anyone? What would your smartest, most gifted people do if they, if you found yourselves together in a foreign place against yo