This is the number of the people Nebuchadnezzar carried into exile: in the seventh year, 3,023 Jews; in Nebuchadnezzar’s eighteenth year, 832 people from Jerusalem; in his twenty-third year, 745 Jews taken into exile by Nebuzaradan the commander of the imperial guard. There were 4,600 people in all. Jeremiah 52:28-30

Numbers of people are tricky in the Bible because sometimes they only counted adult males. In these verses, 4,600 were exiled. There was a previous exile (2 Kings 14 & 16) where 10,800 were taken.

When the three groups of exiles returned in 586 BC, 458 BC and 444 BC the numbers were: 50,000; 5,000 and 42,000—totalling 97,000. Even if the earlier figures were adult males and the later figures were everybody, it’s still a huge increase. God grows his people numerically even in exile.

It’s also a picture of what God does spiritually. Historically whenever the church is persecuted it grows. It’s in the pressure times we get serious about our faith. We’re faced with the difficult questions of suffering and hardship and we want answers. Our faith is meaningless if it doesn’t stand up to real-life issues.

Job never discovers the reason for his suffering, though we’re given a glimpse (Job 1 & 2). Job wrestles with a sense of betrayal and abandonment yet, ultimately, he discovers a deeper relationship with God and accepts his Sovereignty.

God’s view of suffering is different from ours. He knows suffering brings us to a deeper relationship with himself so it’s worth it. He knows all suffering is temporal and limited. This order of things with death, mourning, crying and pain will pass away (Revelation 21:4). In the meantime, we can trust him to strengthen us so we can grow during difficult times.