THE BOOK OF JEREMIAH
Lesson 14
Part I: Oracles Against Jerusalem and Judah
(Oracles in the Last Year of Jerusalem)
Chapters 29-31
Jeremiah's Letter to the Exiles and
The Book of Consolation

Holy and Eternal God,

You are eternal and therefore unchanging in Your Divine Nature. In the Old and in the New Testaments, You are the source of eternal life, justice, and truth. We ask You to protect Your Holy Church and St. Peter's successor, the Vicar of Your New Covenant Kingdom on earth. Give him a spirit of courage and right judgment, a spirit of knowledge and a spirit of love. May he build Your Church into a sacrament of unity, love, and peace for the entire world. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son and our Savor who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

+ + +

If, however, from there you start searching once more for Yahweh your God, and if you search for him honestly and sincerely, you will find him. You will suffer everything I have said will befall you, but in the final days you will return to Yahweh your God and listen to his voice. For Yahweh your God is a merciful God and will not desert or destroy you or forget the covenant which he made on oath with your ancestors
Deuteronomy 4:29-31

Chapter 29: Jeremiah's Letter to the Exiles in Babylon

Chapter 29 divides into three sections:

  1. The introduction to the letter Jeremiah sent to the Babylonian exiles in verses 1-3.
  2. The content of the letter Jeremiah sent to the Babylonian exiles in verses 4-23.
  3. The consequences of Jeremiah's first letter that result in a second letter in verses 24-32.

Jeremiah's letter was probably written sometime during the decade between the exile of the citizens of Judah and Jerusalem in 598 BC and the advance of the Babylonian army against a rebellious Judean King Zedekiah in 587 BC that ended in the destruction of Jerusalem in 587/6 BC. The body of Jeremiah's letter in 29:4-23 divides into five parts:

  1. God's advice on how to live in exile (verses 4-7).
  2. God's warnings concerning false prophets (verses 8-9).
  3. The promise of God's good plans for the exiles after their return (verses 10-14).
  4. The Babylonian conquest is God's doing because they refused to listen to His prophets (verses 15-20).
  5. God's judgment on three false prophets who dare to claim they speak in His name (verses 21-23).

Jeremiah 29:1-3 ~ Introduction to Jeremiah's Letter to the Exiles
1 This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to those who were left of the elders in exile, to the priests, the prophets, and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had deported from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 This was after King Jechoniah had left Jerusalem with the queen mother (Gebira), the eunuchs, the chief men of Judah and Jerusalem, and the blacksmiths, and metalworkers. 3 The letter was entrusted to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah had sent to Babylon, to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.

God commanded Jeremiah to send a letter to the Judean exiles deported to Babylonian in 598 BC with young King Jechoniah, the queen mother, ministers of the royal court, and the artisans trained in metal work and as blacksmiths.

Question: How did Yahweh symbolically describe this group of exiles in object lesson #6, the baskets of figs, and what is God's plan for them? See Jer 24:4-7.
Answer: God referred to them as "good figs." They are the best of the population taken to Babylon, and they are the Judeans and Jerusalemites He will preserve in Babylon, giving them a spirit of faithfulness.

3 The letter was entrusted to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah had sent to Babylon, to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.
Jeremiah entrusted his letter to two royal ministers who are friendly to him and who King Zedekiah sent on a diplomatic mission to Babylon.(1)

Once again a member of the Shaphan family helped Jeremiah.
Question: What did a member of the same family, also a royal minister, do to help Jeremiah in 26:24?
Answer: Ahikam son of Shaphan rescued Jeremiah from the chief priests and prophets who wanted to kill him for prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

Elasah son of Shaphan was probably a brother of Ahikam son of Shaphan the minister who rescued Jeremiah. Gemariah son of Hilkiah may be the son of the high priest and associated of Shaphan mentioned in 2 Kings 22:2, 8. The high priest Hilkiah and the royal secretary Shaphan served together during the reign of King Josiah. Jeremiah's priestly father was also named Hilkiah (Jer 1:1).

