A few times I’ve shared Jeremiah 29:11 on my Facebook page. The verse says, “I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope” (CEB). I always get some pushback on this. Recently a thoughtful reader asked, “But for whom and when does this apply? Is the context meant to include me/us?”
The “you” in Jeremiah 29:11 is plural. It’s spoken not to an individual but to a nation—God’s people Israel, in exile in Babylon. Seven verses earlier it says: “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon ...” (Jeremiah 29:4). And just a verse earlier it explains that exile will last seventy years. In the near context there is a false prophet, Hananiah, who is basically preaching health and wealth gospel, telling lies to the people that all would be well and that Babylon would be defeated. Jeremiah, the true prophet, who is speaking a message of God's judgment on Israel, is rejected. God is promising to bring Israel back from the seventy year exile, and that will fulfill His plans for peace and a future of hope.
But the promise of God for all His people is revealed in this passage: that regardless of what judgment and suffering might happen first, God's ultimateplans for His children (as much for us as for Old Testament Israel) are for good and not evil, for welfare and hope.
Yes, Jeremiah was writing to his fellow Israelites. But so were Moses, Samuel, and David, and nearly all the prophets. That’s true of virtually the entire Old Testament, which in hundreds of cases the New Testament freely applies to the church, followers of Christ, Jews and Gentiles alike. Israel was God’s people, and it’s no stretch to say that today’s believers, the church, are also God’s people. So verses that were written to Israel are also written for the church.
For instance, take 1 Corinthians 10:1-11. Paul is talking about Israel disobeying God, wandering in the wilderness and engaging in immorality, but he takes each of these experiences of Israel and uses them to warn believers in the church, e.g. “And do not complain, as some of them did, and were killed by the destroying angel. Now these things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come” (v. 10-11).
Of course, many promises in Scripture are narrow, to particular people such as David: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16). Certainly it would be a mistake to imagine that God is promising each of us will have eternal thrones. Yet there is truth in that verse for our benefit too, because we know Jesus our Lord and Savior is the descendant of David who will reign forever, His people with Him.
It’s really true that while not all of God’s Word is written to us, it is all written for us. God spoke all His words in Scripture to certain people in certain times, but in the larger sense, the principles—which are timeless truths—apply to all His children. In the case of Jeremiah 29:11, just because it was spoken to Israel about coming back from exile doesn’t mean it has no connection to our lives.
Other passages reveal that our future in God’s presence will never end. What could be a better future and a hope than our joyful expectation of resurrected eternal life with Christ who has gone to prepare a place for us and invited us to enter into His eternal happiness? Don’t many passages reinforce this idea that God our Father, who loves us, promise us ultimate peace, not disaster, and an incredibly bright future filled with hope, a place we will live happily ever after?
While we are not in exile in Babylon, it doesn’t mean God’s Words have no relationship to us. Jesus, King of Kings will deliver us all from our captivity in this world under the Curse, where we are called “foreigners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11). He will rescue us, taking us to our true and eternal home, the New Earth, where He will reign forever, and we will reign with Him. Dozens of verses support each of these truths, which suggest clearly that we are part of God’s broader audience of Jeremiah 29:11.
God’s nature hasn’t changed, so everything Jeremiah 29:11 says about God’s plans remains true. As He rejoiced over Israel (Zephaniah 3:17) and sought their eternal good, He also rejoices over us and seeks our eternal good. Speaking of 2 Corinthians 1:20 (“For all the promises of God find their Yes in him”) John Piper says, “If you’re in Christ Jesus by trusting Him, all the promises are yours.”
So I think that while the specific promise to return Israel to the land after seventy years of exile is clearly not made to us, nonetheless the underlying principles of Jeremiah 29:11 pertain to all God’s children in every place and time as they face the hardships of life.
Of course, we should first understand the passage as God actually spoke it and Jeremiah understood it: not a promise of immediate prosperity. Indeed, times were tough for these Israelites and would remain tough for seventy years of exile, where most of the individuals would die. But this was a reminder that corporately their ultimate welfare as a nation was in the hands of a sovereign and loving God. And even if they died in Babylon, their God would take them through the valley of the shadow of death and they would live in His house forever (Psalm 23).
That’s how I understand the passage and that’s why I love it. I agree that some people take it out of context, not bothering to recognize the specific historical context and the seventy year exile. Unfortunately many passages are taken out of context. But when I am sharing a verse on Facebook or Twitter without commentary, I am not attempting to anticipate and correct all those who might misinterpret it. I sometimes quote commonly misused passages which, in context, are wonderfully true, and which furthermore, contain timeless truths applicable to our lives as well.
Writing in his commentary, Puritan Matthew Henry said this about Jeremiah 29:11:
We often do not know our own minds, but the Lord is never at an uncertainty. We are sometimes ready to fear that God's designs are all against us; but as to his own people, even that which seems evil, is for good. He will give them, not the expectations of their fears, or the expectations of their fancies, but the expectations of their faith; the end he has promised, which will be the best for them.
Henry’s words about “that which seems evil, is for good” calls to mind Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (ESV). Romans 8:28 suggests that God does intend life’s ordeals for our good—but there’s a difference between immediate good and ultimate good. Seeing that difference requires faith.
We’re told in Proverbs 10:28 that “The hope of the righteous brings joy.” No matter what comes today or tomorrow, may these words from the Lord to His people Israel become our expectation of the life God ultimately intends for all His children: “I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope.”
This doesn’t mean life will be easy, it won’t, or that we won’t face hard times. We will. But it means that just as He did for Israel while in exile, God has a future in mind for us—in our own difficult challenges—that we can bank on. And we should trust the God who loves us to ultimately bring us peace and hope in a far greater and eternal form than anything the nation Israel ever experienced in their return from exile.
This article originally appeared on EPM.org, Eternal Perspective Ministries. Used with permission.
Image courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: November 18, 2016