Thoughts on Jeremiah 29:11

What is Jeremiah really saying? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’m sure we all know the verse.

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.

We’ve all seen it on graduation cards and such. It’s such a wonderful and heartfelt message. A graduate opens it up and hears that God has plans to give them hope and a future and to prosper them. As the Church Lady would say, “Well, isn’t that special?”

The intention is good, but is the intention right? I can mean well giving a toddler a lollipop, but if that toddler has diabetes, I could be hurting them greatly. When we see this verse, we need to ask what is really being said.

Simple questions to ask. Who is the you? Who is God speaking to in this passage? What is the situation going on? Sadly, most Christians don’t ask these questions. They just do what’s known as the Baptist reading method of opening up the Bible and thinking it’s all about them and reading whatever verse they come to as a personal message from God.

What’s going on in this passage is Jeremiah is talking about the people that will leave Jerusalem for Babylon to be captives when God judges the city and lets the temple be destroyed. For these people, having the temple destroyed was the ultimate game over. God is done with us. There’s no hope. The covenant is broken. This is also why Jeremiah has passages about a new covenant.

Jeremiah is telling the people who are going into Babylon to stand strong there. Be praying for the good of that city. Ask God to protect that city. God is not done with them. They’re going to get to have another go at this. God will watch over them and bring them back.

In the middle of this is when we get this verse. The thing is that the overwhelming majority of people would never leave Babylon since they would be there around 70 years. Jeremiah is not speaking to them on an individualistic basis. He’s speaking on a national basis.

But does that mean that when we read this passage we just gloss over it? There’s no relevance to us? Not at all. Paul tells us that everything written was for us. Note that it was not written to us, but it was written for us.

So if I was a preacher who was preaching on this passage, what kind of thing would I say?

Probably something like this:

“I want you all to know that this passage might look nice on a graduation card, but that’s not what’s going on. You don’t know what will happen in your graduate’s life. They could go through incredibly hard times. They could go through wonderful times. You don’t know. They could get that card and die in a car accident the next day. Who knows?

What you can know is that when Israel went into exile, they would wonder if God was done with them. Had He abandoned His promises? Jeremiah is assuring them that this is not so. Regardless of how things look, God had made a promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to David, and He would bring it about.

In the same way, God has made promises to us in Christ. Though we will go through hard times, and they are promised to us, we can be assured that Christ will help us through them. He will honor His covenant to us just like He did to Israel. In the future, He will prosper us in the New Heavens and the New Earth and we do have hope in the resurrection of Jesus and the promise that what happened to Him will happen to us.”

By saying this, I have treated the historical context fair, I have not individualized it, and I have brought it to Jesus. We can trust in God that He will do for us what He has said. That doesn’t mean we won’t go through hard times. Let’s also remember to really study our Bibles and treat them with respect. Treat every verse in its proper context.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Seven Signs That God Has Someone For You

What do I think of Wes Raley’s book published by V Books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Ah. Marriage. I remember the days when I was single which looking back now after eight years of marriage seem like a distant memory. If you asked me what it’s like to be a bachelor now, I honestly couldn’t tell you. My life has been so radically changed by marriage that I can’t imagine going through life without my Allie by my side.

But I do remember that when I was single, it was the constant cry of my heart to have a woman to share my life with. If you had told me on July 24, 2009, that a year from then I would be standing at an altar pledging lifelong love to a woman, I would have laughed in your face most likely. Not going to happen. No prospects. Women just don’t want a nerd like me.

Now I try to encourage other men who are single and in the same boat in many ways. Some are older than I was when I married. It’s a hard path. So when I saw Wes Raley’s book being advertised in Kindle email deals and advertised for free, I had a lot of red flags. I’m very cautious about people talking about signs and the like, but I thought I would check it out. Free after all. Right?

Fortunately, it’s a short book. I had it read in an hour. I can say I am thankful Wes found someone and that he is writing to help others who have the same struggle we both had at one time. That being said, I don’t think his book treats Scripture properly and thus will not help and could do more harm than good.

