What Jeremiah 29:11 Really Means
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This article came about as an accident of sorts. I was writing an article on whether or not God has a specific plan and purpose for our lives (I’m still working on that one). But when I got to the end and read over what I had written I realized I wrote more on the meaning of Jeremiah 29:11, oops. Rather than delete it and start over I thought I’d write a second article specifically on this verse.
Besides John 3:16, Jeremiah 29:11 might be the most recognized verse in the Bible. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Anyone who grew up in the church will recognize this verse. But do we really have an accurate understanding of what it means? Before we can know what it’s saying we have to understand the context it is written in.
For more on reading the Bible in context: How to Read the Bible (better)
What Jeremiah 29:11 Really Means
When you read the surrounding verses we see that it is God talking to the Israelites through Jeremiah. God is promising that He has plans for the future of His people, the Israelites. As Jeremiah is relaying the words of God, the Israelites are being held captive by the Babylonians; in other words, they are slaves.
During this time there were a few false prophets that were claiming that God was going to release His people soon. If you were to read the surrounding verses in Jeremiah 29, you would see God denounce the false prophets, tell them they are going to have to wait (70 years), and tell them while they are there to seek peace and prosperity.
This was tough news for the Israelites to hear. That’s why God follows this tough news with Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
This verse is meant to encourage that despite things not going the way the Israelites wanted, God is still in control. The Israelites are told to trust God, even though things probably aren’t making much sense to them. That’s faith, isn’t it? Believing now, what will only make sense in hindsight.
This passage is not addressed to a person, but rather God is addressing His people. He’s giving hope to a group of people that are struggling with understanding what God is doing. That’s the context in which this verse is written.
Applying The Context
We must understand this context before we claim the promise that God is for us. The promise of God in this verse is that though things are tough right now, at the end of the day God is still in control. It’s a plea to God’s people that God’s plan is good and that the other paths that maybe look good, actually aren’t good.
While this verse is written to a group of captive Israelites thousands of years ago that doesn’t mean it has no application for us today. I would actually argue the context makes it more real and more powerful.
For Us Today
So where does this leave us? What do we do with this verse? This verse is a promise to God’s people that His plan for us is good. And who are God’s people? In the context of the verse it’s the Israelites. But when Jesus enters the picture He says He came for everyone. In others we are all His people. So the truth of this verse is still true for us today.
Many have taken this verse to mean that God will make their life easy, or they will get exactly what they want. But that’s not what this promise is. Remember God told His people this verse right after telling them some really tough news. And the Israelites didn’t want to hear it; they’d rather listen to the false voices telling them the better sounding noise. Sound familiar? That’s something we do all the time.
This verse is telling us that while life will get incredibly difficult at times, it is God who is in control. And while the difficult season might not end tomorrow, God is still there and He will bring His people through it.
This is why Jesus says, Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Matthew 6:25-26
This message is a direct tie to Jeremiah 29:11. It’s not a promise of a life where there’s nothing to worry about. It’s a promise of a life where in the midst of worrisome problems we can have peace. Having faith, believing in God, means trusting that His plan is what’s best for us, even when it doesn’t make sense.
Some things might never make sense in this life. It must have seemed that way to the Israelites that died in captivity. But God can see things we cannot. One day things will be revealed, and we will see the larger picture. Until then we have this promise. God is with us, and we can find peace and rest in that. The Gospel message isn’t one of an easy life. Rather a life in which we never have to be alone.
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