Jeremiah Chapters 29-31: Bless Society Through Your Work
Note: PRS.work is a plug-and-play video Bible Study. Everything you need to connect the Bible to your work is in the video above. Feel free to press play and just listen. Or follow along with the transcript below.
Welcome to PRS.work, a video series that helps us hear the Bible together at work. In this video you'll hear a brief introduction, a Psalm read as an opening prayer, a long passage from the Bible, and a commentary about what this means for work, workers, and the workplace. When the video ends you can discuss how this applies to your work.
Today’s Public Reading of Scripture comes from the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah received his call to be a prophet during the 13th year of the good King Josiah. He continued to prophesy through four evil successors.
During that time, Israel worshiped all kinds of Canaanite gods. The violation of the Torah’s laws results in rampant social injustice and a plague for the most vulnerable: widows, orphans, and immigrants.
Jeremiah announces that God will judge the Israelites through an army from Babylon. Babylon is to conquer and take them away into exile for seventy years. Yet even in judgement, God does not abandon his people. On the contrary, He continues to send the Israelites instructions and encouragement through the prophet Jeremiah.
Our Public Reading of Scripture opens with Israel in exile and Jeremiah’s message for her future. Before reading along to a dramatic recording of Jeremiah chapters 29-31, we will open with Psalm 149 in prayer.
Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
And His praise in the assembly of saints.
2 Let Israel rejoice in their Maker;
Let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.
3 Let them praise His name with the dance;
Let them sing praises to Him with the timbrel and harp.
4 For the Lord takes pleasure in His people;
He will beautify the humble with salvation.
5 Let the saints be joyful in glory;
Let them sing aloud on their beds.
6 Let the high praises of God be in their mouth,
And a two-edged sword in their hand,
7 To execute vengeance on the nations,
And punishments on the peoples;
8 To bind their kings with chains,
And their nobles with fetters of iron;
9 To execute on them the written judgment—
This honor have all His saints.
Praise the Lord!
Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the remainder of the elders who were carried away captive—to the priests, the prophets, and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 (This happened after Jeconiah the king, the queen mother, the eunuchs, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem.) 3 The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan, and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon, to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, saying,
4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon:
5 Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. 6 Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters—that you may be increased there, and not diminished. 7 And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace. 8 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are in your midst deceive you, nor listen to your dreams which you cause to be dreamed. 9 For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them, says the Lord.
10 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. 11 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. 12 Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.
15 Because you have said, “The Lord has raised up prophets for us in Babylon”— 16 therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king who sits on the throne of David, concerning all the people who dwell in this city, and concerning your brethren who have not gone out with you into captivity— 17 thus says the Lord of hosts: Behold, I will send on them the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, and will make them like rotten figs that cannot be eaten, they are so bad. 18 And I will pursue them with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence; and I will deliver them to trouble among all the kingdoms of the earth—to be a curse, an astonishment, a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them, 19 because they have not heeded My words, says the Lord, which I sent to them by My servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them; neither would you heed, says the Lord. 20 Therefore hear the word of the Lord, all you of the captivity, whom I have sent from Jerusalem to Babylon.
21 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning Ahab the son of Kolaiah, and Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, who prophesy a lie to you in My name: Behold, I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall slay them before your eyes. 22 And because of them a curse shall be taken up by all the captivity of Judah who are in Babylon, saying, “The Lord make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire”; 23 because they have done disgraceful things in Israel, have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives, and have spoken lying words in My name, which I have not commanded them. Indeed I know, and am a witness, says the Lord.
24 You shall also speak to Shemaiah the Nehelamite, saying, 25 Thus speaks the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, saying: You have sent letters in your name to all the people who are at Jerusalem, to Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah the priest, and to all the priests, saying, 26 “The Lord has made you priest instead of Jehoiada the priest, so that there should be officers in the house of the Lord over every man who is demented and considers himself a prophet, that you should put him in prison and in the stocks. 27 Now therefore, why have you not rebuked Jeremiah of Anathoth who makes himself a prophet to you? 28 For he has sent to us in Babylon, saying, ‘This captivity is long; build houses and dwell in them, and plant gardens and eat their fruit.’ ”
29 Now Zephaniah the priest read this letter in the hearing of Jeremiah the prophet. 30 Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying: 31 Send to all those in captivity, saying, Thus says the Lord concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite: Because Shemaiah has prophesied to you, and I have not sent him, and he has caused you to trust in a lie— 32 therefore thus says the Lord: Behold, I will punish Shemaiah the Nehelamite and his family: he shall not have anyone to dwell among this people, nor shall he see the good that I will do for My people, says the Lord, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord.
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, 2 “Thus speaks the Lord God of Israel, saying: ‘Write in a book for yourself all the words that I have spoken to you. 3 For behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord, ‘that I will bring back from captivity My people Israel and Judah,’ says the Lord. ‘And I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it.’ ”
4 Now these are the words that the Lord spoke concerning Israel and Judah.
5 “For thus says the Lord:
‘We have heard a voice of trembling,
Of fear, and not of peace.
