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.