Jeremiah 29:3c-14 ~ The Letter to the Exiles Part I: The Promised Return
3c The letter said: 4"Yahweh Sabaoth, the God of Israel, says this to all the exiles deported from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses, settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce; 6 marry and have sons and daughters; choose wives for your sons, find husbands for your daughters so that these can bear sons and daughters in their turn; you must increase there are not decrease. 7 Work for the good of the city to which I have exiled you; pray to Yahweh on its behalf, since on its welfare yours depends. 8 For Yahweh Sabaoth, the God of Israel, says this: Do not be deceived by the prophets who are with you or by your diviners; do not listen to the dreams you have, 9 since they prophesy lies to you in my name. I have not sent them, Yahweh declares. 10 For Yahweh says this: When the seventy years granted to Babylon are over, I shall intervene on your behalf and fulfil my favorable promise to you by bringing you back to this place. 11 Yes, I know what plans I have in mind for you, Yahweh declares, plans for peace, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 When you call to me and come and pray to me, I shall listen to you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; when you search wholeheartedly for me, 14 I shall let you find me, Yahweh declares. I shall restore your fortunes and gather you in from all the nations wherever I have driven you, Yahweh declares. I shall bring you back to the place from which I exiled you."

Question: How does God tell His people to live in exile in verses 5-7?
Answer: They must:

  1. settle down and build houses
  2. sow crops and produce food
  3. have families to increase their numbers
  4. take an active role in being good citizens
  5. pray to Yahweh for the benefit of their communities

In verses 8-10, God shares His divine plan with the exiles, warning them not to be deceived by false prophets who tell them otherwise. 29:10 is the second time Jeremiah mentions a seventy-year exile and a promised return (see 25:11-12).(2) The seventy years is probably a rounded number and is not necessarily a literal number; it is the equivalent of a lifetime (Ps 90:10).

In verses 11-14, God provides a description of the destiny planned for His people now living in exile. He also promises that He will never abandon them so long as they continue to seek Him in prayer. His words express the same encouragement that Moses delivered in his homily in Deuteronomy 4:29-31. The promise in 29:13, When you search for me, you will find me... is, in fact, a quotation from Deuteronomy 4:29, If, however, from there you start searching once more for Yahweh your God, and if you search for him honestly and sincerely, you will find him. 30You will suffer everything I have said will befall you, but in the final days you will return to Yahweh your God and listen to his voice. 31 For Yahweh your God is a merciful God and will not desert or destroy you or forget the covenant which he made on oath with your ancestors. The words "final days" in the Deuteronomy passage (verse 30) and also in the prophetic books refer to the decisive establishment of God's Kingdom in the Messianic Age. The return of the exiles to the Promised Land of Israel will only be a foretaste of the greater plan that is to come.

Jeremiah 29:15-20 ~ The Letter to the Exiles Part II: Warnings Concerning False Prophets
15 "Since you say: Yahweh has raised up prophets for us in Babylon, 16 this is what Yahweh says about the king now occupying the throne of David and all the people living in this city, your brothers who did not go with you into exile: 17 Yahweh Sabaoth says this: I am now going to send them sword, famine and plague; I shall make them like rotten figs, so bad as to be uneatable. 18 I shall pursue them with sword, famine and plague. I shall make them an object of terror to all the kingdoms of the earth, a curse, a thing of horror, scorn and derision to all the nations where I have driven them, 19 because they have refused to listen to my words, Yahweh declares, although I have persistently sent them all my servants the prophets; but they would not listen, Yahweh declares. 20 But all you exiles, whom I have sent from Jerusalem to Babylon, listen to Yahweh's word!"

In verse 15, Jeremiah's letter makes the argument that in Babylon false prophets have apparently announced that God will overthrow their oppressors. The king currently occupying the "throne of David" is King Zedekiah who Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II made his vassal king of Judah when he deposed Zedekiah's brother and nephew and took his nephew and the Queen Mother away into exile. In verses 16-20, Jeremiah portrays a scenario in which King Zedekiah and the people still left in Jerusalem and Judah will suffer further punishment at the hands of the Babylonians because they did not listen to God's prophets, like Jeremiah. In verse 17, the same rotten fig imagery is used to describe the king and the people left behind after the 589 BC exile as in Jeremiah's vision and object lesson #6 in chapter 24. The rotten fig imagery it is followed by the warning to the exiles already in Babylon to listen to "Yahweh's word" in the letter and not to behave unlike the "bad figs" who did not listen and will pay the price of their failure (verse 20).

