Debunked: The Truth about Jeremiah 29:11
By Jake Sletten
"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."– Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV)
Break in Case of Emergency
This is what the outside of the glass says that encases the fire alarm at your school. It's written there so that the person standing in front of it knows it's actually okay to break the glass in order to make himself safe.
Jeremiah 29:11 has often been used in the same kind of way. It gets used in the hope that things--material things that we think will bring us comfort--will come to us right soon. "God has plans for me: I'm going to get into the college that I want." "God has plans for me: I'm going to get this job I want." "God has plans for my future: I will find the guy/girl of my dreams."
To be clear, it's not bad at all to pray for God to let you into the college that you want, or to give you the job that you want, or to send you the spouse of your dreams. But if those things don't happen, don't go back and read Jeremiah 29:11 and wonder what went wrong.
The focus of Jeremiah 29:11 is on the One who makes the promises.
The Israelites found themselves in exile in Babylon. They had once again done what was evil in God’s eyes, and, so, God threw them into exile because they were not ready to go to Jerusalem, their home. (For an eyewitness account of the exiles’ agonizing and detailed emotions during this time, see Psalm 137.) But while they are in exile, God does not leave his people. After all, He is Immanuel, God with us. He sends Jeremiah the prophet to the people with a letter. Contained in this letter are words of reality, fact, and encouragement for the people. . .although they probably did not see those words as such at the time.
God tells them in verse 10: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill my promise and bring you back to this place." Seventy YEARS??? You can almost hear the desperate cries of the people! Seventy years is a long time! Not only that, it means that many of them will not live to see the day when they are allowed to go back home. They are stuck in Babylon, living as foreigners in a foreign land. Never again will they enjoy the comforts of home. Never again will they see the same landscape they had become so fond of. Never again will they sleep in their own beds. To borrow from Pastor Steve Kruschel, this must have hit their hearts like a thud. This was the reality and the facts of their current state.
But the Lord was not finished with His letter, and so comes 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." What encouragement in the midst of despair! The Lord knows what His plans are for them, and those plans include safety, a future, and a hope.
This must have seemed completely backwards to the Israelites: They are exiled in a foreign land with rulers who couldn't care less about their welfare. "So, God, what about any of this seems safe??" But a few verses later in 17-18, He tells them that Jerusalem is about to be destroyed. In other words, you'll be safer in Babylon. So, you need to stay here for now. (Cue the mic drop.)
It's true that many of the currently exiled would not live to see the day of the return home. Their future would be in Babylon. "That's not much of a future, God." But a few verses earlier in the chapter, God tells the people that while they are in Babylon they are to build homes, plant gardens, take wives, have kids, and even pray for the nation they are living in! In other words, no, the future may not be what you want, but I (the Lord) am going to work good for you in it (see Romans 8:28).
On the surface, there wasn't much for the currently exiled to be hopeful in or hope for. Being forced to live in a place not their own for 70 years didn't sound too hopeful at all. "Do you even care, God, that I'm suffering?" But let's go back to the second half of verse 10: "I will fulfill my promise to you and bring you back to this place." The people still believed in their Lord. If not, it would not have been Him that they cried out to. And if they still believed in the Lord, then then they believed that He always keeps His promises to His people.
Sometimes the relief that God has planned is not immediate. Sometimes we are exactly where we are because God knows we will be safe there. Sometimes we think that our future looks pretty bleak. But it is God who said, "I know the plans I have for you." Sometimes in our current situation in life there is no hope to be seen. But those who hope in the Lord will find their strength renewed (Isaiah 40:31).
Jeremiah 29:11 is not the glass to break when we are looking for material things to give immediate comfort. To understand Jeremiah 29:11 properly is to look to the One who is making the promises of welfare, of a future, and of hope.
Yes, God does have plans to safeguard your welfare! Yes, God does have a plan to give you a future! Yes, God's plans are to give you hope! But it may not be what we think it should be…and that's okay. Instead, may our prayer be that of the psalmist in Psalm 121: "I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth." Where you ultimately see this promise come to fruition is in Jesus and His Gifts.
Rev. Jake Sletten is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church and School in Freistatt, MO. He thinks the mission of Higher Things is exciting: to help raise up new generations of believers for the Gospel. He is husband to Courtney, and dad to MJ, Bradley, and Emma. He loves going on dates with his wife, grilling on his Weber, coaching his kids' basketball teams, watching basketball (mainly his Los Angeles Clippers), and reading books about dragons.
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