Bonus Post: Jeremiah 29:11

In 2015, I wrote a blog post addressing the believing community’s practice of wrenching Jeremiah 29:11 from its context, and how we need to give greater care to context and show greater respect to God’s original intent when working with various passages of scripture. I continue to see this passage pulled from its context and misapplied, thus in this “bonus blog posting” I want to revisit that concept today.

The Verse

Jeremiah 29:11 is ubiquitous, easily found in memes, on Tee Shirts, bumper stickers, and posters. It can be heard in sermons and is sung in praise choruses. It is the ultimate feel-good passage – one with which you are undoubtedly familiar.

‘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.’ – Jeremiah 29:11, NIV-1978

How can we read, sing, or hear that without smiling and feeling warm inside? It is a verse promising hope, surety, prosperity. We want to do a fist-pump and shout, “YES!”

So, why write about this again? It is because I have heard, or read this verse three times in the last two days, and in each case (as is almost always the case with this verse) it was dislodged from its context and used in a way that suggests that God was/is speaking these words to us. He was not, and is not.

The Context

The context of Jeremiah 29 is a context of captivity. As punishment for the sins of Judah, God allowed his people to be carried off into Babylonian captivity by King Nebuchadnezzar. From a worldly standpoint, Nebuchadnezzar did this as a retaliation when Judean King Jehoiakim stopped paying tribute to him.

Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem, destroyed the city, including the temple, and transplanted some 10,000 Jews from Judea to Babylon. Their lives were completely uprooted. They were vulnerable, destitute, and bewildered, not knowing what to do with themselves.

God’s message to the captives, through Jeremiah, was to live their lives in that circumstance. Build homes, plant gardens, marry, have children. God told them they were going to be in Babylon for a very long time, and it is in that context that God says, “I know the plans I have for you…”

Expanding our focal context by backing up one verse to Jeremiah 29:10, Jeremiah assures God’s people that the captivity is temporary and that they will return home after seventy years. Bear in mind, however, this assurance was spoken to them as a nation, a culture. Given seventy-year captivity, many, if not most of them died in Babylon.

This is what the LORD says, ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.’ – Jeremiah 29:11, NIV-1978

This is God’s assurance to his people that though they are in captivity, they are not forsaken. They will not be in captivity forever, but rather, they will be restored. God has plans for them, not individually, but as a people, a nation. That’s the message.

Afterward, God said:

‘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’ – Jeremiah 29:12-14a, NIV-1978

As with verse eleven, this latter passage was not written or spoken to us, yet you likely recognize it as another meme, tee-shirt, bumper-sticker verse. It was written for a nation of people who were enslaved six centuries before Jesus was even born.

Does that mean, then, that the passage is of no value to us? Is there anything we can glean from it?

Yes, there is.

A Proper Application

Jeremiah 29:10-14 teaches us about the heart of God for his people, and how he extends grace and mercy toward those he loves. We know he is YHWH, and that he changes not. As God, within his own nature, acts on behalf of those he has chosen and loves, though the specific promises of Jeremiah 29 were not spoken to us, or about us, we can extend the concepts of Jeremiah 29 to the church today.

The explicit promises of Jeremiah 29 were made to the Babylonian exiles, and we have similar promises God has made to the Christ-followers of today, promises of deliverance from our enslavement to sin, promises of righteousness and justification, promises of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Just as God had plans for a hope and a future for the Babylonian exiles, he has plans for hope in Christ and a future in his presence for us. Those are awe-inspiring realities.

While it is true that Jeremiah 29:11 was never intended to apply to the Christ-follower, if we consider our secure blessing in Christ, the sentiment expressed to the exiles by God through Jeremiah is appropriate and applicable. Jesus will never abandon us. Holy Spirit works within us. We will fully realize our inheritance in Christ when this life is completed.

Blessings upon you my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

– damon

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Damon Gray

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5 Comments

  1. JOHN GACINSKI on April 28, 2021 at 6:56 AM

    Well done! Yep, Jeremiah 29:11 has been hijacked by those who think God owes us health and wealth.

  2. Peggy Booher on April 28, 2021 at 2:27 PM

    Damon,
    Thanks for pointing out that we need to be careful what verses of Scripture we apply, and how we apply them. Thank you also for pointing out that God’s promise in Jeremiah 29:11 was made to a nation, a culture, not individual people. That’s something so often forgotten.

    I believe the church (in general) needs to recommit to a more careful study of Scripture–though come to think of it–that means I need to recommit! There are probably other places in the Bible where God’s promise to a nation was taken out of context and applied to individuals, though none so familiar as Jeremiah 29:11.

    • Damon Gray on May 1, 2021 at 8:27 PM

      Peggy, it’s good to hear from you again. One of the challenges we face is that we (the West) are individualists, whereas the culture to which these scriptures were written was collectivist. Everything is viewed in terms of the nation, the village, the family – never the individual.

  3. Julie Habiger on April 28, 2021 at 7:08 PM

    Yes! We must believe in what God promises us! And thank you for this post. I agree with Peggy that a careful study of scripture and context is worthwhile.

    With that said, I do own a t-shirt that quotes Daniel 3:25 “There is another in the fire.” But I am pretty sure anyone who knows that fiery furnace text and reads my shirt can see that one is pretty literal! And if not, I hope they find a bible and read it.

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