6 Ask now, and see,
Whether a man is ever in labor with child?
So why do I see every man with his hands on his loins
Like a woman in labor,
And all faces turned pale?
7 Alas! For that day is great,
So that none is like it;
And it is the time of Jacob’s trouble,
But he shall be saved out of it.
8 ‘For it shall come to pass in that day,’
Says the Lord of hosts,
‘That I will break his yoke from your neck,
And will burst your bonds;
Foreigners shall no more enslave them.
9 But they shall serve the Lord their God,
And David their king,
Whom I will raise up for them.
10 ‘Therefore do not fear, O My servant Jacob,’ says the Lord,
‘Nor be dismayed, O Israel;
For behold, I will save you from afar,
And your seed from the land of their captivity.
Jacob shall return, have rest and be quiet,
And no one shall make him afraid.
11 For I am with you,’ says the Lord, ‘to save you;
Though I make a full end of all nations where I have scattered you,
Yet I will not make a complete end of you.
But I will correct you in justice,
And will not let you go altogether unpunished.’
12 “For thus says the Lord:
‘Your affliction is incurable,
Your wound is severe.
13 There is no one to plead your cause,
That you may be bound up;
You have no healing medicines.
14 All your lovers have forgotten you;
They do not seek you;
For I have wounded you with the wound of an enemy,
With the chastisement of a cruel one,
For the multitude of your iniquities,
Because your sins have increased.
15 Why do you cry about your affliction?
Your sorrow is incurable.
Because of the multitude of your iniquities,
Because your sins have increased,
I have done these things to you.
16 ‘Therefore all those who devour you shall be devoured;
And all your adversaries, every one of them, shall go into captivity;
Those who plunder you shall become plunder,
And all who prey upon you I will make a prey.
17 For I will restore health to you
And heal you of your wounds,’ says the Lord,
‘Because they called you an outcast saying:
“This is Zion;
No one seeks her.” ’
18 “Thus says the Lord:
‘Behold, I will bring back the captivity of Jacob’s tents,
And have mercy on his dwelling places;
The city shall be built upon its own mound,
And the palace shall remain according to its own plan.
19 Then out of them shall proceed thanksgiving
And the voice of those who make merry;
I will multiply them, and they shall not diminish;
I will also glorify them, and they shall not be small.
20 Their children also shall be as before,
And their congregation shall be established before Me;
And I will punish all who oppress them.
21 Their nobles shall be from among them,
And their governor shall come from their midst;
Then I will cause him to draw near,
And he shall approach Me;
For who is this who pledged his heart to approach Me?’ says the Lord.
22 ‘You shall be My people,
And I will be your God.’ ”
23 Behold, the whirlwind of the Lord
Goes forth with fury,
A continuing whirlwind;
It will fall violently on the head of the wicked.
24 The fierce anger of the Lord will not return until He has done it,
And until He has performed the intents of His heart.
In the latter days you will consider it.
“At the same time,” says the Lord, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people.”
2 Thus says the Lord:
“The people who survived the sword
Found grace in the wilderness—
Israel, when I went to give him rest.”
3 The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying:
“Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.
4 Again I will build you, and you shall be rebuilt,
O virgin of Israel!
You shall again be adorned with your tambourines,
And shall go forth in the dances of those who rejoice.
5 You shall yet plant vines on the mountains of Samaria;
The planters shall plant and eat them as ordinary food.
6 For there shall be a day
When the watchmen will cry on Mount Ephraim,
‘Arise, and let us go up to Zion,
To the Lord our God.’ ”
7 For thus says the Lord:
“Sing with gladness for Jacob,
And shout among the chief of the nations;
Proclaim, give praise, and say,
‘O Lord, save Your people,
The remnant of Israel!’
8 Behold, I will bring them from the north country,
And gather them from the ends of the earth,
Among them the blind and the lame,
The woman with child
And the one who labors with child, together;
A great throng shall return there.
9 They shall come with weeping,
And with supplications I will lead them.
I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters,
In a straight way in which they shall not stumble;
For I am a Father to Israel,
And Ephraim is My firstborn.
10 “Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
And declare it in the isles afar off, and say,
‘He who scattered Israel will gather him,
And keep him as a shepherd does his flock.’
11 For the Lord has redeemed Jacob,
And ransomed him from the hand of one stronger than he.
12 Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion,
Streaming to the goodness of the Lord—
For wheat and new wine and oil,
For the young of the flock and the herd;
Their souls shall be like a well-watered garden,
And they shall sorrow no more at all.
13 “Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance,
And the young men and the old, together;
For I will turn their mourning to joy,
Will comfort them,
And make them rejoice rather than sorrow.
14 I will satiate the soul of the priests with abundance,
And My people shall be satisfied with My goodness, says the Lord.”
15 Thus says the Lord:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation and bitter weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted for her children,
Because they are no more.”
16 Thus says the Lord:
“Refrain your voice from weeping,
And your eyes from tears;
For your work shall be rewarded, says the Lord,
And they shall come back from the land of the enemy.
