4 The Lord of heavenly forces, the God of Israel, proclaims to all the exiles I have carried off from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and settle down; cultivate gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Get married and have children; then help your sons find wives and your daughters find husbands in order that they too may have children. Increase in number there so that you don’t dwindle away. 7 Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because your future depends on its welfare.
8 The Lord of heavenly forces, the God of Israel, proclaims: Don’t let the prophets and diviners in your midst mislead you. Don’t pay attention to your dreams. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I didn’t send them, declares the Lord.
10 The Lord proclaims: When Babylon’s seventy years are up, I will come and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 11 I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. 12 When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. 13 When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me. 14 I will be present for you, declares the Lord, and I will end your captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have scattered you, and I will bring you home after your long exile, declares the Lord.
Babylon took many Hebrews into exile in 597 B.C., and then destroyed Jerusalem in a final conquest in 586 B.C. Before that final destruction, the prophet Jeremiah wrote a letter (which included today’s reading) to the Hebrews who had already gone to Babylon. He offered them no false comfort--they should “settle down” for a long period of exile. But even exiled in that foreign land, they could trust that God’s long-term plans for their nation were good.
Lord Jesus, teach me patience and endurance when life is hard. Plant in me the hunger and thirst to seek you with all my heart, to let you shape every aspect of the way I live my life. Amen.
Today’s passage is a challenging read. We live in a culture that is impatient with any disappointment, discomfort, or delayed satisfaction. When our home WiFi went out for two days last month, our teenaged sons left for the church within the hour. Thinking these Armageddon-esque circumstances might have them prepping for the Rapture, we instead discovered they were just enjoying the Foundry’s WiFi & some treats at the Spring while they allegedly studied for some summer exams. (Needless to say, the technician who successfully resolved our nightmarish crisis is now on our Christmas card list.)
When we encounter a difficult passage, it can be helpful to check out a different version of the Bible to help our understanding. As we consider our Israelite friends living in exile in a desolate, far-off land, I thought the Gilligan’s Island Version (GIV) of the Bible might be helpful. (Oh my. This will be a turbulent 3-hour tour – Editor.)
For our younger readers, Gilligan’s Island was a situation comedy about 7 castaways shipwrecked on a deserted island. The episodes revolved around conflicts between the characters & their weekly attempts to escape the island – usually foiled by the bumbling, but loveable, Gilligan.This is what the Producer, the Creator of great Sit-Coms, says to all those stranded on an uncharted desert isle: Build huts of straw & make the tropical island your home. Yes, you have no phone, no lights, no motor cars – not a single luxury. (Like Robinson Crusoe, it’s primitive as can be.) But go ahead & plant gardens (avoiding radioactive seeds), tend banana trees, & harvest coconuts for coconut cream pie. While you may not be fond of your tiny island, pray for its welfare. For if it avoids typhoons, meteors, tsunamis, & crashed Russian cosmonauts, then you, too, shall prosper. Do not let radio announcers deceive you with hopeful news of rescue attempts & mysterious sightings. Do not let guest stars like a butterfly collector, a rock band (The Mosquitos), or even The Harlem Globetrotters fill with you false dreams. I have not sent them.
This is what the Producer says: When the 98 episodes are completed for United Artists Television, I will come to you & fulfill my good promise to rescue you 11 years later in a 2-part made-for-television movie that will be viewed by millions. I know the plans I have for you, plans to help your careers prosper with syndication rights & sequels. Your agent will call me & I will answer. I will bring you back to stardom on the dinner-theater circuit, Saturday night variety shows like Sonny & Cher, & guest appearances on the Love Boat. You will have a career worthy of a lengthy Wikipedia entry. This saith the Producer.
Well. What does this mean for us today? Sometimes, we will discover a new “normal” for our lives. Perhaps a newly diagnosed medical condition will limit our ability to live out our desired routines. Maybe our financial situation will be upset by market conditions beyond our control. Or possibly, the loss of a loved one will leave us grieving & lonely.
Jeremiah directly quotes God to bluntly remind us that even in the midst of our challenging circumstances, God still has great plans for us, God will hear our prayers, & God will always give us hope for the future.
As the GIV concludes:
This is the tale of our castaways (Israelites)
They’re here for a long, long time
They’ll have to make the best of things,
It’s an uphill climb.
The First Mate (Jesus)
And the Skipper (God), too,
Will do Their very best,
To make the others (us) comfortable
In the tropic island nest.
(Good luck getting that theme song out of your head the rest of the day – Editor.)
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