By. Richard Haas
One of the most commonly misused and misquoted Bible verses you will find is Jeremiah 29:11. It’s written on cards congratulating those graduating, to those struggling to find God’s will for their life. Jeremiah 29: 11 has become the common cure aspirin for many of a Christian. It has become an equal to a doctor prescribing two aspirins and telling their patient to call them in the morning.
Jeremiah 29:11 tells us—possibly one of our most beloved, yet most misunderstood, verses in the entire Bible.
While quoting this passage to a person may make them feel better, it’s often prescribed completely out of context. As often the case, when we cherry pick one Scripture from the Bible we often miss the full context of the passage we are grabbing. So what is the author of Jeremiah actually saying in Jeremiah 29:11?
It is important to remember when we are reading our Bibles that we do not become so familiar with the words on the page that we begin to overlook them and forget to understand their real meaning. It is equally as important to remember the historical context of the passage and the book you are quoting Scripture from to understand the full meaning of that passage.
To understand Jeremiah 29:11 we must have a grasp of the historicity of the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah, the author, lived about 100 years after the prophet Isaiah. Remember Isaiah had saved Jerusalem Assyria, but failed in saving them from the Babylonians. Jeremiah was called to be a prophet in 626 B.C. Just 20 years later in 605 B.C. Jerusalem was partly destroyed. In 586 B.C., Jerusalem was completely destroyed by fire. When looking further at the context of the book of Jeremiah is important to understand the person of Jeremiah. He was a lonely, pathetic figure who was God’s final appeal to the Holy City, which had become hopelessly and frantically attached to idol worship. Jeremiah’s cry was that if Israel would only repent God would save them from Babylon. We must keep in remembrance that the context of the entire book of Jeremiah including chapter 29 was set in the backdrop of Babylonia.
Now specifically looking at Jeremiah 29:11 knowing the historical background of the book of Jeremiah we can gather a different perspective on this singular verse. This verse which is often quoted to individuals, who are struggling with location or discerning God’s will, is not written to individuals at all. This passage is written to the whole of people – an entire nation. To grasp the full meaning of Jeremiah: 29:11 it is helpful to go back and read and understand the whole of chapter 29. When we do so, we find out that chapter 29 is written after the Jechoiachin and the majority of the people had been taken to Babylonia. Jeremiah is advising them to be peaceful and obedient to their captives and is declaring a promise from God that they will return to their homeland after 70 years (v.10).
While quoting Jeremiah 29:11 out of context may make nice graduation cards or comfort those trying to discern God’s will, it is not allowing the Bible speak for itself. We need to let the Bible speak to us not allow our personal interpretations to speak into Scriptures. Since Jeremiah 29 is speaking to the nation of Israel, and not just one person, then we should start with the truth and the Scriptures. Context matters – God speaks at particulars moment in time to particular groups of people, for a reason.
Looking at the full context of chapter 29 of Jeremiah it can be seen that God has plans for the whole group of people, namely the nation of Israel. If we read further on into the Scriptures we will find that this promise was for filled: those in exile returned, and the nation of Israel was restored for a time. God made a promise to the prophets, and the promise was fulfilled.
Now that we understand the full meaning of the book of Jeremiah, chapter 29 and more specifically verse 11 we can begin properly to apply the use of this verse. We must remember when we quote scripture not to cherry pick a verse and apply it to our lives or our situation. God wrote His Word to us and to certain groups of people for certain reasons. Jeremiah 29:11 was written to the Israelites for a specific reason and was not written for us today. We must be careful not to misapply that application or context of His written word. Ultimately, the Old Testament points towards the coming Messiah and His redemptive work on the cross. This is where we need to find our hope and encouragement – IN CHRIST.