n the previous two blog posts on The Plans God Has for Us, we considered the fact that the often-quoted verse about the plans God us for us – plans to prosper us and to give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11) – should be viewed in historical context. (Part I) That historical context was the 900-year history of disbelief and disobedience of God’s people ending in 40 years of warning of impending judgment that culminated in the judgment coming to pass with the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem and exile. (Part II) In this post, I will try to draw some conclusions in the application of this verse and relevance to our modern lives.
This letter was the message of God through the prophet, Jeremiah, to God’s people that He gave them at the very beginning of their exile. In this letter, God tells them that they will remain in exile for 70 year! In fact, this shocking statement – you will be here 70 years – is the statement that immediately precedes the famous verse we all know:
“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
In a sense, God is telling them, “I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is that I have imposed my judgment on you, and it will last 70 years. But the good news is that I have plans for you, good plans to prosper you and to give you hope and a future.
70 years! In an age in which the average life expectancy was about 35 years, that’s two generations! For the vast majority of the exiled people, this meant their lives would end in captivity. What kind of hope and future is that?!
The exile was the judgment God warned them about. God’s people had been so disbelieving and disobedient that God virtually banished them from the very land He promised them about a millennium before. But even in the midst of this judgment, we need to look carefully at what God is saying. Just before announcing that this judgment thing is going to last 70 years, God gives them instructions:
“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’”
Imagine the 40 years of warning and the weight of that impending doom on those who actually took it seriously. As with most things we fear, the fear is worse than the reality.
During this time of judgment in exile in Babylon, God says to them, basically, “Don’t despair! Go about your lives. Embrace the circumstances into which I have brought you. Live life. Make plans. Bless those around you, seek to better the those around you, and I will bless you.”
Even in the midst of the very Judgment of God, God desires to bless us! He is every appealing to us to listen to Him and respond to Him.
As an aside, consider the present state of the political, cultural and social climate in the United States in which it seems that we are careening away from God. In God’s typical fashion, it seems, He is giving us over to our lusts and desire to go our own ways – in spite of the repeated warnings of the modern prophets. Our promised land is becoming Babylon. This is the judgment of God.
Yet, in the midst of this judgment, what would God have us do? These words seems to ring true for us in these trying times as well:
“‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’”
At the same time, we shouldn’t confuse the modern United States with Judah in sixth century before Christ. God had a particular plan for the people He chose out of all the nations. He chose them as a platform from which to reveal Himself to all the nations and out of that platform to spring a Messiah who would save the entire world from their sins. We can’t compare the US to Judah.
But we can extrapolate an understanding from Jeremiah of how God would have us behave in a world like Babylon that doesn’t honor or believe in God. We can apply God’s instruction in Jeremiah’s to our own lives when we feel that we are suffering more under the judgment of God than His blessing.
At the same time, we need to be careful not to let our desires of what we want color our view of God’s purpose. After the instruction to the exiles quoted above, Jeremiah wrote:
“Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,’ declares the Lord.” (Emphasis added)
We need to be careful to listen to what God is telling us. I wonder if the patriotic vision of the United States as Promised Land to the world is God’s purpose” Or is it our dream we encourage our false prophets to have?
I don’t want to dwell too much on that, though, as I think the real significance of Jeremiah’s letter and application to us today is in more eternal things. The Book of Jeremiah is where we get the “clearest glimpse of the new covenant”:
“This new covenant would be the means of restoration for God’s people, as He would put His law within them, writing it on hearts of flesh rather than on tablets of stone. Rather than fostering our relationship with God through a fixed location like a temple, He promised through Jeremiah that His people would know Him directly, a knowledge that comes through the person of His Son, Jesus Christ….”
The end of this section of the letter from Jeremiah to the exiles reads:
“’Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.’”
Indeed, God providentially worked out the return of His exiled people after the 70 years of captivity. That promise was true for His people, generally, though not many people who read Jeremiah’s letter were likely to have witnessed the fulfillment of that promise.
It’s important to recognize that God’s plans are much higher than ours. His plans were made from before the foundation of the world, and they sweep through all of pre-human and human history to the fulfillment of those plans into eternity.
We each take our places in the context of those plans – not the other way around. God doesn’t bless our plans. We find our places in God’s plans, or we will find ourselves separated, exiled as it were from God. .
His plans to prosper us are eternal in nature. They may not result in our experiencing the temporal fulfillment we desire. Rather, the hope and the future God promises us are in the context of His plans for all humanity.
As Jesus said, God has prepared a room for each one of us. These rooms are not located in the plans we make into which we invite God’s blessing. Rather, those rooms are part of God’s plans into which He invites us to partake with Him.
Just as the exiles in Babylon must have read Jeremiah’s letter with certain amounts of hope and dismay, we should recognize what they undoubtedly would have understood. The exiles reading that letter would have been buoyed by the hope of the promises, but they would have realized at the same time the unlikelihood that they, individually, would live to see those promise fulfilled in their lifetimes. So we might understand the following:
- God’s plans are bigger than me and my generation;
- God’s judgment and the circumstances that accompany it are working toward and accomplishing God’s ultimate plans;
- Even if I am experiencing God’s judgment in my life, I am not alone, and all is not lost;
- God’s judgment (on earth) is not nearly as bad as we fear, as He prospers us as we prosper those around us;
- If we live our lives in simple obedience and humble submission to Him, we will be blessed, even if we live in the midst of God’s judgment;
- God wants us to return (and keep returning) to Him whenever we find ourselves in spiritual exile, and He promises to hear us, to reveal Himself to us and to deliver us from that exile.
- God’s plans will ultimately be accomplished, and we will be the beneficiaries together with people from all nations.
Yes, God has plans to prosper us, but any prosperity we experience in this life is only incidental to God’s ultimate plans. The hope and future we have is not primarily for this life.
We may never see the end of the exile we are experiencing. Our temporal circumstances may never change, as they would not have changed for the vast majority of all the people who were exiled to Babylon. The great majority of the people to whom that letter was written certainly died in Babylon, never having witnessed the end of the exile that God promised.
Yet, we trust God. We trust that His plans are good. We trust God in spite of our circumstances. We trust God even if our circumstances never change. We can do this because we know God loves us; God desires our ultimate good; God’s plans will be fulfilled; and we are part of those plans.
 “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11
 “This is what the Lord says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.’” Jeremiah 29:10
 Jeremiah 29:1-7
 Jeremiah 29:8-9
 Insights for Living, Jeremiah, by Charles Swindoll, referencing Jeremiah 31: 33-34
 Jeremiah 29:12-14