Jeremiah 29

 Many Christians love Jeremiah 29:11, since it seems to promise prosperity and well-being. The prophet specifically says, "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 a hope and a future."

 Well, there you have it. God is a gentlemanly old fellow who wants to give His kids all the best stuff, secured in a bright, successful future.

It's a nice thought. Unfortunately that wrenches the verse away from it historical context (Israel is partly a captive nation), and its biblical context (this verse happens inside a chapter, and that chapter happens inside a book).

A Letter to Captives    Jeremiah 29 begins as a letter to the captives in Babylon. Above I said that Israel was "partly" captive. I said it that way because Babylon invaded Israel three times. Each time it carried away more captives, deposed the Jewish king, installed a puppet king, and exacted more onerous taxes.

Jeremiah 29:11 does indeed say to them that God is watching out over them, and even that a better future is coming. But let's not miss who these recipients are. The letter is addressed to people who are living as exiles in a faraway foreign land. Better future, but painful present.

A Shocking Message    Israel had been defeated because they had departed from the ways of God. Frankly, God was using Babylon as His instrument of rebuke. Years later we can understand this. But at the time, when Jeremiah said it he was viewed as a traitor. In fact, he had told the people that Babylon was coming, and things would go much better for them if they would just surrender. God's will would be done; it would be better for you to submit to it. We don’t have to guess how this was received; Jeremiah tells us that he was repeatedly attacked for saying such things.

To add fuel to that fire, in this chapter Jeremiah tells the exiles that they should "seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which [God] has carried you into exile." (Jer. 29:7). He says this for a very practical reason: "because if it prospers, you too will prosper." Once again, the words of the prophet were the opposite of what people expected, or wanted, to hear.

A Specific Word   Then Jeremiah told them a specific length for their time of captivity. Verse 10 says, "When 70 years are completed for Babylon, [God] will come to you and fulfill His gracious promise to bring you back." Seldom does God gives His people the dates of future events ("No one knows" the day or hour of Christ's return), but here is one of the places He does. They'll be captive for 70 years. And 70 years it was.

 A Call for Repentance   Then God says, through His prophet, "Then you will call upon 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."  That is, Israel is going to go through the ringer. They've sinned and deserved it. Actions will have their consequences. But when they finally come to their spiritual senses they'll turn to God, repent, and be healed.  

It's a consistent image of Scripture. Sin has its consequences. Punishment does come. But God does not cast off forever. He hears from heaven and forgives the sins of His people and restores them.

Polls today say that 70% of Americans believe our nation is headed in the wrong direction. One year ago 65% said that. Apparently we're still headed in the same direction. 

What's the answer to that? To turn. To get off the path we're taking, to change the direction we're going.

Jeremiah 29:11 is a pleasant message. Yes, it speaks of a better future, and God's plans for our prosperity. But those plans do not imply that God will bless us no matter what we do. The Bible never promises that if you go your own way God will bless that because He's a kindly sort.

Jeremiah 29:11 is indeed a promise. It's a promise to a people in tough circumstances (who doesn't have them?), who turn to Him (not in a phony way, but with the whole heart), and who will be restored (because He prefers to bless than to punish).

God Bless,

Pastor Walt