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Jeremiah 29:11 is NOT about you…

November 16, 2012

(This is an edited version of one of my Facebook posts. I figured that I would post it early on so that I can refer to it later. Sorry for the length but it could easily be much longer…)

I am sure that you are aware of this verse: “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.” Now this is a classic example of a verse that is taken out of its context and misinterpreted, misapplied, and misused. Misinterpretation is a common side-affect to ‘out-of-context’ verses, so I want to show you what happens when you put it back into its context.

First, how it is misused. A preacher will normally be reflecting on some of the struggles that all humans face while living in this fallen world. Problems like debt, a dead family member or friend, a sickness, a lost job, broken relationships, bad marriages, wayward children, and so on. Then they attempt to offer hope by pointing to a verse like Jeremiah 29:11 and saying,

“See, God knows the plans He has for you. God doesn’t want you to face all this pain and hurt continually… no, He has plans, not of evil, but of prosperity for you. Are you young and confused about what your future holds? Future job, future relationship, or maybe you just want to know what your purpose is. Don’t worry, God has promised you that He has good plans of a good future and a hope. God has promised that your future will be better than your present. Claim for yourself this promise found in Jeremiah 29:11.”

So the question is who is this verse about? Okay, let’s put that verse back into its context.

Jeremiah 29:1 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.

This verse alone give us enough clues to realize that this passage is not about us. This is not God giving us a promise but instead we are simply reading someone else’s mail. God told Jeremiah to send this letter to the exiles at that time in Babylon. Simply put, we don’t qualify, that is, unless you are a 3000 year old Jew who was exiled to Babylon… you don’t qualify, but let’s keep looking at the context to see if this is backed up in the text

29:2-4 This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the eunuchs, the officials of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metal workers had departed from Jerusalem.The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. It said: “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:

The promise found in verse 11 follows a description of a specific time in history. It gives very specific names and events. To say that this promise is for us is to completely miss the context of this passage. Thus says the Lord… to all the exiles whom I have sent… to Babylon.I don’t think that could get too much clearer. The Lord says the following verses (including verse 11) to the Jews He exiled to Babylon. Yeah…. We really don’t qualify; but let’s continue…

29:5-10 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.  Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But 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 find your welfare. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the LORD. “For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.

Just to quickly sum up these verses, God tells the exiles, “You better settle in and make a life for yourselves in Babylon. For many of you, this is where you are going to die because it is going to be 70 Years till I bring you out of that land. Don’t listen to those people who claim to speak on my behalf who tell you that I am coming for you soon for I have not sent them. I am not coming for you for another 70 years’.

Think about this real quick. When Israel failed to believe that God was going to give them the promise land and they rebelled against Moses and Aaron, God sent them to wander in the desert for 40 years so that all that generation would die without receiving the promise. 40 years seems bad enough but God is saying to these Israelites that it is going to be 70 YEARS until God fulfills His promise to bring them back. Just think about this, the youngest exile child who heard Jeremiah 29:11 was over 70 (if they managed to live that long) before they actually saw that promise fulfilled. Do you really want to claim this promise for yourself? If I would claim that promise for myself right now, I would be 92 before it came true… not so great is it.

Then God gives the exiles who have just received this ‘not so good news’ this promise… to them……them… the exiles… (just wanted to make sure that was clear)

29:11-14 “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. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”

Now this verse makes sense. God is giving His people hope by promising that while they are in exile, He will still be with them, blessing them, and more than that he gives them hope. You see this hope a little clearer in verse 14 where God promises to bring all of His people out of exile, into one nation and there He will bless them if they do not turn to worship other gods. This is not a promise given to us that God has ‘plans of welfare and not evil… to give you a future and a hope’, instead; this is a promise to the exiled Israelites.

I think that I have been both clear and correct in my interpretation but just in case I have not been clear, allow me to work this from another angle. Let’s begin with verse 11 and seek to define the words that we see, NOT by our feelings, but by the context that the verse is in…

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare andnot for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

“You” – now this word can mean many things depending on its context. It could mean the President of the United States or a poor peasant, so what does it mean in this verse? Does it mean ‘God’s people’? Does it mean ‘humanity in general’? No. The ‘you’ that is found twice in this verse means (in its context) ‘the exiles’. The ‘you’ here, cannot mean anything but what the context tell us it means and the ‘you’ can only be understood in light of verses 1 & 4. The ‘you’ cannot mean you or me because there is neither a direct or indirect reference to us. Using the basic rules of language, this verse literally says, “For I know the plans I have for THE EXILES, declares the Lord… to give THE EXILES a future and a hope ”      that is what that word means in context…

“Plans” – this is another word that could mean many things depending on its context but what does it mean in this verse? “I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations… and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” (Verse 14) – Those are the plans. We cannot make that word “plans” mean ‘our happiness’ or ‘our well-being’ or ‘our future job’ or ‘our future spouse’ because the context does not allow such inferences. We have to interpret this verse based solely on its context.

“Welfare” – the Hebrew word carries more the idea of ‘peace’ and not wealth as many would interpret it today but what does the context tell us welfare/peace is referring to. We see that “peace is found in seeking peace/welfare for the land that you are exiled to”… verse 7.

“Future and a hope” – what does this mean in context? This another reference to verse 14 as well as the fact that God promised to return after 70 years, seen in verse 10. Many people hold on to this verse as though God is promising “them” that He has a wonderful future for them. I am sorry to say this, but that view cannot be supported from the text or basic biblical hermeneutics. If you want a picture of what a Christian’s life looks like, look at the examples in the New Testament. The normal “future” for a Christian is persecution…

We don’t get to decide what Jeremiah 29:11 means. It can only mean what both the human and Divine author wanted it to mean.

