“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
Why do we misinterpret Jeremiah 29:11?
My Old Testament professor had this to say about the ever-popular Jeremiah 29:11: “I am going to destroy what this verse means to you, but then I’m going to reframe it so you understand it better within its original context, and then you will love it, even more, when we’re done.” He definitely had 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’m going through will end soon and then my flourishing will begin! But that is not at all what God was promising to the Israelites, and it’s not what he’s promising us, either.
Author and blogger Mary DeMuth addresses our misunderstanding of this verse in her latest trending post, Jeremiah 29:11 Doesn’t Mean What You Think. As she explains, the heart of the verse is “not that we would escape our lot, but that we would learn to thrive” in the midst of it.
The True Meaning of Jeremiah 29:11
Here’s the context: the Israelites were in exile, a punishment from God as a result of their disobedience. The prophet Jeremiah confronts the false prophet, Hananiah, who had boldly proclaimed that God was going to free Israel from Babylon in two years (spoiler alert: God doesn’t do this).
Jeremiah calls out Hananiah’s lie and then states the promise we read in 29:11. God does indeed have a good plan for the Israelites, and it is a plan that will give them hope and a prospering future. Sounds good, right?
The thing is, before he shares this promise, he gives them this directive from God: “seek the peace and the 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.” (29:7)
This is not at all what the Israelites wanted to hear! They wanted to be told that they were going to go home. They wanted to be told that their suffering was going to end. Instead, God’s plan was for them to stay right where they were, and to help prosper the nation that enslaved them!
And then came the biggest blow of all. In verse 10, God says that he would fulfill this “after seventy years are completed in Babylon.” This meant that none in the current generation of Israelites would ever return to their home. What a crushing thing to be told!
Yes, of course, God knows the plans He has for us. And ultimately He will give us a glorious future. But as we walk out our lives on this crazy earth, let’s remember that the best growth comes through persevering through trials, not escaping them entirely. And when we learn perseverance, we find surprising joy.
What hard thing 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 hope in the midst of it.
Bible Verses Related to Jeremiah 29:11
"The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps." - Proverbs 16:9
"Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand." - Proverbs 19:21
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths." - Proverbs 3:5-6
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” - Jeremiah 1:5
"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." - Ephesians 2:10
"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." - Ephesians 2:8-9
"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." - Psalm 119:105
Want to learn more about the pitfalls of taking scripture out of context? Check out these articles and resources:
On the Use and Misuse of the Bible
Our Expectations Versus God’s Plan
Keep it in Context
3 Bible Verses You May be Getting Wrong
The Worst Ever (Mis)Quotation of the Bible?
Christians understand the importance of God’s Word, and we want others to understand that importance too. But when it comes to a younger generation, like teenagers for example, sometimes we try too hard to make the God’s Word relevant for them. Examples of this are trendy Bibles, pastors portraying a hipster-like Jesus, and youth groups that focus mostly on fun to keep teens attentive. When we try too hard like this to make God’s Word relevant and cool, we simply end up confirming the suspicions of those who think the Bible is boring and irrelevant, as Eric McKiddie says.
Eric McKiddie, a pastor and blogger, has written an article for The Gospel Coalition titled Stop Trying to Make the Bible Relevant to Teenagers. According to McKiddie, we don’t need to make the Bible relevant…because it already is! The Bible is relevant to all peoples, all cultures, all ages…and it is relevant on its own accord. So if the Bible is already relevant, why are teenagers disinterested in learning about it?
“The sad reality is that many young people don’t take to God’s Word because they’re spiritually dead. This is why they don’t ‘long for the pure spiritual milk’(1 Pet. 2:1). Yet even this is no excuse to water down the Bible or ignore it, since God does his work to make us ‘born again...through the living and abiding word of God’ (1 Pet. 1:23).”
Parents and youth leaders don’t need to add relevance to the Bible as it is already there, but they can draw out that existing relevance for their youth. McKiddie describes it as the difference between adding cream and sugar to your coffee versus “bringing out the intense flavors of a French Press.” He offers three key steps for bringing out the relevance of God’s word for your teen:
1. Explain why we need what the Bible teaches, showing your teen that that need cannot be met by anything else.
2. Point out examples in the Bible of what your teen may be experiencing (depression, bullying, broken hearts, struggling to fit in, identity issues etc.) and the solutions presented, which are often different from how we would normally react.
3. Relate every example and solution back to what Jesus has done for us and how He makes new life possible.
“When young people go through difficult times, for example, they often wonder if God cares. Where is God? they ask. During those times, Scripture’s relevance crashes into their experience. Israel claims, ‘My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God’ (Isa. 40:27).Yet the prophet goes on to say that God gives power to the faint as they wait for him to intervene. The answer might not come right away, but God empowers us as we trust him to act. This is what Jesus experienced on the cross, after all. The Father turned away from the Son, then raised him on the third day. And because we’re united to Jesus through faith we know God will act for us, too.”
In order to share a deepened relevance of Scripture with anyone, we need to continue learning more of Scripture ourselves. For if we understand the relevance that God’s Word brings to our own lives, we can share that relevance with others and how it affects their life as well. The Bible can break through to any heart with the power of the Holy Spirit.
To read Eric McKiddie's article in its entirety please visit TheGospelCoalition.org.
Scripture’s relevance speaks for itself...so let’s know God’s Word more deeply and present it out of love to others.
A fun activity to help your teen study their Bible would be to pick a book to study together. Provide highlighters, colored pens, or a journaling Bible to help them actively take part in their learning and stay focused. Check out Crosswalk Contributor Kevin Halloran’s article 5 Blessings of Marking Up Your Bible.
Publication date: July 25, 2016
Liz Kanoy is an editor for Crosswalk.com.
- 2019May 02