Walk into any Christian gift or book store and you’ll find a plethora of items decorated with Jeremiah 29:11. The verse is widely used and frequently memorized. Perhaps you’ve even memorized it yourself.
“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 a hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11
It’s not a surprise that this verse is embraced so readily. The promise within it is extremely appealing. But Bible verses should never be taken out of context, no matter how nice they sound.
Consider the entirety of chapter 29 and a fuller picture emerges. One that is strong and comforting, though a bit less happy.
1. This promise is in the middle of a letter written to an exiled people, telling them their trials were going to last a long time.
Jeremiah 29 is a letter written to a people help captive in Babylon. These people had been assured a speedy return to their homeland by a false prophet. Jeremiah is writing to tell them that’s not the case. The Lord tells the people to build homes, settle down, even marry and have children. (Jeremiah 29:5-6) Not only that, but God wants them to connect with the city holding them captive.
“Also seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it for if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah 29:7
God is telling His people to live for Him in spite of a bad situation.
2. This promise is part of a crushing of the false hope many of the captives were clinging to.
The captives, like anyone who is mired in an unpleasant situation, were seeking hope that their trial would be over soon. As is often the case, there were many people willing to give them that hope, even if it was false. God tells the people not to keep encouraging the liars for they are not speaking on behalf of the Almighty God who actually knows what is going on. (Jeremiah 29:8-9)
3. This promise is a hope for the ultimate future, not a promise of a pleasant life.
Consider the verses surrounding this well-loved verse:
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. 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 a hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 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 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 with I carried you into exile.” Jeremiah 29: 10-14
Seventy. Years. Granted life expectancy was a bit different in those days, but that is still a very long time. Long enough that plenty of people hearing Jeremiah’s words weren’t going to see those seventy years completed.
Despite the promise of great trial, there is also that promise we love to quote, the promise of good, hope, and a bright future. There is also a command. Notice what God says will happen at the end of those 70 years? What will happen when it’s time for the Lord to lift them from the mire?
They will seek Him. With everything they have. And they will find Him. Do you ever feel like God has deserted you? That He has exiled you to Babylon and left you there? Perhaps He is only waiting for you to seek Him so that He can lead you back to where He wants you to be.
4. This promise precedes a caution to not envy those seemingly better off.
Not everyone from Jerusalem was taken into captivity by Babylon. It would be easy for those in exile to be bitterly jealous of those who weren’t ripped from their homes. But God cautions that they have their own troubles coming, for they did not do as the Lord said and there is a price to be paid for that. Jeremiah 29: 15-23 assures them that God will deal with their disobedience in His own way.
5. This promise was a sure thing.
All those “declares the Lord”? They aren’t there for show. Jeremiah included them because he wanted everyone to know this was a statement from God. The Creator. The one in control of everything. The one that makes things happen. God isn’t guessing here. He isn’t asking if this will be all right. He’s declaring it. And God’s word is the surest thing you will ever find to depend upon.
It’s worth noting that this promise was made to a specific group of people in a particular situation, which means the modern Christian can’t necessarily claim Jeremiah 29:11 for himself. However, the same concept can be found in Romans 8:18-39, a promise made to all believers until the end of time. The close parallels between the two verses mean we can look at Daniel 9, where the promise in Jeremiah 29 was fulfilled, and know that God will be faithful to fulfill the similar promise he made to us. (For more on this see the theological note at the end of this article.)
Like Miranda in A Noble Masquerade you may be wondering what good could possibly come from your life. There is no ready solution to the problem you are surrounded by. Jeremiah 29:11 is a great verse to look to as long as you remember everything that came along with the verse.
Know that trials may still persist.
Look for the Godly way, not the easy way.
Seek God and live where you are until He sees fit to move you.
Don’t envy those who seem to have it better. They may have already served their exile or it may still be coming. Let God be in charge.
Theological Note: The concept of which promises in the Bible are claimable and which are historical can be very confusing, even for Biblical scholars. For more on knowing which promises we can claim, and more on Jeremiah 29:11 in particular, please read this article from Greg Koukl.