I understand that there are many Christians who suffer and in their suffering, they turn and trust in Jeremiah 29:11. I think that it is a good thing for them to console themselves with God’s Word but there are so many promises that are given directly to us that to hold onto a promise that is not given to us (like Jeremiah 29:11) doesn’t make sense.

Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Do you love God and love your Savior? Then God promises that he is going to work all things together for good. Hold to this promise. Trust in what God HAS promised to you. You don’t have to misuse a verse like Jeremiah 29:11 to know that God loves you and desires good for you. It is extremely important that we handle God’s Word properly and that is what this post is about. I want to see people use the Word of God as it was meant to be used. Don’t ‘cherry-pick’ verses because you like what they say, rather learn to understand what the author is telling you in context and believe and trust in that.

Allow me to address one final objection that commonly arises. If Jeremiah 29:11 is not addressed to us, why read it? In fact, why don’t we throw out all of the Old Testament and most of the New Testament since the majority of it is specifically addressed to people “not us”? First, most of the letters we find in the New Testament are addressed to churches in Paul’s day but they convey to us doctrine and theology that applies to us today because God does not change. Secondly, while passages like Jeremiah 29:11 do not specifically apply to us; there are many things that we can, and should learn from them. I will give you a couple ideas to start with…

  1. God is Just. We see in Jeremiah 29 that the Israelites were sent into exile because they committed idolatry. God said of Himself, “I am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:5) and the judgment seen in Jeremiah 29 is the display of God’s Just judgment. We can learn from Jeremiah 29 that God Does not take sin lightly and He will punish sinners.

Jeremiah 22:8-9 “And many nations will pass by this city, and every man will say to his neighbor, “Why has the LORD dealt thus with this great city?” And they will answer, “Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD their God and worshiped other gods and served them.”

  1. God is merciful and full of grace. In spite of the fact that the Israelites sinned grievously against God, He still gave them hope by promising to bring them back to Jerusalem. He promised that in spite of their rebellion, He would still prosper them in Babylon.
  2. God is Sovereign over Kings, and Nations. We see that God used the King and the army of Babylon as a means of punishing His people for their sin. Proverbs 16:9 The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.
  3. God is Sovereign over History. The fact that God did not simply wipe out the Jews for their idolatry is a gracious in and of itself but we also see an ulterior motive. God, throughout history, is preserving the line that leads to Christ. He promised Adam and Eve that a seed would come who would crush the head of the serpent and he chose to bring the seed through the Israelites.
  4. God keeps His promises. We see from history that God fulfilled His promise to the Israelites by bringing them out of Babylon. We can trust that God will keep the promises that he makes to us. What promise has he made to us? That we can receive the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of eternal life through the work of Christ on the cross.

Here is my response to some of the objections that have been raised….

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53 Comments
  1. Amen! Context is everything…it’s talking about Israel.

    • i dont have issue with this but is he translating from the greek or hebrew or just going from the american context

      • Scholars much more skilled in the Hebraic language than I will ever be, have already done the translation. There isn’t some hidden meaning in the original language. The passage says exactly what it intended to say and I was simply exegeting it. I do not know what you meant by “American context” but I was looking at the what the words simply mean in any context…

  2. Reblogged this on A Father's Journey and commented:
    I have written a couple times on this issue that is rampant and encouraged in our churches. This post is a great exegesis of one of the most commonly misused passages that I have come across.

  3. Anonymous permalink

    If you want to talk about applying the promises of God’s word and realizing that it can’t be applied into your life by way of Jeremiah the prophet then you would have to say the same about applying Proverbs and the wisdom God provides in these passages because these also were not written to you. They were written to Solomon’s son so in your line of thinking for what is directed to someone specific we are reading the mail of Solomon to his son and should not be applied to our lives but if we see that God’s word was meant to be a mirror of what God has planned for all who are in his care we can see that just as he made good on His promise to those in exile that he will also do the same for those who face trials no matter what they are. This is the purpose of Scripture, to reveal the heart of God to his children and to the world. Are we not God’s children? Are we not in his care? Are we not to declare to the world by way of the Gospel that God will keep his promises! Whether you think that Jeremiah 29:11 is for you or not it is a firm look at whether you believe God is out to harm you, have no reason to give you a hope, and provide no future. With anyone that has a trust in Jesus;does not God already make good on this promise no matter where or who you are? Just a thought. I mean no disrespect. I just believe that all of scripture is profitable for rebuke ,correction, and instruction in righteousness so that the man of God may be competent for every good work.

    • No offense taken but I would like to counter what you have said. From what you said, I think that you misunderstood my post. If you read through what I said carefully, you will see that I clearly demonstrated how Jeremiah 29:11 does have implications for our lives today. I also demonstrated that God has made promises in scripture that do indeed apply directly to us today and that they demonstrate God’s desire for the well-being of His children. That being said, using the basic rules of grammar and good biblical hermeneutics, you are doing HARM to God’s word when you make the claim that Jeremiah 29:11 is a promise that God is going to keep in your life. Again, if you look at this verse using basic grammar, the “hope” and the “future” promised is to be “brought back to Israel out of bondage”. This verse doesn’t have some “hidden meaning” but is very explicit and to take the words “hope” and “future” and give them different meanings and then say that God has made that promise (which is totally different from the one in Jer. 29:11) to you is to spit in the face of God’s word.

