Day 226: Can We Apply Jeremiah 29:11 to Ourselves?

Through the Bible: Jeremiah 26-29

Several years ago, while our house was being built, my family came to the construction site late in the day, after the workers had left. We went from room to room, writing Scripture on the beams and on the concrete.

  • “Practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13) went in the dining room.
  • “I have found the one my soul loves” (Song of Solomon 3:4) was written in the bedroom my wife and I share.
  • “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) is on the beam above the door to the bonus room, where lots of games have been played and lots of time with the Lord has been observed.
  • Hebrews 13:2: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some have entertained angels without knowing it” went above the door to the guest bedroom.

Our younger son, Joshua, wrote his life verse above the door to his bedroom: “Be strong and courageous!” from Joshua 1:9.

Our older son wrote his life verse above his bedroom door:

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. Jeremiah 29:11

My family didn’t think twice about applying the promises and commands God gave his people thousands of years ago to us. But can we? When are we able to, and when are we not supposed to?

We’ve talked often in this place about taking God’s Word out of context, and whether a word God gave to one people at a given time can be applied universally. Jeremiah 29:11 is often the case study for whether it is appropriate.

Of course, it matters that this particular promise (Jeremiah 29:11) was given to God’s people while they were in Babylon, while they were in the midst of seventy years of exile. It matters that it was spoken through a prophet that had been rejected and mistreated by the very people to whom he was sent to minister.

All of those details contribute to our understanding of the text. And it’s vital for our understanding of God’s Word to understand context before you apply any verse. For example, another popular verse for people to write on the beams before the drywall goes up is also in Jeremiah 29:

““Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their produce.”
‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭29‬:‭5‬ ‭CSB‬‬

In this case, context tells us that this probably isn’t a verse to bless your house with, unless you are in captivity for 70 years. It might be appropriate on the wall of a prison cell, but not on the beams of your house.

And yet, I would argue that verse 11 is appropriate for a house blessing or a life verse or a tattoo for people today. Why? Because it has more to do with God’s character; which never changes, than man’s circumstances, which change all the time. Let’s look at it line by line:

  • I know the plans I have for you: God is just as sovereign and just as omniscient for us as he was for the exiles of Judah. If He knew the plans He had for them, He knows the plans He has for us.
  • Plans for your well-being and not for evil... Nothing that comes from God can be evil. It is contrary to His nature. And we know that our heavenly Father delights to give good gifts to His children. In Luke 12:32, Jesus told His disciples (and yes, that is us!) that it is “His Father’s good pleasure” to give us the kingdom. God delights in us, and so His plans for us will be to prosper us and not to harm us.

Now, this does not mean we think that the prosperity God plans for us is prosperity in the way well-groomed television preachers talk about prosperity. The Hebrew word is shalom. It is a bigger concept than any single English word can convey, as this screen cap from the Blue Letter Bible app shows:

  • To give you a future and a hope: We have a future in God. We have placed our hope in God.

Jeremiah 29:11 is a specific promise to a certain group of people in a certain circumstance. But because of the nature of the One making the promise, it is also a general promise to all God’s people at any time. While we can’t do this with every one of God’s promises recorded in Scripture, I praise God that we can with this one.

Further reading: Does Jeremiah 29:11 Apply to You? from The Gospel Coalition

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