Jeremiah 29:11 What’s in it For Us?

Posted on October 4, 2012

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There are a number of verses in Scripture which we have used so often as isolated verses, that the true context and meaning has been lost. The result is that the verses are often misused, and we don’t even realize it. Jeremiah 29:11 is one such verse.

Jeremiah 29:11 (NKJV)

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope”

This verse is commonly used in a context that implies a promise of prosperity, especially in regards to new graduates. In fact, the verse is often rendered using the following translation, or one with a similar rendering on printed materials such as graduation cards.

Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

“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.”

Notice the use of the word prosper, as opposed to the word peace, it’s derived from the Hebrew word shalom. I’m not going to argue the proper rendering of the word, as there are arguments to be made for both renderings. I am; however, going to focus on the implications of the word prosper, as it is commonly used on greeting cards and other printed material.

Lets start by putting the Scripture into its proper context. Jeremiah 29:10-14 will give us enough context to understand what this passage is all about.

Jeremiah 29:10–14 (NIV84)

10 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. 

11 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. 

12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 

13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 

14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

As is clearly seen, it was a statement of reassurance made in reference to a specific promise of deliverance from Babylonian captivity, which was to last for 70 years. It was a statement from God to the captive Israel, which showed that His intention was not to harm them. Moreover, God’s promise and intent was fulfilled, just as prophesied.

The context makes it clear that this was given for a specific purpose, to a specific people, at a specific time in history. This is not a promise for success in college, or in the workplace. It is not a promise which is directed to the church today. This is a targeted promise of a single act of deliverance. It is a promise that was made to a specific people, and was fulfilled, as prophesied, 70 years later. The fulfillment is already done and over with.

However, just because it doesn’t apply as commonly used, doesn’t mean that there is no application today. In fact, we need to be careful to avoid the extreme position that nothing applies to us, if it wasn’t specifically written to us. Biblical example and common sense would tell us differently. The application for us needs to be seen as general truths rather than a specific promise. We cannot lose sight of the context of the Scripture, because the context will help us apply it correctly. Knowing that, we can rightly see that there are some truths which are paralleled elsewhere in Scripture.

First, it tells a story of God’s faithfulness, that He will always fulfill His promises. There are parallel passages which tell us that God does not desire to harm us, rather He wants whats good for us.

Ezekiel 33:11 (NKJV)

11 Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’

 

John 3:16 (NKJV)

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

 

2 Peter 3:9 (NKJV)

9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

God’s desire, first and foremost, is repentance and fellowship with us. It is clear that He does not want to harm us. On the contrary, He wants to grant us eternal life. God’s promise; however, does not include success or prosperity the way we often think of it.

Ephesians 2:4–7 (NKJV)

4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 

5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 

6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 

7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

 

Ephesians 3:14–19 (NKJV)

14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 

15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 

16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 

17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 

18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— 

19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

God’s version of prosperity is found in the riches, which He grants us.

  • Strength v.16
  • Faith v.17
  • Love v.17
  • Comprehension v.18
  • The Fullness of God v.19

That is God’s type of prosperity and success. It is important that we apply scripture correctly, and in the correct context. If we use Scripture incorrectly, and imply promises that aren’t actually made, it can have a negative impact on someone’s faith when that promise is not fulfilled. We can find plenty of promises and words of comfort in Scripture, without having to take verses out of context.

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