Jeremiah 29:21-23 ~ The Letter to the Exiles Part III: The Conclusion and God's Judgment on the False Prophets Ahab and Zedekiah
21 "This is what Yahweh Sabaoth, God of Israel, says about Ahab son of Kolaiah, and Zedekiah son of Maaseiah, who prophesy lies to you in my name: I shall hand them over now to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon who will put them to death before your very eyes. 22 This curse, based on their fate, will be used by all the exiles of Judah in Babylon: May Yahweh treat you like Zedekiah and Ahab, roasted alive by the king of Babylon, 23 because they have done a scandalous thing in Israel, committing adultery with their neighbor's wives and speaking lying words in my name without orders from me. I know all the same and am witness to it, Yahweh declares."

Jeremiah's letter condemns two false prophets in Babylon: Ahab son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah son of Maaseiah. Both men are otherwise unknown. Zedekiah son of Maaseiah may be the brother of Zephaniah son of Maaseiah, the deputy priest of the Temple (see verses 24-28).

Question: Someone who claims to speak for God in the present age is under what two obligations?
Answer: He/she must speak the truth of the word of God in agreement with all of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Church. That person must also demonstrate the example a righteous life to accompany those words.

God will judge us on both our words and our deeds, and nothing in our lives can be hidden from Him. In warning teachers, St. James wrote: Only a few of you, my brothers, should be teachers, bearing in mind that we shall receive a stricter judgment (Jam 3:1a). It is a warning that all of us who teach must take to heart or bear the eternal consequences. The two men named in verse 21 suffered the consequences of their deeds by paying with their lives.

Jeremiah 29:24-28 ~ The Response to Jeremiah's Letter by Shemaiah
24 "And to Shemaiah of Nehelam you will speak as follows: 25 Yahweh Sabaoth, God of Israel, says this: since you, on your own initiative, have sent a letter to all the people in Jerusalem, to the priest Zephaniah son of Maaseiah and to all the priests, saying" 26 Yahweh has appointed you priest in the place of the priest Jehoiada to keep order in the Temple of Yahweh, to put any crazy fellow posing as a prophet in the stocks and collar, 27 why then have you not disciplined Jeremiah of Anathoth, now posing as a prophet to you? 28 Why, he has even sent us a message in Babylon, saying: It will be a long time. Build houses, settle down, plant gardens and eat what they produce."

Shemaiah the Nehelamite is not a descendant of Aaron and a man from a priestly family. Notice that in the passage he is never referred to as a priest. Shemaiah took upon himself the role of priestly leadership over the people in exile. No site called Nehelam is mentioned in Scripture, nor have archaeologists identified a town by that name. Its etymology suggests a connection with the Hebrew word chalam, "to dream," and may be a reference to Shemaiah's claim as a prophet who has "dreams." Jehoiada, mentioned in verse 26, was perhaps the legitimate high priest or the deputy priest of the Temple who has been overthrown by Zephaniah son of Maaseiah. The priest Zephaniah son of Maaseiah was a member of a priestly delegation sent by King Zechariah to Jeremiah asking him to consult Yahweh concerning the threats of Nebuchadnezzar in Jeremiah 21:1-2. He is named again in 37:3.

Shemaiah the Nehelamite sent an angry response regarding Jeremiah's letter to the exiles back to Jerusalem. In his letter, he demands that the chief priests in Jerusalem must put a stop to Jeremiah's inference. Jeremiah's letter has apparently contradicted the message of this false prophet who preached an immediate return from the exile and has urged the people not to settle into normal life in Babylon.

Question: What became of the priest Zephaniah son of Maaseiah who received Shemaiah's letter? See Jer 52:24-26.
Answer: He was put to death by the Babylonians after the fall of Jerusalem.

