“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 is probably the most quoted verse in the Bible next to John 3: 16. Everyone can understand why. It is a verse that promises prosperity and hope for the future and it looks like it has no strings attached, no obligations to fulfill. It’s just there, period.
It’s not like Joshua 1: 8 where meditation of God’s Word at least twice a day is a prerequisite to prosperity and success. Nor is it like Genesis 12 which requires getting out of your comfort zone and following God into some unknown territories. No, Jeremiah 29: 11 stands out from all the rest because it promises lots of great things without asking too much in return. Just like John 3: 16 which simply pronounces unconditional love, Jeremiah is a feel good promise that everybody loves. Unfortunately, we are most definitely missing something very basic here- the preceding verse and the context of the promise.
Before we get too excited about verse 11, let’s flip our Bible one page backward to see what’s in verse 10. There we will see that the promise is going to be fulfilled when the seventy years are over.
Well, for starters, it’s the period of captivity that the Lord intended for Israel to go through as a form of discipline for its waywardness. Israel hadn’t been behaving right and God thought a period of captivity to a ruthless empire will teach them a lesson. It’s like detention in school, only in a bigger, nationwide scale.
Now, with the “detention” period running to a close, God spoke to Jeremiah and said, “When this discipline thing is over, I’m bringing you back to your own place. I didn’t really mean to harm you, in fact, I wanted to bless you and give you a future full of hope. Call me, I’ll just be around. See you!”
And so the promise of prosperity and hope is directly related to almost a lifetime of painful discipline, a 70-year period when the soul of a nation is humbled down. It is a promise of healing and restoration to a nation in a brink of resigning itself to the idea that the God who rescued them many times in the past has finally ran out of patience and mercy. Jeremiah 29: 11 is the light at the end of the long, winding tunnel of those who are being tested, to those who think that God has forsaken them, to those whose eyes are blinded by tears of pain and hopelessness.
Go ahead and read that old, familiar verse again. More than a promise of sunshine and bright colors, Jeremiah 29: 11 is a soothing balm for those who are suffering. And more than a feel good promise to be sprayed around when we feel down, this verse shows us that God cares deeply enough to discipline us and embrace us all throughout the whole ordeal.