Jeremiah 29:11 is one of the best loved verses of all time. We see it on everything from graduation cards to refrigerator magnets. The verse brings hope and comfort. It points the lost to the way. And I am going to ruin it for you today.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans for a hope and a future."
Such nice, beautiful words! But we quote them out of context. If you haven’t already (it’s OK, I cheat on the reading sometimes too), read Jeremiah 29.
The Hebrew people were once again under the thumb of a foreign king. Once again displaced and hopeless, Jeremiah’s letter to the captives from the Lord had some interesting things to say.
“Build houses and settle down… seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
This is one of the only times I can think of, particularly in the Old Testament, where God commands his people to settle in outside the Promised Land. He advises the Hebrews to settle on in, because they are going to be there a while. He also suggests they set about making the city they are dwelling in prosperous. This place would not be their home, but they were to treat it as such while they were there.
Meanwhile, these exiled people are looking for answers. They want to go home. They are certain God's will is the land they were forcibly removed from. They knew what God wanted. They desperately desired his Words on the matter, so they asked prophets, and fortune tellers.
“Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have."
Human nature assigns the dream elsewhere as a means to make it justifiable to attain. Cleary we have been doing this for centuries. In our modern world, we generally have enough sense not to inquire of fortune tellers. Instead we say our vision is from God. It may be from God. But it may not be right now.
As the Hebrews knew God wanted them in the Promised Land, we know that God wants us to be happy. And as the Hebrews expected God do deliver them mightily and immediately, we want to be happy right now. We use this vision as excuses for everything from over spending to exiting a marriage covenant. Not good!!
“Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have.”
Wait on God and he will make his voice heard when it’s time.
I started out this section by quoting the beloved Jeremiah 29:11. We have now arrived at Jeremiah 29:10. The verse that left me scratching my head:
“When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.”
Seventy years?!! 70. 7-0. His good promise is to bring them back, but he also guarantees them seventy years in a foreign land, ruled by a foreign king building families and careers and working for the good of a city that in a few verses God promises to obliterate. In seventy years. I know I’m over emphasizing, but this is important. You and I, we have these promises from God. That he loves us, and he has a plan for us, and we think it should be easy because of that plan. But that is not the case. We are guaranteed hard. We are promised challenges. God says it’s going to take a long time.
So settle in and make the most of it.
Regardless of the timing, the promise holds true.
"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. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to 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 will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
By the New Testament, Abraham’s descendants became known as the Jews. This race of people should have died out in Egypt. They should have perished in the desert. They should have been overcome taking over Canaan. They should have been annihilated by Babylon. The Jews should have been exterminated in Nazi Germany. But they survived. And not just a few people here and there.
Their nationality has survived in tact complete with their religious law, traditions and language. Enough so that in 1948, Israel was returned to them as an internationally recognized country. Orthodox Jewish communities can be found all over the world, peacefully living in, but not of the culture that surrounds them.
How could that happen? God made a promise and he is still in the business of keeping it, to the Jews and through Christ Jesus his son, to us as well.
Whose plan are you following today? His or the one you think is His?