29 The prophet Jeremiah wrote a letter from Jerusalem to the elders, priests, prophets, and all the rest who had been taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. 2 (This was after King Jeconiah of Judah and his mother had been taken into exile, along with servants of the court, officials of Judah and Jerusalem, and many of the craftsmen and artisans.)[a] 3 The letter was hand-carried by Elasah (son of Shaphan) and Gemariah (son of Hilkiah), whom Zedekiah king of Judah dispatched to Babylon on a diplomatic mission to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.
Jeremiah’s Letter: 4 This is what the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies and God of Israel, says to those He exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses—make homes for your families because you are not coming back to Judah anytime soon. Plant gardens, and eat the food you grow there. 6 Marry and have children; find wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, so that they can have children. During these years of captivity, let your families grow and not die out. 7 Pursue the peace and welfare of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to Me, the Eternal, for Babylon because if it has peace, you will live in peace.”
8 This is what the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies and God of Israel, says to you: “Do not be fooled by the false prophets and fortune-tellers among you. Do not listen to dreamers or their interpretations of dreams, 9 for I did not send them to you. They are prophesying lies in My name!” So says the Eternal. 10 If you want the truth, this is what the Eternal has to say: “You will remain in Babylon for 70 years. When that time is over, I will come to you, and I will keep My promise of bringing you back home. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Eternal, “plans for peace, not evil, to give you a future and hope—never forget that. 12 At that time, you will call out for Me, and I will hear. You will pray, and I will listen. 13 You will look for Me intently, and you will find Me. 14 Yes, I will be found by you,” says the Eternal, “and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations where you’ve been scattered—all the places where I have driven you. I will bring you back to the land that is your rightful home.”
These are indeed difficult days for Judah. In 598 b.c. her king was deported to Babylon along with thousands of Jerusalem’s key citizens; their capture tore the nation apart. But God has not forgotten those in exile. It is during this period of separation that Jeremiah writes a letter to those who were taken to this foreign land.
For many reasons, relations between Judah’s new king, Zedekiah, and the ruler of Babylon are strained; so messengers are sent back and forth in an effort of diplomacy. It is through these men that the prophet of God is able to communicate with those held captive in Babylon. Jeremiah’s message to them is the same as to those remaining in Judah: do not revolt against Babylon, for this season of judgment will be longer than others are telling you. In the midst of the struggle, he calls those who are far from home to trust God and His timing. Unfortunately, such words are received no better by those in exile than by those who hear them in Judah.
15 Now you might say, “The Eternal has raised up prophets here in Babylon who tell us other things.” 16-17 This is what the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies, has to say about the king who currently sits on David’s throne and all those who remain in Jerusalem and were not taken into exile: “Watch, for I will send war, famine, and disease on them. I will make them like figs so rotten they cannot be eaten. 18 I will pursue them with war, famine, and disease. I will make them a horror to the watching world, an object of cursing and terror, of scorn and blame wherever I scatter them 19 because they have not listened to Me,” says the Eternal. “They ignored the warnings I sent to them again and again through My servants, the prophets. And you who are in exile are no better, for you have not listened either.” 20 Therefore, hear now the word of the Eternal, all you who have been exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon. 21 This is what the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies and God of Israel, says about your so-called prophets, Ahab (son of Kolaiah) and Zedekiah (son of Maaseiah), who are telling lies in My name: “Watch, for I will hand them over to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and he will execute them right in front of you. 22 Even their names will be used as a curse by those in exile from Judah when they say, ‘May the Eternal treat you like Zedekiah and Ahab who were burned alive by Babylon’s king.’ 23 These men have engaged in disgraceful acts among My people Israel. They have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives and told lies in My name, prophesying when I never gave them a message. I know this because I am a witness to all they have done,” so says the Eternal.
Jeremiah’s letter is not well received by those in exile. They choose instead to listen to the empty promises of false prophets. One such prophet, Shemaiah, becomes so angry with Jeremiah’s correspondence that he writes back to the priest Zephaniah in Jerusalem. In this letter, he complains of Jeremiah’s prediction of a long captivity and urges the priest to punish the prophet. Hopefully this embarrassment will silence him. While Zephaniah does not place Jeremiah in shackles, he does read Shemaiah’s letter aloud to Jeremiah (and no doubt to others) in Jerusalem.
24 Say this to Shemaiah the Nehelamite:
Jeremiah’s Letter: 25 This is what the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies and God of Israel, says about you: “I know that you sent letters on your own authority to the people in Jerusalem, to the priests, and specifically to the priest Zephaniah (son of Maaseiah). In that letter to Zephaniah, you said, 26 ‘The Eternal has appointed you as the priest in charge of the temple to replace Jehoiada. When a madman tries to speak like a prophet, you must take action by putting him in shackles and in the stocks.[b] 27 So why haven’t you put a stop to Jeremiah of Anathoth who poses among you as a prophet of God? 28 He sent a letter to those of us in Babylon predicting that our exile will be a long one. He actually said we should settle in this place—building homes and planting gardens of food that we can enjoy for many years.’”
29 When Zephaniah the priest received this letter, he read it to Jeremiah the prophet. 30 It was then that a message came to Jeremiah from the Eternal concerning all of this.
Eternal One: 31 Write back to all the exiles and tell them, “This is what the Eternal says about Shemaiah the Nehelamite: ‘Because Shemaiah has acted like a prophet when I did not send him, and because he has misled you with lies, 32 watch! I will now punish him and his descendants. None of his family will live here long enough to see the good I will do for My people in the coming years because his words stirred rebellion against Me,’ so says the Eternal.”