Prophets were men chosen by God to speak on His behalf.
Elijah and Elisha. Amos, Jonah, and Hosea. All prophets to the northern kingdom. Their pleas, their warnings, and their voices fell on hard hearts. The people refused to turn their hearts back to the LORD God. Time ran out.
Samaria, the capital of Israel, was sieged by the Assyrians, a violent and ruthless people. The Israelites were carted off to Assyria. Only those on the lowest rung of society, those not worth the effort, were left behind. Later, Assyrians filled Samaria and lived among them. (NOTE: Some of each of the ten tribes, at some point, left Israel for Judah before the Assyrians took over.)
Hope ran out for the northern kingdom.
In the year King Uzziah died, God pulled back the curtain of heaven and revealed Himself to Isaiah. Having seen the LORD in all of His glory, Isaiah responded. Here I am. Send me!
Isaiah then spoke to the people of Judah for forty years, declaring judgment and doom. Predicting Babylonian captivity but promising hope of return and restoration. Promising a future Hope in a Messiah.
Jeremiah, chosen by God before his own birth, was also a prophet to Judah. Chosen, like Moses, he protested, but God was unmoved by his protests.
Jeremiah’s job was an unpopular one; He was unpopular. His was the voice of warning that went unheeded. The people dismissed him. And ridiculed him.
He mourned the people’s sins and grieved his inability to turn them back to the One true God. (There’s a reason he penned the book of Lamentations!)
Eventually, Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, surrounded Jerusalem. The young king of Judah surrendered. And Nebuchadnezzar carried into captivity 10,000 of the most abled Jews.
For nineteen years, Nebuchadnezzar seized the capital until nothing of value remained. The temple was decimated, and its contents raided. All of Jerusalem was carried off to Babylon.
This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.JEREMIAH 29:11
Jeremiah spoke to them even in their captivity. He encouraged them to have families. Build houses. Plant gardens. To bloom where they were planted.
Captivity was their present.
But Hope was in their future.
Can you imagine? Being carted off into captivity? King of Judah waving a white flag? Knowing you had disobeyed yourself right into the hands of your captors? Starting over in a place not your home?
Well, I’ve never been carted off. But I’ve disobeyed myself right into the hands of the enemy of my heart. You?
And perhaps you can see why Jeremiah 29:11 doesn’t mean what you think it means.
But this whole big, beautifully painful story was experienced by real people. People like you and me. Who loved, and I hope laughed. Who tasted sweet grapes and rich cheeses. People who got sick. And sad. And scared. Real people who refused to turn their hearts toward the LORD of the covenant.
These men and women tried to do life on their own terms, disregarding the laws of the covenant. Ignoring the commandments designed to protect them. Turning away from the God who loved them and had their best interests at heart.
Yes. They disobeyed themselves right out of God’s protection and into the hands of their enemies.
No one could imagine that, Right?
But God’s plan for His people included hope and a future on the other side of captivity.
His plan for you is the same.
Where are you today? Safely in Judah? Living your best life, abiding in the One who loves you? Under His divine protection?
Or are you in a Babylon of your own making? Far from where you thought you’d be? Hoped you’d be? Far from where you want to be?
The good news is that it doesn’t matter if your Babylon is a single mile or two thousand long journeyed miles; Hope awaits you in Judah.
Lord, I thank You for Your unrelenting love. Thank You for pursuing me in my days of wandering.
Father, I pray right now for those struggling to trust You. Make Yourself known to them. Woo them with a love they cannot resist. Use those of us around them as Your hands and feet. May we respond with love worthy of being Yours.
Lord, call us all to Judah. Amen.
I have celebrated Christmas from a few different places.
Wrestling with God. Mad at God. Pretending with God. Running from God. Far from God.
But my favorite place from which to celebrate Christmas is nestled right in the arms of my heavenly Father.
I hope you are in the Father’s arms today. And if you are, friend, rest there. Let His arms be the place from which you celebrate the season. The view is breathtaking.
But I know that may not be your reality. I want to encourage you to be honest with yourself. About yourself. Surrender what you want most for His very best for you.
And friend, if you find yourself two thousand miles in the wrong direction today, you can journey that distance with just one step toward the God who loves you.
You’re just one step away, my friend.
Songwriters: John Mark Hall / Bernie Herms / Matthew West