God’s concern for the people that were taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar was evident when he told Jeremiah to write them a letter to remind them of his plan to bring them back to the Promised Land after their 70 years of captivity was completed. Jeremiah began by instructing the people to settle down and make the best of their difficult situation. He said, “Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished” (Jeremiah 29:5-6).
A key aspect of God’s plan for the remnant of his people that went into captivity in Babylon was the restoration of their relationship with him. Many false prophets, including Hananiah the son of Azur, were telling the people they would be brought back to Jerusalem shortly (Jeremiah 28:3-4). The false hope that was being instilled in their hearts made the captives vulnerable to disappointment and discouragement in the face of great trials. In his letter, Jeremiah told them specifically when they could expect to go home. He wrote, “For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place” (Jeremiah 29:10).
The period of seventy years represented the average person’s lifespan. By establishing that number as the length of their captivity, God was essentially assuring that none of those who left Jerusalem would actually return, unless he granted them an extension of their life on earth. The hope of a return to the Promised Land was really meant for the next generation, but they would only make it back if those who were taken captive believed in the LORD and followed his instructions. In order to stir up their faith, Jeremiah wrote these familiar words:
For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the LORD; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive. (Jeremiah 29:11-14)
An expected end is one in which the outcome has already been decided. Each person in his own heart had to know and believe the truth of Jeremiah’s message or God’s plan could not be carried out. Therefore, to say that the outcome was already settled and God could guarantee a certain result, meant the people’s faith had to be based on God’s decision, not their own. Although Jeremiah’s letter to the people exiled to Babylon did not specifically use the word grace, his message implied it. The only way God could cause his people to return to Jerusalem was to “grace” them, make them want to return by way of his divine influence upon their hearts.