Seemingly everyone knows what is perhaps the most famous passage from the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah 29:11 says, " '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.' " Whenever a group of people is sharing what God is doing in their lives, there is undoubtably one whom this verse is speaking to in deep and profound ways.
This is a verse that has deep power and truth seeping off the page. The Lord's voice rumbles with strength and authority as He proclaims His intents for the people who would worship Him. However, there is an additional layer of meaning that gets left out the majority of the time this verse is referenced.
It bothers me when people consider this verse (and others) out of context. Yes, this verse is still powerful and meaningful separated from the surrounding chapter. But have you ever wondered WHY God needed to reassure His people with such a promise? What were they going through or facing that required such a strong promise from the Lord of Hosts?
While there is much too much context to even begin to properly identify in a few hundred words or so, one only needs to read the previous verse to begin to gain insight on this verse. Jeremiah 29:10 says, "This is what the Lord says: 'When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place."' "
Immediately prior to promising that none of his plans are for their harm, God reveals that the people carried from Jerusalem in exile to Babylon will spend SEVENTY YEARS in CAPTIVITY. Think about that for a second. Seventy. YEARS. Most of the people that Jeremiah is speaking/writing to will be dead before God's deliverance is seen and His promise is fulfilled. Yet this is what God says is going to prosper the inhabitants of Jerusalem and not harm them. Verse 11 becomes then a reassurance that what seems hopeless is actually all part of God's plan.
It is easy to listen to the voices that say everything will be easy, simple, and ok-however, these voices are not always voices from God. In this chapter and others, Jeremiah is having to confront false prophets who are saying that God will immediately rescue the people of Jerusalem and not allow Babylon to take or keep them captive. Their false prophecies do nothing to change the fact that God is using Babylon as his instrument to teach His people a lesson they would not have learned otherwise and punish them in one fell swoop.
Can you call all of God's plans for you plans to prosper you and not to harm you? If God takes you through years of captivity, will this promise be enough to carry you through the darkest times? I know that for my part, God's honesty that there will be difficult times is just as comforting as his promises for good times.
He knows that it will be tough, difficult, and hard to bear. But He will be there through it with us. There is a Hope. There is a Future for us. He gives Himself freely to us. All we need to do is accept and walk alongside Him.
(and for those of you wondering, NO, this is NOT my theme verse for the year. just something I've been pondering as I read through Jeremiah!)