VERSE OF THE DAY
For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
“’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. ‘” — Jeremiah 29:11.Mar 31, 2021
“For I know the plans I have for you,’ states the Lord, ‘plans to help and prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you reward and hope for a future
What Does Jeremiah 29:11 Mean?
July 06, 2021
This article is part of the What Does It Mean? series.
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
Understanding the Context
If you were to take a poll on the most well-known verse in Jeremiah, there is a good chance that Jeremiah 29:11 would rank near the top, if not at the very top. This verse is commonly found on bumper stickers, signs, cards, etc., placed there to encourage people to have hope for the future that God will work things out for them. But is that really what this well-known verse means?
The starting point for determining the meaning of any verse from the Bible is understanding the surrounding context. Jeremiah was a prophet who served during the final days before Judah was taken into exile by the Babylonians, and his ministry continued throughout much of the time that the Jews remained in exile. The book of Jeremiah is a collection of his prophetic oracles that God spoke to and through him throughout his ministry.
Jeremiah 29 records a letter that the prophet wrote to the exiles living in Babylon (Jer. 29:1–3). Some of the exiles had already been living in Babylon for nearly eight years, while others had just recently arrived. Jeremiah instructs them to get busy in establishing their new lives in Babylon by doing ordinary things like build houses, plant gardens, marry, and bear children; indeed, they are even to seek the welfare of Babylon while they are there (Jer. 29:4–7). They should ignore the so-called prophets who are claiming the exile will be brief because God has not spoken to them or sent them (Jer. 29:8–9). Rather than being brief, their exile will last seventy years. And only then will God fulfill his promise and bring them back to the land (Jer. 29:10).
What Is Good?
That brings us to verse Jeremiah 29:11. Look at it again. God promises to fulfill his plans of doing good for his people. What is the nature of that plan and that good? Verses Jer. 29:12–14 tell us. God will answer the prayers of his people. When they seek God they will find him. God will restore them from their exile to the land that he has promised them.
God still speaks to us today through a promise he made to the Jewish people while in exile.
Therefore, in its original context, Jeremiah 29:11 is God’s promise to Jews living in exile in Babylon. So does that mean it does not apply to us as believers today? Understanding the larger context of the biblical story from Genesis to Revelation helps us see that the answer is yes, it does! As believers, God’s plan for us is to bring us into the new heavens and new earth that he has promised (Rev. 21–22). In the meantime, we live as exiles and sojourners here on this earth (1 Pet. 1:1; 2:11), waiting for the new creation in which righteousness dwells (2 Pet. 3:13). Jesus invites us to ask God in prayer and it will be given to us, to seek him and we will find him (Matt, 7:7). God promises that he will work all things for the eternal good of his people (Rom. 8:28), even the suffering he ordains for us (Rom. 8:18).
Understood within the larger context of the Bible, God still speaks to us today through a promise he made to the Jewish people while in exile. Once we understand the nature of God’s plans for us as believers and the nature of the good he promises to do us, we can confidently apply the heart of this promise to our lives today.
Matthew S. Harmon is the author of Jeremiah: A 12-Week Study.
Matthew S. Harmon (PhD, Wheaton College) is professor of New Testament studies at Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. He was previously on staff with Cru for eight years and is the author of several books. He also co-hosts the Various and Sundry podcast. Matthew and his wife, Kate, live in Warsaw, Indiana, and have two sons.
WHY JEREMIAH 29:11 DOESN’T MEAN WHAT YOU THINK
God’s view of prosperity always challenges our own
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
I’ve heard this verse many times. It usually gets pulled out when people are going through hard times.
I wonder if other people view this verse like I used to. When hard times came, a part of me held on to this verse like a lifeline to keep me afloat.
The other part of me thought this verse was utterly ridiculous.
I think about my friend who trained for the Olympics for years. She put a strong effort in the finals of her race for the 2012 Olympic Trials, a race she had been training for and looking toward all season.
Yet she missed the top three and was unable to represent the USA at the London Olympics.
How was that supposed to prosper and not harm her?
I think about the worst night of my life. In 2011, I was an assistant track coach at Central State University and we were on our spring break trip in Florida.
Our last night there, one of our athletes went missing. All through the night, rescue squads searched for her. The following morning, we learned she had drowned at the complex where we were staying.
