Jeremiah 29:11 *For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare[a] and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
A few weeks ago, our church began a Sunday School series on Bible verses often taken out of context. This last Sunday, the verse discussed was Jeremiah 29:11. Regrettably, this series as of yet is not online, or else I would post the link. This verse is often used by Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, and others in a narcigesis manner to tell people God has big plans for our life and wants prosperity for us. Reading the rest of Jeremiah 29 and the preceding chapter and given the proper context, however, this verse is not about the modern Christian, or any Christian, achieving health, wealth, prosperity, or their dreams and goals.
These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. The nation of Israel had been taken by the Babylonians into captivity. The Temple, as well as the entire city of Jerusalem, was in ruins. Their king was in chains with his eyes gouged out. The glory of Israel as a nation was finished. But in the midst of that terrible situation, God spoke through His prophet Jeremiah. God said, “Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.” For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream. For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them,” declares the Lord. For thus says the Lord, “When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. 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 search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,” declares the Lord, “and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.”
Jeremiah 29:11 is about the people in exile in Babylon being brought back to Jerusalem. There is something far greater and eternally significant that we learn from this story in its true context. This verse does not apply to us, but to those who lived in that time and that situation.
What people miss when they misapply this passage to themselves is much greater than the prosperity Gospel. God does not abandon His people! In spite of their sin, God was relentlessly faithful to His covenants regarding Israel’s future and His promised Messiah. Not even Babylonian captivity could prevent His promises from coming to pass. Likewise His promises to us as New Testament believers concerning our calling and election are also unshakeable (John 10:27–29). And they provide far more lasting comfort than Old Testament verses plucked out of context and misappropriated for modern audiences. God kept His promise to those Israelites. God is a God who does not lie, who keeps every promise He makes. What he has promised to the Church isn’t financial prosperity, but eternal life through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.