Let’s just get this out of the way right now. Yes, God does know the plans He has for each of us, and yes, He wants what is best for us. But Jeremiah 29:11 isn’t a verse that’s talking about you or me or the guy down the street who just lost his job. So, stop pretending that it does.
It’s really not that difficult to look at the beginning of the chapter and see who this verse is directed toward:
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. – Jeremiah 29:1 ESV
So, unless you were present at the destruction of the First Temple and subsequent exile to Babylon, you may want to rethink whether this is your “life verse” or not. Here’s why.
The overwhelming majority of those who read this prophecy by Jeremiah never saw the fulfillment of this promise. Take a second to read the verses just before it:
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: 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.” – Jeremiah 29:4-10 ESV
Here’s the CONTEXT: this promise is to members of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin and Levi who had rebelled against the commandments of God and were justifiably being punished. They are being told that their punishment is not going to be quick or easy. They will spend seventy years in exile in Babylon. The LORD tells them to put down roots; build houses; get married and have kids; have your kids get married and have kids. Get comfortable. It’s going to be a long time before any of you ever see Jerusalem again.
Following the promise in question, we see the condition of that promise being fulfilled:
“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.” – Jeremiah 29:12-14 ESV
God is saying through Jeremiah, that after seventy years of captivity and exile, the people of the House of Judah will finally repent fully of their rebellion and idolatry, seek the LORD with their whole heart, and God will then be merciful and gracious and restore them to their land.
If you remember from the verses just before verse 11, you’ll see Jeremiah referring to false prophets. We know from earlier chapters that these false prophets were telling the people that God’s judgment wasn’t coming; that He would protect and bless them and provide for them, regardless of their sin and rebellion.
You know, now that I think of it, these false prophets would have easily taken Jeremiah 29:11 OUT OF CONTEXT and used it the way I’ve always seen it used. That’s a little scary.
Huh…I guess CONTEXT MATTERS!