How was that supposed to give hope and a future?
Situations like this made it clear my definition of “prosper” and “not harming” were different than God’s.
This is why lifting weights in the gym should not be considered play. When a person chooses to go to the gym and lift, they most likely engage in this activity to improve their muscle mass, stay healthy, or train for a sport. This motivation serves as an external goal that the person is trying to achieve. It doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy this type of activity—it’s just not play.
Our play may have benefits outside itself, but in its purest sense we do not approach it expecting anything in return.
Revelation 4:11 says, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” The author doesn’t mention God should be worshipped because of what God will do for us or how God will benefit our lives, but because of who God is.
When we approach our worship asking how it will benefit our personal lives, our worship becomes more about ourselves than God.
We worship God because of who God is, not what we “get” out of it.
Just like play, while we may benefit from our worship of God, it is not—or at least should not be—why we worship the Creator.
“YET PAIN OUTSIDE OUR SPORT IS UNACCEPTABLE. WE CAN’T BELIEVE THIS PAIN WILL SOMEHOW BENEFIT US.”
A COMMON MISUNDERSTANDING
After my athlete died, I experienced a slew of emotions. I was angry at God for allowing it to happen. I felt guilty because I didn’t notice she was gone. I became impatient with my athletes and “Why?” was a question that constantly plagued my thoughts.
As athletes, we expect pain in our sports. We willingly put strain on our muscles because we know the pain will pay off. I can’t count the number of times I’ve said, “Pain is just weakness leaving the body.”
Yet pain outside our sport is unacceptable. We can’t believe this pain will somehow benefit us.
Ironically, Jeremiah wrote these words to God’s people who were in exile. Not only were they exiled, but it was God who sent them there.
It is often believed that as a Christian, our life will be all rainbows and butterflies. But when we turn to the Bible, we see that is not the case for any follower of Christ. It was not even the case for Christ Himself while He was on earth.
James makes it clear in his book that we will face trials (James 1:2) and Peter tells us not to be surprised by the trials that come our way (1 Peter 4:12). Although they faced many trials, these disciples of Jesus had the bigger picture in mind.
Sometimes trials are of our own doing; sometimes they’re the work of Satan; sometimes they’re just an effect of living in a broken world. Regardless of the source, they’re always an opportunity to know God better.
SO WHAT DOES PROSPERITY MEAN TO GOD?
True Biblical prosperity comes when we are in a relationship with God, when we are walking with Him and getting to know Him better.
If we look at the Bible as a whole, not just pieces here and there, we see God constantly calling His people into a relationship with Himself. Instead of shielding them from hard times, He draws closer to them in the midst of trials.
Time and time again, we see Christians then and now enduring hardships joyfully. It’s not because they enjoy pain, but because they believe everything is going to be okay. They may not know when or how, but they trust God and have a peace knowing He sees beyond the pain.
We hope and long for what we consider “good” things, but God has a hope and a future full of great things. Our finite minds cannot fathom the things God has in store for us in heaven.
SEEING THE DETAILS FROM A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE
What if we imagined our lives as a puzzle?
As we go through our lives, God gives us pieces of our puzzle. Sometimes He gives us a piece that fits nicely with the other ones we have. But sometimes He gives us a dark piece that doesn’t seem to fit with the others.
We try to make sense of it, but the fact of the matter is we can’t see the full picture of our lives. We don’t hold the puzzle box. God does.
The Bible gives us a snapshot of the unfolding plan of God and our lives are small pieces of a much larger puzzle. As we understand that, we realize we have a loving God who has a long term plan to prosper us and not harm us. He is our hope and our future.
So when we’re given a piece that doesn’t make sense, we trust God that this piece wasn’t given to us by mistake—it was given to us because it is necessary for the bigger picture.
LEARNING FROM TRIALS
My friend experienced a new piece of God’s character – His protection.
It turned out she had a partially torn Achilles tendon and had she continued to race, she would have torn it completely and she would not be able to run any more. She would not be preparing for the 2016 Olympic Trials.
Her relationship with God is stronger today than it was four years ago.
I experienced a different slice of God’s character. I saw His compassion through His people as they stepped up to care for me and my other athletes.
In experiencing that compassion, I was able to extend it to the other athletes as I listened to their pain. This opened the doors to many spiritual conversations.
