Returning Home: The Restoration of Exiles

It is easy in life when we fall down, to not get back up. Maybe we have fallen once or hundreds of times, but each time we fall, it costs us something. Maybe it’s the falling to an addiction in the recovery process. Maybe it’s the failing in a job, or a personal disappointment. The struggles we face in a marriage, or a broken relationship with a family member, and it’s easy to get discouraged. To accept defeat. To see the mountain ahead of us and to throw in the towel. To say to ourselves, to others, and to God, “I have tried to climb this mountain before. I have tried to change. But I just cannot.” I’m thankful though that God, in His ever present love towards us, knows the end of the story. He is bringing us back to the places where we have been pushed out of, and the victory He promised is coming.

Imagine you are the nation of Israel is 598 BCE, and you are invaded by Babylon. Your city is destroyed. Your temple is destroyed. Your officials are taken captive, and maybe you or your family are taken captive, or at best escaped, but dispersed into Egypt and the surrounding areas (http://otl.unitingchurch.org.au/index.php?page=jeremiah-31-27-34).

What would you be feeling?

Anger? Confusion? Sadness? Loneliness?

I would have so many questions for the Lord.

“God, I thought we were your chosen people, and now we’re gonna spend 70 years in exile and captivity? I don’t get it. I thought you were for us, and not against us.”

Imagine now for the next 70 years you are prisoners of Babylon, or that you have been dispersed, and you are living apart from your family, or loved ones. Living in a place that you have never known. With people you have never known. Displaced. Dispersed.

How would you be feeling?

I can imagine that it would have been extremely, extremely difficult. To go from life as normal, in a place that you have lived most of your life, to all of sudden being uprooted and living in a foreign land. I can imagine there was a lot of frustration and sadness. A lot of fear. But most importantly, I would feel as though God had forgotten me and my loved ones.

Just a few chapters earlier we have the famous Jeremiah 29:10-11 verses where Jeremiah says “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Now I cannot even imagine being in captivity or in dispersion for 70 years, but I do know that I’m forgetful. And impatient. And easily frustrated and angered. I’m sure for some period of time, the Israelites remembered the promise, even though it came on the end of a statement of suffering, but I’m sure they forgot. Or gave up. Or became indifferent to this promise. And eventually settled for the fact that this was their life now. Their life in captivity. Their life in dispersion. Their unordinary life became ordinary. Their shackles became the norm. Their loss of freedom became just another day.

Like many of us that is the case. I know that has been the case for me. We have become comfortable in our misery. It is not worth it in our minds to recover, to heal, to get the help we need. We live in defeat, because we truly do not trust God at His Word that their is victory for us out there, because either we have tried and tried and tried and failed over and over again, or because the victory has not come in our timing. So we concede to the mundane jobs, the normal schedules, the same sins, and we live comfortable lives that our ultimately full of misery.

That’s why Jeremiah 31 is so good. God is coming for His people just like He promised, and He will make all things right. Read with me.

“At that time, declares the Lord, I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, and they shall be my people. ”Thus says the Lord:
“The people who survived the sword
found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
the Lord appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
O virgin Israel!
Again you shall adorn yourself with tambourines
and shall go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
Again you shall plant vineyards
on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant
and shall enjoy the fruit.
For there shall be a day when watchmen will call
in the hill country of Ephraim:
‘Arise, and let us go up to Zion,
to the Lord our God.’”For thus says the Lord:
“Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,
and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;
proclaim, give praise, and say,
‘O Lord, save your people,
the remnant of Israel.’
Behold, I will bring them from the north country
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
the pregnant woman and she who is in labor, together;
a great company, they shall return here.
With weeping they shall come,
and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back,
I will make them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble,
for I am a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn.“Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
and declare it in the coastlands far away;
say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him,
and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.’
For the Lord has ransomed Jacob
and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.
They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,
and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord,
over the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and over the young of the flock and the herd;
their life shall be like a watered garden,
and they shall languish no more.
Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance,
and the young men and the old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy;
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance,
and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness,
declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:1-14).

I encourage to read to read the rest of the passage because there is so much more good stuff here. Also, there is not enough room to unpack all of what these verses say in this blog, but I do want to point out a few things.

I. “When Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away” (vs 2).

It was when Israel finally got to the place of being tired of being stuck where they were, that they recognized that it was God and God alone who could save them from their life of just surviving to a life of thriving. And the Lord heard their cry, and brought them out. True rest only comes when we seek it from the Lord. True rest only comes when we see God as our one and only option for true rest and peace. The people of Israel got to that place, and the Lord delivered them from their captivity. Are you tired of living in comfortable misery? Are you tired of going to the same well looking for water only to find that it is dry? Jesus says come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest. If you are tired of the norm that is life sucking and debilitating, look to Jesus, the author of true rest. In Him, you will find all that you need.