Jeremiah 29:29-32 ~ Jeremiah's Response to Shemaiah's Letter
29 Now, after the priest Zephaniah had read this letter to the prophet Jeremiah, 30 the word of Yahweh came then to Jeremiah as follows, 31 "Send this message to all the exiles, This is what Yahweh says about Shemaiah of Nehelam: Since Shemaiah has prophesied to you without my sending him, and since he has caused you to rely on what is false 32 for that reason, Yahweh declares, I shall punish Shemaiah of Nehelam and his descendants; no male member of his family will survive among this people to see the happiness that I will bestow on my people, Yahweh declares, since he has preached rebellion against Yahweh.

After Jeremiah heard the letter from Babylon, God told Jeremiah to condemn Shemaiah as a false prophet who urged rebellion against God's divine plan, a violation of Deuteronomy 13:6, That prophet or that dreamer of dreams must be put to death, since he has preached apostasy from Yahweh your God who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the place of slave-labor; and he would have diverted you from the way in which Yahweh your God has commanded you to walk. You must banish this evil from among you.

Question: What is God's judgment for Shemaiah of Nehelam?
Answer: Since he lied to the people, preached rebellion by telling them not make a life in Babylon, and abused the name of God's true prophet, Jeremiah, he will die in Babylon, and he will leave no descendants.

Chapters 30-31: Jeremiah's Book of Consolation

Chapters 30:1-31:40 is a poetic composition called "Jeremiah's Book of Consolation." It is a message that gives comfort to the exiles by looking forward to their return to the land and to the good things God promises His people (Jer 29:11-14). There is no apparent date for the composition. Since it presents a message of return of Israel to the Promised Land, some scholars maintain that it is a postexilic composition. However, others maintain that Jeremiah wrote it after he sent his letter to the exiles in Babylon and before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 587 BC. In its position following chapters 26-29, which focus on Babylonia as the instrument of Yahweh's divine action, Chapters 30-31 support Jeremiah's message of consolation once the prescribed seventy years of the exile are over. The composition contains ten oracles and four of Jeremiah's ten Messianic prophecies numbers:

Prophecy Scripture New Testament Fulfillment
4. The Messiah will be born a king and descendant of David Jer 30:9 Lk 1:32-33; Jn 18:37; Rev 1:5
5. The massacre of infants Jer 31:15 Mt 2:17-18
6. The Incarnation: "something new on earth" Jer 31:22b Mt 1:20; Lk 1:35
7. A New Covenant Jer 31:31-33 Mt 26:27-29; Mk 14:22-24; Lk 22:15-20; 1 Cor 11:25; Heb 8:8-12; 10:15-17; 12:24; 13:20
8. The Gospel of salvation and the forgiveness of sins Jer 31:34 Mt 26:26-28; Heb 10:16-18; 1 Jn 2:27

For the complete list, see the handout in Lesson 3.

Jeremiah 30:1-3 ~ Oracle 1: The Command to Record all Yahweh's Words in a Book
1 The word which came to Jeremiah from Yahweh, as follows, 2 "Yahweh, God of Israel, says this, Write for yourself in a book all the words spoken to you. 3 For look, the days are coming, Yahweh declares, when I shall bring back the captives of my people Israel and Judah, Yahweh says. I shall make them come back and take possession of the country I gave to their ancestors.'"

Verses 1-2 begin with the typical prophetic word formula, "The word which came to Jeremiah from Yahweh," as an introduction to the document. However, the repeated prophetic messenger formula of "Yahweh, God of Israel, says this/Yahweh says this," is used ten times (30:2, 5, 12, 18; 31:2, 7, 15, 16, 23, 37), marking the individual oracles which comprise the complete text of Jeremiah's Book of Consolation.

There are two different interpretations concerning God's command to write down all His words in a book/scroll in verse 2:

  1. All the oracles recorded since the beginning of Jeremiah's ministry should be collected into one book.
  2. In addition to the past oracles, these new oracles should be collected in a separate book or booklet.

In either interpretation, the ultimate purpose is to fully vindicate Jeremiah's role as a true prophet when his prophetic words are fulfilled at some future date (28:9).

