Welcome to the popular Bible verses series @CarsonWeitnauer asked a few of us to each briefly discuss and ask for your thoughts on the following popular Bible verses. I am doing Jeremiah 29:11.
Let’s start by looking at this verse how most people do - out of the context of its Biblical narrative. And then let’s look at it in context.
Out of Context
Jeremiah 29:11 - 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.
Wow, this is great. I have a nice quote for baby dedications, bracelets and memory verse lists. It looks like in this verse God is telling me that He has great plans for me.
If we read the verse out of context, here are the different actors:
Audience: Me, this verse is to me
Actor: God, who has good plans for me
Message for Me: God has good plans for my life
Jeremiah 29:4-14 - 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. 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.[a] 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.”
Whoa, huge difference in meaning. Now who are the actors / actions?
Audience: Exiled Israelites in Babylon
Actor 1: False prophets who are telling the Israelites that God will deliver them back to Israel soon
Actor 2: Jeremiah, the true prophet of God, who is speaking
Actor 3: God, who will wait 70 years to restore Israel to Babylon and commands the Israelites to seek the prosperity of Babylon - to have babies there and get jobs and settle in for the long haul. God has good plans in the long term to restore Israel and keep His promises, but for now they need to accept their situation in exile.
Message for Me: ???
Once we put the passage in context, the message for us as modern day individuals is not as clear. It is clear that God was telling Israel that He would restore them from exile at the appointed time and that He had great plans for them as a nation. But think about it - what if you were one of those exiles who would die before the 70 years ended? Think of Daniel and his friends. This is not a feel good message - it is an encouragement to trust that God’s deliverance will come, even if it is not in your lifetime.
In my opinion, there are a few potential applications for us in this passage, but they are secondary applications. The primary application is the one God intended - in this case it is God’s message to the Israelites in exile. However, Bible verses can have secondary applications - things that we learn even though they are not addressed to us directly. Here are some possible secondary applications:
1 - God will keep His promises even if your situation does not seem to reflect that reality
2 - As exiles in this world, we should trust that God will keep His promise to restore all creation to Himself through Jesus Christ and live faithfully in our exile here on this earth
I Peter 2:11-12 - Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
What do you guys think about Jeremiah 29:11? Were you already aware that it was often taken out of context? How can we apply it to our lives?