Many times when we are seeking comfort, we remind ourselves of God’s promise in Jeremiah 29:11. Plucking out a verse from the Bible can be dangerous. It’s important to read His Word in context. This morning I came across two articles (sourced below) that do a great job of illustrating this fact. I’ve put them both together below.
Most of us are aware of this popular verse: “’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, NIV).
We quote it, share it with grieving friends, and cross-stitch it onto pillows. But do we truly know what it means? In order to understand its meaning, we have to hang out in the preceding chapter, understanding the history of Israel, the nature of the exile, and the promise of the future.
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 it’s original context, and then you will love it even more when we’re done.” He definitely had our attention!
The Jewish people disobeyed God in every possible way. They traded Him for evil gods, preferring to worship demons than bow to the King of Kings. As a direct result of that disobedience, God sent them into Babylonian exile.
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.
Here’s the context: the Israelites were in exile, a punishment from God as 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!
Mary writes: 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.
Jesus uttered the same truth: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NLT).
We look for a better kingdom. As exiles and aliens on this sin-darkened earth, God doesn’t call us to escapism, but to find resilience in the midst of our trials. God gives us holy hope that this life is not all there is. Our suffering here means something. It helps us long for a better country, a better place.
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.