Judah was in trouble. They were exiled to a strange country with a strange language, strange customs, and, most of all, no worship of the true God. They were slaves. They had no rights, and they were stuck for seventy years.
But God gave comfort to the captive nation in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” The word expected in this passage means hopeful. Even at a low point in Judah’s history, God had a hopeful future for them. He wanted His people to know He had not abandoned them. He had a purpose for the trial.
When silver is heated, the impurities come to the surface. The refiner removes the impurities to make the precious metal worthy to be made into fine jewelry. He watches through the entire process. If he leaves it in too long, he could harm the metal. So when does he know the metal is ready? The refiner removes his silver from the fire when he can see his own face in it.
Malachi 3:3 compares God to that refiner, “And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.” God was bringing Judah through the fire so that they would reflect His glory. He was leaving them in the fire just long enough to remove their impurity.
This was a confusing time for Judah. Verses 8 and 9 tell us that false prophets came by and told them they would be out in a short time. In other words, they said, “Something good is about to happen to you!” But this was not God’s plan. He would lead them out of Babylon, but He made it clear through Jeremiah that the captivity would last seventy years.
It must have been difficult knowing God had brought Judah’s captivity because of their sin. Jeremiah 29:4 says, “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon.” Again in verse 7 and twice in verse 14, we find a similar phrase. Four times, God reminds the people that they are in Babylon because He has sent them there.
How difficult it is to see God’s hand in our problems! It can be confusing to understand that God could easily remove all of our problems in a moment, yet He does not. We want instant relief, but God wants mature believers.
God did not immediately remove His trial from Israel, but He told them how they could make it through—proceed with ordinary living. The captivity was to be for seventy years. If they were going to have a house, get married, and raise children, they were going to have to do it in Babylon. In other words, God told them to settle.
God also told His people to succeed—to work, to prosper, to go forward. And He told them to seek the peace of that city. Babylon was a pagan place, but peace for Babylon meant peace for God’s people. Our land has lost most of the characteristics which identify it as a Christian nation, but it is still our country. We still must pray for it. We must “seek the peace” of our nation, “for in the peace thereof” shall we have peace.
We can only enjoy life if we can accept what we cannot change. God told Israel to continue on with their life in captivity. They could not change their circumstances, but they could enjoy their life in spite of their circumstances.
In essence, God said to His people, “You’re going to have to start over.” All of us have had reversals, difficulties, and misfortunes in life that we wish had not happened. We have but two choices: we can feel sorry for ourselves, or we can draw a line and start over.
Even though God brought the trial, He still thought good thoughts towards Israel. He had “thoughts of peace and not of evil.” Three synonyms for the Hebrew word for peace are safe, well, and happy. Even in the midst of our greatest trials, God still wants us safe, well, and happy. He promises us an expected end—a hopeful and a positive conclusion.
Why did God bring Israel through all the trouble? Jeremiah 29:12–13 says, “Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” God wanted Israel’s heart back! The captivity was not a judgment to destroy Israel; it was a chastisement to restore Israel.
God’s blessings do not come when we feel sorry for our circumstances. They are not found when we decide to make the best of a bad situation. God’s blessings come when we turn our hearts completely toward God. There are five lessons we can learn from the fire.
1. Everyone is in some kind of captivity. Whether it’s a health issue, a financial situation, or a family problem, all of us have some burden we wish we did not have.
2. It matters who you listen to. The false prophets are always there, telling us that if we will send them money, buy their book, or follow their advice, all our problems will be over. In our times of difficulty, we must be especially careful to turn our attention toward God, His Word, and His men.
3. We can only be happy if we accept our circumstances. I have waited through many delayed flights, and it’s amazing to me how people behave when their schedules are changed. I have seen a twenty-something young lady shove a middle-aged man because he would not surrender his seat to her! But no matter what people do, it never shortens the delay. I decided a long time ago to treat the spare time as God’s appointments.
4. God knows what He is doing. We may not like the captivity, but God is going to build us through it. God is strengthening us through the burdens. We don’t have to worry! The Bible reminds us, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6).
5. We lessen trouble’s hold on us when we tighten our hold on God. The song says, “Lean on me when you have no strength to stand, When you feel you’re going under, hold tighter to my hand.”
May the Lord help us to lean on Him during our times of trial, to make the best of unavoidable situations, to seek Him with all of our hearts, and to remember that He has an expected end for each of His children.