By Kelly Givens, Crosswalk.com
“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
Why do we misinterpret Jeremiah 29:11?
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 its 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.
The True Meaning of Jeremiah 29:11
Here’s the context: the Israelites were in exile, a punishment from God as a 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.
"To give - This deliverance will not depend upon your merits, but upon my own mercy, and kind thoughts and purposes I have for the seed of Abraham my servant, and I am resolved in my own thoughts what to do, I intend not the blotting out of the name of Israel from the earth, but to give such an end to their trouble as themselves expect and desire." - Wesley's Explanatory Notes
"I know the thoughts that I think towards you. Known unto God are all his works, for known unto him are all his thoughts (Acts. 15:18 ) and his works agree exactly with his thoughts; he does all according to the counsel of his will. We often do not know our own thoughts, nor know our own mind, but God is never at any uncertainty within himself. We are sometimes ready to fear that God’s designs concerning us are all against us; but he knows the contrary concerning his own people, that they are thoughts of good and not of evil; even that which seems evil is designed for good. His thoughts are all working towards the expected end, which he will give in due time. The end they expect will come, though perhaps not when they expect it. Let them have patience till the fruit is ripe, and then they shall have it. He will give them an end, and expectation, so it is in the original. (1.) He will give them to see the end (the comfortable termination) of their trouble; though it lasts long, it shall not last always. The time to favour Zion, yea, the set time, will come. When things are at the worst they will begin to mend, and he will give them to see the glorious perfection of their deliverance; for, as for God, his work is perfect. He that in the beginning finished the heavens and the earth, and all the hosts of both, will finish all the blessings of both to his people. When he begins in ways of mercy he will make an end. God does nothing by halves. (2.) He will give them to see the expectation, that end which they desire and hope for, and have been long waiting for. He will give them, not the expectations of their fears, nor the expectations of their fancies, but the expectations of their faith, the end which he has promised and which will turn for the best to them. 3. This shall be in answer to their prayers and supplications to God" - Matthew Henry Complete
Bible Verses Related to Jeremiah 29:11
"The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps." - Proverbs 16:9
"Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand." - Proverbs 19:21
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths." - Proverbs 3:5-6
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” - Jeremiah 1:5
"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." - Ephesians 2:10
"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." - Ephesians 2:8-9
"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." - Psalm 119:105
Want to learn more about the pitfalls of taking scripture out of context? Check out these articles and resources:
On the Use and Misuse of the Bible
Our Expectations Versus God’s Plan
Keep it in Context
3 Bible Verses You May be Getting Wrong
The Worst Ever (Mis)Quotation of the Bible?