10 “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 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. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”
I’ve never liked the question, “What is your favorite Bible verse?” As I have grown as a Christian, I think I am beginning to understand why. Asking this question motivates a person to pull a sentence out of its context and apply it in ways that God may not have intended.
Of course, I have a great example above. Many people will tell you that Jeremiah 29 11 is a favorite of theirs. How great to hear God say to me, “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.” Sadly, this verse is not being quoted in anything like its original context or intent.
What is the context? The people of Judah are going to be exiled to Babylon. But, after the time of the nation’s punishment is over, God intends to bring his people back out of exile and into the land. After the 70 year exile is over, the people will pray, seek God, and be restored. They will repent, and God will show his faithfulness to his promises.
That original intent is not at all what most people are thinking about when they quote that verse. Instead, most who quote that verse are “claiming” it as a promise that God only has plans to let them experience good things for all their lives. That has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the verse.
Do I mean that we have no reason to love Jeremiah 29:11? Of course I do not. What we need to see from it, however, is the character of God. We also need to see the implications of the gospel. God’s character is one of a faithful promise maker and promise keeper. God always, absolutely always, keeps his word. He has plans. His plans will be fulfilled. He never leaves anything to random chance. Nor does he even leave his big plans in our hands. He is sovereign. That is comforting in this verse.
Also, this verse is full of gospel. Just as God has plans to restore Judah after the exile, God has great plans for his children who are in Christ. This is no guarantee that our lives will not be full of hardships. Rather, it is a guarantee that, at the end of our sojourn on earth, God has perfect plans of eternal joy for his children. We can see that hinted at in a verse like Jeremiah 29:11.
No, I’m not wanting to ruin anybody’s favorite Bible verse. But, I would like to call us to be careful, really careful, in the way we handle Scripture. Let verses like this, in their context, show us the glory of God and the perfection of his character. Let verses like this point us to the gospel of Christ. But let’s not pull something out of context and say that it applies to us in ways that God did not intend for it to apply.