Click on the link immediately below these instructions for the recommended (and more visually-pleasing) reading experience of today’s daily devotional and group encounter. (If, however, your reading preference is simple text and content, skip below.)
Read: 2 Chronicles 36:11-21; Jeremiah 29:1-14
2 Chronicles 36:11-21–Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eleven years. 12 But Zedekiah did what was evil in the sight of the Lord his God, and he refused to humble himself when the prophet Jeremiah spoke to him directly from the Lord. 13 He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, even though he had taken an oath of loyalty in God’s name. Zedekiah was a hard and stubborn man, refusing to turn to the Lord, the God of Israel. 14 Likewise, all the leaders of the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful. They followed all the pagan practices of the surrounding nations, desecrating the Temple of the Lord that had been consecrated in Jerusalem. 15 The Lord, the God of their ancestors, repeatedly sent his prophets to warn them, for he had compassion on his people and his Temple. 16 But the people mocked these messengers of God and despised their words. They scoffed at the prophets until the Lord’s anger could no longer be restrained and nothing could be done.17 So the Lord brought the king of Babylon against them. The Babylonians killed Judah’s young men, even chasing after them into the Temple. They had no pity on the people, killing both young men and young women, the old and the infirm. God handed all of them over to Nebuchadnezzar. 18 The king took home to Babylon all the articles, large and small, used in the Temple of God, and the treasures from both the Lord’s Temple and from the palace of the king and his officials. 19 Then his army burned the Temple of God, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, burned all the palaces, and completely destroyed everything of value. 20 The few who survived were taken as exiles to Babylon, and they became servants to the king and his sons until the kingdom of Persia came to power. 21 So the message of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah was fulfilled. The land finally enjoyed its Sabbath rest, lying desolate until the seventy years were fulfilled, just as the prophet had said.
Jeremiah 29:1-14–Jeremiah wrote a letter from Jerusalem to the elders, priests, prophets, and all the people who had been exiled to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. 2 This was after King Jehoiachin,[a] the queen mother, the court officials, the other officials of Judah, and all the craftsmen and artisans had been deported from Jerusalem. 3 He sent the letter with Elasah son of Shaphan and Gemariah son of Hilkiah when they went to Babylon as King Zedekiah’s ambassadors to Nebuchadnezzar. This is what Jeremiah’s letter said: 4 This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: 5 “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. 6 Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! 7 And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” 8 This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let your prophets and fortune-tellers who are with you in the land of Babylon trick you. Do not listen to their dreams, 9 because they are telling you lies in my name. I have not sent them,” says the Lord. 10 This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 In those days when you pray, I will listen. 13 If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. 14 I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”
Things to Consider
Growing up, like most people, I made my fair share of dumb choices and
got myself into trouble. And after getting caught in that stupid youthful choice, the sure next thing coming was that foreboding threat we all hated hearing from our mom: “Just wait until your father gets home.” Dad’s gonna fix this behavior. Let your butt know.
You know, probably worse than getting spanked was the blood-draining- from-your-face anticipation of it. Having to wait for the inevitable punishment that each echoing click of the second hand on my pre-digital- world clock announced was on the way. But, strangely, while excruciating when my Dad delivered the mail, the spanking itself was a catharsis. A gateway I needed to get to and through. In a weird way, I desired it to arrive.
Let’s get this over so I can move on. Let’s get it over so I can stop regretting my actions and resenting my parents for calling me on it. Let’s get it over so I can feel right with my mom and dad again. Let’s get it over so we can get on with life.
I don’t know if that makes sense to you or not, but when we know a punishment’s coming, all of us have an excruciating desire to be on the
OTHER side of the countdown. When the fullest force of punishment has passed and the redness on our recently-spanked butts progressively turns back to its healthy color.
God’s dealing with us—both as individuals and as a People when we need it collectively—announces that He still believes in our future. If He believed we were a hopeless mess, why would He waste the energy on us? He wants us to leave old, destructive paths and move onto His road of fresh direction. And, it’s in this spirit that we read today’s stories from both 2 Chronicles and Jeremiah. Both of these readings describe the punishment that God’s People had coming: “Children, a necessary and cathartic discipline is headed towards you, but it’s not the end. It’s the painful gateway to invite you into and motivate you into another new beginning . . . if you’ll recognize it’s just My love that’s trying to make you right.”
Now, as 2 Chronicles 36 pointed out to us: this season of chastisement was not an easy pill to swallow. The People of God suffered big for their sins as People . . . sins and patterns that had been building up for generations. And it all came to a head in the generation of Zedekiah the king (36:11-12).
Even with God’s patient, limitless, and unconditional grace, He won’t allow grace to get to a point where it enables us to follow Him emptily or patterns of bad choices. He’ll confront us. And such was the case with Israel. So, God said, “Enough. You’re going to have to feel the pain that comes with disobedience to beg for another chance at obedience.” And, as soon as Yahweh made this determination, He pulled back whatever grace and spiritual power had previously held the violent world around Israel at bay. On would come Nebuchadnezzar, then, and his cruel Chaldean Empire. They murdered the weak and vulnerable Jews and stole the strong and the valuable. Then, lastly, they sacked Jerusalem . . . to leave it in dust, ruin, and lifelessness. For 70 years. Perhaps you picked up on the ironic statement made in 2 Chronicles 36:21: “The land FINALLY enjoyed its Sabbath rest, lying desolate until the seventy years were fulfilled, just as the prophet [Jeremiah] had said.” Because Israel had spent generations defying Yahweh’s Sabbath— both for themselves and the Land—God forced it upon everything and everyone through punishment. But, even in this defeat and desolation, God made them promises of hope in the midst of their long punishment through Babylon’s captivity if their spirit and direction would change:
“Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile . . . you will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you . . they are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:6-7, 10-11–NLT)