Taken out of context, this verse can give a tremendous amount of false hope. But in context it holds the sweetest of promises for the tried and tested.
“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.” – Jeremiah 29:11
It comes out of the midst of a letter that Jeremiah sent to the exiled leaders of Israel. There were false prophets spreading lies about the timing of their captivity. The lie was that Israel’s exile would soon be over and that they would soon be free from the yoke of Babylon. That was the lie, and the key word is “soon”.
We know from places like the book of Daniel that God allowed, even caused the exile of Israel as a consequence for their disobedience. He even put the wicked king, Nebuchadnezzar, in power over them. It was God’s will that for a determined season His people would serve Him in Babylon, a foreign land of idolatry and wickedness. But just like today, when God’s people are in the midst of trials, false prophets come along and bring a message of false hope.
We find these words only two chapters earlier…
“Do not listen to the words of your prophets who are prophesying to you, saying, ‘Behold, the vessels of the LORD’s house will now shortly be brought back from Babylon,’ for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you. Do not listen to them; serve the king of Babylon and live.”
What did God want them to do then? If their trial would not soon be over, what were they to do then…just live there and deal with it? Look at what the Lord says through Jeremiah in chapter 29: 4-7
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
God actually wanted them to live and thrive there in the midst of their exile. Christians can relate to this in one way or another. Most of us will not experience a physical exile from our homeland like Israel did, but all of us know what it is like to long for a promised outcome and find ourselves waiting longer than we would like for our circumstances to change.
Perhaps your “captivity” has you in a season of waiting, or trial, or in need of healing or direction. Relief from that trial is not your ultimate hope. God’s plans for you are bigger than to simply make your circumstances better, quicker. He desires a relationship with you in which you trust Him with all of your heart, and His means of achieving this are not often what we expect. Our yet-to-be-fully-sanctified perspective causes us to look at the world we live in with all its evil and forget that God has sovereignly placed us right where we are. We are not here to live like defeated losers, but to live with a Heavenly perspective, to plant gardens, eat its fruit, build houses, marry, multiply, and to increase in the land of our captivity.
How can we discern the false prophets of our own day? They’re not much different than Jeremiahs day. They give false hope to Christians by speaking only of quick trials and easy circumstances, never proclaiming a sovereign God who judges righteously, sanctifies through testing, and dwells with His people in the midst of the hardship.
The glory of Heaven may still be a long way of for many of us, but God is here. He loves us. He is for us. He is patient. He is faithful. In Christ our greatest trial is over. We will never be eternally cast away from His presence again. In Christ, we are victorious. Neither Satan, or the earthly kings who rule over us will have the final word. The time of our captivity is pre-determined and God alone knows the timing. We can trust Him.
So, what is Jeremiah 29:11 about?
It is a call to be patient under trial because the timing of God’s rescue is perfect.
It is a reminder that God’s thoughts toward us, even in hardship, are always good.
It is a reminder not to build our lives on the faulty foundation of earthly dreams, or false prophets who speak nothing but ease, but on the sure word of God that calls us to patient endurance for the sake of an eternal Kingdom.