I know the plans I have for you... slavery

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)

In last week’s Pulse, I talked about Romans 8:28 and what happens when we read God’s Word out of context and place unwarranted expectations on God. The Old Testament counterpart to Romans 8:28 has to be Jeremiah 29:11, which reads “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.” When you hear that verse, what do you think God is communicating? I would argue that most modern Christians believe that it means God is going to bring good things into your life and will protect you from harm. In fact, this is how one well-known Christian author, Joyce Meyer, interprets this verse: “I prosper in everything I put my hand to. I have prosperity in all areas of my life–spiritually, financially, mentally, and socially.”

But when you read Jeremiah 29:11 in its context, the verse takes on a completely different meaning. In its historical context, the people of Israel have been conquered by the Babylonians and carried off into slavery. Among the Israelites in exile are false prophets who are encouraging them not to worry, that God will soon overthrow the Babylonians and bring them back to Israel. In response, Jeremiah sends a letter to the enslaved leaders of Israel, giving them a true word from God. That letter, found in Jeremiah 29:5-14, tells the Israelites to settle down in Babylon, because they are going to be there awhile. God tells them that the prophets who are prophesying an imminent return to Israel are “prophesying lies to you in my name.” The hard truth, according to God, is that they will be in captivity for seventy years before God brings them back to Israel. But right after that difficult message comes the hopeful verse 11: “I know the plans I have for you… plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Now that you know the context, how does that change your understanding of God’s promise in Jeremiah 29:11? Does Jeremiah 29:11 teach us that we will prosper in everything we put our hands to – spiritually, financially, mentally, and socially? Far from it! God’s promise is that:
  • The Israelites will be slaves in a foreign land for the next seventy years
  • Most of the people hearing this message, along with their children, will die as slaves in Babylon
  • The nation of Israel will not be destroyed, but will be rescued from slavery and restored to their land after seventy years of chastening

Do you understand how easily we can read our own desires into a Biblical text and end up placing unwarranted expectations on God? What does Jeremiah 29:11 REALLY teach you about God’s idea of prosperity, hope, and a future? Clearly the first thing it teaches is that God’s plan is much bigger than your individual life. So often, we are guilty of reading Biblical texts with our Western, individualistic mindset, when God’s promises were often directed to the community.

Think about it: what if God “good plans” for you were NOT for you to get that promotion and have your marriage restored or your cancer healed? What if “hope and a future” involved you suffering like the Israelites in Jeremiah’s day did so that future generations might be blessed? Is your understanding of “good” big enough to say yes to that? Or are you too self-centered to follow Jesus in submitting to the will of your good Father and carrying whatever cross He lays before you? I pray that God would give you the humility to trust that God’s idea of goodness and prosperity, hope and a future, is far greater than what we can see from our limited perspective.

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