You have seen it many times – on wall plaques, on greeting cards and you have heard it quoted. Yes, we see Jeremiah 29:11 often:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
This verse is taken out of context more than any other in the Bible. Claiming this verse–like it was written for all of us–would be as incongruent as an elephant riding a rocket. It is misused and massaged into different shapes to sell greeting cards and plaques.
Misused When someone is experiencing the effects of their own life-dominating sin, he will be told that God has good plans for him so he should be encouraged. When a terrible disaster occurs, some will come by the house to encourage the devastated couple by quoting Jeremiah 29:11. When someone gets out of jail, he / she is told, “God has good plans for you – read about it in Jeremiah 29:11.”
Does God have good plans for His own people? Yes, He does, but let’s examine this verse in context.
Context, Context Every student of Bible hermeneutics (a technical effort to rightly understand Scripture) knows that the first rule of interpretation is context. And the second rule of interpretation is context. And the third rule is context. Context simple asks, “Who is speaking to whom, why, when, where and what are the circumstances being addressed?” Answer those questions and you have what is called the historical-grammatical, contextual approach to interpretation (in contrast to symbolic or allegorical interp).
So to whom was Jeremiah 29:11 written? First, the people are named in verse 1. Are you listed? No, I am not either. Second, it was written to people who had been taken captive by the Babylonians in 606 and/or 596 B.C. God called the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, “My servant” to punish the Israelites for forsaking the Lord. I have not been to Babylon recently, so I do not qualify to get insured by 29:11.
Third, God has not told me that I will be in captivity for 70 years. That would mean that my wife and I, our sons and daughters and their sons and daughters would live a significant part of our lives as captives. Viewed as slaves. Mere human machines. Has that been your experience? If not, 29:11 is moving off into the back ground for you also.
Fourth, have you been involved in intense spiritual warfare? Yes, you are involved in spiritual warfare if your heart is still pumping and you are still breathing. But compare your battles with:
- Being taking into captivity
- Predicted famine conditions
- Threat of military destruction
- Lied to by false prophets
That’s the “what” of Jeremiah 29:11 It’s the situation he is addressing.
This is a fabulous verse because the people to whom it was sent were in horrendous circumstances. Ours don’t often reach “horrendous” status.
Doing the Same Thing God had been threatening captivity if the Israelites did not obey Him. To take 29:11 out of context is to build our lives on a verse whose immediate application is for another age and people. Making ourselves the primary recipient is like the Israelites building on the false prophets who predicted Israel would not go into additional exile.
A friend who read this said, “You are taking away a lot of hope from people.” That’s what Jeremiah was accused of doing. But as Jeremiah was being faithful to God for the well-being of the Israelites, I believe I am being faithful to sound and logical Biblical hermeneutics.
Bottom Line Until we face war-time conditions, have been prisoners a decade, and have intense false messages pounded into us (“There will be peace in our time; you will never become a captive in Babylon!”), the purpose of which was to keep the Israelites from obeying God, we can’t legitimately claim Jeremiah 29:11.
This verse does belong to Christians today, but in a secondary sense. New Testament Bible verses promise this same thing, so we really don’t need to force ourselves into Jeremiah 29:11.
Good Plans Does God have positive plans for His own? Yes He does. We read of such plans in John 14:1-4. Heaven is certain for the child of God. We have the guarantee that God will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) and that all things work together for our good (Romans 8:28; as we respond in faith) and His glory. God is doing good for His own.