Jeremiah 29:11 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.
We often hear and see this -and a myriad of scriptures on church signs and in social media- misquoted in grotesque ways and with alarming frequency. One might ask, ‘why make a big deal out of it if someone obtains some peace of mind in such a way?’
First, we need to ensure that our principles of biblical interpretation are sound -lest we get into PATTERNS of how we use the bible that are mere emotion and self-centered. Such handling of the Bible may give many a false peace that doesn’t last because its not grounded in the truth. Jeremiah 29:11 has absolutely NOTHING to do with ME. It was written by a weeping prophet to a nation about to go into the Babylonian captivity.
Their sins as God’s chosen nation (here Judah) had become so bad that a holy God had to judge them. These two remaining tribes of Judah (the northern 10 tribes had been invaded & removed by Assyria over a 100 years earlier) were forced marched over the fertile crescent and some desert areas, into Babylon. Children, elderly, women, suffered immensely. See Psalm 137 (esp v. 9) to get an idea. For 70 years they would remain there. In the midst of that impending prospect the prophet Jeremiah gave a message of hope. He didn’t water down the judgment, but did give hope.
What then is to be gleaned from such a text? The value of such a portion in our beloved Bible is found, not in everything applying to ME, but in the character of God. In the midst of what seems to me to be horrific, there is hope for His own. God is holy and must judge sin. For His own it doesn't end with suffering.
The character and promises of God are a solid rock for His children. Spurgeon is quoted as saying that God’s love letters come in dark envelopes. The impending Babylonian captivity and judgment messages of the Old Testament prophets, are interspersed with gems like this. (Take a look at Micah 5:2 and the surrounding message). The student of scripture can find such precious portions by studying those harder books of the bible rather than depending on pithy church signs and social media gobblydegook. By doing so one is put on a solid foundation instead of a shallow one.
Judah/Israel had unconditional promises from God. The nation would not be utterly and forever annihilated. His promises will be fulfilled despite what seemed like the impending UTTER destruction of what remained of their God-given country. In the short term, judgment was at hand. The value of Jeremiah 29:11 is for the faithful remnant of Judah, that God has spoken about something beyond the impending invasion. Trust Him, trust His character and His promises.
Oh, how this gets the center of this passage off ME and my problems. If I want to apply the text, I don’t take the promises of the text for myself, but I take for myself as a believer -joy and trust in the Holy God who is like this. And maybe I begin to study the scripture and look for reasons that suffering is part of God’s good and necessary program for His own. 1st Peter anyone?
Or I could put this text on a bumper sticker. Not.
Note: Let us not let the pendulum swing too far the other way. If we attend a church function and see Jeremiah 29:11 on a cake, it is ok to smile and not make a big deal out of it.