I’m reading prophecies against the nations, chs. 25 ff. I wonder about the scene described in 25 where Jeremiah gives the cup of God’s wrath to all the kings and peoples of all the known nations of the world. Jeremiah simply did not have the means to travel to all these places! Did this all happen in a vision in Jeremiah’s head? Or did he act this out by himself in his little room? Did anyone else at all witness the event? As with the rest of Jeremiah’s prophecies, this story likely first surfaced as a speech or sermon he delivered, perhaps to some of his followers, or perhaps to a larger audience. But did the message ever actually make it all the way to Dedan, Tema, and Buz? Throughout most of the world, surely the peoples, and the kings in particular, would have responded, “Jeremiah who?”
In ch. 27, however, it appears that the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon actually sent envoys to Jehoiakim / Zedekiah. Jeremiah could have had influence enough to appear before these envoys wearing the thongs & yoke and speak the prophecy to them that they could deliver to their respective kings.
Ch. 28: How exactly are the people (we) supposed to distinguish a true prophet from a false prophet? Surely in this case the prophet saying that God would return the exiles in two years seems more likely than the 70-year gloom and doom prophet. We assume that we could go by the lifestyle of the prophet making the prophecy, but how do we know that Hananiah was not a particularly good person in all discernible respects? Surely the leaders against whom Jeremiah prophesied did not live according to God’s clear teaching, but it would be reasonable to assume that the current state of the nation (subjugated and exiled) would satisfy God’s just punishment, and God’s favor would return after two years. Why would it take 70 years of torment to make things ok again? Why would anyone living at that time believe Jeremiah over Hananiah?
And then we come to the famous Jeremiah 29:11:
For I am mindful of the plans I have made concerning you – declares the Lord – plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a hopeful future.
I have heard from a variety of unreliable sources that this is the most commonly tattooed verse in the Bible!
But considering the context, what we have read so far, what exactly does it mean? Surely the original audience of this prophecy would have interpreted it to mean they would be restored to their land and glory in a reasonable amount of time, more in keeping with Hananiah’s words than Jeremiah’s. Everything we’ve read so far, though, speaks to long-term suffering for disobedience. We know from reading Ezra and Nehemiah that a few of the people who went young into exile actually lived to see the return in their old age. However, they lived out the vast bulk of their lives exiled from the promised land and from the temple of their God, which lay in ruins. Many, perhaps most, of the people who left Jerusalem in the exile died before the restoration. Apart from an ultimate prosperity in the afterlife, something I have yet to see mentioned in Jeremiah, this hope and prosperity eluded most of those who heard or read Jeremiah’s prophecy at the time.
So what, then, does this verse mean? What does it mean to us now? What does it mean to the hoards of people who have it indelibly written on their skin? Do we have any idea the kind of suffering that will likely come prior to the hopeful future of which it speaks?