This is my first post in a series on analyzing the most abused verses of the Bible. Do you frequently watch TBN (for laughs I hope)? If so then you already have heard the verses I am talking about twisted out of context. Each post will be dedicated to a single passage where I will take one of these passages and attempt to put it in the proper context so that we can see what they actually say. There is no efficacy in a twisted Word, but when we put it back in context and see what it says we receive the promises that scripture does give us (Rom 10:17).
This is probably among the top ten abused Bible verses of our day. That’s why I’ve chosen to blog on it first. There are others that are more subtle, and will require a more nuanced contextual analysis. That said, this post is going to be easy.
Isn’t that nice?! I have hope, a future, and it looks like I am going to be rich too! Hey that’s what the verse says right?
Well the simple answer is no not at all. That doesn’t mean I am promised the opposite either. But generally when this verse is abused not only will they tell you that God is directing this promise to us, but you simply need to claim it in faith to receive it. There are a number of problems with that.
The most obvious one is that if you go with this theology, then to be consistent you must also believe that the Apostle Peter was either ignorant of the scripture or didn’t have the faith necessary to claim himself out of being martyred upside down on a cross.
That would apply to modern martyrs as well. What of the Christians in the Middle East who are being Martyred right now? What of the Coptic Christians recently martyred as depicted in the icon below?
I guess that promise in Jeremiah 29:11 just doesn’t extend to them does it? Maybe they didn’t have enough faith…..
I say these things mockingly because the bad theology twisting this verse in Jeremiah needs to be mocked. This false theology leads people to despair and apostasy. What are you supposed to do if you or a loved one gets cancer? Is it your fault that you didn’t have enough faith in the promise of Jeremiah 29:11? If they are healed is it because of you and how awesome your faith was?
I hope what is becoming obvious in this line of reasoning is the difference between a Theology of Glory and a Theology of the Cross. This is terminology that Martin Luther coined many years ago. Essentially, the idea is that a Theology of Glory tries to make the scripture all about the reader and how they reach upward in power and faith while magnifying themselves. A Theologian of the Cross however understands that the Bible is about Jesus and what he has done, and how he has saved those who do not deserve it.
Okay…. So what does Jeremiah 29:11 actually mean?
Now I have presented what the verse does not mean, let’s put it in context and see what it is actually saying. This time I will use a more scholarly version than the one which it is so often quoted in and pull in the surrounding prophetic narrative.
“4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon:…“
Well! Isn’t that nice! It sure helps to know who is being spoken to doesn’t it? Notice we have from Jeremiah a promise of God directed to a very specific group of people. Let’s put it this way, if you’re not living in old covenant Israel during the captivity then this doesn’t apply to you or anyone you know.
“5 Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. 6 Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters—that you may be increased there, and not diminished. 7 And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace….”
The three verses above look simple enough to me. They are being directed to live out their lives as normally as possible in the new reality that has defined it.
“8 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are in your midst deceive you, nor listen to your dreams which you cause to be dreamed. 9 For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them, says the Lord…”
This is a warning given frequently in scripture, don’t listen to the false prophets. If you or I were living back then it might be a good idea to listen to Jeremiah. He had just prophecied the fall of Jerusalem and nobody believed him.
10 For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. 11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:4-11 NKJV
Notice that Jeremiah 10 is also very helpful in understanding the context. If you’re ever breaking this down for someone quickly, that’s as far as you really need to go. I just took it one step further in this post to make the point extra clear. Essentially what you have is a 70 year prophecy that God will return the people of Israel to Jerusalem. This is referenced by Daniel many years later as he is the one looking to the fulfillment of that time.
The point is, that the promises in Jeremiah 29:11 don’t even apply to the people hearing them in the first place. Instead it only applies to their grandchildren. In this context, the word “you” is being used in a broad sense to apply to the people of Israel. Specifically, their line is promised to be preserved and returned to Jerusalem. Notice that the NKJV doesn’t include the prosperity promise that we saw in the NIV either.
Does this mean that the verse means nothing to us at all? Of course not! The promise we have in this verse is even better than the fiction foisted upon us by TV preachers. In this bleak moment thousands of years ago it looked to anyone with a brain that the throne of David had failed. Which would also mean the promised Messiah would not come, the covenant of Israel had been broken, and there was no hope.
But as we know this is not the end of the story. God promised to preserve them, and in doing so he fulfilled his promise to bring in the Messiah. He even gave them their city and homes back to boot.
For us, what we can learn is that God keeps his promises. No matter how bleak it gets in any age we know that he has promised to return. No war, calamity, famine, or bad presidential election can change that. Christ has come and taken away our sins and we look to see him return again. We know that promise will be fulfilled and that one day we will be able to look back on the eschaton just as we do now on Jeremiah.
The trust of this verse is better than the fiction. Take comfort in the victory Christ won for you on the cross. Even if your life ends in a grisly fashion like Peter or those Coptic Martyrs, know that Jesus’s promise still stands.