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Does God Really Have Plans to Prosper You? (Jeremiah 29:11) Pt. 2

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 ESV

Introduction

Prior to my acceptance of Yeshua as Messiah of Israel and Redeemer, I embraced several Eastern faiths. I was hunting for a connection to God. To find true peace, some paths required I subjugate my cravings that were in the way of experiencing inner tranquility. Eventually, I was no longer bothered by material things I could not afford or the circumstantial setbacks I experienced. Maintaining my inner calm became a greater priority than getting rattled by temporary frustrations.

Soon I embarked into the world of New Testament Christianity. The evangelical sphere I observed split into two avenues. One lane beckoned me to take the words of Jesus seriously when He called His followers to a life of self-denial. This road involves serving God and others even in the midst of difficult times. In the course of enduring life’s obstacles with God’s strength, the follower of Yeshua finds divine peace and joy.

The other route I encountered was the prosperity gospel. In this scenario suffering should NOT be part of the believer’s life. Rather, this scheme teaches God has promised His children a lifestyle of self-fulfillment, physical health and material wealth. The message is positive and promises the Christian freedom from suffering.

The question must be posed: Which path is the one that most aligns with the teaching of Scripture?

Understand the priority of pursuing God’s kingdom over material blessing

Prosperity Image
Image by 3D Animation Production Company from Pixabay

According to Matthew 6:33, Jesus taught His disciples, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” “All these things” refers to the preceding verses in which Jesus describes the concern of God for our material needs-food and drink plus clothing. Jesus does not declare God will provide His followers mansions, several luxury cars in our garage and extravagant vacations. In contrast, because we can trust God to meet our basic needs, we are freed up to seek His kingdom as a priority.

In contrast, many prosperity gospel preachers encourage the Christian to seek “these things” first and then once the person is wealthy and healthy, he or she can experience the kingdom of God. In this world of promised prosperity God exists for me and my needs.

As a result, the Christian enmeshed in this teaching no longer becomes more like Jesus, but he or she is transformed into a materialistic person with skewed priorities. It is my observation this prosperity-focused movement has ignored a lack of spirituality that has crept into the Body of Messiah. The reason? The focus of this teaching is on the believer’s selfish desires and not on establishing the priority of the kingdom of God.

Grasp the true meaning of happiness defined by Scriptures

In no way am I promoting the idea the follower of Yeshua cannot find lasting happiness in this earthly world. My concern is determining what exactly is the happiness God wants for us.

Sadly, some faith teachers offer little qualification of what prosperity and happiness means. The unsuspecting Christian is led to believe that the promised happiness is defined by the materialistic pursuits of our contemporary culture, not by the Word of God. For this reason, believers are open targets for erroneous thinking about what true happiness is.

It is a fair question to ask ourselves, “Is my contentment based on the secular American Dream or by a blessedness defined by Scriptures?”

After all, fulfilling the American dream does not always bring us lasting enjoyment. According to Jonathan T. Pennington, in The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing, he observes, “Wisdom literature such as Psalms and Proverbs often depicts the foolishness, shortsightedness, and ultimately short-lived and destructive nature of ungodly pleasures that promise no lasting happiness” (pg. 295). If we are deadset on grabbing our “best life now,” how are we any different from the unbeliever who cherishes the same pleasures? Does God bring us into a relationship with Him so we can scarf up all the material benefits we can fit into our earthly suitcases? Where is the discernment to see material blessings are a by-product of seeking God and not the goal of seeking God (Matthew 6:35-34)?

Later in this blog post we will gain more insight into the enjoyment we can expect from the Lord. For now let us be cautious to not allow secular thinking define for us what is lasting happiness.

Zero in on the place of blessing during our times of hardship

We should not overlook the future aspect of the blessings God wants to give us. Pennington frames this concept from the New Testament where God is “bringing His kingdom from heaven to earth, vanquishing His enemies and establishing justice and peace between people and all of creation” (Pennington, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing, pg. 296). In other words, there is a “not yet” aspect of God’s promised blessedness.

Hence, we await the coming of God’s kingdom to grant us lasting happiness on earth, not only in heaven. Jesus describes the “not yet” aspect of spiritual joy on earth in the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Mathew 6:10).

Why speak a prayer about the future coming of God’s kingdom on earth if we believe the kingdom has come with all its blessings right now? In other words, how can we receive our best life now if God tells us the “best life” is ahead of us and awaiting the Second Coming?

