Graduation season is upon us and that means parties, ceremonies, and repeated misuses of the Bible verse Jeremiah 29:11. For those who don’t know, Jeremiah 29:11 is the verse that says:
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
This verse is hardly the only verse regularly quoted out of context (see Matt. 7:1; Phil. 4:13), but for some reason Jeremiah 29:11 seems to get a lot more flack than these other wrongly used Bible passages.
Being the millennial I am, I took to Twitter to ask “why?” Some responded citing the irony in using a verse about going into Babylonian captivity to represent a positive chapter in one’s life. Others pointed to the frequency that this verse appears as reason for our mocking. While I understand the reasoning in these responses, I think it’s time we changed our approach in regards to those who quote Jeremiah 29:11.
Jeremiah 29:11, like most Bible verses, was not written with us as the intended audience (at least not directly). Each book of the Bible was penned to a specific group, and sometimes even to specific individuals. Identifying that audience is essential to understanding the meaning of the verse.
In the case of Jeremiah 29:11, these words were sent in a letter from the prophet to “the surviving elders of the exiles” (29:1). Under King Nebuchadnezzar the Jews were attacked and moved from their homeland of Israel to Babylon. It’s after the events of that transportation that Jeremiah relays the message from God that they are to continue life as usual (29:4-7), ignore the false prophets saying this will all be over soon (8-9), and trust that God will take care of them during and after their 70 years of captivity (10-11).
For 70 years these Jews will live in a foreign land as outcasts, and it’s after the delivery of that news that God says “I know the plans I have for you…plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” This wasn’t a “congratulations on your big life accomplishment, God’s got even greater in store for you” moment, but a “for 70 years I’m going to punish you for messing up big time and you’re just going to have to trust Me that I’m making the right call here” moment. Jeremiah 29:11 is written to Jews who, removed from the Promised Land, are at the lowest point in their lives and at the beginning of a very long journey in captivity. When Jeremiah 29:11 is posted all by itself, the gravity of the situation is lost, the truth of the verse however is not.
Does the Lord still know the plans He has for us? Yes. Do His plans aim to provide goodness, and a future, and a hope? Yes! Though the circumstances surrounding the verse are vastly different, the truth found within it still has application to today.
The “plans for welfare, and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” that God was talking about here refers to the eventual return of the Jews to the Promised Land of Israel (Jeremiah 30-31) and most importantly, the eventual coming of a new covenant with God through Jesus Christ (31:31-34). That future God planned for them is the present we’re living in now.
Instead of picking on Jeremiah 29:11 and those that post it this time of year, let’s show them the power of this verse in its context. Remind them that the future goodness and hope God spoke about through Jeremiah has already come to pass through Jesus and encourage them to live for God and glorify Him now. The Lord has plans of goodness and a hope for all of us through Christ, and we ought to look at this verse with great appreciation to be living in the time when that “future” has been realized.