Verse 3 sets the theme for the entire section: to restore and reunite the two separated nations of Israel and Judah into one covenant people and to return them to the land God gave their ancestors. The formula statement "for the days are coming" ties the entire document together by appearing at the beginning in 30:3 and again at the end of the composition in 31:38.

Jeremiah 30:4-11 ~ Oracle 2: The Promise of Reunification for Israel and the 4th Messianic Promise
4 These are the words Yahweh spoke about Israel and Judah: 5 Yahweh says this" We have heard a cry of panic, of terror, not of peace. 6 Now ask and see: can a man bear children? Then why do I see each man with his hands on his loins like a woman in labor? Why has every face grown pale? 7 Disaster! This is the great day, no other like it: a time of distress for Jacob, though he will be saved from it. 8 That day, Yahweh Sabaoth declares, I shall break the yoke now on your neck and snap your chains; and foreigners will enslave you no more, 9 but Israel and Judah will serve Yahweh their God, and David their king whom I shall raise up for them. 10 So do not be afraid, my servant Jacob, Yahweh declares, Israel, do not be alarmed: for look, I shall rescue you from distant countries and your descendants from the country where they are captive. Jacob will return and be at peace, secure, with no one to trouble him. 11 For I am with you to save you, Yahweh declares, I shall make an end of all the nations where I have driven you, but I shall not make an end of you, only discipline you in moderation, not to let you go quite unpunished.

The poetry section begins with verse 5; then there is a break in verses 8-9 before the poetic oracle continues until the end of the chapter. 31:1 begins with a prose statement, and then the poetic narrative begins again in 31:2 and continues until 31:22. Jacob was the name of Isaac's son through whom the Abrahamic covenant continued and to whom God gave the name Israel. The use of "Jacob" can refer to the entire covenant people, while "Israel" often refers to the Northern Kingdom that took the name "Israel" when they split off from the two southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin.

It was a condition of great sorrow that the United Kingdom of Israel became divided when a prince of the tribe of Ephraim led the ten northern tribes to revolt against the Davidic king Rehoboam son of Solomon and grandson of David. Israel became two kingdoms: the Kingdom of Israel in the North, ruled by nine different dynasties, and the Kingdom of Judah in the south, ruled by the descendants of the great King David (1 Kng 12:17-25). When the Assyrians destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel and took all the citizens into exile in 722 BC, Judah was the only remaining kingdom of what had originally been the Kingdom of Israel. When the Assyrian Empire declined, King Josiah of Judah attempted to reconquer the Northern Kingdom's territories of Samaria and the Galilee and restore both a united Kingdom and religious unity to the covenant people.

Question: Josiah's death in 609 BC put an end to the hope of the reunification of Israel politically and spiritually. However, in the first oracle of the Book of Consolation, Yahweh makes what two promises that look towards the greatest longing of the Israelites/Judahites?

Answer:

  1. The end of suffering under foreign domination and exile.
  2. A spiritually and politically reunified Israel governed by a Davidic king.

6 Now ask and see: can a man bear children? Then why do I see each man with his hands on his loins like a woman in labor? Why has every face grown pale? 7 Disaster!
The opening verses of the oracle speak of battle-weary men acting like women in labor whereas, ironically, the prophecy in 31:22 says salvation will come from a woman. The rhetorical question is "can a man bear children?"

Question: The obvious answer, of course, would seem to be "No." However, was there ever a time in salvation history when a woman came to life/was born of a man? See Gen 2:7, 21-23.
Answer: God formed Adam from the dust of the earth, but Eve came from the body of Adam to life as the first woman.

The Hebrew word, chalets (Strongs H2502 and 04), translated "loins," can refer to a soldier's strength or the midsection of a person's body between the chest and the lower abdomen. A woman bears children to continue the generations of a nation. Jeremiah sees (either literally or in a vision) men bent over in pain and grasping their midsections like women in labor as they face a disaster. It is possible he is witnessing wearied soldiers holding their aching abdominal muscles after wielding heavy iron swords in a long battle against the Babylonians. The irony is that a woman's pains in childbirth are rewarded by victory in a birth, but Judah's soldiers will only suffer more pain in their defeat by the Babylonian army.

