This is week two in the Sunday Series on cliché Bible verses. For an explanation, please see week 1.
No verse other than John 3:16 likely gets as much quotation as Jeremiah 29:11. This is one of those verses people will post in their home or in other prominent places. Of course, there are salient truths about God held in that one verse; truths that bring people comfort and hope in all types of trials. Stand alone verses can become used incorrectly, though, when the context is not heeded. This verse is another example of one that becomes even more meaningful when it is placed into the context.
The Basics of Jeremiah
Jeremiah was a prophet who the Lord chose to preach an unpopular message to God’s people. The message was one of impending judgement and exile. This did not make Jeremiah a popular man among the leaders. The problem was that Israel had at one time followed God, but had turned away to something else.
“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” Jeremiah 2:13
Can you imagine how awful this really is? There they had the one true God and they had both seen Him work and heard about His faithfulness through-out the years. Even so, they made idols and worshipped them. The entire book is the Lord’s appeal to the people to come back to Him before something bad happens to them.
“Return faithless people; I will cure your backsliding.” Jeremiah 3:22
“If you will return, O Israel, return to me, declares the LORD. If you put your detestable idols out of my sight and no longer go astray, and if in a truthful, just and righteous way you swear, ‘As sure as the LORD lives, then the nations will be blessed by hm and in him they will glory.” Jeremiah 4: 1-2
God gives them an abundance of warnings and opportunities to come back; proving that He was merciful, gracious, and patient all along. He shows that He truly wants to be in a relationship with His people. Because they did not listen, God has warned them that the Babylonians, as evil as they were, would be the ones to who will come and take over the people. God was going to use the ruthless Babylonians to wake His people up. For 70 years the people were going to be under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar. You can imagine how discouraging this must have been for the people.
In the midst of the exile, a false prophet, Hananiah, declares that within two years the Lord will restore the nation. This turns out to be a lie that he had led the people to believe. God intervenes and Hananiah is killed because he was found to have “preached rebellion against the LORD.” Jeremiah writes a letter to the exiles addressing the situation they are in and to be careful of false prophets. Jeremiah reminds them of the future that they have in the Lord. That is where we are when we come to chapter 29:11. He is telling them that even though it will take 70 years, God does have a plan to restore them and provide them hope for a future. Where do I get that from?
“This is what the LORD says: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 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 29:10-11
Some of the mistakes in using this passage come with the word prosperity. Prosperity is often tied to material wealth. The prosperity people will tell you that God will give you wealth. This is not consistent with the message of the Gospel at all. Prosperity has more to do with the protection that someone has when they walk with the Lord and much less to do with money. For example:
“Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is he who trusts in the LORD.” Proverbs 16:20
Why do they prosper? The prosperity comes when someone follows God’s ways and stays off the path that leads to destruction. This prosperity is really the opposite of that calamity.
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” Proverbs 14:12
So, what does it mean?
1- It means what most people think it means. It is true God knows the plans He has for you. It is also true that, in Christ, you do have a hope for a future. It might not mean that your life in this world will be completely easy, just that in the end your are safe in Him. When people quote this and assume that their cancer will go away in short order or something else will change, they are misquoting it. Remember they had to wait 70 years for God to fulfill his plan. God never breaks a promise, so we know that one day we will be with Him.
2- God has not forgotten you and he certainly hasn’t left you alone. This shows that even when you are the one who walks away from God and incites judgement, God still is merciful to you. He wants to be with you so much that He goes to great lengths to make that happen.
3- True prosperity comes when someone trust in Jesus Christ and follows God’s Word. Money is not the answer and will never fulfill. God does have blessing for you, absolutely, but money might not be one of them. Satisfaction is found in Him alone no matter what trial you are in right now.
Alright, as I said last week, please let me know what your reactions are to this. I do understand that I did not unpack every detail of this, but this gives you a good starting point if you do want to dig deeper. I also would love to know if there are other verses that would be a great candidate for this series.
Be blessed today knowing there is a God who knows and loves you and has your future in His hands.