Jeremiah 29:11 is viewed by many as a favorite, especially comforting verse. But this verse is much more than just being personally comforting, as the redemptive-historical context reveals. The prophet Jeremiah lived in the southern kingdom of Judah about 2,600 years ago during a difficult time in the nation’s history. In order to properly understand this verse, we need to go back to the beginning of God’s redemptive plan for His people.
For I Know the Plans I Have For You
God set the nation of Israel apart and specially cared for His chosen people. We see God’s Hand in the dramatic exodus from Egypt, the miraculous provision of food and clothes during forty years in the wilderness, and the inspired leadership of men like Moses. The Israelites were given the Law before they entered the Promised Land. Their obedience to the Law would bring blessing, and their disobedience, cursing. Sadly, the Israelites primarily lived in disobedience for years causing the curses to come crashing down during the life of the Prophet Jeremiah.
Early in their history, the Israelites demanded a human king. The kingdom split in two after the reign of just three of these kings. The Northern Kingdom of Israel was taken to Assyria in captivity as a consequence of the leadership of many wicked kings. They had ignored the warnings by a number of God’s prophets who said that disaster would befall their nation if they refused to repent. One hundred years later, Jeremiah brought a similar message to the Southern Kingdom of Judah.
Judah failed to learn from the negative example of their brothers to the north, so most of the southern kings practiced idolatry and committed abominable acts. It was in the midst of this rebellious climate that Jeremiah was called to speak to God’s people. The Lord had waited long enough for the people of His Seed to repent. Jeremiah was given the difficult task of telling his countrymen, “Time’s up!”
The Book of Jeremiah
This is the primary thrust of the story in the Book of Jeremiah. It’s no wonder He’s known and famous for being the “weeping prophet,” as he was preaching a death knell against his own people. Jeremiah prophesied against Judah’s enemies, but at the core of his message was the fall and destruction of Jerusalem itself. False prophets told the people everything would be fine because they had the temple with them, but Jeremiah told them that they were doomed. His unpopular message was ignored and he was ridiculed, persecuted, and eventually, his life was threatened.
The unpleasant truth was that the certain judgment of Judah was more than a possibility; it was God’s decreed judgment. God even told His prophet not to pray for His people anymore. It was simply too late. Amid this darkness, there was a ray of light. After the judgment, there would be deliverance. Jeremiah even used the language of “a new covenant,” which, other than in the book of Jeremiah, is only used in the New Testament. It is tempting to understand Jeremiah 29:11 in merely this context. However, this glorious renewal isn’t talked about until chapter 30, so it isn’t the context of the passages leading up to Jeremiah 29:11.
Jeremiah would be charged with treason for what he wrote in chapter 29, mainly that the Jews shouldn’t fight against exile. God had a plan for a remnant of His people, and it involved going willingly to Babylon where they would actually work with their captors! Jeremiah wrote a letter telling the exiles to “settle down” and raise families in Babylon. This letter in Jeremiah chapter 29 told the exiles to peacefully seek the benefit of the nation that took them captive. Jeremiah told the exiles that after seventy years God would come to them and fulfill His promise to bring them back to Jerusalem. However, for two generations they were to be salt and light to their captors.
Plans to Prosper You and Not to Harm You
The “seventy years” of Jeremiah can be understood in a variety of ways. But one way or another, the principle fulfillment should be understood as arriving at the cross of Christ. This, then, is the context of Jeremiah 29:11. God is sovereign over history, nations, and individual leaders. God even chooses pagan rulers, like Cyrus, to bring His people back to the Promised Land. In doing these things, God sets the stage for the central point in human history, the appearance of His Son to a restored Israel. Jeremiah 29:11, therefore, is a verse of hope and assurance, and faith.
So, what’s wrong with seeing Jeremiah 29:11 as merely a verse to comfort the individual Christian? If we see only personal blessing in this verse, we can lose sight of the context of judgment and tribulation. The message of this verse was delivered in a letter from Jeremiah to God’s chosen people while they were in exile! The people were, at that very moment experiencing judgment from God’s own hand. Yet, there is this promise of astounding restoration that would come through that judgment. Here is an indicator of the ultimate judgment that would bring the ultimate restoration approximately five centuries later when the incarnate God offered Himself to take the elect’s judgment upon Himself.
Plans to Give You Hope and a Future
The eleventh verse in Jeremiah 29 can certainly bring comfort to the individual, but this isn’t a verse aimed primarily at the individual. Jeremiah is writing a corporate letter to a group. In this verse, when God says He has a plan to prosper “you,” He is talking about a corporate “you.” In certain parts of the US, this verse might better be translated as, “‘I know the plans I have for y’all, declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper y’all and not to harm y’all, plans to give y’all hope and a future.’”
God has a plan for a whole people, and that plan for His people is accomplished through the saving work of Jesus. Inappropriately seeing this verse as primarily a message to the individual is to minimize the grandness of this Word from God. He will prosper and not harm an entire nation of believers throughout the epochs of human history. God will accomplish this purpose through a preserved remnant who live their lives in abandonment to Him and His will. This group of people will receive renewed bodies, will be made holy, and will live in harmony with God in His kingdom.
This is a powerful promise, and when understood in this broader context, it magnifies the work and love of God. Aim to glorify God by finding more than personal comfort in this verse. As God is glorified, this brings more comfort, as we realize there is a great and powerful God who is sovereign to accomplish His purposes and to bless His people. This blessing has already been inaugurated in the righteous Messiah.
As the prophet Jeremiah makes clear, there’s blessing from God in the midst of pain and suffering. Nay, there’s blessing from God for His people because of pain and suffering. His people are called to live lives that honor His name in the midst of the difficulties which face those who bear His name in a fallen world. God’s people still live in an era when blessing comes in the context of tribulation because spiritual warfare is still being waged. The battle is fought knowing the outcome has been already determined due to God’s righteous (and loving) judgment – the judgment that was placed upon the One for the salvation of the many. This is a fuller understanding of Jeremiah 29:11. Praise Jesus!