Is Jeremiah 29:11 for me or for others?

What is Jeremiah chapter twenty-nine verse eleven, if not comforting, empowering and saturated with hope?

“‘For I know what plans I have for you,’ says the LORD. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope.’” 

If that ancient prophet could walk into our Christian stores filled with posters and plaques of Jeremiah 29:11, would he tear his clothes in frustration? The irony would certainly not be lost on him. Yet it seems to lie beyond our grasp, if marketing and sales indicate how we derive hope from this divine promise.

What would disturb Jeremiah would go deeper than simply our failure to recognize this promise was directed toward the exiles in Babylon. It is the irony of how we use this verse that is so much more profound!

Jeremiah’s ministry entailed battling the false prophets. He proclaimed hope contingent upon repentance. The false messengers, on the other hand, announced a flat, one dimensional message. They offered empowerment without transformation, hope devoid of repentance. In fact, if the false prophets were given the opportunity, they would have gladly plastered Jeremiah 29:11 posters everywhere! It fits into their comforting repertoire. Just listen to their affirming voices:

“No harm will come to us. We will not experience war and famine.” Jeremiah 5:12 

“Everything will be alright!” Jeremiah 6:14 

“We are safe!” Jeremiah 7:10 

“Peace, peace!” Jeremiah 8:11 

“The Lord God will give you lasting peace and prosperity in this place.” Jeremiah 14:13 

“The LORD says, You will have peace. … No harm will come to you.” Jeremiah 23:17 

To lay 29:11 alongside the voice of the false prophets invites the question, why does Jeremiah’s authentic message from God sound so similar to the false prophets? The short answer is our popular usage of Jeremiah 29:11 brutally rips it from its context!

To a people whom God had punished and driven into exile for their sins (Jeremiah 13:22; 16:12-13), God instructed them to settle down, thus abandoning any fanciful notions of a quick return (Jeremiah 29:4-9). Yet, their story would take a turn after seventy years. Once the severe lesson of captivity was completed, God planned to prosper them (Jeremiah 29:11). A transformed people would pray and seek God. Furthermore, God would respond (Jeremiah 29:12-14).

Jeremiah 29:11 is no blank check with a Pollyanna promise affirming God’s blessings over our lives. It reassures a beaten down people of what God would do for a changed people.

How stark the contextless Christian poster contrasts with God’s promised future awaiting his changed exiles. God is good. God is worthy of our devotion, even if we do not receive the prosperity described in Jeremiah 29:11.

2 Replies to “Is Jeremiah 29:11 for me or for others?”

  1. On my first day as a full time preacher, my mother found a bookmark with this verse on it in the parking lot of her job, picked it up, and gave it to me. It’s been on the desk in my office ever since.

    Yes, I am not a Jew about to be exiled into Babylonian captivity, and no, I’ve never looked at that verse in the way you say a lot of religious people do. However, the verse has for fifteen years reminded me that God both has a plan for me and is watching over me. It’s been the catalyst to renew my faith and give me strength during the several times I was beaten down.

  2. Thanks Jon for your thoughts. We can certainly agree that God’s promises are inspiring during times of difficulty. I have been there. I have held on dearly to Jesus’ promises more than once – and he was faithful.

    In fact, the statement in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you and I will never abandon you,” emphasizes your point about God watching over Christians.

    Furthermore, God certainly creates his people to do good works. Ephesians 2:10 And God achieves his will through them. Philippians 2:13 These are the verses that should inspire us, because they were written for us!

    In addition to the article’s content, for both a pragmatic reason as well as a matter of proper interpretation, I think it is a dangerous practice to gain inspiration from God’s promises directed specifically for others.

    Biblical history from Jeremiah onward through Acts is strewn with God’s faithful people not prospering, but rather suffering and even dying. Many have not received the promises of Jeremiah 29:11. Was God unfaithful? Did God lie? Might not clinging to a promise that God never made to us, cause some who never receive that prosperity to doubt God’s faithfulness?

    We understand how to interpret the narrative of a novel, where one character makes a promise to another. We do not personally apply such promises to ourselves. We should not abandon such proper techniques of interpretation, just because it is the Bible. I believe dangerous blowback could occur, if for pragmatic reasons we cause biblical texts to function in a way that they were never designed to perform. This can teach and model a method of handling scripture leading to dangerous results.

    God’s word provides us numerous and wonderful promises directed toward us. These are the ones upon which we need to quote and build our lives. Doing so also promotes a responsible handling of scripture.

    I respectfully submit these thoughts for consideration.

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