      So the answer to you question, “With anyone that has a trust in Jesus; does not God already make good on this promise no matter where or who you are?”; is no. God does not bring every believer out of their slavery to Babylon, nor does he bring them back to Israel, nor does he wait 70 years before doing so. That is the promise made in Jer 29:11 and none of those things are fulfilled in the believers life because who do you know who is a slave in Babylon? This is why saying that Jeremiah 29:11 is a promise from God to you is a HUGE problem because nothing could be further from the truth. On the other hand, God has promised “to work all things together for the good of those who love Him”. This is a promise that applies directly to the believer today, in any situation that they may face. If you have such a great promise as this, then why would you want to TWIST scripture so that you can say that “Jer. 29:11 somehow applies to us today”? That doesn’t make sense. I also believe that all of scripture is profitable but do not be foolish enough to think that Paul is trying to say that every single promise made in scripture applies directly to you. Again, go back and read my post and I CLEARLY point out how Jeremiah 29:11 is PROFITABLE to us today WITHOUT having to twist it’s meaning…

      One last note. In Jeremiah 29:11, we have a SPECIFIC promise made by God to SPECIFIC people In a SPECIFIC time under SPECIFIC circumstances in which he promises a SPECIFIC outcome to take place in a SPECIFIC time-frame (70 years). In the Proverbs, we have Solomon writing to his son and describing to him how God has set up the world to work. An example of this would be to honor your parents and the outcome of this would be that you live a long life. This is a general principle for how this world should work and therefore, even though this was written directly to his son, it obviously applies to all people of all time. The same with the 10 commandments. The comparison that you are trying to draw in between Proverbs and Jer. 29:11 is a false comparison that springs from a misunderstanding of the fact that the books are different types of literature as well as the fact that they have different applications. One is wisdom for all of life and one is a specific promise to specific people.

    • Andy permalink

      You are absolutely right Anonymous, I’m really getting tired of these self-proclaimed theological purist who like to tell everyone else they are misusing the scriptures. One of the Spiritual disciplines i learned early in my Christian walk was to speak scritpure into my life. ALL SCRIPUTRE is God breathed and usueful! Yes Jeremiah 29:11 was a promise made to Iseral but also a forshadowing of the promises God makes to us through trusting in His Son Jesus the Christ.

      • Since when has striving for theological purity been seen as a bad thing?

        You claim that your premise is true so I hope you don’t mind me asking you for proof of its validity. You claim that Jeremiah 29:11 was a foreshadow of the promises God makes to us. How so?

        God promises the Israelites that after 70 years he will bring them out of slavery. How is this a foreshadow of a promise God makes to us? I don’t see any correlation whatsoever. Please demonstrate how Jer. 29:11 is a foreshadow from the scripture…

        • Anonymous permalink

          Its very simple…”thinkinhard”. All scripture is God breathed and useful to teach and train us (2 Timothy 3:16). Also, the OT scriptures make us wise for salvation (2 Timothy 3:15). God has a plan for each one of his children (Ephesians 2:10, 1 Corinthians 2:9). However, we must choose to SEEK HIM with all of our hearts in order to see his plans come to fruition in our lives. However, the one roadblock to seeking God with all of our hearts is SIN. We are held “captive” and enslaved to sin. Encouragingly, when we turn to God and SEEK HIM we are released from our captivity by the blood of Jesus. And once we are set free, we then are able to see Gods perfect plans for us come to fullfillment. Thats how we relate Jeremiah 29:11-14 to our lives today “thinkinhard”.

      • daughter of Christ permalink

        Amen!

      • Anonymous permalink

        Amen!

      • Great article

      • mark permalink

        Amen

    • Anonymous permalink

      This is exactly dead on! Many places in the bible are showing what others went through and are used as examples to us to show God’s love and grace and healing and plans for those who believe in him and are now part of his called ones. Look at Job, Joseph, King David- all showing us examples! So I completely disagree that Jerimiah 29:11-12 isn’t about us! God is showing as an example come and pray to me and I will listen and as an example I do have plans for everyone!

    • Anonymous permalink

      God bless you the promise of God are taken by faith

    • Psalms wasn’t written to us but it applies to each and every believer. The letters to the various churches weren’t written to us but it applies to us. God was displaying to them how much he loved them and had an overall plan for the nation. As a Christian I am adopted into the family. Jesus said he knew every hair on my head. Paul spoke about the gifts each of has been given to serve the Lord. God said he knew us before we were born. Of course he loves us, has a plan for us, and hope for eternal life and for salvation. Jesus wants to give us life and life more abundantly. You are focusing on the technical aspects of this scripture and ignoring the deeper concept of Gods personality and character towards us……….his children. He may have been sending a message through the prophet here, but the concept of how he loves us all is the same and is timeless. He does know us. He knows us personally. He does love us and have a plan for us all. You argue this point vainly on technicalities and miss the deeper message of Gods relationship to us as his children. And its disheartening that you would take away anyone’s confidence in that by making such a huge issue out of this inspiring passage. A tree really is known by its fruit. People that are inspired by this passage personally shouldn’t have that ripped from them as a piece of their armor……WHY? They are not being led to Satan by believing God loves them and has a plan for them. Why would you dishearten those who have faith in this scripture? In the New Testament, Pharisees are seen as people who place the letter of the law above the spirit (Mark 2:3–28, 3:1–6). Hopefully you haven’t damaged anyone’s faith by discrediting the personal application of this beautiful verse to the believer with this analytical approach to one of Gods most beautiful promises.

  4. Ashley permalink

    I disagree with your statement. The bible is a living testimony to help guide us through our trials and tribulations, to set standards, and to learn how to have a better relationship with God. Just because the Bible illustrates different places, people, and circumstance we still use it to get through the modern troubles of the world. Because the world has developed and evolved by people, technology, money, and weapons we are still able to direct our lives through the lives of the people in the Bible. Although God stated Jermiah 29:11 to the Exiles, we as his children know that he is the same God and he loves us just as much. If it was not intended for his people today, it would not be in the Bible to help guide us during troubling times. Just as God forgave the Israelites for their sins, he will also forgive us for our sins. God created his children to live by his Word and prosper, and have everlasting life… Therefore, Jermiah 29:11 does apply to his children today and the generations to come.