My wife and I both know people who wanted to find that special love in their life and never did. We are speaking about people who are already dead. I try to encourage guys they can find someone, but I do not seek to speak for God.

I also don’t think there is anyway from Scripture to know the mind of God in if He has someone for you or not. I also think it’s false to talk about that special only one that you need to find. For most people, I think there are a multitude of people you could marry in the will of God. Here are some requirements to look for. They have to be someone who is a Christian and someone who is of the opposite sex and someone you can live the rest of your life loving and they can’t be a close relative.

If we go with the one that you have to find, that leads to chaos. Suppose you marry the wrong person. You’ve messed up then. No big deal. Right? Wrong. Not only have you married the wrong person, so have they, and what about the people you two were meant for? They can’t marry the right person so if they get married, they marry the wrong person and what about the people they were meant for? On and on it goes. Congratulations. You have screwed up God’s plan for humanity by your choice.

So let’s go through what Raley says.

He starts on a bad note by saying “Faith is often opposed by human reasoning.”

I’m not sure what other kind of reasoning we could use, but it’s not good to start with this kind of statement. It is true that Scripture says our faith does not rest on human reasoning, but saying it is not the foundation does not mean it plays no role in the structure at all or is often opposed to it. Many of you know that in my writings, I stress that faith is trust in that which has been shown to be reliable. If God has shown Himself to be reliable, it is quite reasonable to trust Him.

Raley then says that if our faith rests on anything other than God’s power, we risk living in a perpetual doubt to avoid being disappointed, but isn’t a life of doubt and unbelief already a disappointment? At this, I wonder what is meant by God’s power. I mean, I have faith that God could pick up my apartment complex right now and hurl us to the sun if He wanted to. He has that power. I don’t think that He will. I don’t think it so much that I’m not falling to my knees begging that it won’t happen.

I also think that our faith should not rest so much on what God could do, but on what He has done. He raised His son from the dead. It’s not about what God can do in my life. God can dispense with me at any time. It’s about what God did in Jesus and if God did what He did in Jesus, I can trust that as He said, He is working all things together for my good, even if they are not good themselves, as Romans 8 says.

Raley goes on to say that He believes God has written His promises to us on our hearts. Many people might think that that’s nuts, but it matters what God thinks and what He has promised. Indeed, what matters is what God thinks and has promised, but what Biblical mandate do I have to think that God has written His promises on our hearts? Scripture says His law is written on our hearts, but nothing about an individual mandate for our lives.

We move on through examples like Abraham. Yes. God did wonders in Abraham’s life, and while He can do such, we have no basis for thinking that we will be treated like Abraham. God spoke to Moses, but not to Joe Israelite wandering in the wilderness, and there were plenty more of them.

When we get to Scripture, it starts with James 1:5. If you lack wisdom, ask God who gives generously to all? God doesn’t want us guessing! What could go wrong? I mean, maybe, and let’s just take a purely hypothetical situation, you could say that this verse gives you a basis to go out in a field and kneel down and ask God what denomination you should join. What could go wrong?

What’s really going on in James? The wisdom being asked for is not something about personal knowledge. It’s about understanding suffering. The church was going through suffering and James is saying if you lack the wisdom to handle suffering, ask God for it. He’ll give generously. It’s not treating God as a personal answering service.

By the way, if we go with this and we are supposed to say that God tells us that we are to have someone in our lives, what do I need seven signs for? If you need seven signs after that, that is not faith. That is a lack of faith. Gideon didn’t even need seven signs.

It’s not a shock that Raley also uses Jeremiah 29:11 about the plans that God has for us. Never mind that this was said to the nation of Israel and the you is the plural nation and this was a nation that was going into exile in a foreign land and most of them would not see these plans fulfilled in their lifetime. No. Just take it and individualize that.

