This month we begin a new year and a new quarter of Sunday School lessons. We may sometimes forget that our Sunday School lessons are connected; then they seem to be random, sporadic, and disjointed. In fact the Uniform Lesson Series is developed on a five-year plan, generally divided into quarterly topics and monthly themes. The topic this quarter is Hope and is divided into three Units: “The Days Are Surely Coming,” “Dark Nights of the Soul,” and “Visions of Grandeur.” All our studies this quarter are in the Old Testament. The four lessons this month are in Jeremiah 30, 31, 32, and 33. The setting is 587 B.C., just prior to the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar.
Jeremiah was called by God and sent as a prophet to the last kings and people of Judah prior to the exile. It was a time of great turmoil. In 609 B.C. Jehoiakim, son of King Josiah, was elevated to the throne as a puppet king by Pharaoh Neco. In 605 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon defeated Assyria and Egypt at the battle of Carchemish, and Jehoiakim remained on the throne as a vassal of Babylon. Instead of paying large tributes to Egypt, Judah now paid them to Babylon; and, of course, Jehoiakim had to tax the people heavily in order to make the payments. In 598 Jehoiakim rebelled, was captured by the Babylonians, but died before he could be punished. He was succeeded by his son, Jehoiachin, who reigned for only three months. He, too, was rebellious. Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem, Jehoiachin surrendered and was carried away to Babylon, along with his mother, government officials, and many treasured objects from the temple. His uncle, Zedekiah (another son of King Josiah), was set on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar as vassal king and reigned for eleven years.
The people were straining under heavy taxes to be sent to Babylon. Zedekiah was caught between listening to the word of the Lord as delivered by Jeremiah and the advice of his cabinet officials. Eventually, Zedekiah stopped sending the payments to Nebuchadnezzar, and Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonian army. Jeremiah advised the king, the generals, and the people to surrender and go to Babylon as prisoners; he said that was God’s punishment for their disobedience. But there were other prophets who claimed that God would not allow His holy city to be destroyed by infidels and that the earlier captives would be freed within two years.
It was from this tense situation that our lessons come this month. Jeremiah had promised destruction for the city and captivity for the people; now he offers hope. After Babylon has wielded power for seventy years, God would bring the captives home. Jeremiah even sent letters to the earlier captives advising them to build houses, rear families, and worship God in Babylon; when the time is right, God will bring them home. It is this hope that sustained them through difficult times.
The topics for our four lessons from Jeremiah are “A Vision of the Future” (chapter 30), “Restoration” (chapter 31), “A New Future” (chapter 32), and “Improbable Possibilities” (chapter 33). The theme for this unit of study comes from a phrase that is repeated several times in these chapters: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord” (30:3; 31:27, 31, 38; 33:14).
Our world and our nation at times seem hopeless. But our hope is not in the President, or Congress, or the military, or other world leaders; our hope is in the Lord. Let that hope shine brightly in the darkness of this world, because God still reigns.