Don’t take Jeremiah 29:11 out of context
By Kelly Givens
“’‘Cause I know the plans I have for you‘, declares the Lord, ‘plans to make you prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’. – Jeremiah 29:11
My Old Testament teacher had this to say about the ever-popular Jeremiah 29:11“I’m going to destroy what this verse means to you, but then I’m going to reframe it so you understand it better in its original context, and you’ll love it even more when we’re done.” It definitely caught our attention!
We often approach Jeremiah 29:11 as a security blanket: God has a plan for me that is good, so clearly this suffering I am going through will soon end and then my fulfillment will begin! But that is not at all what God promised the Israelites, nor is it what he promises us.
Author and blogger Mary DeMuth addresses our misunderstanding of this verse in her article, Jeremiah 29:11 Doesn’t mean what you think. As she explains, the heart of the verse is “not that we would escape our fate, but that we would learn to prosper” in the middle of it.
Here is the context of Jeremiah 29: the Israelites were in exile, a punishment from God for their disobedience. The prophet Jeremiah confronts the false prophet, Hananiah, who had boldly proclaimed that God would free Israel from Babylon in two years (spoiler alert: God doesn’t do that).
Jeremiah exposes Hananiah’s lie, then states the promise we read in 29:11. God indeed has a good plan for the Israelites, and it is a plan that will give them hope and a prosperous future. Sounds good, right?
The fact is that before sharing this promise, a few verses earlier, he gives them this directive from God: “seek the peace and prosperity of the city where I have taken you into exile. Pray to the Lord for this, for if he prospers, you will prosper too. (29:7)
It’s not at all what the Israelites wanted to hear! They wanted to be told they were going home. They wanted to be told that their suffering would end. Instead, God’s plan was for them to stay where they were and help prosper the nation that enslaved them!
And then came the biggest blow of all. In verse 10, God says he would accomplish this “after seventy years are finished in Babylon.” This meant that none of the current generation of Israelites would ever return to their home.
What a crushing thing to say!
Mary DeMuth writes:
Yes, of course, God knows the plans he has for us. And finally, He will give us a glorious future. But as we spend our lives in this crazy land, let us remember that the best growth comes by persevering through hardships, not escaping them altogether. And when you learn perseverance, you find surprising joy.
What difficulty are you currently going through? In the midst of your suffering, cling to Jeremiah 29:11, but cling to it for the right reason: not in the false hope that God will take away your suffering, but in the true gospel confidence that He will give you the hope in the middle of it.
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