I have a confession to make… One time, I quoted Jeremiah chapter 29, verse 11.
It was my first day of Bible college, and I was in the library. I found myself overcome with the sense that this is where I was supposed to be. In this context came to mind Jeremiah chapter 29 verse 11, which seemed to precisely describe what I felt and experienced standing in this place:
This passage is the second most quoted Bible verse, behind John chapter 3, verse 16. It’s plastered on mugs, wristbands, journals, pens, and anything else you can possibly imagine.
However, it is also one of the most misrepresented verses (which is why I had to confess to having quoted it). Almost as often as people quote this passage, other people yell, “context!” “That passage is not about you” they say, “It was intended for a specific people, at a specific time, and was a very specific encouragement.”
All of that is true. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, prophesied to the Kingdom of Judah through tears about God’s judgement on them due to their persistent sin. He effectively watched as Judah ignored his prophetic utterances, and eventually was destroyed, with any survivors dragged off into slavery in Babylon.
Just before the fall of Jerusalem came Jeremiah’s more encouraging utterance, the prophecy of God’s faithful remnant who would return to rebuild Jerusalem along with the temple of YHWH. This return, though promised, wasn’t going to happen for seventy years. It’s in this context that Jeremiah spoke this much-loved line, and so it’s in this context that the passage should be quoted, it’s argued.
And I agree for the most part – I do think the passage has been woefully misused without regard for its original context. We can probably say that the passage is not about us… But it about God.
Because of God’s unchanging nature, we can see his grace and affections reflected in this passage and apply those concepts not just to the Israelites in the days of Jeremiah, but also to the church today.
God’s promise of
The key to understanding this passage is found in the word usually translated ‘prosper.’ Whilst we usually understand ‘prosperity’ in financial terms, this is not the prosperity that God promises in Jeremiah chapter 29, verse 11.
The word translated ‘prosper’ is , which we often understand to mean ‘peace.’ However, the word means far more than this. It refers to whole community restoration. It’s a communal word that looks forward to the overarching welfare and health of the nation, and indeed the world.
The promise to ‘prosper and not to harm’ refers to a time when whole community restoration is experienced. The ‘hope and a future’ promised refers not to freedom from suffering in the short term, but to abiding freedom from sin and suffering when the whole community is restored as God’s kingdom comes down to Earth, and He dwells among us.
So while we may see the return of the remnant to Israel in Jeremiah’s time, the promise of is still to be realised.
Believers experience a taste of now
Christ the Messiah came so that true might be experienced – not just by the remnant in Jeremiah, nor by the Jews alone, but by all those who follow Him (John chapter 10, verse 10 says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”)
While true will not be experienced until Christ returns and the new earth is ushered in, as followers of Christ we can experience glimmers of the majesty of even now. We experience a new and fulfilled way of life focused on living for Christ by living for others.
We experience a taste of what it is to live in Christ’s perfect kingdom now, and we are charged with showing others a taste of the kingdom, imploring them to join the movement of those following Christ towards a true hope and future with Him.
We are part of bringing to fulfillment
2 Corinthians chapter 5, verses 18 to 20 says:
God is making His appeal through us to call others to experience eventual and abiding prosperity () free from harm, and to receive a taste of the hope and the future that Christ offers now, looking forward to the full realisation of God’s promise made in Jeremiah chapter 29, verse 11.
Is this passage ‘about us’? Not directly. But it is about God. His plan is indeed that, in His renewed kingdom, we would experience , free from harm. He offers hope and a future through Christ, as we eagerly await the coming of His kingdom, pointing others to the same through our actions and our words.
Brent Van Mourik is the Queensland Church Relationship Manager for Baptist World Aid Australia and is a registered pastor with the Baptist Union of Queensland. He completed a Bachelor of Theology with honours in New Testament through Malyon College in Brisbane, where he now lives with his wife, Jane, and his young son, Joshua. In his down time, he enjoys making and drinking good coffee, and developing his theology of disappointment, whilst putting into practice Ephesians chapter 4 verse 26 (“In your anger do not sin”) on the golf course.
Brent Van Mourik’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/brent-van-mourik.html