It’s natural I suppose to prefer the grace of the prodigal banquet over the grace of the fiery furnace. But in the providence of God, you can’t have one without the other. First the pigsty, then the party.
According to Jeremiah 25:11-12, the Lord had given the His people into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar who would rule over them for 70 years. In this situation, the people of Judah were told not to rebel against God’s appointed king but submit (Jeremiah 25:8).
Jeremiah pictures the situation by wearing a yoke of wood on his shoulders (Jeremiah 27:2). The message is that Judah should accept the yoke of discipline as coming from the hand of the Lord and not Nebuchadnezzar. This thing was heaven sent.
However, not everyone wants to hear this.
A prophet called Hananiah stood against Jeremiah. Hananiah means, “The Lord is Gracious”, and this is a good summary of Hananiah’s message.
He believed that because the Lord is gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, He will never bring this kind of hardship about. Hananiah also says that the exile will only last two years.
Then the prophet Hananiah took the yoke-bars from the neck of Jeremiah the prophet and broke them. And Hananiah spoke in the presence of all the people, saying, “Thus says the Lord: Even so will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the neck of all the nations within two years.” (Jeremiah 28:10-11)
It’s all dramatic stuff and let’s be honest, were it not for the place of Jeremiah in scripture we might well have sided with Hananiah over this issue. I mean, who doesn’t want to side with the message of grace?
But we would have been wrong.
Jeremiah not only tells Judah to submit to the yoke the Lord has placed on them through Nebuchadnezzar, but also tells them how they are to wear that yoke.
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. …take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease …seek the peace of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace. (Jeremiah 29:57)
The key words in his letter to the exiles are, “build and plant”. In other words, though they are in a foreign land they should carry on as usual. They should plant, have children, multiply and flourish in the land of their exile.
Furthermore, they should seek the welfare of their overlords (Jeremiah 29:7), just as Joseph and the Hebrews had done in Egypt. So long as they live peacefully, Babylon will in fact be their protector. Babylon’s peace will mean peace for Israel.
While in a foreign land, they are to sing the Lord’s Song and in effect, transform Babylon into a city for the Lord.
How much easier would it have been to side with the sweet-sounding words of Hananiah.
We all want God’s grace to prevail. But emphasis here is on the word ‘prevail’. Grace is what overcomes adversity and judgement. Grace does not avoid the judgement but brings us safely through to the celebration on the other side.
Grace is not the act of God taking us on a detour in order to avoid suffering. Grace in suffering and under the yoke of discipline (and not apart from it) is the means by which we learn to thrive, build, plant and flourish.
These are true words but hard to bear. God knows this and has not left us without a way through the apparent unsteady and anxious times in our lives.
For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; In repentance and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength… (Isaiah 30:15)
Sit tight, carry on. This too shall pass.