Session 5: Restoration

Scripture:   Jeremiah 31:2-6

Open with prayer.

Lesson:

Jeremiah, as depicted by Michelangelo from the Sistine Chapel ceiling

Jeremiah, as depicted by Michelangelo from the Sistine Chapel ceiling

Our tour through the scriptures of the Babylonian Exile would not be complete without a word from the prophet Jeremiah.  Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah are the three most important voices of exile – and restoration – for the people of God.

Jeremiah’s public ministry began in 627 BCE and continued until several years after the fall of Jerusalem in 587.  Jeremiah himself never went to Babylonia.  In about 595, in the midst of continuing political turmoil, the Babylonians appointed Gedaliah to be the governor of Judah.  Gedaliah was a member of an important Judean family.  He and Jeremiah encouraged the people to stay put and accept Babylonian rule.  Not everyone did.  Some of the Judeans engaged in terrorist attacks on the Babylonians and their supporters in Judah, and Gedaliah was assassinated.  At his death, some of the leading citizens of Judah fled to Egypt, and they took Jeremiah with them.  Jeremiah did not want to go.  He was taken to Egypt against his will.  He wanted to stay in the land, and he saw the flight to Egypt as the people abandoning their allegiance to God.

We tend to think of Jeremiah as a stern sort of man.  The stereotype of Jeremiah is “the weeping prophet,” a preacher of despair and distress.  But the Book of Consolation – chapters 30 and 31 of Jeremiah – is one of the Bible’s most beautiful messages of God’s love and generosity.

About sixty years after the first exiles were taken to Babylonia, another war brought their long suffering to an end.  In about 539 BCE, the Babylonian Empire was defeated by the Persians.  Cyrus, the Persian king, allowed the Jews to return home and rebuild the temple – in fact, he didn’t just allow it, he encouraged it, including with some financial support for temple construction.

As you well know, permission to go home is just the beginning.  The Jews faced extraordinary challenges.  Their land was in dire straits, the Temple was in ruins.  Those who had stayed behind resented the returnees, and the returnees were demoralized by the formidable tasks before them.  It is not an easy thing to start over again from scratch, to rebuild everything that matters in your life.  How do we move beyond Exile, go back home, and begin again? We turn to Jeremiah for a word of encouragement in this period of restoration.

Restoration will not mean that everything is exactly as it was before the Exile.  In fact, we already know that it won’t be.  There will be tension and ambiguity.  Things have changed

at home while we were gone, and we have changed, too.  What Jeremiah offers us is a way to revision and reposition our lives so that we can be fully restored in the land.

Jeremiah is deeply rooted in the memory of Moses.  You remember Moses: he’s the guy who received the Ten Commandments, with whom God established the covenant: you will be my people and I will be your God.  Later on in the Book of Jeremiah, after the part we’re going to read together, God restores the covenant with God’s chosen people, only this time the covenant is written on their hearts, not just on the two tablets.  With the new covenant, they are resettled in the Promised Land and restored to a healthy, productive, safe life in community with one another and with God.  Listen to the verbs in this text: building, planting, dancing, enjoying.  It will not be simple to integrate those who are returning from Exile, but God will do a new thing among them.

Jeremiah 31:2-6:

2Thus says the Lord: The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, 3the Lord appeared to him from far away.  I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.  4Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel!  Again you shall take your tambourines, and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.  5Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit.  6For there shall be a day when sentinels will call in the hill country of Ephraim: “Come, let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.”

I read that passage from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).  Do any of you have a translation of the Bible with substantially different language?  If so, could you read that for us?  Do the differences in language matter to our understanding of that passage?

Discussion Questions:

  1. For Jeremiah, what will restoration look like?
  2. Has your experience of restoration looked like the one that Jeremiah describes?
  3. In what ways has restoration been daunting for you?  In what ways has it been joyous?
  4. Are there certain things that still need to happen for you to feel that you have been restored in your land?

Close with prayer, lifting up the concerns that participants expressed.

Next session: Homecoming

Other Sessions

Session 1: Introduction
Session 2: Suffering
Session 3: Grief
Session 4: Hope
Session 5: Restoration
Session 6: Homecoming