Often the blessings we receive from God in this world are found in the midst of suffering and brokenness. In a strong sense, the follower of Jesus lives in a paradox: we encounter loss, longing, suffering and even persecution along with spiritual happiness, joy and peace. Paul writes, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ [Messiah] you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29). The inclusion of suffering in the spiritual life is also described in Phillipians 3:8, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ [Messiah] Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ [Messiah]”.

What we need is a more balanced approach to what it means to find happiness that is not tied into grabbing as much of the American Dream as possible.

To establish the basic tenets of the health and wealth message, the faith teachers gravitate towards biblical passages like Jeremiah 29:11. In this series of articles we have been focusing on understanding the context and audience of this often misused Scripture verse. We must ask, “Who is this promise addressed to? What exactly are the plans God has for His people? How should a modern follower of Jesus apply this verse to their lives?”

The significant themes found in Jeremiah 29

The beginning of Jeremiah’s correspondence to the exiles in chapter 29 includes three verses that describe whom the letter is from and to whom this report is being sent to. Jeremiah 29:1 sets the stage, “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.”

Next, the prophet fills in the circumstances under which this letter was sent. Jeremiah clarifies his correspondence was sent after King Jeconiah, his wife, the eunuchs, the officials, the craftsmen and the metalworkers had left Jerusalem to go into exile (Jeremiah 29:2). In verse three we are told the letter was carried to the exiles by Elasah and Gemariah (29:3). Verse 4 introduces the message the Lord has for all the exiles who had been sent into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon (29:4). After these introductory words, the themes of Jeremiah 29 unfold.

The theme of faithfulness while in exile (Jeremiah 29:4-7)

Photo by Olivia Bauso on Unsplash

In vv. 4-7 the exiles are handed instructions how to conduct themselves while in captivity awaiting restoration.

  • The exiles are told not to live as though their stay in Babylon was short. Jeremiah reminded them they would be contained in Mesopotamia for seventy years During this period the . Jeremiah 29:4 states, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” Thus, they were accountable to the God of Israel as to how they behaved while in exile. This situation was unlike the Exodus where the Israelites expected God to deliver them from their slavery in Egypt soon. To this group of exiles in Babylon, God made no such promise of a soon coming restoration to Israel before the seventy years had expired.
  • The exiles are to live their lives normally while waiting on God during the time of displacement. Normal living for the evacuees included building homes, planting gardens for their own food supply, enjoying the blessing of marriage and continuing to have children to increase the number of those in exile. We see this in vv. 5-6 of Jeremiah 29, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 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.”
  • The exiles are to behave as representatives of the God of Israel while in captivity. They were not to be rebellious against the rulers of Babylon. In fact, Jeremiah told these displaced people to pray for the peace of the place where they were re-located to. In verse 7 we learn, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf . . . “
  • The exiles will experience their own welfare as they bless others. “For in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). Oddly enough, the word used to depict “welfare” is the Hebrew word shalom, “peace, wholeness”. This is the same word used in verse 11 when God speaks of His plans for the “welfare” of the returning exiles and the surviving remnant. If the Lord already promised the exiles “welfare” in Babylon, how would the welfare promised in 29:11 be any different? We will return to that question later in this article.

The theme of avoiding false messages about the time in exile (Jeremiah 29:8-9)

In verses 8-9 Jeremiah addresses the problem of false prophets. God’s true prophet already informed the exiles how long they would be in captivity (25:1; 29:10). He instructed the exiles how they are to persevere while they are away from their beloved land. Of course, a message like this, which involves suffering, waiting and submission to their situation, is bound to attract false prophets who will tantalize the exiles with a different, more appealing message. These lying diviners gravitate to a message that packs in everything people under duress want to hear: their stay in Babylon will be short so they are not to settle down in the diaspora. However, as good as it sounds, this proclamation is misleading and false.

The Lord speaks through Jeremiah in verses 8-9 and makes it clear that:

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  • the exiles are not be deceived by these diviners and false prophets. The Lord stresses there are Israelite prophets who will say whatever they need to pronounce to contradict God’s true prophets. Though their prophecies seem assuring and comforting, the intention of their words is to deceive God’s people bearing the weight of being exiled in Babylon.
  • the exiles are not to even listen to the dreams of false prophets. Often dreams take on a mystical quality because information is given to the dreamer that appears to come from “another place.” Temptation lurks at the mention of a dream in which the individual claims God spoke to them during their dream state. Even though someone assert the Lord met them in their dream state, if the so-called revelation contradicts what was disclosed through God’s true prophets, they are not to be believed.
  • the exiles are to understand these false messengers are speaking lies. Here is the reason why the Lord instructed the exiles not to be deceived through the reports and dreams of these false prophets: they are speaking lies. Even if someone is adamant God spoke to them in a dream or revelatory state, they are not to be believed, especially if the imagined prophecy contradicts the Word of God.
  • the exiles are to hold fast to the fact these false messengers were not sent by God. Once more the Lord makes it clear these false spokespersons are only out to deceive God’s people, spew forth lies in the name of the Lord and were never commissioned by the God of Israel to speak to the situation the exiles were facing in Babylonia. At the end of verse 9, the text declares, “‘I did not send them,’ declares the Lord.”

