Prophet who condemned Judah's infidelity to God, warned of Babylonian conquest, and promised a new covenant sends a letter to exiles that addresses their concerns regarding life in captivity.
Jeremiah sends this letter to exiles in Babylon sometime following the deportation from Jerusalem in 597 B.C.E. Jeremiah addresses issues faced by the exiles. His word that their stay in Babylon would be lengthy was disputed by several false prophets who were fomenting unrest among them. Jeremiah’s basic response to the exiles is to settle in for the long haul, but they should know that God has not forgotten them.
The letter of Jeremiah consists of the following: the exiles are to build their homes in Babylon and to live peacefully there (29:5-7), ignore the false prophets who dream of an early restoration (29:8-9), be assured that God has their welfare in mind and that they will be returned to the land (29:10-14), and understand that judgment will fall on those who trust in the words of the false prophets (29:15-23). God’s plans for the exiles are laid out clearly: “plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (29:11). God is present and active among them for their good.
The opening section of the letter (29:5-7) has received the most attention. Given the length of the stay (some seventy years), the exiles should build houses, plant gardens, marry and have children, and even plan for marriages of their children. The assumption is that God will be present and active in their daily lives even in this foreign land and among people they could name as their enemies. Even more, the exiles are not only to be concerned about their own life, but the life of the people among whom they are living. Indeed, they are to promote the well-being of the Babylonians and even pray for them (see also Proverbs 25:21-22; A tax collector who became one of Jesus' 12 disciples 5:44)! The word commonly translated “welfare” (shalom) occurs three times (and in Jeremiah 29:11). God is concerned about the welfare of a “pagan” city, including individuals and the community as a whole. Such activities would affect their own lives in a positive way.
The exiles’ prayers on behalf of the Babylonians assume that God is present and active in the lives of those who do not acknowledge him as Lord. God’s work will be effective among them for good, even though they may not realize that Israel’s God is so involved. Such an understanding assumes an understanding of God as creator.