Explore The Bible Study: New Normal (ETB Title: Present)

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According to dictionary.com, “new normal” is used to describe a current situation, social custom, etc., that is different from what has been experienced or done before but is expected to become usual or typical. Chapter 29 of the book of Jeremiah includes a letter from the prophet to the Judean exiles, now numbering over 10,000 already living in Babylon. Those living in captivity were facing a “new normal”—living in captivity in a foreign and pagan land. The Explore the Bible Study: New Normal is an adjusted title from the original study provided by Lifeway entitled "Present." It focuses on the "new normal" that the Judean exiles were facing in Babylon.

They would be in exile for 70 years so God instructs Jeremiah to encourage the people to adjust to their new normal and gives instructions regarding how they can honor Him. These are the events taking place in Judah during this season of Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry that led to the writing of the letter to those in captivity:

King Jehoiakim (609 BC)

  • When Judah’s evil king Jehoiakim began his reign, the Lord instructed Jeremiah to proclaim judgment—chapter 26. Jehoiakim was one of the last kings of Judah before the Babylonian Captivity and 2 Kings 23:37 tells us that Jehoiakim also did evil in the Lord’s sight, so God sent the Babylonian army to capture and enslave them. 
  • Jehoiakim was taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar, who put him in chains and carted him off to Babylon (2 Kings 24:1; 2 Chronicles 36:6). It was at this time that Daniel and his three friends were also taken to Babylon (Daniel 1:1–2). 
  • Jehoiakim was later returned to Jerusalem, although he had to act as Nebuchadnezzar’s servant for three years and pay tribute to him. Jehoiakim reigned eleven years (2 Kings 23:36; 2 Chronicles 36:5). 
  • In the eleventh year of Jehoiakim’s reign, he stopped paying tribute to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar responded by besieging Jerusalem. According to Josephus, Jehoiakim was killed during the siege, and his body was thrown over the city wall.

King Jehoiachin (Also known as King Jeconiah, 597 BC)

  • Jehoiachin was the son of Jehoiakim and succeeded him as the new king in Judah. He only reigned three months and ten days (2 Chronicles 36:9) before he, too, was taken to Babylon.
  • This is the second deportation of Jews from Jerusalem in which Nebuchadnezzar took ten thousand others into exile, leaving only the poorest behind, and he raided the temple (2 Kings 24:13–14; 2 Chronicles 36:10). 
  • The exiles included “King Jehoiachin, the queen mother, the court officials, the officials of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metalsmiths [from] Jerusalem.” (Jeremiah 29:2)
  • Jeremiah’s letter probably arrived shortly after the exiles did, though many would not want to receive the words he wrote.

Sources: ETB Leader Commentary and GotQuestions – Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin

As we examine Jeremiah’s instructions regarding how they were to live in the context of their “new normal,” imagine he is speaking to us as well. Consider how we should live as believers in a culture where “new normals” exist. Consider how we can live our faith in the context of the “new normals” we face.

Live Fruitful and Productive Lives – Jeremiah 29:4-7

Notice Jeremiah’s opening remarks. He reminds the reader this isn’t a letter from him personally but a letter containing the instructions given to him from the “Lord of Armies, the God of Israel.” Not only does God remind the exiles that He is sovereign but that He is also in control of human events. While it was Babylon that conquered Judah and deported its population, Nebuchadnezzar merely served as God’s instrument of judgment. But, while they were living in these conditions, God had instructions for them that could strengthen their faith, their witness, and prepare them for a time when they would return from exile.

How would you live if you thought your “new normal” was only temporary? How would you live if you knew your “new normal” was going to be for a long period of time?

Notice how the Lord’s instructions regarding living fruitful and productive lives were paired together and indicated that their “new normal” wasn’t temporary. The exiles were to:

  1. “Build houses and live in them” – Live denotes a longer stay.  They were not renting houses until the circumstances changed. They were building houses and planning on living in them, indicating a long period of time.
  2. “Plant gardens and eat their produce” – Planting and eating also indicate a long period of time, especially if the things planted included orchards or groves of fruit trees.
  3. “Find wives . . . and have sons and daughters” – Again, God is communicating that this new normal was going to last a long time. They were to marry and have children, which communicates a long period of time.
  4. “Multiply there; do not decrease.” – The ETB Leader Commentary describes this command in this way: “In times of impending disaster, people might consider not marrying or having children, lest they experience more sorrow or suffering in captivity. Consequently, God’s message really carried a glimmer of hope. . . Jeremiah said to settle in and enjoy their grandchildren.”
  5. “Pursue the well-being of the city . . . Pray to the Lord on its behalf.” – The exiles weren’t to become isolated or self-centered as they lived out their faith in exile. They were to be witnesses to the culture in which they lived by pursuing the well-being of the city and praying for the city. The Judeans’ welfare was now bound up with Babylon’s welfare, so praying for their enemies would serve them well.