    • I never said that it didn’t have any IMPLICATIONS for us; i just said that this promise doesn’t apply to us today. I did clearly demonstrate how Jeremiah 29:11 is important for us today in that it shows us that God is Just, Merciful, Sovereign, etc. However, these two ideas (applying the promise to us and seeing the nature of God reflected in his action) are not the same thing and should not be confused with one another.

      You cannot say that God has promised you –> “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.” Because he hasn’t promised this to you. You may suffer severe persecution and a horrible death while other Christians live a long healthy life. Besides, if you look at the passage you will see that you would have to wait for 70 years before the promise would come true for you….

      You can say that Jeremiah 29:11 demonstrates the character and nature of God and from that you can draw near to him and trust him. And if you want to know what promises God has for you there are many all throughout scripture that CLEARLY apply to you (Romans 8:28 for example). Jeremiah 29:11 is NOT one of those promises…

      • Anonymous permalink

        Excellent!!! Thank you for this accurate breakdown of this passage.

    • mark permalink

      Amen

  5. Before I say anything, let me start off by saying I agree with most of your article. It is great. I liked how you used immediate and near context of the surrounding verses. I would have even extended it to Jeremiah 28. I also liked how you looked at each word individual. I would encourage you, if you have the education of the Hebrew language, or even Hebrew language resources, incorporate that when looking into individual words, For example, you might want to point out that the “you” in Jeremiah 29:11 is plural in Hebrew, which automatically denies any self-centered view of this verse. I liked how you kept in mind the original audience, too. Keeping in mind the original audience definitely keeps Bible verses from becoming misquoted and/or misinterpreted

    While your exegesis and exposition of the verse in context was great, and you did a wonderful job on why the typical interpretation of the verse is wrong, I feel like you didn’t exactly provide the right interpretation, or even a good one. Indeed, it is true that from Jeremiah, we learn a lot of great doctrine about God. But is that all the book of Jeremiah, as well as the rest of the Old Testament, is for: learning doctrine about God? Can’t I learn anything about myself, or humans as a greater whole, from reading the Old Testament? I agree that we learn great doctrines from the Old Testament, but I also believe we can learn just as much application as we can learn doctrine from the Old Testament. So what can apply to my life (and application to “my life” doesn’t need to be self-centered) from the book of Jeremiah?

    This goes back to our discussion of original context and original audience. I fully agree with you that Jeremiah is written to exiles. I might add more specifically, “exiles from Judah.” I also would fully agree that we are not exiles from Judah in Babylon. But it would be wrong for me to say, “I am not an exile from Judah in Babylon, so this verse does not apply to me.” That would open a whole can of worms! I could then easily turn to Exodus 20 and say to myself, “The ‘you’ in the 10 commandments are the Israelites. Therefore, I believe that it is only the Israelites who are to not kill, commit adultery, steal, lie and covet. I do not have to follow these 10 commandments because they were not addressed to me, and therefore they do not apply to me.” (Then we could get into a big argument about what Christ did to the Law, but that’s a whole different topic.) When I look at the original intended audience, I have to think in what ways can I be like them. And in a way, I am like them. When the exiles from Judah were sent to Babylon, they were aliens in a foreign land, a land that wasn’t there own, a land that wasn’t promised to them. As a Christian, I too am an alien in a foreign land because I am a citizen in the kingdom of God (Ephesians 2:19, 1 Peter 2:9). In this way, I can relate. So now I can apply these verses. As you pointed out, in Jeremiah 29:1-10, God pretty much tells the exiles from Judah, “Get settled down because you’re going to be there awhile.” In the same way, God tells me, “Don’t just sit around waiting for My Son to return. Serve me in this life I have given you, just as I have commanded you.” 1&2 Thessalonians’ overall message would agree with that. That would be a good way to apply Jeremiah 29:1-10, but what about verse 11? The exiles from Judah would become persecuted in Babylon by living a life that does agree with the Babylonian culture, especially their pagan polytheism. You immediately get that vibe reading the book of Daniel, especially chapter 3. Christians, being aliens in a foreign land, get the same suffering and persecution. Jesus constantly reminded his disciples that being a follower of Christ would bring suffering and persecution (Luke 14, among many other passages). Jeremiah 29:11 then becomes the encouragement to both Jews in Babylon and Christians among non-Christians, both who are facing persecution. God says, “Don’t worry. This isn’t how it’s always going to be. I haven’t forgotten you. I will come back for you, and I will help you.” That’s the application to Jeremiah 29:11. It’s not a selfish desire for God to bless all my personal life goals. It’s encouragment that even during tough times, God hasn’t forgotten about me, and he will rescue me.

    One last thing. I noticed that Jeremiah 29:11 is filed under “misquote Bible verses,” along with John 10:10. I agree that those 2 are highly overquoted, misquoted and misinterpreted. But I would add another verse to that: Romans 8:28. And that’s why I shuddered a little bit when you quoted it. I have heard Romans 8:28 misread, misquoted and misinterpreted the same way Jeremiah 29:11 and John 10:10 is. I suggest that maybe you do an exegetical study of Romans 8:28 too.

    • Thank you your thoughts. Just a few thoughts of my own in reply.

      You mention that you don’t think that I provide the right interpretation of Jeremiah 29:11. Interpretation is simply determining what the original author meant when he penned the passage. Interpretation is VERY different from application. When it comes to application of a specific promise, I am hesitant to even say that we should enter into “Application” because when people do that, they “apply” the promise directly to themselves but in order to do so, they have to twist the interpretation in order to make it fit. I think that it is better to look for the “Implications” that this verse has for us.

