Several weeks ago, my daughter texted me a question with which she was struggling. She was facing a number of different struggles that were painful, scary, confusing, and frustrating. Through all of it, by God’s tender grace, she was seeking to cling to her Savior, calling out to her Heavenly Father, and seeking him in his Word. Along the way, she came across Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
In these moments we are right to run to God’s Word for comfort, but we must find our comfort in what God’s Word actually says and not just what we can make it say.
Undoubtedly, well-meaning friends had pointed her to this verse in the midst of all she was facing. It’s a common verse to offer in the face of pain when we don’t know what to say but feel we must offer some comfort. However, in my experience, more often than not, Jeremiah 29:11 is plucked out of its context, offered as a cure all, and leaves people not comforted but wondering if this promise is for them at all or if they perhaps have been forgotten. After all, when things are happening now that seem so obviously to be affecting our future in a negative way, what are we supposed to think about these divine plans that people seem so confident are fantastic? Is this just re-warmed Norman Vincent Pealism, or is there something to these promises for us? In these moments we are right to run to God’s Word for comfort, but we must find our comfort in what God’s Word actually says and not just what we can make it say. In the end, this is always a greater comfort. What follows is what I sent my daughter in order that she might be comforted by what God’s Word actually says. With her permission, I’m sharing this with you, trusting that it will comfort you as well:
Hey sweetheart. As I was praying for you this morning, the Holy Spirit compelled me to provide to you a more thorough answer to your question the other night about Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
First, as I mentioned briefly, the context of that verse is quite important. Jeremiah 29:10 says, “For thus says the Lord, When seventy years are complete for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.” There are actually a few layers of context here that are important.
- Jeremiah was prophesying when the fall of Jerusalem at the hand of Nebuchadnezzar took place in 586. Jeremiah 29 was, at most, a few years after that happened, but probably it was pretty close to the time of the event itself. So Israel has just been sent into exile by God at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, and Yahweh sends his prophet, Jeremiah, to say, “You’re going to be here for seventy years.” Then he says, “I know the plans…”
- Just prior to that, in Jeremiah 29:4-9, we read that God’s basic message to his people in exile was two-fold: a) get on with living—build houses, plant gardens, get married, have babies, and seek the good of your neighbor, who would have been the Babylonians by the way, for their good is your good and b) don’t listen to the false prophets who are going to come saying all kinds of ridiculousness. Interestingly, the last statement in Jeremiah 29:8 is best translated, “And do not listen to your dreams which you cause to be dreamed.” In other words, what Jeremiah is probably saying is, these false prophets are just telling you what you want to hear. This is incredibly ironic given how so many people now take a verse that comes just three verses later to tell people what they want to hear.
- The context that follows Jeremiah 29:11 is also important. What we find out in those verses is that God is doing all of this stuff to his people because he wants them to seek him with all their heart. Why? Because he is where their ultimate good is found.
- Looking further back, we find an even broader layer of context that is really important for understanding what is happening in Jeremiah 29 in Deuteronomy 30:1-14 (especially verses 1-3). Go check those verses out if interested. What you’ll find is that Yahweh is simply re-announcing through Jeremiah what he had already said through Moses back in the day.
- Also, looking way ahead there is some helpful context. We know how things went down at the end of those 70 years. Cyrus issued a decree for folks to go back and rebuild the temple and city of Jerusalem (2 Chron. 36:22-23). Remember, this is where the Hebrew Bible ends, which is kind of peculiar. It’s peculiar because folks went back and rebuilt. This rebuilding is captured in the stories of Ezra and Nehemiah. However, along the way we find out that this might not actually be the fulfillment for which everyone had hoped. In Ezra 3 all of the old guys, who had seen the former temple, cry because they see that the new temple doesn’t measure up. They realize they are still waiting for the fulfillment of the promise of Jeremiah 29:11. Yahweh doesn’t leave them to sit in their sadness though. He sends another prophet, Haggai, who comforts them and tells them they’re right, this isn’t the hope they were waiting on, but to go ahead and build this temple anyway; because, “Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in…” (Haggai 2:6-7).
- So now in Deuteronomy 30:1-3, Jeremiah 29:14, and Haggai 2:6-7, Yahweh has talked about gathering his people from the nations. How does this happen? Another layer of context is helpful, specifically John 11:45ff. When folks are plotting to kill Jesus we read these words, “But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish’” (John 11:49-50). John then adds his own very helpful commentary on the situation, “He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (John 11:51-52). The peace, future, hope, and gathering that are promised in Jeremiah 29 (and Deuteronomy 30 and Haggai 2) all are fulfilled in Christ.
These pieces of context keep us from just applying that one verse to our own life and despairing that we’ve been forgotten. When read rightly, they remind us that Jesus came in fulfillment of those verses, and in God’s kind providence, we get to be part of the fulfillment of his promise of peace, a future, and a hope. God has in fact executed his plans for his people, plans of peace (probably a better translation than welfare), a future, and a hope in Jesus Christ.
However, that is not to say that there is not something for us in the idea communicated in Jeremiah 29:11. Here is where yet another layer of context becomes very important. How has God executed this plan for his people? Of course, it is through Jesus Christ. Romans 8 and 10 help us see this in relation to both Jeremiah 29 and Deuteronomy 30. First, consider Romans 10:5ff. When Paul lays out the gospel in this section, he does so by going back to Deuteronomy 30 and quoting verses 6-8 thereby making the point that God’s promises are fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus. All these future plans of hope and peace that God has for his people are not found in the things of this world, the building of houses, marrying, having kids, and seeking the good of your neighbor, but in Christ. If we read Jeremiah 29 correctly, we do all those things because of the promises of God, which have now been secured in Christ. However they themselves are not the promises. In other words, the peace, future, and hope are not the things of this world but the finished work of Jesus for you.
God has in fact executed his plans for his people, plans of peace (probably a better translation than welfare), a future, and a hope in Jesus Christ.
Now consider Romans 8:18ff. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Kind of has a Jeremiah 29:10 ring to it, doesn’t it? Paul then goes on to write, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:28-30). Again, this rings of Jeremiah 29:11, but it is explicitly attached to the work of redemption in Jesus Christ.
Baby, I don’t know what all God is doing in your life as far as the details. I don’t even know what he is doing with me in that regard. But, what I can be certain of is that he loves you dearly, and he is working out every detail of your life according to his perfect plan for you in Christ to give you peace, a future, and a certain hope, and through his purpose he is working all things together for your good as one who has been called according to his purpose.
I love you. God loves you perfectly.