Saturday, May 14, 2011

Taste and See: Jeremiah 29:11-13

It's getting to be graduation season again. And it seems at least to me that there is one passage that gets used--or misused--every year. That passage would be Jeremiah 29:11-13:

"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. Then you will call on 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." (NIV)

I think superficially you can read that passage and get the warm and fuzzies. Oh how lovely, oh how wonderful. What a great passage to share with those getting a fresh start in life. Appropriate for those graduating high school or college--undergraduate or graduate. What a great verse to give to those looking for a new job. But. It's not always quoted in enough context--at least enough context to suit me. Sometimes we just see 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."

Context matters. Trust me. Who was the original audience? Jeremiah was writing to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. They'd been taken from their homes. They were in a strange land, a foreign land. Perhaps they weren't sure why God had allowed them to be taken captive. Perhaps they hadn't given much thought to God and his commandments before captivity. Perhaps they weren't even turning their hearts towards God at the time Jeremiah was writing. At least not yet. And Jeremiah wasn't promising them an immediate deliverance either. He was telling them--you'll be there seventy years! But it's okay because those years are part of God's plan for you. The situation may seem dark to you, you may not see much hope in being where you are right now. But God does have a plan for you. You have not been forgotten.

Also, you should probably know that there had been a false prophet writing to the exiles. A so-called prophet promising the captives quick freedom. A prophet going around contradicting everything the LORD had been telling Jeremiah. So Jeremiah was writing them the truth, telling them to believe and trust in God.

There were two groups of people Jeremiah was addressing. He was addressing those still in the land--those that had NOT gone into exile. And this was a rebellious, sinful, stubborn group of people let me tell you. And he was addressing those that had gone into exile. These two groups are best seen in contrast. God had told Jeremiah that one group would be destroyed, one group would be saved. One group receives mercy, the other group receives justice.

Jeremiah 29:15-19:
You may say, "The LORD has raised up prophets for us in Babylon," but this is what the LORD says about the king who sits on David's throne and all the people who remain in this city, your fellow citizens who did not go with you into exile--yes, this is what the LORD Almighty says, "I will send the sword, famine and plague against them and I will make them like figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten. I will pursue them with the sword, famine and plague and will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth, a curse and an object of horror, of scorn and reproach, among all the nations where I drive them. For they have not listened to my words," declares the LORD, "words that I sent to them again and again by my servants the prophets. And you exiles have not listened either," declares the LORD. (NIV)
Chances are that at some point in you've life you've encountered Jeremiah 29:11! But how many are equally familiar with God's wrath on display just a few verses down? In fact just one verse separates the two.

If you read Jeremiah 1-29, you'll get the big picture. Or most of it at least. If this is your first time through Jeremiah, then maybe you'll need some encouragement to keep going. It isn't exactly easy to love Jeremiah.

There are a few things more I'd like to say. First, this one verse shouldn't be seen as a generic come-one-come-all promise. Can God use this verse to work in the lives of believers? Yes! Absolutely. Second, I'd be careful of where you place your focus. If your focus is on the first half then there may be a problem. Specifically--as the NIV phrases it--plans to prosper and plans for hope and a future. Because if you're thinking in terms of wealth and prosperity, in terms of having a good life, a great life, a perfect life where you get exactly what you want when you want it, a problem-free life where everything always goes your way, then I'm not sure what to say. For God did not promise us an easy life. God never promised that we'd always be happy and comfortable. God wants to shape us, transform us, make us holy. He wants obedience. He wants our hearts and minds and lives.

I feel the better focus of this promise--of this passage--is on the second half. "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." Let that passage move you--inspire you--to seek God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your understanding. Let seeking God come first in your life. Let God be your priority.

So is there a passage I'd recommend instead? Perhaps Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (NIV)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible


twiga92 said...

Great post! I always hate to see this verse over-used and mis-used - usually taken out of context. Good reminder that we must read verses in their context.

Anonymous said...

Love the Post! I agree the focus needs to be on the second part of seeking God with all our hearts! God Bless you!