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Daily Devotional • March 31

Hannah Howland
In Exile
A Reading from Jeremiah 29:1, 4-13

1 These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.

4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 8 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to your dreams that you dream,9 for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord.
10 For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.

Jeremiah 29:11 has got a bad rap. It is the fodder for many jokes about Hobby Lobby plaques and Instagram bios. A promise taken from its context and applied willy nilly has lost the prophetic punch it once had. 

In Jeremiah 29, the prophet speaks to a people far from home and he tells them: It’s gonna be awhile, so get comfy. Plant and build and make peace, for your exile is not a short trip; in fact it will be 70 years before they return. And in the midst of this harsh news, they hear that God has plans for them — plans, which despite the murmuring of their hearts to the contrary, are for their welfare and not their harm. God has plans that entail a future and hope for these people far from home. 

Most likely few of us, who boast a Hobby Lobby rendering of this verse, are in forced exile for our disobedience. But who amongst us does not know the exilic landscape of our own bad choices? We are those who have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed. We are, most of us, people who are currently or will reap the harvest of our failures, the things done and left undone. And yet here, right here we hear the precious promise that God’s plan extends beyond the reach of our disobedience. 

In the exiled place we are assured of the Lord’s good plans for us. So, keep cross-stitching this on your pillows. The promise remains. Isn’t that the point? 

Hannah Howland lives in Durham, North Carolina, with her husband, Curtis. She is in her final semester at Duke Divinity School and worships at All Saints Anglican Church.

Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, West Palm Beach, Florida
The Diocese of East Ruwenzori – The Church of the Province of Uganda
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