Which of these commands would you find difficult to obey had you been a Babylonian exile? Which of these commands would be difficult to obey today? How would following these commands be a demonstration of faith in God?

Next, the Lord warns the people to not embrace quick fixes from false teachers. 

Ignore quick fixes from false teachers – Jeremiah 29:8-9

The wording Jeremiah uses indicates that the people were already hearing and being led astray by the false teachers including false prophets and diviners. 

These false teachers probably proclaimed they had a “fresh word from the Lord.” They created false teachings based on individuals’ dreams by stating that the dreams were messages from God, even when they contradicted messages from His true prophets. During this “new normal” it’s apparent that the people were grasping at anything that could to give them hope, yet Jeremiah assured them such words had no foundation in reality or in God’s truth.

In what ways might “new normals,” the circumstances we face personally or in our nation, cause us to pursue false teachings? What are some examples of teachings that try to provide quick fixes to our “new normals”? How can we know when something is false?

Today many dynamic teachers claim to speak for God, but we must always examine their messages against the truth of God’s Word. Additionally, if someone says something that sounds good, makes sense, or seems to provide a quick solution to a problem, we must filter what is being said through the truth in God’s Word. Even if it sounds like a quick fix to a difficult situation, it isn’t always biblically sound.

God didn’t leave the exiles hanging regarding the length of their “new normal.” He did promise deliverance in the future and even gave them a timeline. As believers, we know that any “new normal” is still temporary.

We have hope in spite of difficult “new normals.” – Jeremiah 29:10-14

The Lord affirmed that after seven decades in Babylon, a blessing would come. They had hope that restoration would take place because of God’s promises and their special relationship with Him.

Read verses 11-14 and consider how this picture of restoration could give you hope as you strive to adjust to the “new normals” you are experiencing in life. Which promise in this passage gives you the greatest hope?

God’s directing hand would lead His people home, just as He had led them to Babylon. God always has a plan for restoring His wayward people. His plan for the exiled people of God should give us hope as we face the perils of this life today. Whether it’s because of our own sin, or the collective sin of society, or just because we live in a broken world that is continually in turmoil, we have hope in Christ that, one day, we will be rescued. However, as we wait, we must learn to live faithfully for Christ in the “new normals” we face.

Responding to the "New Normal" with faithfulness

As we close, consider those who did live faithfully in their “new normal” as a Jewish exile in Babylon. Daniel along with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were some of many who were chosen from the exiled to be trained in the ways of the Babylonians. Following three years of training they were put into the king’s service (See Daniel 1:1-6). Despite this “new normal” they remained faithful to God and their faithfulness became a witness to an entire nation.

GotQuestions.org describes Daniels faithfulness in this way:

“he exercised great integrity and, in doing so, received the respect and affection of the powerful rulers he served. However, his honesty and loyalty to his masters never led him to compromise his faith in the one true God. Rather than allowing it to be an obstacle to his success, Daniel’s continual devotion to God brought him the admiration of the unbelievers in his circle. When delivering his interpretations, he was quick to give God the credit for his ability to do so (See Daniel 2:28). 

Daniel’s integrity as a man of God gained him favor with the secular world, yet he refused to compromise his faith in God. Even under the intimidation of kings and rulers, Daniel remained steadfast in his commitment to God. . . As a result of his devotion, Daniel found favor with man and with God (Daniel 9:20-23).”

Source: https://www.gotquestions.org/life-Daniel.html

Based on this passage, what are some ways we can encourage one another to live faithfully despite the difficult “new normals” we might face individually or as a culture? 

The downloadable teaching helps provide more details for this study, along with some tools you can use in guiding a group Bible study. 

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LifeWay Explore The Bible Resources

These teaching helps are intended to be used as a supplement to your study of Lifeway's Explore the Bible curriculum resources. Portions of this material are taken directly from content copyrighted to Lifeway Christian Resources Explore the Bible and is used with permission.  This material has not been reviewed by Lifeway Christian Resources. 

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