I have a guest post up over at Christians in Context's blog entitled "Jeremiah 29:11 According to the Gospel."On the one hand it comes out of my mild frustration whenever I see people quote Jeremiah 29:11 "‘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’" and interpret it as personalized prosperity.
As Americans evangelicals we can be particularly bad at interpreting this verse as individualized prosperity based largely American measures of prosperity. This verse is often used around the New Year to boost our spirits and remind us what we think we already know: "God's got good things in store." This mentality comes largely out of a set of beliefs that has been labeled Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.
In this view, God is largely concerned with morals, your feeling good, and he is rather deistic--other than giving you good gifts, he pretty much leaves one along. Several characteristics of it include:
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
- God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
In my post on Jeremiah 29:11, I point out that God has often calls Christians to suffer in this life. The reality is that Jeremiah 29:11 is often used wrongly and God's sovereign plan for your life may have nothing to do with it "going well" by Americanized standards. Even evangelicals have a mild form of the health and wealth gospel when they use this verse.
The context of Jeremiah is key:
Jeremiah 29:11 is about God’s plan for Israel. The point of Jeremiah 29:11 is that God will bring Israel back to Jerusalem and the promised land.
Jeremiah is writing to Israelites who had just been taken captive into Babylon with more destruction of Jerusalem just around the corner. Jeremiah prophesies full exile is imminent and lasting as Israel will be in Babylon for seventy years (Jer. 29:10). But Jeremiah announces a hope and a future so that we might know God keeps all of His Word. Jeremiah’s own prophecies are reflections of God’s earlier words to His people.
Centuries earlier in Deuteronomy 30:1, God had promised that the curses of the covenant laid out in Deuteronomy 29 would come upon Israel--including the climactic exile from the land. Yet the promise to Israel is her return from exile:
Deuteronomy 30:2-4 "and you return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons,then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.“If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back."In Deuteronomy and Jeremiah, we have God’s overarching plan for Israel. After Israel’s seventy years of captivity, God will reestablish them as a nation. Notice that Jeremiah 29:11-13 calls Israel to national repentance just like Deuteronomy 30:2. Jeremiah, echoing Deuteronomy, promises that the fortunes of the nation will be restored (Jer. 29:14; Deut. 30:5ff). Both Jeremiah 29 and Deuteronomy 30:7 promise covenant curses on Israel’s captors. After exile, God will prosper His people (Jer. 29:11; Deut. 30:9). God’s plan for Israel is made clear with this proclamation by Jeremiah.
Once we find the proper interpretation in context of Jeremiah and locate the passage within redemptive history, this verse actually is applicable to the Christian. The hope of Jeremiah 29:11 was the New Covenant (this expands on Deuteronomy 30's promise of the circumcised heart). Ultimately Jeremiah 29:11 is fulfilled in the Messiah and His union with his people.
The seed planted in Deuteronomy 30 is the return from exile which takes it’s ultimate shape in the New Covenant--God’s people receive a new circumcised heart (Deut. 30:6). Jeremiah 30-33 is about the New Covenant, the restoration of Israel and the establishment of the King of the line of David back on the throne (see esp. Jer. 31:27-37)
Read the whole thing. Pay attention of how I expand the application that Jesus fulfills Jeremiah 29:11 and thus it is a verse that connects (e.g. applies) directly to the Christian. In short Jeremiah 29:11 and its context encapsulates the message of the gospel.