8 That day, Yahweh Sabaoth declares, I shall break the yoke now on your neck and snap your chains; and foreigners will enslave you no more,
In refusing to submit to Yahweh's "yoke" of the Law in the commands and prohibitions of the Sinai Covenant, the covenant people accepted the harsh "yoke" of the Gentile Babylonians. God promises to release them from the "yoke" of slavery to Gentile domination.

9 but Israel and Judah will serve Yahweh their God, and David their king whom I shall raise up for them.
When released from the "yoke" of the Gentile oppressors, the people will return to serving God. Verse 9 also reminds the people of Jeremiah's generation of the eternal Davidic covenant and God's promise of a future Davidic Messiah who will rule not only the children of Israel but over all nations (for prophecies known in Jeremiah's time see 2 Sam 7:16; 23:5; 2 Chr 13:5; Ps 89:4-5, 29; Is 7:14; 9:5/6-6/7; 11:1-9; Jer 23:5-6). Unfortunately, after the return from the Babylonian exile, this prophecy was not fulfilled because there was no Davidic heir to assume the throne (2 Kng 25:6-7; Jer 52:9-11; 33-34). The people of God returned to Judah without a king and as vassals of the Gentile Persians. Verse 9 is the fourth Messianic promise in Jeremiah's book and points to fulfillment in Jesus Christ the son of David who came to establish a new Israel in His Kingdom of the Church (Mt 1:1; 3:2; 4:17; 21:6-11; Lk 1:32).

In verses 10-11, Yahweh promises to save His covenant people, to judge their oppressors, and to bring them back from their exile in Gentile lands. However, He also tells them: but I shall not make an end of you, only discipline you in moderation, not to let you go quite unpunished. It is a reminder that there is always a consequence for sin and rebellion against God, but their discipline will not be so severe as to destroy them.

Jeremiah 30:12-17 ~ Oracle 3: The Incurable Wound Healed
12 Yes, Yahweh says this: Your wound is incurable, your injury past healing. 13There is no one to plead your cause; for an ulcer there are remedies, but for you no cure at all. 14 All your lovers have forgotten you, they look for you no more. Yes, I have struck you as an enemy strikes, with cruel punishment because of your great guilt and countless sins. 15 Why cry out about your wound? Your pain is incurable! Because of your great guilt and countless sins, I have treated you like this. 16 But all those who devoured you will be devoured, all your enemies, all, go into captivity, those who despoiled you will be despoiled, and all who pillaged you be pillaged. 17 For I shall restore you to health and heal your wounds, Yahweh declares, you who used to be called "Outcast," "Zion for whom no one cares."

What is incurable and cannot be undone is the judgment against Judah and Jerusalem to become captives of the Babylonians. Judah's former "lovers" are the false gods she worshipped instead of Yahweh.

Question: Why has this suffering been visited upon the citizens of Judah? See verses 14-15.
Answer: The suffering the Judahites must endure is because of their many sins.

The necessity of accountability for the sins of the people is repeated twice in verses14b and 15b; however, God promises both His mercy and His justice. The oracle ends with God's promise to punish Judah's persecutors and to restore His people spiritually and materially. No one cares for the people of Zion (symbolic word for the redeemed people) except Yahweh who still loves His people and has plans for their future.

Jeremiah 30:18-31:1 ~ Oracle 4: The Restoration
18 Yahweh says this: Look, I shall restore the tents of Jacob and take pity on his dwellings: the town will be rebuilt on its mound, the stronghold where it ought to stand. 19 From them will come thanksgiving and shouts of joy. I shall make them increase, they will not decrease; I shall make them honored, no more to be humbled. 20 Their sons will be as once they were, their community fixed firmly before me, and I shall punish all their oppressors. 21 Their prince will be one of their own, their ruler will come from their own people, and I shall permit him to approach me freely; for who, otherwise, would be so bold as to approach me, Yahweh demands? 22 You will be my people and I shall be your God. 23 Look, Yahweh's hurricane, his wrath, bursts out, a roaring hurricane, to burst on the heads of the wicked; 24 Yahweh's burning anger will not turn aside until he has performed, has carried out, what he has in mind. In the final days, you will understand this. 31:1When that time comes, Yahweh declares, I shall be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people.

