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Does God Really Have Plans to Prosper You? (Jeremiah 29:11) Pt. 3

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

In the film documentary American Gospel writer and director Brandon Kimber shares a sampling of the messages coming out of the Prosperity Gospel movement. In one video segment Pastor Joel Osteen punches out a message in which he asks, “Who told you you can’t accomplish your dreams? God has His plans for you. Your destiny is calling out. It’s time to start living large.” In another sermon Osteen counsels, “I’m asking you to feel good about who you are.”

The focus of Osteen’s message in these video slices is not fixed on the person of Jesus. Rather the youthful Osteen concentrates on self-fulfillment and the belief God will enable us to realize the American Dream of prosperity and accomplishing our personal plans and goals. A message like this often latches on to Jeremiah 29:11 as a passage that guarantees God will enable you to attain your hopes and dreams.

Prosperity Image
Image by 3D Animation Production Company from Pixabay

As we dive deeper into the Jeremiah passage, we learn the prophet’s message has little to do with actualizing one’s private ambitions. Jeremiah is not promising modern Christians that God will grant His children all aspects of the American Dream.

When Jeremiah 29:11 is misapplied in this manner, the intent of the text is tossed aside to make the words of the prophecy fit an entirely different situation. Then the Scriptures become a source text for people to quote as they wish depending on the situation. Rather than allow the Scriptures to shape our spiritual values and our attitudes towards materialism, we bend the Word of God to our own aspirations as demonstrated in the aberrant teaching of the prosperity huckster Joel Osteen.

Furthermore, in the American Gospel Dr. Julius Kim, Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Seminary California notes the harm done when the central focus on the New Testament message becomes self-fulfillment, healing and prosperity,

“We’re seeing a church in America that is becoming ultimately Christless. When we believe in a gospel thinking it is all about us, we miss Jesus’ words entirely.”

Dr. Julius Kim, Westminster Seminary California

In fact, the recipients of Jeremiah 29:11 would have been aghast at how this prophetic promise has been misunderstood and misused by modern followers of God. Sadly, the reason why the prosperity gospel is so popular is that most Bible teachers and pastors refuse to correct and call out these questionable teachers.

Today, many Christian leaders succumb to the immaturity of Christians who come out in droves to hear a carnal prosperity message. Somewhere along the line these neophyte believers were taught incorrectly. As a result, their hearts are more fixed on God’s blessings, rather than on God Himself. Once a follower of Yeshua locks into a lifestyle of seeking gifts over and above the gift giver, they are ripe for deception.

Addressing the present burdens of the recipients of Jeremiah 29:11

In keeping with the historical setting of Jeremiah 29:11, the prophet addresses this promise to a group of exiles who were evicted from Israel and sent to Babylon. These displaced Israelites were in an urgent situation that required God’s messengers to speak to them about persevering during a difficult phase in the history of Israel. They did not need a message about prosperity and self fulfillment.

Jeremiah explained if the evacuees were faithful to God, sustained themselves through their own food supply, continued in marriages and childbirth and prayed for their captors, God would prosper them.

Look at Jeremiah 29:7, “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 welfare” (ESV). The three words in verse 7 that speak of “welfare” are all the same word in the Hebrew, “shalom” [שְׁל֣וֹם].

When we continue in verse 11 the promise of God’s “plans for welfare”, “shalom” is used once more. Yes, the welfare or peace described in verse 7 could refer to the materialistic security they would experience while in captivity if they fulfilled the requirements Jeremiah describes. The “shalom” in the setting of verse 7 would include financial prosperity as the exiles faithfully cared for themselves and others via their own food production and work ethic. God will bless them with peace or wholeness (שְׁל֣וֹם) in exile as they serve in faithfulness to God. But there is much more to understand about the word “shalom.”

Babylonian Captivity
Captivities

In the big picture the prophet spoke to the burden of the exiles who had to live in Babylon for seventy years. However, despite their enjoyment of material and spiritual prosperity possessed by the exiles in Babylon, this experience was NOT enough. The exiles knew they belonged in the land of Israel. This is the “shalom” Jeremiah speaks of in verse 11. After all, why would Jeremiah promise the exiles more material prosperity when their greatest need was to return to the land of Israel?

In contrast to their “blessed” life in Babylon, it is only in Israel where the Jewish remnant would encounter spiritual wholeness under the covenant promises of God. The promised prosperity was never meant to be solely material, but it had everything to do with the restoration of the exiles to the land of Israel. To miss this truth is to ignore the context of the entire prophecy.

What a lesson for modern day believers in Yeshua. Even if we are given all the blessings of a secular paradise, the Lord still hopes we would yearn for so much more. A tight connection to the heart of God. A desire for enjoying our eternal home in God’s heavenly kingdom. A rejoicing over seeing our loved ones and friends enter into Yeshua’s redemption.

No, this is NOT the best life now. How could it be unless we are relishing in our fellowship with the Father in eternity?

