God’s sovereignty: A look at Jeremiah 29
Read time: 4.2 minutes
Once again we are approaching a New Year, a time to reflect upon the past year and to resolve to do better, be better. We want to set things right. So in this and in the next two blogposts, I will help lay a foundation for you so you can set things right, right from the start. And that is to begin by exploring the sovereignty of God.
Today we take a look at a favorite Bible verse for a new year, and that is Jeremiah 29:11
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.
This verse is one of my pet peeves. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not peeved that God would graciously bless His children and that He wants the very best for them. We just need to look to the cross and empty tomb to understand that.
No, the basis for this pet peeve of mine is how this verse is routinely misused. In fact I heard it being misused just last Sunday, in attending a church that is not my home church.
Our "best life ever"?
Etched on coffee mugs and lovingly embroidered on pillows, this verse is typically meant to inspire us that the best is yet to come, that God is planning our “best life ever.” That God will fulfill our purpose in life by granting us inner peace.
All sweetness and light, puppies and kittens, unicorns and rainbows. We know that’s how it will go, because it’s right here in Scripture, right? I mean, how else are we meant to interpret it?
But understanding this verse in this way is taking this verse out of context at best; heresy at worst. By taking it out of context, we misunderstand the full meaning of God’s plans for our welfare and this is heretical because it elevates man, ignoring the sovereignty of God. Let’s get started.
The letter’s purpose
Jeremiah’s purpose in writing this letter is that it is a letter to the exiles. In Jeremiah 29:1-3 we read:
1 These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the eunuchs, the officials of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metal workers had departed from Jerusalem. 3 The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.
Through Jeremiah, God instructs His people not to put on sackcloth and ashes, not to overthrow their overlords, but to dig in and get on with living life.
In Jeremiah 29:4-9 we read:
4 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare7
Now why are they instructed to live life, effectively establishing a colony? Because exile will last for 70 years. (v. 10) Furthermore, in verses 8 and 9, God specifically tells the exiles not to believe those who say the Babylonian exile will only last two years, as they are liars.
Back to verse 10:
“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.
Not only does God say the exile will last 70 years, but also He states He will fulfill His promise to the exiles and bring them back to the Promised Land.
The real meaning of verse 11
For 10 verses prior to verse 11, we have Jeremiah writing to the Babylonian exiles, instructing them how they should live in Babylon, as they will be there for a much longer time than the false prophets are proclaiming. And what’s particularly interesting is in verse 10 itself, where God says that after exile He will fulfill His promise to His people.
To let that sink in, let’s now go to verse 11:
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare[b] and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
So God’s restoration of His people by fulfilling His promise to them—bringing them back to the Promised Land—was only a part of the “plans I have for you”. The rest of God’s plans included exile.
When we see this verse on a coffee mug or a pillow, do we also read “exile”? (I didn’t think so.)
For our welfare
So now placing verse 11 within its proper context, we now have a much clearer picture when God talks about plans for our welfare. Our welfare can include hardship, as it most certainly it did for the Israelites who experienced the hardship of Babylonian exile.
But there’s more here than meets the eye. The word translated into English as “welfare” is the Hebrew word “shalom”. Shalom just doesn’t mean to fare well, to be well. It means that you, me, everyone is faring well because we are experiencing abundance throughout all aspects of life, having inner peace during troubled times. And all that is only possible because not just everyone but everything is in God’s proper order as it was at creation. This is God’s “welfare”. And this, my friends, is God’s sovereignty at work.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
The next time you’re tempted to use Jeremiah 29:11 as a “feel good”, “here’s to my best life” verse, remember that God’s ways are not our ways. Yet inner peace is still possible even in troubled times, as He is God and sovereign over all.
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Copyright 2021. Sandra A. Eggers. Sharing is encouraged; however, please give credit where credit is due. Thank you.