A future, and a hope…
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Jeremiah 29:11 is a reassuring verse in troubled times. When circumstances don’t seem to be going our way, a verse like that can remind us that God is in control. But unless you read the context of this verse, you may not completely understand how reassuring this really is meant to be.
Verse 11 is part of a letter that the prophet Jeremiah wrote after the beginning of Israel’s exile to Babylon. In Deuteronomy, God warned Israel that if they did not obey Him, and if they turned to idolatry, He would remove them from the Promised Land.
But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you… The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand, a hard-faced nation who shall not respect the old or show mercy to the young… And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.
Deuteronomy 28:15, 49, 63
In the days of the prophet Jeremiah, Israel had sunk into the depths of idolatry and wickedness. The mighty Babylonians besieged Israel, sacked Jerusalem, and would eventually destroy the Temple. Not content to create a mere vassal state, Babylon exiled most if not all of the survivors of their brutal siege; and thus Israel was exiled to the land of Babylon. As a nation and a people, Israel was swallowed up by the pagan empire.
That is the setting for the prophet Jeremiah’s letter. Israel had not merely suffered a humiliating defeat, as a nation and people they seemingly had been destroyed. Much of the population had been brutally starved, and the remainder carried in chains far to the east. In those horrible circumstances, God instructs Jeremiah to write this letter of encouragement to Israel.
Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
God is blessing them in their exile!
But wait, there is more to the letter. God is promising to bless them beyond their exile as well. Far more.
For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
God does not merely create for us a calm in the midst of the storms of our life – God is ordering those very storms – where He gives us calming confidence in Him… if we will trust Him.
Take courage. The present circumstances are not your story…