17 There is hope in your future, says the Lord,
That your children shall come back to their own border.
18 “I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself:
‘You have chastised me, and I was chastised,
Like an untrained bull;
Restore me, and I will return,
For You are the Lord my God.
19 Surely, after my turning, I repented;
And after I was instructed, I struck myself on the thigh;
I was ashamed, yes, even humiliated,
Because I bore the reproach of my youth.’
20 Is Ephraim My dear son?
Is he a pleasant child?
For though I spoke against him,
I earnestly remember him still;
Therefore My heart yearns for him;
I will surely have mercy on him, says the Lord.
21 “Set up signposts,
Set your heart toward the highway,
The way in which you went.
Turn back, O virgin of Israel,
Turn back to these your cities.
22 How long will you gad about,
O you backsliding daughter?
For the Lord has created a new thing in the earth—
A woman shall encompass a man.”
23 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “They shall again use this speech in the land of Judah and in its cities, when I bring back their captivity: ‘The Lord bless you, O home of justice, and mountain of holiness!’ 24 And there shall dwell in Judah itself, and in all its cities together, farmers and those going out with flocks. 25 For I have satiated the weary soul, and I have replenished every sorrowful soul.”
26 After this I awoke and looked around, and my sleep was sweet to me.
27 “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, that I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and the seed of beast. 28 And it shall come to pass, that as I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to throw down, to destroy, and to afflict, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. 29 In those days they shall say no more:
‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes,
And the children’s teeth are set on edge.’
30 But every one shall die for his own iniquity; every man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.
31 “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— 32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
35 Thus says the Lord,
Who gives the sun for a light by day,
The ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night,
Who disturbs the sea,
And its waves roar
(The Lord of hosts is His name):
36 “If those ordinances depart
From before Me, says the Lord,
Then the seed of Israel shall also cease
From being a nation before Me forever.”
37 Thus says the Lord:
“If heaven above can be measured,
And the foundations of the earth searched out beneath,
I will also cast off all the seed of Israel
For all that they have done, says the Lord.
38 “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, that the city shall be built for the Lord from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. 39 The surveyor’s line shall again extend straight forward over the hill Gareb; then it shall turn toward Goath. 40 And the whole valley of the dead bodies and of the ashes, and all the fields as far as the Brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be holy to the Lord. It shall not be plucked up or thrown down anymore forever.”
Pause For Reflection
Now we'll take a moment to reflect silently on what we have just read and heard in Scripture.
Bless Society Through Your Work
From the Theology of Work Bible Commentary on Jeremiah
In Jeremiah chapter 29, the prophet explains God’s intention for his people’s work. The people Israel should work not only to benefit themselves, but to bless and serve the communities around them.
This theme was already present in earlier chapters of Jeremiah, as in God’s command not to oppress the aliens living within Judah’s borders. Indeed, working for the good of the wider society is part of the Covenant to which God continues to call his people: “Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him” (Genesis 18:18).
False prophets had told the Jews in exile that God’s favor rested only on Israel, to the exclusion of its neighbors. They promised that Babylon would fall, Jerusalem would be saved, and the people would soon return home. Jeremiah attempted to counteract that false proclamation with God’s truth: the people would be in exile in Babylon for seventy years. Babylon would be this generation’s only home.
Given this reality, God called the people to work diligently. The Jews were meant to flourish in Babylon, even though this was their place of punishment and repentance. Moreover, the Jews’ success in Babylon was tied to their captors’ success. “Pray to the Lord on [the city’s] behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). This call to civic responsibility twenty-six hundred years ago is just as valid today. We are called to work towards the prosperity of our entire community, not merely towards our own limited interests. Like the Jews of Jeremiah’s day, we are far from perfect. We may even be suffering for our own faithlessness and corruption. Nevertheless, we are called and equipped to be a blessing to the communities in which we live and work.
God’s provision is so great that even when his people’s homes are destroyed, lands confiscated, and rights violated, they still have enough to prosper themselves and bless others. But only if they depend on God. According to Jeremiah 29, the people must not only work faithfully, but pray faithfully for the community around them.
The feeling of exile is familiar to many working Christians. We are used to finding God in church, among his followers. But in the workplace, working alongside both believers and nonbelievers, we may not expect to find God’s presence. But God is present nonetheless, always looking to reveal himself to all those who will recognize him there.
God’s purpose for work in Jeremiah 29 immediately calls into doubt any modern scheme designed for the special benefit of Christians. Any trade organization, hiring practice, tax or regulatory advantage designed to benefit only Christians is not blessing the wider world. Similarly, business leaders must put their constituents first in order to succeed themselves. Product development, marketing, sales and customer support are only truly effective when the customer comes first. The order of blessing in Jeremiah 29 starts with God’s people’s faithful work, flows to those who are not God’s people, and only in the end extends to God’s people themselves. This is perhaps the most profound economic principle in Jeremiah, that working for the good of others is the only reliable way to work for your own good. It is only in blessing others that we can experience God’s blessing ourselves.