Skip to main content

What Does Jeremiah 29:11 Mean?

If one were to guess which is the most misused verse in the Bible, Jeremiah 29:11 would have to be one of the finalists. From children’s cartoons, to jewelry, to wall hangings, to bumper-stickers, we’ve surrounded ourselves with a verse plucked completely out of its context and provided it with a connotation that is actually entirely at odds with the message it is intended to communicate.

Jeremiah 29:11 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.” (NIV)

Isolated from its context, this sounds like a happy affirmation of God’s plan for your personal well-being. With a little bit of imagination, it might even serve to affirm God’s desire for your own wealth and prosperity, a la Joel Osteenism, but let’s take a closer look. The entire book of Jeremiah consists primarily of its namesake telling the nation of Israel that their continued persistence in idolatry and rebellion towards the one true God had earned them judgment. Jeremiah tells them time and again that they must accept the fact that they will be subjugated to pagan Babylon. The problem is that Israel didn’t want to hear it, and to say that Jeremiah wasn’t well-received is an understatement. 

In Jeremiah 28, Hananiah began to falsely proclaim that Israel would be delivered from Babylon within two years, at which time their king would be restored, their exiles would come home, and even the temple’s treasures would be returned. To this false prophet, Jeremiah speaks in 28:15-16: 

“Listen, Hananiah! The Lord has not sent you, yet you have persuaded this nation to trust in lies. Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I am about to remove you from the face of the earth. This very year you are going to die, because you have preached rebellion against the Lord.’” (NIV)

In that setting, we have chapter 29 which contains a letter that Jeremiah sent to those who were already living as exiles in Babylon. He tells them to “seek the peace and prosperity” of their new cities, and to settle in and build houses. He directs them to have families and prepare for their children to have families as well. (29:5-7). Jeremiah warns them not to believe the false prophets because it would be seventy years before the exiles return. Seventy years. Let that sink in. That meant that with perhaps a few exceptions, everyone hearing this message had been sentenced (because of their rebellion to God) to live out the rest of their lives as humiliated, conquered exiles in a pagan nation. They would never see their homeland again. Only then do we have 29:11’s promise for Israel’s future. It was a promise they would never live to see – a bitter pill to swallow. 

What does it matter, though? Certainly, we can extrapolate from Scripture that God does have a plan for us as individuals. Certainly, we can conclude that God wants us to have hope and a future, and that He would not wish us harm. Or can we? The problem with misapplying these kinds of verses is that we build a very shallow view of God’s promises, and indeed His sovereignty as well. It seems pretty clear that in spite of God’s promise to bless future generations once they turned back to Him, the readers of this message didn’t come away with a personally warm and fuzzy view of God’s plan. 

I’m not sure they would have been keen on adorning their walls with a promise for their grandchildren that could have been theirs if they hadn’t blown it. If we take Jeremiah 29:11 out of its context, we run the risk of sounding much more like one of the false prophets promising immediate relief, instead of Jeremiah the true prophet who spoke the unpleasant truth, even though he got tossed into a well for his trouble.

In an even broader sense, these types of errors threaten the integrity and credibility of the church’s system for reading and applying Scripture. If I can massage a feel-good message out of a passage declaring judgment (even if my conclusion might be generally correct according to other passages), I’ve replaced the objective foundation of Scripture with subjective human opinion. I’ve flung open the gate to serious error. However, even when we don’t go down the road to heresy, when nonbelievers see us play fast and loose with Scripture in the little things, it gives them cause to believe that when we cite Scripture as the rationale for our stance on an important doctrinal or moral issue, it’s just another way to enforce our personal opinions.

It’s time for us to take a critical look at how we use Scripture, and not just Jeremiah 29:11. The Bible’s message wasn’t meant to be reduced to bumper-stickers, or 140 character Twitter posts. However, Christendom abounds with verses that are misused, massaged, and mangled to say what we want them to say, and not what God meant to say. It needs to stop. We are mishandling the very words of God Almighty, and surely not without grave consequences.


Popular posts from this blog

Why Don't I Talk More About Revelation?

There is a reason that I don't spend a lot of time talking about the Book of Revelation. Because, for whatever reason, people will thrust aside or trample scores of clear, concise, and unmistakable Biblical principles and passages, scrambling to pin down some obscure interpretation of Revelation.

Revelation is God's word. We should treat it as such, by reading and attempting to understand it. However, end times discussions themselves tend to have a lot in common with politics. Once the topic comes up, it steamrolls everything else, people start spouting more unsubstantiated opinions than can be counted, and no one really learns anything of real value.

We could put it this way. There are 31,102 verses in the entire Bible. There are 404 verses in Revelation. That means that Revelation makes up a little over 1% of the Bible.

Clearly, it would be reaching too far to suggest that a dogmatic formula for connecting the size of a book and the time a Christians spends in it. However, i…

John Crist Demonstrates the Poor Thinking Skills of Modern Christians

In a recent rant on Instagram, Christian comedian John Crist demonstrated just how bad modern Christians can be at critical thought. Now, to be honest with you, I had no idea who John Crist was until about 5 minutes ago, though a quick check of YouTube showed some of his comedy to be marginally entertaining. But perhaps he should stick with entertaining rather than trying to lecture believers on matters of substance.
The subject of Crist’s rant was the criticism Lauren Daigle has received regarding her failure, when questioned, to communicate the clear teaching of Scripture on the issue of homosexuality. There is no doubt that Daigle is wrong. Perhaps she is merely Scripturally illiterate, or she is capitulating to maintain her popularity, but she is wrong. In her interview with radio host Domenick Nati, she repeats the error that so many Christians have accepted – the conclusion that if I get to know someone living in immorality, and they don’t seem like a terrible person, then I mus…

The Many Dangers of "Woke" Christianity

If you ever want a reason to question your faith in humanity, read the comments section of a controversial news story. For me, it is most difficult to read the comments that come from people arguing for a position with which I agree, but in all the most mean-spirited, unhelpful and generally idiotic ways.
Granted, comments sections generally draw in all the Internet's cousin Eddy's like a porch-light brings in moths at night, nevertheless, it forces me, and I imagine many other Christians to fight the urge to shout to anyone who will listen that "We aren't like those Christians."
I think this instinct is part of the draw of "woke" Christianity, which recasts Christianity into primarily a social justice philosophy. I think it comes from a not-so-wrong desire for a kinder gentler Christianity more preoccupied with meeting the needs of the hurting, than with shouting opinions through bull-horns on the street corner.
But, here be dragons. Progressive, or "…