by Rabbi Jeffrey Adler
Jeremiah, as had so many of the prophets before him, warned the people of Judah that the judgments promised in case of idolatry and disobedience to Torah in passages such as Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 would come to pass if they did not soon repent and return to the Lord. He would rise “early and often” to urge response to his message. The earlier destruction and exile of the northern kingdom in the previous century stood as a stark reminder of the reality of the situation. Now, in the 29th chapter, Jerusalem had been conquered and large segments of Judah’s population, including King Jeconiah and much of his family and leadership had gone into exile in Babylon.
Some false prophets had arisen, claiming that God had spoken to them and that God would soon cool off and bring the Judeans home. God leads Jeremiah to write a letter to the exiles, telling them that these “prophets” were but sorcerers, whom Adonai had not sent; they were going to be in Babylon for the entire prescribed 70 years, allowing the land of Israel to have the 70 “shabbatot”, or, “Sabbaths”, which had, apparently, been neglected for about 5 centuries. They should make the best of Adonai’s discipline, seeking the “shalom”, or well-being of Babylon, building homes, businesses, and families. The remaining people in Jerusalem would also be judged, falling to the sword, pestilence, and exile, with the city being destroyed.
Adonai then tells Jeremiah that, at the end of the full 70 years, He would take note of the Babylonian exiles and bring them back home. Then, in verse 11, God makes one of the most stirring statements of hope and promise ever written: “Because I know the plans I have for you, plans for shalom and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
The verb “yada’” means intimate knowledge. Here, it occurs in the perfect tense, making it very decisive. Also, the subject is contained in the verb, so, no other subject is needed, but, God adds the pronoun “Anochi” to strengthen the sense that the speaker is He, Himself, not an ordinary speaker.
His plans are “machashavot” literally, designs. This gives a very personal touch, implying special attention. He further reinforces the point with the active participle of the same verb root, “choshev”- I know the designs I am designing for you…”.
The plan is to gift them a future- “acharit”- an afterward. What nation could expect an “afterward” after going through what these people had experienced? No nation so devastated had ever been able to go home again and build their country.
“And, a hope”- “tikvah”. The Biblical concept of “hope” is much stronger than our modern idea of a faint fantasy. It is one step shy of faith. “Faith” is where one can taste, see, smell, etcetera, but, hope is the steppingstone to faith. God would give the people of Judah an afterward and the sense of the ultimate fulfillment of all those things promised to the Patriarchs after all. And, because God keeps His Word, Israel came home and lives today, and, in spite of threats and dangers, the best is yet to come!
Rabbi Jeffrey Adler is president of the Board of HaShomer and also Rabbi of Sha’arey Yeshua in Indianapolis, IN.