Have you ever heard someone tell you that God had a wonderful plan for your life? I’m sure you have.
Jeremiah 29:11 was my “theme” verse when the Lord called me to repentance and faith in 1997. The verse is very encouraging upon an initial reading.
“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. (NIV)
Most of us read this and immediately begin perusing this awesome plan. But how many of us have actually stopped and read the full context in which that verse is written? This post intends to do just that. Hopefully, you will read this and walk away with a better understanding of not only this passage, but a new zeal to read all of Scripture in its context.
The Perceived Meaning of the Text
“God has a wonderful plan for your life, and this verse tells us that!"
This the interpretation I've heard most. People read into this text because of words like 'plan,' 'hope,' & 'future,' and automatically assume that it must be talking about their own individual, personal lives. This false assumption only leads to disappointment as they cling to it, waiting for God to bring them their "breakthrough." But what does this text actually teach? Let's look at the full context and unpack it a little bit.
The Text in its Original Context
In order to really see the full context we need to go back to verse 1.
There are some general things to be noted about this text:
This is a letter from Jeremiah sent by Elasah to the already exiled Israelites (vv. 1-3). Why is this important? Because it means that this portion of Jeremiah was written to a specific group (the exiles) at a specific time (after Nebuchadnezzar came in and conquered Jerusalem) for a specific reason (discussed in v. 4, ff). Context needs to always take precedence when interpreting a passage.
The letter's contents are concerning the Israelites' expectations during their captivity (vv. 4-7). Through Jeremiah God was telling His people to basically get comfortable in their new conditions because it would be sometime (70 years) before they would be going anywhere. They were told to "seek the welfare" of the nation of their captors because they would benefit from it, as well. In essence this promise was NOT individualistic prosperity but nationalistic peace.
The lying prophets would declare peace & prosperity (vv. 8-10). Just as we deal with false teachers, so the Israelites dealt with their false teachers. God had warned His people for hundreds of years that judgment was coming. Instead of repenting false teachers came along saying, "Peace, Peace!" Yet God tells them that He did not send them, and that they were lying by saying that they had had dreams and visions (v. 9). This is an important part of the overall context because these false prophets were still declaring God's favor even after judgment had been rendered. Jeremiah's letter ensured his hearers that they were in Babylon for their sins. God's favor was still on His people but it would not be experienced until the time of the exiled had come to its fruition (v. 10).
The promise of verse 11 is actually a causal condition of verse 10 (v. 11). What does that mean? Simply speaking, the word 'for' at the beginning of verse 11 (the perceived promise) is actually the reason or support for God's statement in verse 10. In other words, the promise that everyone seems to think that verse 11 is based upon is actually dependent upon the seventy years of exile.
The "After-promise" is the real promise of this text (vv. 12-14). Verse 11 is not even the centrality of Jeremiah's letter to the exiles. It the promise of God once again being their God, dwelling with them, and bringing them back into His presence (Jerusalem) that is the focus. Every Israelite's pride was being part of Yahweh's covenant people. The entire reason they were exiled was because they had failed to keep the covenant. Now, they would have to endure God's chastisement for seventy years before true fellowship could be restored. But in all their discipline God would not forsake them because He "knows the plans [He] has for them, declares the LORD..."
The Proper Application of the Context
Just like interpretation, application must be kept in its original context. Today, we cannot claim that we have been exiled from the land because of our sins. However, as a church we can recognize that (1) the Church is God's covenant people (2) God uses his preachers to exhort us to repentance and faith in His Son, (3) He may discipline the Church if we do not heed His word, (4) even if we experience His discipline it is not to harm us but to bring us back into fellowship with the Triune God.
What a blessed thought, Christians, that God still loves and honors His promises to His covenant people, even in the midst of our sin. Let us confess and forsake our false views of God and let us return with whole heart to Him, seeking Him while He may be found.
Amen and Amen.
This article is part of an ongoing series:
Steven is a husband, father of 5, and a blogger. He is passionate about informing the Laity on tips for correctly expounding & exegeting God’s Word.