Jeremiah 29:11 – a case of inverting “the plans I have for you”

LONG POST ALERT — (I don’t apologise, but I do warn you so that you can set a little more time aside for today’s devotional)

Jeremiah 29:11 is often referenced and even quoted by professing Christians. But what was the plans God had for His people when Jeremiah prophesied it? And how does it apply to us today?

What does God mean with what He prophesied through Jeremiah in 29:11? Here is a brief exposition of the chapter.

vv 1-3
The Bible was not written primary to you (although, according to 2 Tim 3:16-17 and 1 Cor 10:6 & 11 it was certainly written for you.) Since this is written to the nation of Israel between the time of Moses and Jesus’ 1st coming, we know that all things are in the context of an earthly theocracy, not just in the context of salvation. (i.e. political protection, physical health and fertility for the people, animals and crops, and spiritual guidance are the terms of the Mosaic promise from their King, the LORD. Cf. Deut 7:6-16)

vv4-7
The recipients of this prophecy were the Israeli believers who were living during the time of national judgment and exile. They were called to endure under the judgment and remain faithful. The prophecy was essentially that even in the midst of national judgment, the faithful will succeed.

vv8-9
Prophets would arise prophesying peace from the LORD (That immanent peace  is the content of their prophecies is alluded to in v10a, but already quoted in 28:1-3 & 10-11). That this was a false prophecy was clear from when the LORD previously clearly prophesied that the judgment would last seventy years (25:11-12).

vv10-14
The reason why the believing Israelis had to be faithful for the seventy years in Babylon is because the LORD had not forgotten His covenant with them. When the time of repentance came (v12) at the end of the seventy years, then God’s promises of blessing will be fulfilled. In other words, just like the seventy years were proof that God’s promises of judgment (cf. Deut  28:15-68) are sure, so the time after the seventy years will be proof that God’s promises of blessing (cf. Deut 28:1-14) are sure.

Some extra clarifications in light of the modern uses of the text

v10
The blessings of v11 are guaranteed not to happen anytime soon, but are by definition on a seventy year waiting list

v11
This is merely an affirmation that God not only judges, but that after judgment there will be blessing. It is not a promise, merely a statement of God’s knowledge of His own goodness.

vv12-13
Repentance is always part of any prophecy of transition from judgment to blessing (cf. Deut 4:28-31; 30:1-10 “turn” is the OT word for the NT “repent”;   1 Kings 8:46-50; Hosea 3:4-5, and many more!)

v13
seek me with all your heart” NOT “seek a blessing with all your heart

v14
A reminder that this whole statement of God’s promise for eventual blessing is related to the seventy year exile of Israel in the land of Babylon

So what was Jeremiah actually saying?

Jeremiah is saying that since God’s promise of judgment is true, those who live during that time must remain godly in the foreign land (vv 4-7). He then continues by warning the exiles not to believe false prophets who minimise the judgment for the sake of focussing on blessing. Instead, they are to remember that although the judgment will be very long, it will not be the end, for the LORD who promises judgment always promises blessing when there is repentance.

The application that God intended for the people to whom these verses were written is therefore the following:

  1. In time of trouble, remain faithful (vv 4-7)
  2. When you have been wicked and God brings judgment, do not believe those who preach peace, blessing and prosperity (vv 8-9). When you are enduring judgment (be it for your sins, or simply by living in the midst of sinful people), then remember that the LORD is not only a God of whose promises of judgment come to pass, but Whose promises of blessings will also come to pass at His appointed time (vv 10-11).
  3. Remember that in contrast to following prosperity-prophets, repentance is to be the response when judged. (vv 12-14)

How did the original audience understand this prophecy? The godly among them knew the focus was repentance and not blessing: Daniel 9 (Esp. vv 2, 15-19)

How does it apply to us?

Although Jeremiah 29:1-14 were not written primary to us , it is indeed written for us. How should we apply Jeremiah 29:11? Exactly the same way! Except for the national elements that were part of the Mosaic covenant that we as Christians do not experience anymore, those four points of application are as applicable to us as it was to them.

When it comes to applying the Bible that was written so long ago, do not seek some selfish application, but go and determine what exactly the primary application for the original audience was, and then, recognising the differences between God’s covenant with them (in the case of Jer 29, the Mosaic covenant) and God’s covenant with you (New covenant), go and apply the text in the same way.

Something to ponder:

Why is it that so many so-called ‘Christians’ disregard the clear meaning of the Word of the LORD and manipulate it for personal blessing? Why is Jeremiah 29:11 so popular and not 7:16, 11:14, and 14:11?

Jeremiah 29:11 – a case of inverting “the plans I have for you”
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