“’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.’”
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!
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!
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.
Want to learn more about the pitfalls of taking scripture out of context? Check out these articles and resources: