When our children were graduating High School, Jeremiah 29:11 was a popular verse used with graduation cards, gifts and so forth. It may still be popular. The text, probably quoted from the New International Version of the Bible, reminds graduates that God has “plans to give you hope and a future.”
Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) “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.”
While this Scripture is true and still speaks to us today (Romans 15:4), the contextless verse often “says” to the reader “God has a great future for me” (with “great” meaning “what I want and expect”). The context straightens the meaning out for us, which is deeper and fuller than the “verse on a card” or “verse on a cup” approach. Here also is the reading from the King James Version of the Bible:
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,[i] saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
The words of verse 11 are part of the prophecy of Jeremiah “to all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon” (Jeremiah 29:1). Prophets rose up in Babylon to speak falsely in Jehovah’s name (Jeremiah 29:21). Among those who remained in Jerusalem, Hananiah said that within two years God would break the yoke of the king of Babylon, bring back those who had already gone into captivity, and restore the vessels of the Lord’s house to the temple (Jeremiah 28:2-4). Into this lie Jeremiah must speak the truth. Not only will this not happen, but those who are still at Jerusalem will also go into captivity! The yoke will not be broken in two years, but Israelites will remain captives in a strange land for seventy years.[ii] Do not spend the next two years expecting to come home, but settle down for the long term in the land where you are – “And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.” (Jer. 29:7). This is the context and meaning in its context – God knows the thoughts and plans he has for Israel (Cf. Isaiah 55:9). Those to whom he has not revealed those thought are liars (Romans 3:4). The Lord has thoughts of peace and prosperity in their future. Even their captivity, though a judgment, is for their good (Jeremiah 24:5). Their history is not concluded – it has a future – and there will be an ending in fulfillment of their expectations.[iii] God knows – he does not forget what he purposes to do.
To us this speaks today, within the context of Jeremiah and the general principles taught in the Bible. We look not for the fulfilling of all our desires. We know not all the thoughts God has, but we know that even in the midst of that which is disappointing, depressing, and distressing, God is working all things for good to them that love him, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
[i] “I alone” – not the false prophets who pretend to speak for me.
[iii] The “expected end” must be understood in the context of God’s work among his people Israel more than applied to individuals. The current generation – “the elders which were carried away captives” – would never return to their homeland, but their hopes could be fulfilled in their children and grandchildren (Cf. 1 Chronicles 22:7; 1 Chronicles 28:6).