The Seventy-Year Exile
Open Your Bible
Jeremiah 25:1-38, 2 Kings 17:13-14, 1 Peter 4:17-19
BY Guest Writer
For twenty-three years, Jeremiah pleaded for his people to pay attention. I wonder if he felt helpless as he watched his neighbors in Judah build their Asherah poles and bow to the stars and Baal. Perhaps he felt a knot in his stomach whenever he saw the shimmering idols, or laid awake at night weeping for the children sacrificed to bloodthirsty false gods (Jeremiah 7:31; 2 Kings 17:7–17).
It’s the same helplessness we feel when a loved one makes one destructive choice after another, or when we see the church we love caught up in shame and scandal. An all too human helplessness, knowing that no matter how much we plead, cry, warn, or rage, we can’t force anyone to change.
Now take that feeling, that longing, and set it next to the deep well of sorrow and anger in Jeremiah’s words. See it as only a pale reflection of the depths of God’s broken heart. This hard passage forces us to wrestle with questions of suffering and judgment and anger. God is tired of watching this chosen nation waste their inheritance and love on empty idols. Instead of following the humble way—seeing their land as a gift and honoring the Giver with their lives—they start to imitate their powerful neighbors. With a king and some land and a little bit of power, they seem to forget their utter dependence on the Creator, and when prophets come along to warn them of danger, they shrug it off and keep living comfortably. Jeremiah laments, “You have not obeyed or even paid attention. He announced, ‘Turn, each of you, from your evil way of life and from your evil deeds. Live in the land the LORD gave to you and your ancestors long ago and forever’” (Jeremiah 25:4–5). In the end, they brought disaster on themselves (v.7).
What do we do with the tension between this explosive message and God’s unrelenting mercy? Because for all these words about wrath and judgment, we know this broken path will someday lead to Jesus, God in vulnerable human form. We know further in the future, Jesus’s friend Peter will write once again about suffering, reminding a new generation that judgment and cleansing sometimes have to “begin with God’s household” (1 Peter 4:17). And we know that it is even so today, when secret sin is exposed, when leaders are brought low, when we find ourselves confronting the violent legacy of generations before us.
It’s sobering, but this suffering isn’t meant to bring shame. In this season of Lent, maybe it’s helpful to remember that repentance begins in the smallest of ways, perhaps with these two simple words: pay attention. Pay attention to your life, to the little choices. Do they nudge you toward life or death? Do they keep you humbly looking more like Jesus, or do they help you climb higher in the systems of the world? Repentance means, quite literally, turning around when you see yourself on the road to destruction. May we all join the weeping prophet in calling each other to a better way, and “entrust ourselves to a faithful Creator while doing what is good” (1 Peter 4:19).
Jen Rose Yokel is a poet, writer, a spiritual director in training, and a contributing writer at The Rabbit Room. Originally from Central Florida, she now makes her home in Fall River, Massachusetts, with her husband Chris. Some of her favorite things include used bookstores and good coffee. You can find more of her writing at jenroseyokel.com or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @jen_rose.