The “Butchered Bible Verse” series continues today with a text of Scripture that appears around graduation time each year. As we approach the study of Scripture, we must be cautious to rightly handle God’s Word. All of the Bible belongs to God and has a specific purpose. It is our job to carefully read and apply the truths of Scripture in such a way that causes us to interpret the Word in the way God intends each text to be understood.
Jeremiah 29:11-13 – 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.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
Explanation of how the text is misused
Almost every year around graduation time, I see this verse referenced on cards, Facebook updates, Twitter, and even the occasional bumper sticker. I suppose the strangest place I’ve seen this text was tattooed on a person’s arm. That may not be as bad as the guy who tattooed “I love Amy” in a red heart on his arm only to end up marrying a woman named Christie, but it’s hard to tell that guy with the tattooed Scripture that he has wrongly interpreted the Bible. To make matters worse, he spent good money to misinterpret the Scripture. The reason so many people like this passage is because of the grand language contained in the text. However, the problem with encouraging people with this text at times of graduation and advancement in life is that it’s being disconnected from the context. Furthermore, this passage was never intended to be read as a general promise to all Christians.
Some popular ways this passage of Scripture is misused:
- Graduates: God has plan to prosper your life and it will be good and not evil! Set your sail and prepare for the blessings of the LORD. Is that really what Jeremiah 29:11-13 is intended to teach?
- Teenagers: At summer camp, t-shirts are often printed with this verse on it. Could it be that God has a plan to prosper all teenagers so that their lives will be filled with abundant blessings? Is that a stretch? Is that what this passage is teaching?
- Facebook Status: As a means of encouragement to show that God has a purpose and a plan to lift people who are hurting or having a bad week out of a time of discouragement. Does that fall within the framework of the meaning of this passage?
Explanation of the text
Notice the verse that follows this passage – verse 14 - “I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” From that verse alone, we can see that the people of God are in exile and obviously their lives were not in the best of conditions and they wanted better for their families. It was the LORD God of Israel who was promising them a better future and hope for their families.
All the people were taken into exile in 597 b.c. by Nebuchadnezzar, yet the LORD says that He sent the people into exile (Jeremiah 29:14). This passage provides us with the sovereignty of God as we see Him clearly state that He knows, He has purposes that will come to pass, and He reigns and rules over the period and purpose of the exile. The context of this passage deals with a time period of the exile of God’s people among God’s enemies. Enemy kings and prophets were holding the people captive and prophesying lies to the people of God. However, through it all, God had a purpose. In Jeremiah 29:11-13 the LORD promised the people a good outcome from the situation of exile they were experiencing. Rather than receiving the judgment of the LORD as referenced in the verses that follow Jeremiah 29:11-13, God was promising His people peace, hope, and restoration! It wasn’t the end – their God would come through! However, they were to continue to remain steadfast and in constant pursuit of their God.
General truths we can learn from this passage:
- God’s people should seek God with their whole heart. This is reinforced by Mark 12:30.
- God knows the plans He has for our lives.
- God is sovereign over all things at all times – both the good and the bad.
- As we pray to God, as His children, God hears us and is interested in our lives.
Things that prove this passage (Jeremiah 29:11-13) is not a blanket promise for all of God’s children:
- Sometimes God’s will is for His children to experience hardship, trial, persecution, even death (2 Timothy 3:12; Romans 8; Acts 9:16; 1 Peter 4:19). That does not seem to reflect the language of Jeremiah 29:11-13.
- Sometimes God’s will is for people to suffer with sickness rather than prosper with a bright future (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
- Sometimes God’s will is for His people to die early in life – without a bright future. Consider the many missionaries who have died while serving Him faithfully. Consider missionaries like Adoniram Judson and preachers such as Charles Spurgeon. Both died with physical diseases while serving the Lord faithfully. Certainly we know the stories of people in our families and churches who have died much earlier than we would have thought. Was Jeremiah 29:11-13 not a valid text for these people?
The fact is – while Jeremiah 29:11-13 can teach us some general truths about God and His faithfulness to His people, we should not plaster it on graduation cards and t-shirts as a promise that God will always prosper His people. He very well may choose to do that, but that is certainly not the case for every one of His children.
May God grant us wisdom to understand and read the Bible in such a way that we glean the true and intended meaning of the text!
For the glory of King Jesus,
Pastor Josh Buice