Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future
Our Verse of the Day is very familiar to most of us. It is often memorized and quoted as an encouragement to people who have lost direction for their life … who have suffered hardship or challenges in life … who have started wondering if God even really has a purpose for them or if there is any hope for change in their circumstances. When someone is going through tough times like these, I can see how this message of hope for the future would resonate and cause us to personalize it.
But this verse, more often than not, is taken out of its context for a remnant nation ordained to emerge from the hardships brought about through divine judgment. I think it has been misapplied to afford a sense of hope, comfort, and assurance in our personal relationship with God rather than being looked at in its immediate context. And while I want to feel that God has great plans and a purpose for my life (and He does), this is not necessarily the correct verse to quote or convey it. So, I would like us to look at the whole context surrounding the verse to see the thought I am trying to develop here:
1 This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 (This was after King Jehoiachin and the queen mother, the court officials and the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the skilled workers and the artisans had gone into exile from Jerusalem.) 3 He entrusted the letter to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. It said:
4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 8 Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.
10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place (Jerusalem). 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
15 You may say, “The Lord has raised up prophets for us in Babylon,” 16 but this is what the Lord says about the king who sits on David’s throne and all the people who remain in this city, your fellow citizens who did not go with you into exile— 17 yes, this is what the Lord Almighty says: “I will send the sword, famine and plague against them and I will make them like figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten. 18 I will pursue them with the sword, famine and plague and will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth, a curse and an object of horror, of scorn and reproach, among all the nations where I drive them. 19 For they have not listened to my words,” declares the Lord, “words that I sent to them again and again by my servants the prophets. And you exiles have not listened either,” declares the Lord.
Now that we have context, I believe it is apparent that Jeremiah was speaking to the exiles sent to Babylon for the judgment of Israel and Judah … to those who would be held captive there for 70 years. It is quite important to note that this was ordained by God due to their disobedience and unfaithfulness to Him; but His promise is for redemption and restoration. And I believe it should be understood that the message was intended to let those who persevered in faith would see a better future than their current situation. In other words, the prophetic word spoken to this remnant people was intended to convey that God would rebuild and restore after their time of exile. And so, I think there is a prophetic parallel to the generation in which we live. Though we are entering a time of judgment for the sin of this nation, perhaps for the sin of the world, there is a hope and a future for believers as well. His name is Jesus … the merciful Savior … our rock and our refuge. He is our salvation … our living hope and future.
My purpose this morning is not to dissuade you from declaring Jeremiah 29:11 over your own life. I simply want us to remember the broader context of the verse and its meaning in the broader context of the community of believers … the Church. Regardless of what happens in our lives, the Father has a plan for His children … external life in Him through His Son, our Lord Jesus. Go back and look at the promises God made in Verses 12-14. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” Those are His plans for everyone who desires to be faithful to God and to leave the captivity of sin! And we leave it through repentance and placing our faith in Jesus. The declaration of Jeremiah 29:11 truly applies to all who come to Jesus and believe in Him for full restoration….
I think Paul has best expressed the thoughts that I have endeavored to convey:
Romans 8:28-39 (NIV)
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. 29 For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified.31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” (Citing Psalm 44:22) 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.