Have you ever been forced out of a relationship, a church, a workplace… and it feels like God is out to get you? That no matter how much logic there is, no matter how much legitimacy you have, and no matter how obedient to God you have been… you have been exiled. You hurt and you don’t understand. Have you ever been there? What does the Bible say about that? Why would God allow this to happen?
I cannot begin to explain why, in your life, God does the things he does, or why he allows things to happen a certain way. However, God has given us his word, the Bible, that gives us glimpses of God. We can see his character and his providence. That’s what we are going to look at today.
History takes us back to the 6th century BC (that is the 500s BC – before Christ). Specifically, the 570s and 580s BC. The Babylonian Empire is taking over the Middle East. These are some bad dudes. (remember Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego with the fiery furnace? Or Daniel in the lion’s den?) Israel is actually two nations at this point (internal family dispute): Judah (south) and Israel (north). Israel has been annihilated and Judah is suffering at the hands of the Babylonians. All of this is God’s judgment on a people that refuse to obey his commandments. That’s not the point of today’s story. Judah is all that is left of God’s people and they are not willing to follow him. So God is using the Babylonians to bring judgment. Judah will fall to the Babylonians and certain parts of the population will be exiled. This is all happening because of false idol worship, false prophesying, and false priests. In other words, God is mad that people are not worshiping him alone and he is furious that priests and prophets are deceiving people to believing God gave them a word, when God did not.
And that’s where we find today’s answer. Jeremiah is a prophet during this time and he has been warning God’s people to repent. He isn’t the only prophet doing this, but he is our focus today. God has told Jeremiah that judgment is going to come. Part of the people will be exiled and part of the people will be left in the devastation that is left when the Babylonians take over. God’s words for his people are not comforting and the judgment coming is pretty scary stuff.
In our human thinking, we would assume that God would allow the loyal believers to stay in the Promised Land. After all, they were doing the right thing. Why should they be punished? Why should they be forced to leave? But that will not be the case. God will force those loyal to him to leave their homeland and enter the servitude of another nation. A nation that is ungodly, morally corrupt, pagan, and violent.
To us, this sounds insane and unjust. But let’s look at what God says about this:
Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.Jeremiah 24:4-7 ESV
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.Jeremiah 29:4-14 ESV
“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
God was clear. Those that were in the “right” were the ones that had to leave. (you can read about what God did with the people who stayed in Jeremiah 23-24, 29 – it is not for the faint of heart)
You see, through the eyes of the exiles, life was hard. They lost their homeland. They were treated poorly by their captors. They were threatened and beaten. Their possessions were taken. They were unwillingly uprooted from their lives and given new ones that they didn’t even want. All because they honored God the way he was supposed to be honored. I’m sure that didn’t feel too great. And they had months of walking (from Jerusalem to Babylon) to think about it. To start doubting. To wonder why.
But what had God told them through Jeremiah? He told them to make new lives. He told them to continue in their faith. He wanted them to embrace their new lives, despite the difficulties and heartache, and follow him in the process. God knew what their future held. He knew where they were headed. He also knew what they left behind and he promised to restore them.
You see, God removed them from their situation to set the record straight. He dealt with those people who were leading others astray through false preaching/prophesying. He dealt with the idolators who would not be faithful to him. And he removed the righteous in order to save them and restore them. It would be seventy years later when God would bring them back to their homeland.
Take a moment to think about your situation (past or present). Have you been forced out of a relationship, a church, a workplace, or any other part of your life? If so, were you in the right according to God’s word? Did you work to do the right thing only to be “punished” for it? Are you sitting there wondering what in the world happened, the whole thing just didn’t make any sense?
Pray over that situation. Ask God to show you his side of things. He knows his plans for you. You may have been exiled in order to be saved.
So look at where you are. Has God removed you and placed you somewhere else? Have you embraced this new life or are you resisting? God knows his plans for you. He didn’t remove you without reason. Look at your new life. How is God providing? What opportunities are in front of you? Are you chasing after God and his plans for you? Starting over is always hard. Often there is a lot of hurt to work through. But God is setting an opportunity in front of you. Lean on him. Keep the faith. Embrace the new that he has provided and look for opportunities to serve him where he has you.
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.Philippians 3:14 ESV
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.2 Timothy 4:7 ESV