MORE THAN THREE THOUSAND people were transported to Babylon (including King Jehoiachin) in the deportation of 597 B.C. (Jer. 52:28). Doubtless many of these people earnestly hoped for a speedy return to Jerusalem. Their longings made them easy prey for “prophets” who kept their hopes alive by promising them the sorts of things they wanted to hear. The prophet Ezekiel, himself an exile, repeatedly denounced these false prophets (as we shall see in the meditations for September). Back home in Jerusalem, Jeremiah heard of these developments and resolved to write a letter (Jer. 29), which was duly hand-delivered (Jer. 29:1-3).
This letter begins with an exhortation to settle down, to seek the good of the city where the exiles are located (the largest settlement was close to Nippur, near the Kebar canal). “Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer. 29:7). This is linked to a warning not to be deceived by the false prophets. Jeremiah then sets out the destiny of three groups:
(1) Those already in captivity (Jer. 29:10-14): God plans to restore them to Jerusalem after the seventy years of Babylon’s ascendancy. This is bound up with a transformation of heart: “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you … and will bring you back from captivity” (Jer. 29:12-14).
(2) Those still in Jerusalem (Jer. 29:15-19): Far from being the means of the salvation of the exiles, they themselves will be punished. They are the “poor figs” (Jer. 29:17; cf. chap. 24). Those who are not destroyed will be scattered into exile themselves (Jer. 29:18). Location near the temple is inadequate protection. Regardless of their location and religious ritual, they will be destroyed, because “they have not listened to my words … words that I sent to them again and again by my servants the prophets” (Jer. 29:19). And then a warning for the recipients of the letter: “ ’And you exiles have not listened either,’ declares the LORD” (Jer. 29:19).
(3) The false prophets in Babylon (Jer. 29:20-23): Two are specifically named: Ahab son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah son of Maaseiah. We know nothing more of them than what is written here. They are not to be confused with other Ahabs and Zedekiahs in Scripture. As is commonly the case, their false message about God went hand in hand with immorality in their lives. And God knows; he always knows (Jer. 29:23).