The message Jeremiah delivered to the exiles is the opposite of the false prophets (Moody Bible Commentary, pg. 1147). In fact, after Jeremiah dashed off this letter a false prophet named Shemaiah published another correspondence regarding Jeremiah’s prophecy. Shemaiah directed his letter to Zephaniah the priest and to all the priests in Jerusalem urging them to rebuke Jeremiah for his negative prophecy (vv. 25–28). After being told about Shemaiah, the word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah:

“Send to all the exiles, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD concerning Shemaiah of Nehelam: Because Shemaiah had prophesied to you when I did not send him, and has made you trust in a lie, therefore thus says the LORD: Behold, I will punish Shemaiah of Nehelam and his descendants. He shall not have anyone living among this people, and he shall not see the good that I will do to my people, declares the LORD, for he has spoken rebellion against the LORD.’”Jeremiah 29:31-32 (ESV)

The theme of restoration from the exile ( Jeremiah 29: 10, 14)

When we examine the particulars of Jeremiah 29:10, the subject of restoring the exiles back to the land of Israel will become of great importance to understand this portion of Scripture.

For now we have enough information to know the prophecy of Jeremiah 29:11 applies to a specific situation. Consequently, it makes little sense to grab this verse out of its historical context and impose a promise on the passage that says God is assuring us we can realize the American dream. Such a promise of God giving us “our best life now,” cannot be squeezed out of this text once we understand the circumstances under which Jeremiah uttered his prophecy. Jeremiah would most likely scratch his head in confusion if he heard how his divine utterance has been employed to bolster the materialistic dreams of Christians in the twenty first century.

The pressing needs of the recipients of Jeremiah 29

President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Russell Moore argues Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry centered on God disrupting the plans of His people. Was the Babylonian Captivity a interruption for the people of Judah? Perhaps the Babylonian exile was an intervention to bring about something much larger than the displaced remnant ever imagined?

To answer these important questions, we must probe Jeremiah 29:10. Most importantly, verse 10 of Jeremiah 29 sets up the well-known reminder of God’s commitment to Israel in verse 11. In Jeremiah 29:10 we learn the Lord’s involvement in the affairs of the southern kingdom was anything but a interruption of His future plans for the people of Israel.

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.

Jeremiah 29:10 (ESV)

Unless the student of Jeremiah understands how verse ten connects to Jeremiah 29:11, it is too easy to take verse 11 out of context and misinterpret the passage.

The disruption in the lives of the exiles after their deportation. The exiles assumed they would remain in Jerusalem regardless of the Babylonian threat. In contrast, God removed this group from the Promised Land to spare them from the judgment at the hands of the Babylonians that fell on their compatriots. In their thinking the deportation from Judah could have been felt as an unwanted intrusion of their hopes and dreams. Yet from the divine viewpoint, God did NOT disrupt His intentions for the exiles. He still has plans for them as outlined in verse 10.

According to the Lord’s arrangement, He was saving this generation of Jewish people that they might become His faithful remnant along with their children to return to the land to rebuild the holy city and the Temple. According to Russell Moore, “God’s purposes will spring to life through the exiles”.

Nevertheless, the pressing need of the exiles was not the basic necessities of life: employment, food, marital connections, childbearing and economic sustenance. These things were taken care of as written in Jeremiah 29:5-7. What they needed was a message to give them encouragement in their present situation by knowing there was a future for them and their offspring.

The continuation of the Jewish remnant in a future regathering. In Jeremiah 29:11 the prophet informs the exiles God still has designs for them and/or their descendants despite their dire setting. But prior to 29:11, in verse 10 the God of Israel clarifies what those plans would include.

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After the seventy years of captivity, the Lord will restore the remnant of exiles back to Jerusalem. We can assume many of these survivors would die before the seventy years were complete. Thus, this promise will ultimately apply to a future generation. In this light we see God’s greater purposes pertaining to the spiritual destiny of the exiles.