My relationship with God grew stronger.
I don’t know if that was one of God’s intended outcomes of her death. I know some of her family and friends have unanswered questions and have struggled with the reality of her death.
Over the years I’ve tried to stop asking God, “Why?” Instead, I strive to ask questions like, “What are you trying to teach me?” or “How can I use this to bring you glory?”
I may not have all the answers, but I serve a God who does. As I anticipate the trials yet to come, I will remember the words I once heard, “When faced with the unknowns, I look to a God who is known.”
“FOR I KNOW THE PLANS I HAVE FOR YOU, DECLARES THE LORD, “PLANS TO PROSPER YOU AND NOT HARM YOU, PLANS TO GIVE YOU HOPE AND A FUTURE.”
Stop Taking Jeremiah 29:11 Out of Context
SEPTEMBER 3, 2020
It’s written on graduation cards, quoted to encourage a person who can’t seem to find God’s well and doled out like a doctor explaining a prescription: Take Jeremiah 29:11 a few times, with a full glass of water, and call me in the morning. I think you’ll feel better.
“‘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 tells us—possibly one of our most beloved, yet most misunderstood, verses in the entire Bible.
Sure, it might make a person feel better, but this verse as we often prescribe it is being taken completely out of context. It doesn’t mean what people think it means. It’s time to back up and see what the author of Jeremiah is actually saying.
When it comes to reading the Bible, we can sometimes be so familiar with the words on the page that we read them, but we don’t really understand them. We see the words and hear the words, but we don’t make any sense out of them. Familiarity can breed laziness, and so many of our misunderstandings about the scriptures happen because we are too familiar with the passage to look it with fresh eyes. If we would come to the Word of God with fresh eyes more often, we would realize that some of our most common interpretations of Scripture passed down to us don’t make much sense when viewed within the context of the passage.
Like any author worth his salt, the writer in Jeremiah begins by stating the subject of the passage: “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon … “ (Jeremiah 29:4).
This verse, quoted to countless individuals who are struggling with vocation or discerning God’s will, is not written to individuals at all. This passage is written to a whole group of people—an entire nation. For all the grammarians out there, the “you” in Jeremiah 29:11 isn’t singular, it’s plural. And you don’t have to be a Hebrew scholar to realize that “one” versus “many” is a big difference.
And the verse just before it is perhaps even scarier. For in Jeremiah 29:10, God lays down the specifics on this promise: that He will fulfill it “after seventy years are completed for Babylon.” In other words, yes, God says, I will redeem you—after 70 years in exile. This is certainly a far cry from our expectation of this verse in what God’s plans to prosper us really mean. He did have a future and a hope for them—but it would look far different than the Israelites ever expected.
So what? Some of you may be thinking. Even when the verse is taken out of context, it still offers value, right? God does know the plans of individual people, so it’s just as well to keep prescribing Jeremiah 29 for those seeking God’s plan for their life, right? Well, yes and no.
We need to let the Bible speak to us, not allow our own personal bent to speak into the Scriptures. If Jeremiah 29 is speaking to the nation of Israel, and not just one person, then we should start with the truth in the Scriptures. Context matters—God speaks at a particular moment in time, to a particular people group, for a reason.
What this means is that God has plans for a whole group of people, namely the nation of Israel. And if we read on in the Scriptures we find that this promise was fulfilled: those in exile returned, and the nation of Israel was restored for a time. God made a promise through the prophets, and that promise came true.
Should We Still Be Looking for Ways to ‘Prove’ the Bible?
But that’s not the end of the story, either. There is something to the out-of-context prescriptions that so many make using this verse. God is a God of redemption, after all, and He wants to redeem people and put them on a path of wholeness, just as He wanted the nation of Israel to be redeemed and whole again.
As John Calvin says about this passage, the prophet is speaking not just of historical redemption, for that period in time, but also of “future redemption.” For the Israelites, God listened to their prayers when they sought Him with all their heart, and in His time, He brought them out of exile.
But how does any of this apply to us today? Can we still take heart in such a beautiful promise—even though it was spoken to people long ago, people in a far different situation than ours?
First and foremost, we are all in this together. This verse does not apply to isolated individuals or to a broad community. It applies to both, together, functioning as one. The image painted here is one of individuals in community, like the Body of Christ which Paul talks about. Here are a bunch of people, worshiping God together, hoping for a future redemption.