Now we could interpret this and say, “Just as God knew what He was doing when He let Israel go through suffering, so does He know what He is doing when He lets us go through suffering.” We could then take passages like Romans 8 and show God will work this for our good. It is improper hermeneutics though to take this passage out of its context and apply it to us in this way.

Raley then goes to Romans 12:2 and says if we transform our thoughts, we can know God’s good and perfect will. Isn’t this a great promise? By renewing our mind, we can find out God’s will.

Well, no. The text doesn’t say we will find it out. It says we will know. Second, we have to ask what is meant by will. Let’s suppose God has willed a day when the return of Christ will take place. Does this mean if I renew my mind, I can know that day? Doubtful. Does it mean I can even know the day God intends for me to die? Also doubtful.

What it means is the moral will. I can know how I ought to live rightly in relation to God and my fellow man. It is again bad hermeneutics to read individualism into the text.

Raley says believing God has the best in mind for you is the starting place of discernment. No. The starting place is to learn how to think properly in your mind and then apply your thoughts to Scripture rightly.

I do not want to list the seven signs really. Why? Because I still realize he wants to sell books and I don’t want to spoil a plot. It’s free for now, but maybe it won’t be in the future. I will speak to some bad Scriptural usages.

Raley uses Psalm 37:4 about trusting in the Lord with all your heart and He will give you the desires of your heart. Yet is this verse talking about that? In the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, John Walton says about this passage that in the Ancient Near East, this was about seeking God’s answer on a particular omen. It wasn’t about one’s own desires but about a specific desire.

Raley also uses 1 Kings 19:11-12 and Elijah and the still, small voice. It’s interesting that no one ever records anything this voice said. Maybe it wasn’t a voice but a gentle wind instead. Also, when this was done, Elijah went and spoke to God and God spoke to Him. This was not in a still, small voice. This was also one time in the Bible. If Elijah’s experience is to be mandatory for us all, perhaps it’s also mandatory for us all to expect a flaming chariot to take us to Heaven or to be able to expect fire to rain down from Heaven on our enemies at our command.

Raley also asks that if we ask God for this and we feel peace in our heart and confirmation, not to ignore this. Again, this brings us back to something like the Book of Mormon which uses the exact same test. Many times if we are making the right decision, we will NOT feel peace about it. The right decision can be scary.

 

At one point, Raley uses James 1:17 about every good and perfect gift comes from the Father above. Yet keep in mind Paul says there was given to him to keep him from being conceited a messenger of satan. Paul pleaded for this “gift” to be taken from him, but he was told it was for his good and Paul gave thanks in the end.

Raley is right that in Matthew 7, the Father wants to give us good gifts, but the gifts there given are staples of everyday living. I might as well say “A billion dollars would be a good gift. Surely God wants to give that to me.” There could be any number of reasons God doesn’t bless me financially. There could be any number of reasons God doesn’t give someone a spouse.

Finally, we are told to trust in God’s love for us. This isn’t a sign, but I definitely agree. If God blesses us with a spouse, rejoice. If He doesn’t, rejoice also. If God gives you one, it is for your good and theirs. If not, it is also for your good.

In the end, none of this is backable by Scripture ultimately I think and works better with our individualism in the church. I fear someone could get this and get false hope as well as start making Scripture more all about them. If you want a spouse, just go out there and seek one, but still live your life and serve God the best that you can where you are. Please don’t take Scriptural promises out of context and make them about you. We have too much of that today in the West already.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why I Don’t Take Internet Bible Critics Seriously

Should you really pay attention to that critic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Let’s be fair. There are some skeptics out there that do their homework. They do try to really find out what scholars in the world of the Bible are saying and make reasonable cases. I disagree, but at least they are doing their due diligence.

The majority are not.

For the past couple of weeks or so, I’ve been going through a big book. It’s Behind The Scenes of the Old Testament and it’s about 512 pages and most of these pages have plenty of lines on them. It’s the kind of book that these same skeptics will not even read. It would be practically a miracle if they even skimmed it and looked at the pictures.