      You are right in suggesting that you can learn a lot more from Jeremiah than what I have listed. I did not mean for my list to be a comprehensive one but rather one just to get people thinking. When I first wrote this article, people took it that I thought that the entire Old Testament should be removed from the bible because “it wasn’t written to us” and so I was attempting to show them a way to look at Jeremiah 29 without having to twist it’s meaning.

      I disagree that the same thing could be said about Exodus 20. In Exodus we have the moral Law whereas in Jeremiah, we have a temporal, “one-use-only” promise. Whenever we see a moral law in the scripture, it obviously applies to all of humanity and is not the same as a promise. To explain it another way, when you read Exodus, you see lots of Law set out. Why do you obey some (10 commandments) and not others (don’t eat pork)? The answer is that Exodus was written for to a specific people and therefore the Laws are for them. We recognize that some of the laws are “moral Laws” that apply to all of humanity by their very nature, but the rest only apply to the Israelites…

      Two problems with the connections that you are drawing between the Christian life and the exile to Babylon. The first is that when you are doing this type of comparison, you run the danger of “re-interpreting” the promise God makes so that it fits with your comparison by allegorizing it. The second thing is that everything you said that Jeremiah can teach us is clearly taught elsewhere. You showed how the 1&2 Thessalonians teaches how we are to live on this earth as well as the teachings of Jesus that teach that we will be persecuted. If this teaching is in the New Testament, why is it necessary for you to allegorize Jeremiah 29:11? Why not teach it from the passages that are clearly directed at the Christian who is living in between Christ’s ascension and return? You can either allegorize Jeremiah 29:11 which sets a bad president or you can give an exposition of clear passages that teach the same thing…

      You also say that it is an encouragement because it tells you that in the midst of persecution, God hasn’t forgotten you and that he will rescue you. Again, you have to re-interpret that promise in order to come to that conclusion whereas there are many verse in the New Testament that teach the very same thing that do apply to you today. Why not use them instead of Jeremiah 29 if you want encouragement? This is why I used Romans 8:28. I realize that it is a passage that is misused and I hope to find time to do a piece on it but it is also a passage that is readily recognized as applying to us. We know that the fruit of the Spirit is Love and this passage tells us that for those who love God (Christian), he will work all thing together for good. Is this not the same as the application you are trying to draw from Jeremiah 29:11? The difference is that with Jer 29:11, you have to allegorize whereas with Romans 8:28, you simply show people what it clearly says…

      I would like to point out again that the list in the article is not meant to be an extensive list. There are many things that we can learn about God and ourselves, but we shouldn’t imagine that this promise is somehow for us; even in an allegorical sense. There is no need to risk doing damage to God’s word or to mis-led people about proper hermeneutics when there are so many clear passages that do teach the very same thing. If you want to give someone encouragement, do it from a clear passage that does point directly to them instead of Jeremiah 29:11.

    • daughter of Christ permalink

      So true!

  6. daughter of Christ permalink

    Romans 5:6, and 1 Corinthians 10:11 Clearly states that the old testament were set as examples and for our learning. Of course not the old doesn’t apply to the new. But what does apply to today is Jeremiah 29:11. GOD wants us to use what we learned and apply it to our lives. God didn’t change from the time of the old testament til now. He is the one and the same God with the same laws. Hebrew 13:8 says he is the same God as he was yesterday and he is the same God today. The same GOD of the OLD testament. The 10 commandments were of the old testament and they still apply today. Does God not promise us the same hopeful and successful future today? Is that not what he was promising them in Jeremiah 29? Of course it was! By promising them a better future he used them as an example to show us that he promises us the same. (He has great plans for our futures.) God speaks to us through his word. It it used for correction and reproof. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 God can use any part of his word to speak to us wether it be used from the old testament or the new testament. God said his word is like hidden treasures. More than one use and meaning! Matt 13:44-46. I see most of everything else is valid, but it seems like you’re saying we can’t apply Jeremiah 29:11 to our lives today which I disagree with. Because through it all God promises his people great futures. He uses his people as examples for others today. He promised all his people eternal life if they believed in him and walked the right path. He does not promise to one what he can’t another.

  7. anonymous permalink

    Do you think God does have a plan for all people though? I do believe in God because there has to be more to the world… just look at it. Science is just theories, it can explain some things but not everything. And just because you can’t see something it doesn’t mean its not there. However the Bible im not so sure about. Im sure some stuff in there is right, but other stuff is just contradicting itself.

  8. The problem with the Americanized so called Christian church system that has steeples of buildings all around the country is that it doesn’t practice teaching its patrons the way of the Bereans…. Cerebral Christianity is understanding the scriptures, line upon line, precept upon precept …… Thank you for this excellent word study, context study, and scriptural study of a very important verse. Because I am filled with the Spirit of God ( because of Jesus’ finished work) God Himself has breathed life on your writing and I understand a little bit more the importance of historical context to under stand the full meaning of Jesus and what He did for all man kind!!

  9. Do it well permalink

    If the bible is not applicable to us today then you can as well tear off all its pages. How can one say what Jeremiah is saying is not for us yet he believes that Isaiah 53 is relevant for us today. 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 talks about generous giving, this you apply to this generation but was that written for us or for the Corinthian church.

    1 Corinthians 10:11 says it well that the things that were written afore time is for us to learn from and not to repeat them that is in the wrong. If they are written for us, why not Jeremiah 29:11 also written for us? Man get back and re do HOMILETICS AND UNDERSTANDING THE BIBLE

  10. Anonymous 2 permalink

    This article is hopeless…. good point about proverbs anonymous. Do we also misuse other scriptures that come from letters that weren’t written directly to us. What would Paul have to say about that?

