by Rob Lundberg
You see it on bookmarks, on tee shirts, graduations books, artwork and a whole bunch of other means of social media and bling. The passage that I am going to address is this post is Jeremiah 29:11, which is preached in the context toward prosperity and answered prayer on a prayer-gram. Many of you have seen or read it,
“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.”
But with all the ways this passage is “used and abused,” this passage really for us today or is it solely for ancient Israel. What I would like to do in this post is set up the context and then share some thoughts on why this historical passage should not be used by believers today. That’s right, you read it.
What is the context?
If you are going to do a correct biblical interpretation (hermeneutic), we need to understand one thing: Context is King! So looking at the context of the Book of Jeremiah leading up to chapter 29, we see that it is about Israel’s disobedience and God’s punishment. In fact, chapter 29 is written to the exiles in Babylon, who were there because of disobedience (Check out chapters 25 and 27).
The promises in chapter 29 are for restoration following judgment understanding that discipline will bring obedience (vs. 12-13). We read the immediate verses following Jeremiah 29:11, and we read, “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” (29:12-13).
Knowing what we know now, let me share three quick thoughts that will help in our understanding of this passage.
First we have to exercise care and caution on how we use Old Testament promises like Jeremiah 29:11. Jeremiah 29:11 is a great example of a verse that was spoken to a particular people, at a particular time, but is now often taken out of context and applied to individual readers as a means of blessing or prosperity.
We quote this Scripture to people with terminal diseases, to people who have lost loved ones, and generally to anyone who is suffering. And what does this do? It drives people away from the God when their cancer doesn’t go away, or when they can’t get over their grief through the church alone.
Second, misusing this passage in today’s context has the potential to set up some unrealistic expectations. This is one of the worst things that can be done to a new Christian, and this verse is the most misused culprit in the creation of those expectations. I am sure that many in the grips of the Prosperity Gospel and possibly the New Apostolic Reformation groups are missing the passage as a means for blessing. But what happens when the blessing does not come?
Third, when coming to the passage for our understanding, we need to know who is being spoken to. Jeremiah is writing to the Israelites, promising a specific end to their Babylonian exile. He says that “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place,” in Jeremiah 29:10, just one verse prior. Once again, context is king; and if you miss the context you then miss the meaning and the intent of the passage.
God is specific with those plans, and those plans are specifically for the exiled Israelites. It is also important to keep in mind that, looking at the context of the Bible as a whole, when God says that He wishes to prosper us, that generally means in a spiritual sense—this is the ultimate form of prosperity.
While this verse, again, doesn’t guarantee our personal, material prosperity, we can see the character of God in it. He cares for us, and has the big picture in mind with no Plan B. No matter the situation, He can bring us back to His presence. This verse is an example of God’s character rather than a general promise to all Christians, and we when we quote it, we should quote it as such.
So if you are using this passage in the wrong manner and avoiding the context, using it as a promise for blessings and prosperity, I have just three words for you, as I close this post. Just STOP It!