Hidden Gems from the Heart of the Book of Jeremiah
“Jeremiad” is “a tale of woe” according to the OSPD and, likewise, Jeremiah himself is often thought of as the ever-complaining doomsaying prophet. And that is tragic because the message that this man of God has is one for today as well. It keeps many from reading this book.
Yet if they only would read Jeremiah they might notice, near the middle of the book, a markedly New Testament passage, describing, mixed in with other truths, our New Covenant in Christ. I am referring to chapters 29 to 33. These five chapters contain many promises of real comfort – some of them grossly misapplied. I have put off writing about this passage because I never felt able to do it justice. But, then again, when can we do any part of God’s Word justice?
Let me start with some misapplications from this section:
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29.11)
“Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.” (Jer. 31:3)
The above verses have been subjected to two misinterpretations (at least as far as I’ve noticed). The first is to see the verses as exclusively referring to Israel, a minority view.
But the second misview is to lift these respective verses entirely out of context, making them into a glib – and dangerous – feelgood mantra for just anyone. This is even more dangerous than the first view, giving false hope to many who have no basis for it, and deceitfully extending a promise to some who have no capacity for it. I have heard several sermons, and seen not a few websites, which prominently feature these verses without any regard for the context.
And what is the context? Primarily, Israel. Captivity in Babylon for seventy years. It must have seemed like the end of the world, similar to the way Christians felt when Barbarians crashed the gates of the sacrosanct city of Rome. Likewise, the Jews felt the same about their city, Jerusalem.
The context? Read it yourself: 29:4 reminds us to whom it was written “to those carried away captive…to Babylon”. Verse 5 tells them to build houses, plant gardens, marry, etc. They are there for the long haul. After other details are mentioned we get to verse 10, specifically mentioning seventy years of captivity for them and God’s promise of bringing the captive Jews back to Jerusalem, “return to this place” (see also v. 14).
Now we get to the cherry-picker’s verse (11). Notice the opening word “For”. This links and limits this verse to the previous context. This is primarily a promise to Jewish believers. It is ironic that many of the same people who call all of the New Covenant Christians, Reformed Baptists, and Preterists “anti-Semitic“, on the one hand, see no problems in wrestling this promise from Jewish fingers in order to gloss it onto their own books, church websites, and seminar fliers.
But this passage does have broader application to all believers, seeing that some of the promises brought out in these chapters reach future-ward to the time of the Messiah (more on that below). But they cannot be quite as broad as many make them out to be. God’s promises are only to the believers, being spoken only to those with ears to hear. It certainly doesn’t apply to everyone. Where would have been Pharaoh’s interest in this promise? Had God ever promised to give him a future and a hope? No, He pointedly raised him up in order to be glorified in his fall (Ex. 4:21; 11:9).
Chapter 30 ends with encouraging descriptions of God’s heart surgery on His own people. Comparing verse 22 with Ezekiel 36:26-28 shows that those who are “His people” (this phrase is in both places) are given a new heart..
Both passages speak also of a rebuilt city and a rebuilt land. But we have to be careful here. Yes, some of the token proofs to this these spiritual promises are indeed the physical beginnings of rebuilt Jerusalem. Yet it goes much farther than that. There is also – and more importantly – a spiritual building of the heavenly Jerusalem, the Zion of God.
This is the ultimate fulfillment that the Jerusalem Council came to recognize when news first came flooding in of all those Gentile converts in Galatia, Pisidia, etc. What were they to make of this unprecedented growth of their religion? They understood Amos 9:11-12, a passage similar to these in Jeremiah, as prophesying this very growth of the Kingdom of God, Japheth being enlarged, dwelling in the tents of Shem (Gen.9:26-27).
Chapters 30 – 33 of Jeremiah shed much light on just what the “hope and a future” entails. 31:14 points to the physical return and rebuilding of Jerusalem. But then, in this same chapter even, the focus changes to a spiritual Jerusalem (the church of redeemed Jews and Gentiles – us!). These middle chapters of Jeremiah are so worthy of more careful study because they have much to say about the New Covenant and the church.
If your faith is in Christ then you are also heavenly citizens of the New Jerusalem.
The symbol of that city is shown in Revelation.
The wonderful reality of this is already very much with us.