|Volume 19 Number 4 April 2017||
The wise man Solomon observed “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). He had noted that generations come and go, like they always have (1:4); the sun rises and sets as it always has (1:5); the wind continues to blow and rivers flow (1:6-7)—as they always have.
There are two ways of viewing this fact that there “is nothing new.” First, one might consider it proof that there is a hopeless monotony to life. Life is, basically, boring, unchanging and wearisome. Second, one might find the fact that there is nothing new under the sun as a comforting, stabilizing truth. There are some things we can count on.
Solomon wanted to demonstrate a very important point: life without God is wearisome, repetitive and hopeless. Yet, life with God is comforting, exciting, stable and hope-filled.
Considering the point that there is “nothing new under the sun,” there are several truths related to God that are not new.
Solomon emphasized that all men must seek to do good and to live to please God. So also is it today. God wants all men to “conform to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29-30) and to obey His Word (John 12:48).
One of the best things that ever happened for Bible study is the division of the text into chapters and verses. It makes certain passages easier to find and reference. Yet, one of the worst things that ever happened for Bible study is the division of the text into chapters and verses. In the citation of verses of a couple of phrases, students and teachers often forget the context and, even unwittingly, make the verse mean something never intended by the author.
One example of this is a verse making the rounds on plaques and memes lately. Jeremiah 29:11 reads, “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.”
The modern, feel-good context in which the verse seems to make its appearance is an implication that God would not allow any harm, that people who trust in him would get their way, and that life would just be grand. Or, maybe that is just me reading too much into the statements. Perhaps people mean that there can be a future and a hope even if they have to go through some tough trials. The latter is closer to the biblical context.
The statement comes in this historical situation. Jeremiah was prophesying in Jerusalem about the wickedness of the people there bringing God’s judgment upon them. That judgment would come via Babylonian armies who would overrun them. Some had already been taken captive. Jeremiah 29 is the record of a letter Jeremiah wrote to the captives. There had been many false prophets who made the people feel good, saying no harm would come (Jeremiah 6:14). One was Hananiah, who promised the captives they would return within two years (Jeremiah 28). Jeremiah’s letter said quite the opposite.
Jeremiah penned his letter to say that the people would be captive seventy years! They should build houses, plant gardens and stay put. The promise of a future and a hope was to be later and only after those seventy years of trial were completed. Jeremiah 29:10 gives the immediate context. “For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform my good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place.” Then, came the promise of a future and a hope.
In it, God spoke of a time when the people of Judah would indeed call upon Him again, and He would indeed answer (29:12). Previously in this time frame, the people had rejected God’s pleas toward them so much that He indicated He would not listen (Ezekiel 20:1-3; 7:26; 14:3). Ezekiel prophesied to the ones in captivity, while Jeremiah largely prophesied in Jerusalem. The time would come when God would listen again—after they had been punished and when a new generation came along with a heart given to obedience.
In this future and hope, the descendants of the captives would be brought back from captivity (Jeremiah 29:13-14). This portion of Jeremiah’s letter is exceedingly comforting.
The trouble was that many of the generation reading the letter would not be alive to realize that hope. One could reckon the seventy years from the first captivity in about 605 B.C. This letter in Jeremiah would be timed roughly 597 B.C., when King Jeconiah (Jehoiachin) and those with him were taken captive (Jeremiah 29:2). The edict of Cyrus came in 539 B.C., in which the Persian ruler sent the captives home (Ezra 1:2-4). There would be roughly six decades left for the captives. A 21-year-old reading the letter would be 80. A 40-year-old would hardly be expected to be around for the promised “future and hope.”
Still, they were to take comfort in that hope. Some of them would. They perhaps were not as individualistic in their focus as the last couple of American generations. They may have come to the realization that they would have to do some suffering, but things could be better for their children. Their “future and hope,” therefore, was not a personal repudiation of any potential discomfort. Their future and hope was for their people, their kin, their descendants. Read the rest of Jeremiah 29; it is bad news.
Sometimes, trials have to come for hope to arrive (1 Peter 1:7-9; Romans 5:3-5). Sometimes, God’s eternally-viewed timing does not coincide with even a faithful person’s preferences. Nevertheless, the message of Jeremiah 29:11 always rings true; eventually there is hope. In the Christian era, one looks for the eternal inheritance (1 Peter 1:3-4). Even if physical life is soured and unjust, there can be reward in the future. The persecuted saints of another prophetic book knew so (Revelation 6:9-11; 14:3).