"Restoring the tents" in verse 18 is symbolic language for rebuilding the homes and towns of the covenant people. The blessings of the restoration for which they will give thanks include:

  1. Their towns will be rebuilt.
  2. Their population will increase.
  3. They will be united as a people.
  4. Their enemies will be diminished.
  5. A prince from their people will rule over them.

Their "prince" who is "one of their own" and will rule over them means a foreigner will not ruler over them as the representative of the governing power. It may be a reference to Zerubbabel, the Persian governor of Judah after the return from exile (Ezra 2:2). He was a descendant of King David and the grandson of exiled King Jehoiachin (Ezra 3:2; Hag 1:1; Mt 1:12).(4)

Jeremiah 30:23-24, in the center of the Book of Consolation, is a judgment oracle. The covenant formulas on either side of the oracle are in reverse order in 30:22 and 31:1 (see the same covenant formula in Dt 26:17-28; 27:9; 28:9). It is a reminder that there will be a restoration, but the sorrow of divine judgment and necessary atonement will precede the joy, and in the "final days" they will understand why events had to unfold as they did. The expression "final days" is usually a reference to the final days of mankind in the Messianic Era before the Last Judgment. In his homily on the Jewish feast of Pentecost in Acts 2:16-21, St. Peter will announce that with the coming of Jesus Christ they are in the "last days" spoken through the prophet Joel as he quotes from Joel 3:1-5.

The remaining oracles of the Book of Consolation will continue in the next lesson.

Questions for reflection or group discussion:
In Jeremiah's letter to the captives in Babylonia, God told them to continue living normal lives. He told them not to let the disturbing events experienced by their generation keep them from having children and families. God also told them to be good citizens and to take an active role in working for the good of their communities. Even in the death camps of the German holocaust, inspired by God's message in Jeremiah 29:3-14, the Jews continued to celebrate marriages and have children in preparation for God's good plans for their lives in the future. Those plans were also a return to "the land" and the building of a new nation. The Jewish state of Israel was recreated by a decree from the United Nations in 1947. It was the first time a nation had that name since the fall of the Northern Kingdom in 722 BC.

Question: Why is the same plan for living important for us even when political or social conditions or natural disasters seem unfavorable to continue living as normally as possible?

Question: What should be our priorities in living out God's divine plan for our generation and future generations, and what is the importance of God's command at the end of Jeremiah 29:6, you must increase there are not decrease "what happens if we decrease?

Question: Why are we to engage in the world and not to fearfully divorce ourselves from it?

Question: In 29:11-14, the exiles receive the assurance of God's continued love and mercy. How can we apply God's encouraging words to our lives today as we make our journey through the exile of this life on our way to the Promised Land of Heaven?

Endnotes:
1. Shaphan was the royal scribe, and Hilkiah was the reigning High Priest who served King Josiah of Judah (640-609 BC). They were supporters of the king's religious reforms (see 2 Kng 22:3-10). Jeremiah's father was also a chief priest named Hilkiah (Jer 1:1). It appears, despite Jeremiah's religious and political difficulties, that the Shaphan family remained devoted to Jeremiah.

2. The prophet Isaiah predicted a seventy-year exile for the Phoenician city of Tyre a century earlier in Isaiah 23:15-17.

3. Talmudic tradition claims that the Babylonians put both men to death by fire for immoral acts committed against a Babylonian woman (b. Sanhedrim 93a).

4. Zerubbabel returned to Judah after the exile (Ezra 2:2) and served as the Persian governor of Judah under Persian King Darius I. Zerubbabel and Joshua, the High Priest, initiated the reconstruction of the Temple. Since Zerubbabel was a descendant of King David (Ezra 3:2), his presence and leadership stirred the Messianic hopes of the community (Hag 2:21-23; Zec 4:6-10), and the Persians recalled him. His name is in the genealogy of Matthew 1:12 as a Davidic ancestor of St. Joseph, Jesus' legal father.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2016 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references for this lesson (* indicated that Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the catechism citation):

Jer 31 (CCC 1611*)

Jer 31:3 (CCC 220)