And yet, these same people will think they can speak with authority on the events in the Bible. They will speak on slavery in the Old Testament and all they have is their knowledge of the Civil War in America and the fact that they are offended and think that is sufficient. Never will they dare ask questions like, “What is slavery in the ancient world? What was the purpose of it? What other alternatives did they have?”

Let alone do these people really have an understanding of the Law for Christians. Many think that the Law was meant to lead us to some kind of Utopia and everything in it is a moral principle for all time. It’d be kind of hard for a Christian to say this since Jesus in the New Testament said that Moses permitted divorce to the people because their hearts were hard. This is not to say there are no moral truths in the Law, but the purpose of the Law is not to produce perfect people.

Too many critics of the Bible read the Bible from a modern Western perspective and then look back on the dumb and unenlightened culture they see in the Bible thinking they’ve made a powerful critique. Argument from outrage is a favorite. God did XYZ! What kind of God would do this? The conquest narratives are a favorite. Lately, I’ve seen David’s baby dying as a result of David’s sin as an example of this. (Strangely enough, these same people will also defend abortion. Go figure.)

My advice to Christians on this is to first off not take such critics seriously. If someone is not willing to read and study life in the Ancient Near East, they shouldn’t comment on it. If they do, we shouldn’t take their comments seriously. I say the same thing about Christians who want to go and critique evolution, but will never ever pick up a book on science in their lifetime. Reading your favorite Christian who argues against evolution without studying science yourself and just repeating what they say is just as bad as reading a new atheist on the Bible and repeating what they say without studying it yourself.

Let me make a caveat here. If you are a Christian and you do read the science and you do want to argue against evolution, have at it. It’s not the route I take as evolution is a non-issue to me. I just don’t repeat the arguments. Someone could be making powerful arguments against evolution or talking nonsense. I don’t know.

Also Christians, if I go after the atheists for doing this, I want to be fair and go after us. Too many of us who are Christians don’t bother to study the context either. We take one little section out of a prophecy and either make it about the end times in a dispensational paradigm (As if the prophets never ever said anything about their own culture) or they make it about themselves.

Let’s go with an example. In Jeremiah 29:11, God tells the people that He knows the plans He has for them, plans to prosper and not harm and to give them a hope and a future. Great passage. It’s used so many times in cards for college graduates and such. Horrible interpretation right there.

Jeremiah is making this point to Israel as they are going to Babylon. If you are sending a card to a college graduate who’s part of a covenant people and is being shipped off to Babylon, then that’s okay. If not, you might want to rethink it.

“Great. So are you saying this verse is useless aside from historical information?”

Not at all. We could apply this to us today. Picture a pastor saying this.

“The children of Israel had received a promise from God. They were about to face suffering and that suffering would make them wonder about the promise. They would doubt it and think God had failed them to let this happen. God assures them that is not so. In the same way, we today are recipients of the promises given to Israel and in Christ. We can often go through hardship and suffering still where we wonder if God has abandoned us. Hebrews tells us that God will never leave us or forsake us. As there was a purpose for the children of Israel going into Babylon, so there is a purpose for our suffering and Romans 8 tells us that God will work all things for good to those that love the Lord. Whatever you are going through in your life, realize that God is in control. As He did for the children of Israel in being with them in their suffering, so will He be with you.”

There. If anything, this is a richer understanding I think because it is connected to the New Testament. In the passage in Jeremiah, we can know that some of the people who went to Babylon never came back. After all, the return was about 70 years later. In the New Testament, some promises are individualized, such as Romans 8. We will all in Christ be resurrected in new and glorified bodies and each of us will give an account of what we have done and each of us will be treated accordingly. At the same time, we are a community in Christ and should live that way.

Studying the context of the passage goes a long way and will help us. Critics of the Bible need to really work to study the text instead of thinking that outrage is an argument. Christians need to study it because we think it comes from God and we need to treat it seriously and not misapply it. Will we always interpret it properly? Of course not, but we should always seek to bring the best information to the table that we can.

In Christ,
Nick Peters