The seventy year period of captivity was to be a season of spiritual discipline intended to cause the exiles to turn to God (29:12-14). This is brought out by Dyer and Rydelnik in the Moody Bible Commentary:

The purpose of casting Israel out of their land, whether to Babylon or after the Roman expulsion, was more than judgment for sin. The larger purpose was to force Israel back to her God (cf. Deut 30:1–10). Whenever we face difficulties in our lives, we must remember God has a good plan for us, a plan that includes even the difficulties themselves. We should call on Him, pray to Him, and know that He is listening. Instead of being angry and shutting God out when we encounter trials, we should seek Him with our whole heart, keep reading the Bible, stay in fellowship in our local church, and anticipate a good outcome from the Lord

Charles Dyer and Eva Rydelnik, Moody Bible Commentary, pg. 1147

The important theme seen in Jeremiah 29:10 is the continuation of God’s working among the exiles and that the temporary end of their existence in the Promised Land does not mean an end to the nation of Israel.

Some key points of Jeremiah 29:10 are a necessity to grasp before we progress into verse 11 and wrap up this study:

  • The duration of the spiritual discipline. “When seventy years are completed for Babylon . . . ” The exiles are told to remain faithful to the Lord during the duration their seventy years of discipline. Jeremiah did not provide the exiles any escape clause.
  • The presence of God with the exiles during and after the period of discipline. “I will visit you . . . ” The exiles were promised after the seventy years are competed, the survivors and their descendants would return to the land of Israel. Yes, God’s presence was with the exiles throughout the duration of the discipline in Babylon. However, His presence will be manifested in a new way after the seventy years. God desires His people to be seeking Him at this time, expecting the Lord to fulfill His promises.
  • The keeping of God’s promises after the prolonged period of discipline. “and I will fulfill to you My promise . . . ” The exiles needed a message that promised them a future and a hope in light of their situation in Babylon. We learn that despite the extended time in Babylon, this elongated detour would not stop God from keeping His promises. God made it clear He would bless the exiles while they were away from their homeland. So the promise of Jeremiah 29:11 has little to do with a promise of prosperity in Babylon or America. The exiles were already blessed with prosperity according to 29:7, “for in its welfare, you will find your welfare.” The promise of welfare had to do with something more than realizing the Babylonian Dream.
  • The restoration of the exiles to the Promised Land after the period of spiritual discipline. “and bring you back to this place.” The exiles knew that their ultimate welfare had to do with the restoration to the Holy Land.

Jeremiah 29:11 cannot be used to persuade believers God wants to give them their best life now. As one can see, to use Jeremiah 29:11 as a verse that guarantees the NT believer a life of prosperity is way beyond the wording of this passage. Sadly, the misuse of Jeremiah 29:11 can fall right into the laps of many false prophets of our day.

Conclusion

Can we agree the promise of the much used Jeremiah 29:11 was not a promise of prosperity to the exiles who heard the prophecy? Rather, this text was meant to enable its hearers to persevere during an elongated period of suffering in exile.

Can you imagine that? This passage that has been used to reinforce the prosperity gospel promise of escape from suffering is actually an encouragement to those locked into a period of suffering!

Many moons ago I was driving my 10 year old son to summer day camp. It was early in the morning and the labor force was out. As I was traveling on a two lane road with a 50 mph speed limit, a small sedan pulled out from a private driveway across my lane. He assumed he could gun his vehicle across the flow of traffic and make a left turn, avoiding being smacked by oncoming vehicles.

His car was stopped across my lane and I was aimed to hit him despite my desperate pumping of the brakes. My 1991 Volvo was built like a Sherman tank; his small foreign car did not stand a chance. I aimed at the center of his car nearest the roll bar to avoid hitting the driver’s door and hurting him.

I collided with his auto, brakes screeching, glass breaking and air bags inflating. No drivers or passengers were hurt, but our vehicles were badly damaged. My Volvo was eventually totaled.

In that moment when I knew I was going to strike the other car, I was without options .I was headed towards potential suffering. I put my mind in complete trust in the Lord’s protection for all involved. To my surprise the other driver’s insurance company provided enough settlement money to put a downpayment on another vehicle.

Rather than assume God can only bless me by helping me to avoid this collision, I witnessed His intervention by protecting everyone involved and turning a potential financial setback into an unexpected turn of events.

Our goal is not to run from difficulty towards a life free from obstacles. In the midst of our unexpected clashes with temporary suffering, the Lord provides His peace and contentment.

Eventually, we discover God has His plans for our journey in life that may not measure up to the values of our American culture. Yet His plans will always steer us towards a deeper walk and dependence on Him.

Jesus reminds us hearts set on material prosperity will not always align with God’s plans, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Where is your heart? Set on gaining the prosperity offered by the world? A life free from financial and physical suffering? Hopefully, your innermost values are zeroed in on gaining the vast treasure of a productive relationship with God.

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