“‘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.’” (Jeremiah 29:10)
Jeremiah witnessed several great eras in Judah. When he began his ministry, Josiah was king. This was a time of great spiritual renewal in Israel, and hearing the news of God’s impending judgement must have come as a surprise to Jeremiah. But after Josiah’s death, things went badly almost immediately. The four kings who came after Josiah in rapid succession were all evil, denying God and plunging the land back into idolatry. At last, God would extend grace no longer, and He did exactly what He had warned. He gave His people into the hands of the Babylonians.
When this happened, the people were naturally upset. They didn’t understand why God had allowed this to happen to them. False prophets arose in Babylon, promising that this exile would soon be over and they would all be back and thriving in Jerusalem. God, however, had quite a different message. This exile wasn’t almost over; it had just begun. In a letter to the exiles, Jeremiah gave them the solemn news: they would be in Babylon for seventy years. Because of that, Jeremiah urged them to “build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.” (Jeremiah 29:5) They were going to be there for a while, so they might as well make a life for themselves. This wasn’t what anyone wanted to hear, but it was what God was saying. He was telling them to wait in Babylon, and when the time was right, He would bring them back to His promised land again.
Waiting is hard. It’s probably one of the most difficult things we have to do. We’re impatient people; we want everything to be good, and we want it all right now. But just like the Israelites in Babylon, sometimes God tells us to wait in a less-than-ideal circumstance. We may not like it, but if we’re obedient during it, God will teach us things we never would have learned otherwise. During their seventy years in exile, the Israelites came to a renewed devotion to God, one that continues even to this day. God wants the same thing to come out of our own seasons of waiting. He has good plans for us, ones that will give us a future and a hope. He wants us to wait for Him to act, continuing to work for Him and just living wherever He has us as we look forward to the fulfillment of what He is already doing inside us. Waiting always has a purpose, and when the time is right, God will bring us out again to a place of abundance. This is a promise; and God always keeps His promises.