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SIMPLIFIED JOURNEY (20): Hope in Exile


The prophets ministered to men of a later generation by speaking of the Messiah, his sufferings and the glory that would follow. The people of their own generation needed two things: warning and a promise of hope.

The Warning

Israel and Judah had both departed far from God. The prophets warned them of the danger of their way. Jeremiah asked,

How can you say, “We are wise, for we have the law of the LORD,” when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely? The wise will be put to shame; they will be dismayed and trapped. Since they have rejected the word of the Lord, what kind of wisdom do they have?

As a result, he continued:

Therefore I will give their wives to other men and their fields to new owners. From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. – Jeremiah 8:8-10

There were two sorts of prophets: there were the true prophets of God and there were false prophets. The false prophets fell into two categories: there were political prophets who may have spoken in the name of the LORD, but who actually said whatever the king and the people wanted to hear. Then there were other “prophets” who openly followed the gods of the nations around them. Both of these were false prophets; neither of them spoke the true words of God.

Again, the LORD spoke through Jeremiah:

I did not send these prophets, yet they have run with their message; I did not speak to them, yet they have prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed my words to my people and would have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds. – Jeremiah 23:21-22

This was just after he had said:

This is what the LORD Almighty says:

“Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. They keep saying to those who despise me, ‘The LORD says: You will have peace.’ And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts they say, ‘No harm will come to you.’ But which of them has stood in the council of the LORD to see or to hear His word? Who has listened and heard His word?

The people persisted in their sinful ways. They listened to the false prophets, because that is what they wanted to hear. As God had said through Amos,

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.” – Amos 8:11

Jeremiah courageously told the people what would happen because they would not turn back to the Lord. He told them Babylon would take them captive. He said,

I gave the same message to Zedekiah king of Judah. I said,

“Bow your neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon; serve him and his people, and you will live. Why will you and your people die by the sword, famine and plague with which the LORD has threatened any nation that will not serve the king of Babylon? Do not listen to the words of the prophets who say to you, ‘You will not serve the king of Babylon,’ for they are prophesying lies to you. ‘I have not sent them,’ declares the LORD. ‘They are prophesying lies in my name. Therefore, I will banish you and you will perish, both you and the prophets who prophesy to you.’ ” – Jeremiah 27:12-15

The warning was given, but not heeded. So the nation went into captivity for 70 years.

Hope Offered

Yet, in spite of all of the prophecies of doom, the prophets continued to hold out hope for the people of God. Yes, they had rejected Him. Yes, they were wicked and corrupt. Yes, they followed the false prophets and even worshiped idols. Yet, God remembered the promises He had given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that the nations would be blessed through their descendants.

God remembered David and his faithfulness. He remembered that He had promised David that there would always be a one of his descendants on the throne of Judah.

Ezekiel prophesied to the people in their Captivity. In their darkest days in Babylon, he said:

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones…. I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”

Then He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life….” – Ezekiel 37:1-5

The bones represented the people of Israel in Babylon. When Ezekiel prophesied to them, they came together bone to bone. “Tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them.” Then Ezekiel prophesied to the breath of the four winds – and the winds blew upon them the breath of life that they might live.

God explained:

Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.” Therefore prophesy and say to them:

“This is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it.” – Ezekiel 37:11-14

The LORD brought Israel back from captivity. But the return was not filled with glory. They were a mere remnant of those who had gone away. The temple they built caused the old men to cry because it was but a shadow of what Solomon had built.

Yet. Yet, there was a new dream within the hearts of those who returned. They looked forward to the time of Messiah’s coming to them. God promised that in that day,

My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd….

My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. Then the nations will know that I the LORD make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.” – Ezekiel 37:24, 26-27

God was not forgetting His people. Their story was not yet over. The greatest part of it was still to come. However, the voice of God would be silent for nearly 400 years, and there would be many changes in the people themselves as well as in the world in which they lived.

NEXT (21): Between the Testaments

PREVIOUS (19): Messianic Prophets

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