Uniform 09.07.2014: Rebuilding

Jeremiah 30:1-3, 18-22

When my great-great grandparents settled in Middle Tennessee, they found a farm in the small community of Mona and built a house for their family. Robert and Ella Barrett spent many happy years in that farmhouse with their fourteen children. I have memories of visiting this house as a child. I remember sitting on the deep wrap-around porch, recoiling at the smell of sulfur in the kitchen (and my mom explaining that, once you dug the well, you took what you got), and marveling at my elderly aunts’ stories about growing up with eleven brothers. It was a special place, the Barrett homestead.

In the mid-1990s, a tornado ripped through Mona, Tennessee, and the house that had sheltered the Barretts for generations was leveled. Fortunately, no one was hurt. But the house that meant so much to our family was gone. There would be no more meals at the dining room table built to fit the full sixteen members of the original clan. No more long conversations on that sprawling porch. No more family gatherings in that special place.

At least that’s what we all thought when we saw the flattened house. My grandmother’s brother, however, had a different idea. He spent the next few years transforming the unused farmland around the house into a golf course, and he built the stately clubhouse on the same spot where the original family house had been. He even had it painted the same deep green as the farmhouse. Not long after the golf course opened, the sprawling Barrett family gathered there to celebrate my grandparents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. The setting was a little different than we might have hoped for, but the company was perfect. Familiar laughter and footsteps filled the new space, and a different deep porch quickly became the preferred spot for long talks.

This experience gives me a framework for understanding Jeremiah’s words to the exiles in Babylon, though they have lost much more than one family home. The Judeans have lost a homeland. And, living in a foreign land, their entire way of life is threatened.

But God promises that this displacement and loss will not be the final chapter in their story. God has plans to “restore the[ir] fortunes” and “bring them back to the [promised] land” (v. 3). In fact, God says that they will be able to rebuild their houses and construct new official buildings in the exact spots they occupied before the Babylonian siege. Their city will be restored.

More than just offering the hope of new buildings on meaningful land, God promises that the people themselves will be restored. Like my family gathered for an anniversary celebration, God’s people will have reason to celebrate as a family again. Despite their struggles in Babylon, God never threatens their relationships with each other or with God. They remain God’s people, and God remains their God.

I can only imagine what this news must have sounded like to God’s people in Babylon. On the day I stood among the ruins of my family’s homestead, I never dreamed that anything good could happen there again. But it did. And good things eventually came for the exiles, too. The God who claims us and promises to restore us has plans to fulfill our hopes.

Discussion

1. What places or buildings have been especially meaningful to you? Why? Why do we become so attached to places?
2. Have you ever lost one of these meaningful places? What was that experience like?
3. What situations in your life help you empathize with God’s people in exile in Babylon? Why is it important for us to find ways to relate to the stories in the Bible and the stories of others?
4. How does God’s promise of restoration help us get through difficult times?
5. Why is it important for us to know that our relationships with others and with God will remain intact through painful experiences?

Reference Shelf

God continues the promises of restoration in vv. 18-22, with a shift to the third person (v. 22 returns to the second person direct address), with images focused on a restoration of all that is needed for a healthy community life. The restoration of Israel’s “fortunes” refers not simply to the recovery of everything that has been lost, but also issues in something genuinely new. This will be a new day, not just the old day revived. Verse 18 focuses on the reconstruction of homes (tents, dwellings) and cities with their citadels (these words are literal and yet also metonyms for the people of Israel). God’s compassion (see 31:20; 33:26), formerly withheld (13:14, 21:7 […]), will be evident in the provision of homes (tents and dwellings) and cities in which the returned exiles can dwell. God will not leave this people without a place they can call home.

God’s restoration of the fortunes of Israel’s dwelling _places means, in effect, that destroyed homes and cities- including Jerusalem-will be rebuilt (presumably by_ human agents!) on their traditional sites (see 29:14; 30:3; _33:7). When people reside in these rebuilt homes, then_ songs of thanksgiving (perhaps including temple worship, _see 33:11) and the joyful sounds of merrymakers, taken _away in the destruction of the city (7:34; 16:9; 25:10; cf._15:17), will be heard once again on the streets (see 31:13; _33:10; Isa 35:10; 51:11). Moreover, God will act so that _the people will be fruitful and multiply, as promised in _23:3 (cf. 29:6; a continuing fulfillment of the ancestral promises, cf. Gen 17:2; Exod 1:7; note that v. 22 has links_ to Gen 17:7-8). In addition, their shame, so much in evidence heretofore (see 9:19; 29:18), will be turned into honor (v. 19). This passage may be intended as “a reaffirmation of the covenant with Abraham”; the reference in v. 3 to the land given to the ancestors sets that context for the entire Book of Consolation.

God will restore Israel’s “children” (see 31:15) “as of old” (v. 20); this probably has reference to the reestablishment of both northern and southern kingdoms (see v. 3) as a single community or “congregation” (see 31:1). No oppressors shall abuse Israel anymore, for God will “visit” their oppression upon them (anticipating vv. 23-24, recalling vv. 8, 16). Their prince/ruler (“king” is not used here, but see v. 9) shall be an Israelite, one of their own (as specified in Deut 17:15), who will see to the good order of the community. By implication God’s promises mean that Israel will no more be in subjection to foreign rulers. The prince will even be able to approach God in an intimate way (on the piety of kings, see Deut 17:14-20). This passage may not have reference to approaching God in the sanctuary, normally a priestly prerogative (though see 33:11; the role of the prince in Ezek 46:2; 37:26-28), but more generally. The last clause in v. 21 is difficult, but may refer back to God’s bringing the prince near to God; if God did not take this action, who would risk their lives to make such an approach?

Resource

Terence E. Fretheim, Jeremiah, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2002) 415-16, 423-25.

Bonnie Chappell is the editor of the Uniform Series Bible Study. She is a graduate of Mercer University and Vanderbilt Divinity School. She is an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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