II. “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (vs. 3).

Even in the midst of captivity, God continued to love His people. He had not given up on them, nor forsaken them. The years of captivity and dispersion were meant to once again draw God’s people to Him. In our case, God continues to love us even in the midst of our own self made captivities. When we choose other things over Him, He loves us, even though His heart breaks for us choosing those things which are not Him. Yet, He is faithful, and will continue to be faithful to us. Will you recognize His faithfulness and continuous love towards you even in spite of your own failings and sins? He’s waiting for you to once again return to Him. He has never left.

III. Again (verses 4-5).

God keeps his promise to Israel. I will restore you He says. “Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O Virgin Israel! Again you shall adorn yourselves with tambourines and shall go forth in the dance of merrymakers. Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria.” I love this. God keeps His promises. Even though He promised 70 years of captivity in Babylon, He also promised restoration, good plans, prospering. Israel would return to their land. They would rebuild their city, temple, and their lives, and their joy, and their hope, and their love, would all return. Again says the Lord. I’m not finished with you yet. The Lord says the same to us. I have victory in your future. Victory that you can’t even imagine. Yes, it will be a lot of hard work, but as we see here, God is committed to the rebuilding process of our lives. Will we join Him in this? Will we not see the wreckage in our life as defeat, but an opportunity for God to rebuild us stronger. May we join Him in what He has promised to do in our lives if we will only submit.

IV. “Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, the pregnant woman and she who is in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here” (vs. 8).

Another example of God keeping his promises. He will go and gather Israel from all the places they have been scattered. From jail cells, to market places, to street corners, to hospitals, and not just the people that we think are worthy of being returned to restoration. The blind, the lame, the pregnant woman who is in labor. People who didn’t have much to offer in the rebuild and God says I’m coming for you. We’re going back home, and we’re going to rebuild. Wherever you are at today, however far away from home you have run, God is saying come home. Whatever you have done, whatever you have lost, whatever you feel like have to offer, God is saying to you and to me, come home. Come rebuild. Come experience victory. You’re never too far gone. You’ll never have done too much to come home to Him. And He is not done with you until you breathe your last. So come home.

V. “For the Lord has ransomed Jacob and has redeemed him from hands too strong for Him” (vs. 11).

Israel had no power in and of themselves to rescue or ransom themselves from captivity. The good news? God did. He made it clear to the nations, I’m coming for my people, and there is nothing you can do that can get in my way. Yes, the hands of the nation of the Babylonians were too strong for Israel, we see that in their capture and continued captivity. But Babylon was no match for God. He, like He promised, came and got His people. And He will do the same for us, if we would only ask. I get it. I know that what many of us face is too hard for us. That we don’t have the strength or energy or clarity to overcome what we are currently facing. Good news? God does. He is Omnipotent and nothing, nothing will stand in the way of what He has for us, not even ourselves. Recognize that your power comes from Him, and stay humble. Move forward with the recognition that in the coming days and weeks, things may be hard, but that God is well able to lead and guide you through to the promised land.

VI. “I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow” (vs. 13).

Not only does God restore the people of Israel to their homes, and to their lives, but he also restores their hearts, minds, and spirits. Their mourning would be turned to joy. Their loneliness and frustrations would be comforted. Their sorrow would be replaced with gladness. And He promises to do the same for us. To make us whole people who are filled with joy, freedom, peace. He promises to meet us in our hurts, disappointments, losses, and frustrations. He will be our comforter. He will lead and guide us not only physically to new places, but to new hearts, that are no longer captive to our feelings, our own desires, and instead, day by day, are being molded more into a heart that looks and acts like His.

VII. “My people will be satisfied by my goodness, declares the Lord” (vs. 14).

Of all the places that the Israelites had turned (idols, earthly leaders, sexual pleasures) all of these things had led them to destruction. The satisfaction that the people of Israel were looking for was found in the goodness of God, and so it is with us. We spend so much of our lives chasing after these things of this world, hoping that one day, it will get to a point where it will finally be enough. Enough sex, money, pleasure, entertainment, a good enough spouse, good enough kids, but God this whole time is saying to us, satisfaction is not found in all these earthly pleasures and treasures but in His very personhood and goodness. I pray that we would stop chasing after that which will not fulfill us, instead turning to the One who by His very nature is the One who can truly give us what we are truly seeking.

I know that was a lot, but I pray that you were encouraged today. I pray that you will know that God loves you with an everlasting, unfailing love, and that all He wants you to do is to come home. He’s waiting for you, and at the same time, pursuing your heart even as I write these words.

Blessings.

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