by Josh Hughes
“Lord, I know you can save my children, but even if in your wisdom you don’t, I know that you are good and I will worship you as long as I live.”
It was first Monday prayer, and a sister was pleading with God for the souls of her adult children, who were struggling to locate themselves in their journey through the faith she and her husband had taught them. It was a prayer of sorrow – tears streamed down her face as she faced her pain in petition. But it was also a prayer of hope – hope in something that transcends her current, very real faith struggle.
Christian hope is fundamentally forward-facing. It is stubbornly certain of God’s promises and their ultimate fulfillment, regardless of present circumstances. To be a Christian is to hope for better days, days that we may not see in this life.
Israel in exile presents a clear portrait of this reality. It was to them that God gave the treasured promise of Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” And yet, this promise is positioned squarely in the future by the preceding verse.
“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 (Jerusalem).”
Take a moment to feel the weight of the original recipients. Put yourself in the shoes (or sandals, if you will) of the faithful Israelite in exile. You love your God. Your entire life is wrapped up in your community, where you serve and live among others who love Him. You are ripped from this life and taken far from your home by people who hate your God and your ways. Many, if not all, of your loved ones are lost along the way. You have no home and no freedom. Your beloved city is no more. The temple, the center of worship, the representation of God’s presence, has been utterly destroyed. Every earthly comfort is lost. Hope seems lost as well.
Into the midst of this nightmare, as you cry out for some comfort, some reason to hope, a prophecy comes. God has remembered His people, and He promises that they will return to their promised land. But there’s a catch: it won’t happen for 70 years. The implications of this sink in. You will not be alive to see it. The earthly fulfillment of this promise will be realized by a generation to come, not by you. You will never return to your earthly home. You will die in Babylon. Though you know you have an eternal home to which you will someday journey, where these promises will be fulfilled for you, the sting of these truths is bitter indeed.
We’re beginning our new series, Daniel: Hope in Exile, this Sunday at both congregations. Daniel was a contemporary of Jeremiah’s, and in many ways his story is a parable of Jeremiah’s revelation from God in Jeremiah 29. Daniel is a young man in his teens when God’s people are carried off. Ripped from his people, likely made a eunuch, made to serve as a courtier to an egomaniacal, dictatorial king. Without an earthly future, without an earthly hope.