  11. Anonymous permalink

    most of the scriptures we hold dear were nt meant for us,including the Romans 8:28 you quoted.or did Paul post that to your mailbox too?
    i dont think the scriptures have to have your name tag on them for you to believe them!
    thats sieving a lot of the promises of God that are meant for you and me!
    if the bible doesnt apply to your christian life,i dont know what religion you follow!

    • Romans 8:28 are for those who love God. Do you love God? Then how can you say that it isn’t for us?

      You are right in saying that scripture doesn’t have to have your name tag on it to believe in it. I have never said such a thing. In fact, I went so far as providing ways that we should believe in passages like Jeremiah 29:11. We should believe that all of Scripture is profitable for our growth in the Christian life but we don’t have to twist it to mean something it never meant in order for it to be profitable.

      There is a huge difference between saying “The bible applies to my life” and “the bible is about me”. If you read my entire post, you would have seen that I defend the use of Jeremiah 29:11 in the christian life while at the same time, I argue against ABUSING it.

  12. Anonymous 3 permalink

    The point is that we need to utilize extreme care when we take an individual verse out of context, and we need to ask ourselves how it would look if we did the same to other verses. The takeaway from passage like this is not God’s totally awesome and radtastically cool plan for you, but rather God’s radical faithfulness to His people [which translates into deliverance] even in spite of their unfaithfulness to Him [which always results in judgment from which they need to be delivered]–a common theme running through the prophetic writings. Of course, this [calling as it does for radical obedience, that is faithfulness, to God] is much more sobering than the well-meaning but ultimately vacuous high that a contextless Jeremiah 29:11 produces, and thus such considerations are not nearly as popular. Look- If Jeremiah 29:11-13 applies to you and all Christian, then by the same logic Jeremiah 44:27 should also apply to all Christians. It reads, “I am watching over them for harm and not for good, and all the men of Judah who are in the land of Egypt will meet their end by the word and by famine until they are completely gone.” There’s just no other way to look at it.

    I’m not saying that the whole chapter of Jeremiah 29 isn’t useful or beneficial. Indeed, I think it is and monumentally so. While those promises are not for us directly, I think they serve as an incredible reminder to us of God’s nature and character. Because we find these verses reflected elsewhere. In Deuteronomy 4:29 “But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” in John 6:37, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” We know that Christ loves us, and has died for us, and that we are adopted sons of God and friends of Jesus and that there is a legitimate, deep relationship there whereby we depend on him and cling to his mercy. And we also know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Even the hard, painful, moments and seasons of agony and distress- there is assurance that God is working those things out to give us a hope and a future. And so I think if you’re looking at those verses in terms of “These verses reflect God’s character- that he had plans for his people to take them out of exile once he had finished punishing them . We see that as they turned to him, his wrath was assuaged and his mercy was on display, and his loving kindness was made manifest” And I definitely think we can and should appreciate the beauty of those verses, and give glory to God for them. But we don’t step in and say that God was speaking those verses to us, in our situation, and that we are the objects of this particular proclamation. These are not promises to us. These verses are not about us and for us, and because of this, unless we are ready to start accepting the other verses directly before and directly after these verses, and unless we are ready to start accepting the whole chapter and book of Jeremiah as formative and binding on us, we’re going to be deceiving ourselves. We need to start being honest, and looking at scriptures in an honest way, and not trying to be the center of every chapter or verse.

  13. i understand what yuou mean but it still has meaning to everybody .. See, God knows the plans He has for you. God doesn’t want you to face all this pain and hurt continually… no, He has plans, not of evil, but of prosperity for you .. .. this tells me as a TRUE believer of Jesus Christ that I should have no worry in life and ALWAYS keep my thoughts positive and focused on OUR LORD AND SAVIOR !

    • Anonymous permalink

      Yes… this passage applies to all believers in Christ.. the God of Jeremiah, jacob, abraham , moses is also our God, and this is also the promise of God to each one of us. God loves us! everybody may face difficulties and hardships in life but the promise of God in Jeremiah 29:11 Gives us the encouragement and strength to go on with life… and theres nothing wrong if we believe this passage is for us or for israelites only, we are now His children God cares and loves us very much..

  14. Anonymous permalink

    If not in this life it will be the next, God will prosper me.

  15. Anonymous permalink

    I like your argument but I tend to differ. There’s no where in the Bible where God addresses me directly so that I may know His thoughts towards me but I read how He dealt with others so that I might understand how He deals with man. What He did with others is what He deals with me because we live in the same world and have practically almost the same pattern of life. So if God told some pple because of what was happening to them at the time that He has good plans for them, then I know whatever happens to me, He has good plans for me. If Jesus healed the sick, I understand it’s because He doesn’t want pple sick so I will not allow me to be sick and I’ll follow the principles He provides to keep sickness away. Or do you think He wants some sick and others well? He wrote the Bible so that we may know His character and attributes on how He will deal with us by reading and understanding how He dealt with others in different situations and circumstances. There’s a great assurance that He changes not.

    • anonymous permalink

      if that’s the case, why do we never apply the book of Job in our lives. it is also a good example, don’t you think. Job experienced all the horrible things you can think of, including illnesses.

      2 Corinthians 12:7-10
      Paul was afflicted with a painful (“thorn”)
      bodily (“in the flesh”) ailment. Paul prayed
      three times that God would remove this
      thorn in the flesh from him, but God did
      not do this. God did something better. He
      taught Paul the sufficiency of His grace,
      that God’s grace was enough even to
      enable him to endure such a physical
      affliction. Sometimes God allows sickness
      or pain in order to teach us of His all-
      sufficient grace.

