Jeremiah 29:11 – A brief explanation:
Surely this verse sounds very encouraging personally. It is probably one of the most favourite verses Christians would love to declare to themselves. Of course I believe God’s will for those who love Him are good and glorious (even if we don’t see it that way at first and yes, he had chosen and loved us first) but lets talk Jeremiah 29:11 in context as what the author Jeremiah really meant for the passage he wrote.
Jeremiah 29:11 – 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.
The verse is not actually addressed to individuals but instead to the nation of Israel. The Israelites (Judahites) during this time were actually exiled in Babylon as a punishment from God because of their sheer disobedience time and time again (wicked kings leading people to idolatry – check the Book of Kings 1 & 2). Prior to this verse, a false prophet by the name of Hananiah was prophesying boldly in the presence of priests and the Israelites that the Lord will deliver Israel from Babylon in 2 years time (Jeremiah 28:1-4).
In fact, Hananiah was not just blurting out words from his mouth, he even acted on such prophecy in Jeremiah 28:10-11 by breaking the wooden yoke Jeremiah was wearing (commanded by God as an example to Judah and neighbouring kingdoms to submit to Babylon’s king Nebuchadnezzar – Jeremiah 27:1-11). Hananiah’s prophecy was in direct contrast to Jeremiahs prophecy that Judah (Israel) will be in exile for 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11-12).
Hananiah even declared that Jehoiachin (an ancestor of Joseph the husband of Mary – Matthew 1:11) son of Jehoiakim king of Judah will be brought back to Judah from Babylon which goes against what the Lord said that Jehoiachin will die in a foreign land. In fact Jehoichin remained a prisoner for 37 years in Babylon before he was finally freed, spent the rest of his days and died in Babylon (Jeremiah 52:31-33).
In short: Hananiah lied, gave false hope to the people of Israel, removed and broke the wooden yoke even after Jeremiah’s “subtle” (with a hint of sarcasm) warning (Jeremiah 28:6-9). Because of these, the wooden yoke was replaced with an iron yoke signifying a hard and cruel servitude to the king of Babylon. God also said that he will remove Hananiah so in the seventh month of that same year Jeremiah rebuked him, Hananiah the false prophet died.
What an interesting back story for Jeremiah 29:11 but the point for this verse is that the Israelites have to serve the king of Babylon for 70 years despite the hardship and cruel rule. They have to settle down in the land of their conquerors, plant and eat their food, increase in number, make peace and even help prosper the nation that had conquered and exiled them. They have to live with that situation for 70 years as exiles before God will bring them back to their land and that’s where God tells them “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.”
Perhaps at that point when they heard Jeremiah said “70 years” they probably would have frowned in disbelief. Most (if not all) of the adult people who heard it are likely dead after 70 years. Hananiah’s 2 years seems like a sweet note to embrace and hope for than Jeremiah’s excruciatingly long 70 years. That means it is the next generation or even 2 generations after who would experience liberation and restoration from Babylon. After all, it was Zerubbabel the grandson of Jehoiachin who led Israel back to their promise land rebuild the temple.
For them to prosper, for them to have a hope and a future, they have to go under the “rod” of God after generations (400 years est) of mostly disobedience and idolatry as recorded in the Books of Kings 1 & 2. God knows that Israel (sadly not all) will finally call on to Him, pray and seek Him with all their hearts. God will listen and he shall be found to those whose heart truly seeks Him. God will restore Israel again from exile (Jeremiah 29:12-14) but to those who refuse God’s warning through His prophets time and time again, a stern judgement will come upon them (Jeremiah 29:19)
Why all these trouble for 70 years? To discipline Israel. When God disciplines, he always reminds why and will never forget his promise. He never forgot his promise to the nation of Israel. Just like Israel, we have to remember that God’s plan despite being good for us is not exactly like a wish granted by a genie that will happen in a snap. It’s not like a press of a button and all the sufferings disappear in an instant.
At most times, we have to endure some challenges, hardships, even discipline but it is through this process of pruning we become more wise and strong in the Lord yet humble, contented and dependent with the Lord. Imagine that the Israelites wanted to leave from their captors the Babylonians as soon as possible but God tells them “not yet; just stay put” and commanded instead to help the Babylonians prosper.
It is like you’re assigned in a department you don’t want to be in the first place and your CEO tells you to help that department running smoothly even though you don’t like the people and its head. Unlike the CEO, God always reminds his people about his promises and the promises he has full-filled. Jeremiah 29:11 is exactly that.
The next time we hear a brethren declaring Jeremiah 29:11 to you or to the congregation, at least we know it was really addressed to Israel as a whole. If we want to apply that verse in our lives, then remember the whole context so we will be reminded about enduring God’s discipline, process and even judgement if we refuse His warnings found in the Bible.
We will be reminded to persevere in the midst of trials we encounter. For us to grow both spiritually, mentally and in character (you can throw in skills and abilities too if you want), there’s no shortcuts for God will not give us an easy pass. It does take an iron to sharpen an iron not with one strike but many.
Remember, it is God’s plans for He knows His plans that will prosper and not harm, that will give hope and a future for His people. Not the Israelites plans, not our plans but God’s plans. So let us stop treating Jeremiah 29:11 as if it is a magic stamp that whatever our selfish desire wants, God is compelled to fulfill right away. Nope, that is not how it works. If we want to declare Jeremiah 29:11 then…
Always remember these verses too – Hebrews 12:5-13
5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”[a]
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,”[b] so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.