To Build and to Plant

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To Build and to Plant

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In searching for an answer, we begin with the prophet Jeremiah, to whom God had given a mysterious commission: "See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant" (Jeremiah 1:10, NRSV). Oddly enough, even though Judah was the only nation or kingdom in the Promised Land at this time, notice that Jeremiah was set over "nations" and "kingdoms"—plural.

Setting that fact aside for now, based on Jeremiah’s life after the prophecy was given it is easy to ascertain what God meant by plucking up, pulling down, destroying and overthrowing. This great prophet repeatedly warned the Jews to repent of their disobedience—but they scorned him. So God used him to pronounce judgment on the nation: the people and the kings of David’s line would be overthrown in the Babylonian conquest and uprooted—to Babylon. But did all of them go there?

The latter part of the prophet’s commission yet remained: "to build and to plant." But what did this involve? From Jeremiah 45:4 we can see that building and planting in this context originally entailed God’s planting His people in the land and building a kingdom of them there—now to be pulled up and destroyed. So the commission would seem to involve planting people in another place in order to establish a kingdom elsewhere. But did this have anything to do with the house of David?

Intriguingly, Jeremiah did prophesy regarding David’s dynasty, as we have already seen and will soon see more of. And a prophecy from Ezekiel will answer the question of who was to be planted—and where. Yet first note this amazing fact: Following the carrying away of Judah’s people, a remnant left in the land included the "king’s daughters" (Jeremiah 41:10)—who were evidently young girls since their father Zedekiah was only 32 when he died (compare 2 Chronicles 36:11).

But could the royal line continue through a daughter? According to Israel’s law of inheritance, the answer would certainly appear to be yes (compare Numbers 27:1-11)—though Nebuchadnezzar may not have realized this initially. (In fact, if kingship could not pass through a woman then it could not have passed through Mary to Jesus Christ.)

What, then, happened to the remnant? Against God’s commands (Jeremiah 42:1-19), they fled from the Babylonian invaders to Egypt to seek the protection of Pharaoh Hophra. The Encyclopedia Britannica explains: "Apries . . . Hebrew Hophra (d. 567 B.C.), fourth king (reigned 589-570 B.C.) of the 26th dynasty of Egypt; he succeeded his father Psamtik II. Apries failed to help his ally King Zedekiah of Judah against Babylon, but after the fall of Jerusalem he received many Jewish refugees into Egypt" ("Apries," Micropaedia, 1985, Vol. 1., p. 496).

According to the Bible, the Jewish remnant took with them "men, women, children, the king’s daughters and . . . Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch"—the last name referring to Jeremiah’s secretary or scribe (Jeremiah 43:6). The majority of these, according to God, would die by sword or famine (Jeremiah 42:15-16). But a few would escape and some would return (Jeremiah 44:12-14; Jeremiah 44:28). We know that Baruch and Jeremiah, who did not go to Egypt by choice, survived (Jeremiah 45:2-5). And, as we will see, so did at least one of the king’s daughters.