      There are some Charismatic people who
      think that if you are sick you are out of the
      will of God. For example, Kenneth Hagan
      Jr. wrote: “My belief is that it is indeed
      God’s will that His children walk in
      complete health….It is always God’s will
      to heal His children.” it is not always God’s will to heal people. By the way, the miraculous gift that were given to the apostles, including the gift have ceased…

  16. Kris permalink

    Dear ThinkHard, thank you for your technically correct and considered blog on Jeremiah 29:11. I agree that if you are looking for a prosperity doctrine and using this out of context hermeneutically to support such a belief, then this is the wrong verse and doesn’t apply. However, if you are a normal person seeking God daily, especially in the face of huge obstacles and struggles, God (who never changes from one day to the next and would speak to all his children suffering such a sense of despair and hopelessness similarly) might lead you to this scripture to encourage you in much the same way. Whether your struggles will last 6 days, 6 weeks or 70 years, He may use His sword in a Rhema word to an individual to provide direction and a promise of hope.

    • Thank you for your input. I agree that the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to comfort his people in times of trouble. The issue comes down to how He accomplishes such a thing. When we look at a passage like Jeremiah, we are shown how much love and care God has for his people. We see how God doesn’t forget His promises and that despite our sin, repentance and faith draw us back in relationship with God. While we can take all of these comforts from this passage, we cannot take the actual promise that the Jews received here. In the New Testament, the Christian is promised persecution more often than peace, trial more often than prosperity.

      In the post, I tried to faithfully demonstrate many ways that this passage can apply to us without damaging the Holy Word of God.

  17. Anonymous permalink

    “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Reading the bible is one of the ways a person discovers, falls in love, and gets to know The Lord. It’s also one of God’s ways of speaking to us. Yes, it has a specific meaning in context when it was written to specific individuals. I know of the story, and I know who The Lord was speaking to in Jeramiah 11, But I also know that The Lords words are “HIS” words.. He can do with them whatsoever he desires. So if God decides to speak to any individual with any of his words in the bible, he will do just that. He is God, the words that leave his mouth can be meant FOR ANYBODY that he wants. He can speak to his children in ANY way that he wants, So if the Lord speaks to a person through HIS OWN WORDS written in the bible.. who are you to tell them that they are taking it out of context?? Jeramiah 29 11 has meant a lot to me in my walk with God, and though I know the meaning of the verse when it was written, I also know the meaning of the verse as it applies to me, my life, and MY PERSONAL relationship with The Lord. I have been confronted with this very verse over and over again in difficult times in my life, also in times where I have drifted away from God. A preacher singled me out in a room full of people, walked up to me and said “God wants me to you this.” He opened his bible and recited Jeramiah 29 11 to me. It could have been ANY verse in the bible but it “JUST HAPPENED” be the 1 verse that has touched my heart and changed my life in so many ways… Nope. It was The Lord speaking to me, as he pleased to speak to me, in the way that he wanted. Every Christian has their own personal relationship with God, and The Lord will speak to them in any way he wants.. cause you know.. umm.. he is God and he can do that. So if the Lord speaks to an individual through his word in the Holy bible, and lays it on that persons heart to receive it in a certain way, that is their personal relationship with God, and in what context they are receiving it is BETWEEN THEM AND GOD. Again, who are you to tell anybody on this earth that they are taking out of context what The Lord is saying to them, really?

  18. Believer permalink

    I realize I’m quite late in commenting, however I just wanted to thank you for writing such a great article. I’ve often wondered about this issue, specifically in two instances. One such instance is while watching certain Christian television shows during which numerous scriptures are used alone or out of context, to show that in order to be blessed, healed, etc. by God, one must make a financial offering. I do not know the right answer either way, and realize this is a personal decision for each of us to make, however this very same thing (using one scripture out of an entire chapter, or twisting the meaning or intended subjects of that scripture), happens quite often. In addition, I’ve personally noticed that this practice of which you wrote about, is only typically done when the scripture(s) state or imply *good* results. I wonder if you did this same article, yet only changed the scripture to one that describes God’s wrath/punishment, versus one of His (many) blessings, if you would have received the same types of responses from readers? I’ve noticed many times we (myself included), only want the *good* things in the Bible to apply directly to ourselves and be about us, but we don’t seem as passionate about this issue when it comes to the things in the Bible that aren’t so *good*. It’s not common to see people walking around quoting scriptures that talk about punishment or discipline..well unless it’s about someone else, unfortunately. Thank you again for bringing this issue to light.

  19. Dennis permalink

    This is one of my favorite verses. Thanks for your insight.
    Often one of problems that my preaching professor would site with seminary students preaching is as he said, “You are not preaching the text. That is not what the Scripture means!”
    It is not easy to change our views and interpretations of Scripture that we have loved and interpreted incorrectly for so long.
    Thanks for the challenge to handle the Word of God accurately.

  20. Bridget M permalink

    My future and hope, if not as i would wish it in this life, is none the less assured in that i shall one day be with my Lord and Savior in heaven, even if all of my days are spent with pain, grief and suffering. There is no greater hope and future!

    • mark permalink

      Amen Bridget. Perhaps not in this life but the next , God does not fail does he

  21. Bridget M permalink

    You also seem to neglect the next 2 chapters as God continues to reveal his plans in that He will not only restore Israel in 70 years but He will restore Israel PERMANENTLY , Which,as history bears out, did not happen back then because Israel was only recently restored.AGAIN.
    So in that prophecy Jeremiah fortold was an even deeper prophecy that points directly to Christ and the fulfillment of.essentially all of Gods promises.
    So yes a superficial application of Scripture to anyones life is foolish but the story of God and Israel is the same as the story of God and all men.
    And in my humble opinion JESUS IS OUR FUTURE AND HOPE be it today, tomorrow or in death.
    Praise and Glory to our Savior

  22. Lynda permalink

    Just came across this website. I’m so disappointed. There’s a world dying and going to hell while the body of Christ is arguing about Jeremiah 29. This whole conversation brings me to question should I even apply the Old Testament in my daily life. Well, since
    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, I will continue to use Jeremiah 29 in my spiritual walk. Please go preach John 3:16.