The theologians Stanley Grenz and John Franke explain in their book Beyond Foundationalism just how a community “turns the gaze of its members toward the future.” The future in Jeremiah is one that is bright—one that everyone in the community through prayer and worship seeks as their collective future hope. Many of us want to desperately know the plan that God has for each one of us as individuals, but let the prophet Jeremiah remind us that it’s not all about us, and it might not look like what we think.
Even more important than our decision about which college to attend, which city to move to or what job offer to take is the future hope of the Kingdom of God foretold by the prophets and fulfilled in the reign of our now and coming King. In this way, the promise of Jeremiah 29:11 is bigger than any one of us—and far better.
Stop Misusing Jeremiah 29:11 and Understand the Real Meaning of ‘For I Know the Plans I Have for You’
God’s Word is full of wisdom and encouragement that guide Christians through life. Memorizing Scripture can serve as a powerful weapon against temptation, despair, and worldliness. However, learning verses in isolation, without context, can lead to misunderstanding and misapplying the virtues and lessons that God wants His people to possess and learn.
One important verse that Christians often quote is Jeremiah 29:11, “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.”
This is a message of hope and a promise of a good future that is easy to cling to and repeat. But knowing the full context of the verse is quite interesting, and reveals the enormous scope of God’s will for mankind. Let’s dig into what it really means when God tells us he has plans for us.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Nghia-Lenull
What Does It Mean That God Knows the Plans He Has for Us?
In the context of Jeremiah 29, the phrase, “I know the plans I have for you,” refers to the plans the Lord has had for the people of Israel from the beginning. This verse is a reiteration of the promises of God, as well as the guarantee that He always keeps His covenants.
They were the descendants of Abraham, with whom God made a covenant to bless His descendants. They were the people of David, a man after God’s own heart. Even though they broke their promise to worship only the one true God, He was not going to forget His word, and would restore them to blessings. In fact, this verse is a foreshadowing of the coming Messiah, the Lord Jesus.
God promised David, a descendant who would reign forever, “You have said, ‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: ‘I will establish your offspring forever and build your throne for all generations’” (Psalms 89:3-4). There is only one throne that lasts forever, the throne of God where Jesus Christ will reign forever. If God allowed the descendants of David to be carried out to Babylon to go extinct in exile, then that promise of an eternal throne for David’s descendants could not have been fulfilled.
In context, this verse served as an encouragement for the Jews in exile, and should be a great encouragement for Christians today. God is not fickle, and He keeps His promises! Because the Father kept His promises to use the Jewish people in His plans, the whole world has access to salvation through Jesus Christ.
God did not forsake His people, redeeming them for His glory and their good. When the Lord promises that we are saved, He means it. When Jesus promises to return for His church, we can have confidence in His word. As Jesus says in the New Testament, centuries later, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). God does not change, no matter how individuals or the world does, and believers can rest assured that He will keep His promises.
Photo credit: Crosscards.comnull
Who Wrote Jeremiah?
The Book of Jeremiah is one of three books of prophecy called the Major Prophets. Its name comes from its author, who wrote during the last days before the exile to Babylon. Jeremiah, known as the weeping prophet, wrote most of the text during the exile of the Israelites.
At this time in the history of the Jewish people, Israel was divided into two kingdoms: Israel to the north and Judah to the south. Both kingdoms were conquered by foreign powers during this period. Jeremiah was the main prophet to Judah and the exiles in Babylon working at the same time as the minor prophet Zephaniah, who is mentioned in Jeremiah’s book.
Babylon and the Kingdom of Judah had been in conflict for a few years, resulting in the Babylonian empire conquering Jerusalem, destroying the Temple, and carrying the Israelites into slavery. The book includes more than just prophetic text; it also has biographical information, sermons, and poetic messages which communicate God’s will to the people.
The prophet provides some biographic information about himself early in the book. He says, “The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign” (Jeremiah 1:1-2). He gives his father and his tribe, as well as the time he began receiving prophecy and messages from the Lord.
He preached throughout Israel, and received much persecution; “But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. I did not know it was against me they devised schemes, saying, ‘Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more’” (Jeremiah 11:19). Though God often protected him from these persecutions, Jeremiah’s prophecies were ignored.