  23. the beginning of Jeremiah 29 reads: “this is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 (this was after King Jehoiachin[b] and the queen mother, the court officials and the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the skilled workers and the artisans had gone into exile from Jerusalem.) 3 he entrusted the letter to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. It said”….and the text continues. it sounds pretty clear that this letter was intended for those exiled in Babylon. it is a similar situation if i send a letter to a friend or to a group of people, that the contents contained in that letter are addressed specifically to those i sent to the letter to.

    here just a few of the promises contained in the NT that are directed toward us as Christians through Jesus Christ:

    Matthew 11:30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
    Matthew 19:26 … but with God all things are possible.”
    2 Cor. 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
    Col. 3:11 Here (in Christ) there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
    2 Tim. 2:13 … he (Jesus) will remain faithful,
    2 Tim. 2:19 … “The Lord knows those who are his,”
    2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

    think about it. God’s promise to the exiles in Jeremiah is a wonderful promise with the condition that the generation in place had to wait 70 years, meaning that some would never see the fruition of that promise. yet today, as followers of Christ, we have all the promises in Scripture and so much more through the person of Jesus Christ! this means we have so much more than just the promise that God gave to Israel. we should be thankful with all our heart that one day, no matter what we struggle with on earth throughout our lives, will give way to eternal life spent in the presence of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ! now that’s a promise more valuable than anything imaginable! blessings to all!

  24. jackie permalink

    as a young believer, i claim the Promise of God in Jeremiah 29:11- honestly its one of my favorite verse and i also taught it to my kids…. but when i read your commentary, i am very confuse. now my thinking is, just read the bible and don’t read any bible commentary on the internet. but dont get me wrong, i am thankful to you, because in this way, i can read the bible more and pray directly to God for the understanding thru Jesus Christ His Son, with the Help of the Holy Spirit.

  25. Jim Kempen permalink

    I disagree with you that this verse is not for us. Yes it was originally written to the Israelites but the book of Romans was written for the Romans, and the book of Corinthians was written to the Corinthians. In Timothy 4:7 it says to train yourself to be Godly. Does this mean we shouldn’t train ourselves to be Godly because it was written to Timothy? No! All of Gods promises are available to each of us in time of need. God does indeed have a plan for each of our lives. He does not want to do us harm and wants to prosper us. No I do agree that the word prosper is used out of context quite often. This word is correctly translated to succeed. So this verse is saying that God wants us to be successful and has nothing to do with becoming rich.

  26. mark permalink

    Most of the scriptures are meant for others at the time they were written, and we still take these scriptures as promises to us , why then can we not take 29.11 and apply to our lives then.If we give to the Lord out due diligence and trust him and honor him with our whole lives ,will he not take care of us and give us hope and a future , plans for good and not bad, allow us to profit in wisdom and strength and love for our precious Lord and Savior and also in our earthly bodies of giving to us financial freedom with many goats and sheep, that is whatever you would count as profit in your life, my goats and sheep are many , and many more than even the kings of that time , We live like kings now more than the greatest ones of biblical times because of our due diligence to our Lord and Savoir who has given us all these things which still belong to him at his will because of years of trusting and loving and depending on God for everything we have and yet to be given, so we may take Jeremiah 29.11 and hold on to the promises God has given because he’s trustworthy and willing that we all live abundantly Perhaps people dont understand that it is a two way street, God does not bless or honor Christians who don’t honor him, at least not spiritually. My neighbor might not be a believer and yet seems to profit at every turn, but as a Christian God expects more from me, my trust and faith and honor that he deserves for he is Holy and worthy of all our praise and honor each and everyday continually forever. And although the scripture was meant for the exiles we can take these verses and allow the promises to them to have an effect in our lives if we but trust God to be God and love him with our whole lives and he will give us hope and a future and plans for good and not evil. But it is not a magical verse no scriptures are or meant to be. And God through Christ has given me hope and a future, through much hard work , prayer, trusting him when all seems dark and lost, serving him through helping others and forgiving me when I go off on tangents like this one , trying to clear the air for myself and others who might be confused. Our biggest problem or one of our biggest problems we would suppose is our selfishness and greed and lazy ness and ungodliness and wanting shortcuts in our lives so we can have things we have not worked for or deserve and wanting magical spells and verses from the bible which we may actually believe but yet want it now and not willing to trust God for the future, it is a now society and even that is not fast enough. [That the average man can understand Scripture without having to rely upon a church for the “authoritative teaching”, is evident in the fact that Jesus taught openly and with clarity, and expected His followers to each understand His meaning. According to Jesus, those who heard Him would be able to clearly enunciate what He had openly communicated (John 18:20-21). There were no confusing or obscure meanings in His words that required an “authoritative interpretation” by a church. ] I have often alowed 29:11 to pick me up when down that I might renew my understanding Of Gods great love and hope for me and in me, to get me out of my darkness and funct so that he could pick me up and go again, trusting him being renewed by a wonderfull scripture meant for the Isrealite exiles, true believers, but taking it for my own if the Lord would so permit, for being so used everywhere you look it would pop up at the right time so it seemed seemingly just for me at that moment when i needed help from Jesus, thankyou Heavenly father and thank you for this gentlemens comments on this wonderful passage from your word, I am just a poor laymen with no schooling who has been blessed much from the reading and believing in your precious word and have no idea why I have spent so much time on this , God bless!

  27. Anonymous permalink

    Thank you for the very concise way you addressed this scripture. I also like the fact that while this scripture isn’t saying what we want it to say our God is who He says He is. He never changes. If we love the word we must want to extract from it in context.

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