Calming the future concerns of the audience of Jeremiah 29:11

As stated above, the focus of the exiles was on understanding their relationship with God for the present time in the captivity. However, they must have asked, “What about God’s plans for the nation of Israel? What about our future pertaining to the Messiah, living in the land and the rebuilding of the temple?” In other words, the exiles were encountering many issues, but they needed to hear most from the Lord about their future and the destiny of their descendants.

The Psalmist describes the mood of the exiles in Psalm 137:1-3, “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our lyres. For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

Despite the sadness among the exiles, Jeremiah encourages them to know there is a future for them. Serving in captivity for seventy years is NOT the end of Israel’s existence. The Lord has more plans for His people. The GREATEST need of the exiles was not instructions for handling the seventy year exile, but to know the termination of their captivity is the reboot of God’s plans for the nation of Israel. The advice given by Jeremiah was revolutionary and goes against everything stated by the false prophets in Babylon.

Depiction of Jews mourning the exile in Babylon
Depiction of Jews mourning the exile in Babylon. Artist: Eduard Bendemann (1811–1889)Public Domain

According to biblical scholar J.A. Thompson, “They [the exiles] no doubt had tasks to perform for the state but otherwise could lead a reasonably normal life. Farming, marrying, giving in marriage, were to be part of daily living. It was a far cry from the words of the optimistic prophets who declared that the Exile would be over in two years (cf. vv. 27, 28)” (J. A. Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 546).

Therefore, it behooves the exiles to remain faithful to God in seeking the future of their offspring and the nation at large. The description by Gordon McConvile in the New Bible Commentary fleshes this out, “The restoration of all things is ahead of them. Nor is this future in some unreal ‘spiritual’ realm. It exists within normal life; hence the marrying and the houses, and—in time—the returning to the ancient land (14). The phrase translated bring you back from captivity is richer than this suggests, implying the full restoration of life in all its dimensions” (New Bible Commentary, pg. 693, Gordon McConville).

This focus of the exiles on the future return to the land of Israel is seen in Psalm 137:5-6, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill!Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!” (Psalm 137:5–6 ESV). The concern of the exiles was not on realizing their “best life now”, material wealth or self-fulfillment. Their eyes were looking forward to the regathering of the exiles backs to Jerusalem.

Guaranteeing God’s commitment to the displaced in Jeremiah 29:11

In the final section of this three-part article, we shall explore two possible viewpoints on Jeremiah 29:11: The first explanation suggests this passage promises modern evangelicals relief from financial hardships and physical maladies. The other interpretation purports God assures the Babylonian exiles a future involving their return to the land of Israel and the restoration of their relationship with the God of Israel.

Homesick
Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Here are a people separated from their homeland which signified the important essentials upon which they depended. They were removed from their nation, their king, their armies, their borders and the temple. The homesick evacuees from Israel could only trust in the Lord, which is exactly where God wanted them.

Once more for review, in verse 10 the prophet is instructed by God to provide specific plans for the exiles. Then in verse 11 after laying out the plans in the preceding passage, the Lord says “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD . . .” (ESV).

The specifics of these plans in Jeremiah 29:10 must be kept in mind when interpreting the text before us:

  • the captivity will last for seventy years. Despite what the false prophets have said, the word of the Lord through Jeremiah pinpoints the correct duration of the captivity.
  • God will pay attention or care for His people (visit, פָּקַד). God’s special visitation to these exiles is seen in His activity in bring the exiles back to their homeland.
  • God will fulfill His promises as stated in Jeremiah 29 and elsewhere. The God of Israel is committed to His policy to not only discipline His people, but after the time of correction, to bless His people.
  • God has a stated program to bring these exiles back to the land of Israel. These plans to regather the exiles back to Israel are repeated in Jeremiah 29:14, ““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.” (ESV). See also Jeremiah 23:3; 31:8, 10; 32:37 for references within Jeremiah describing the future regathering of Israel.

Now that we have gained a better understanding of the context of Jeremiah 29:11, we are ready to dive into the interpretation of this controversial passage.

God has plans of assurance for those facing disappointment (Jeremiah 29:11)

Keep in mind two important themes that are threaded through these verses: First, the plan of the Lord mentioned in verse 11 applies primarily to the exiles from the nation of Israel. These are not personal promises directed to any one person. Rather, we are dealing with a prophecy targeted to a specific group. In light of this, we need to be cautious to not take a divine vow out of context and will nilly apply it to our current situation.

Second, God extends His plans to a people who will exist in seventy years. It has been emphasized in this presentation the majority of the exiles who heard this prophecy did not see it realized in their life span. They most likely died during the captivity and before the return to the land ever came to pass. Therefore, the main directive presented by this verse for the audience of Jeremiah 29 is to faithfully endure the seventy years of the Babylonian Captivity.

A. God knows His plans for His people (Jeremiah 29:11a) The text starts off with the Lord emphatically stating, “For I know the plans which I have for you.” The implication of the Hebrew word for “plans” (מַחֲשָׁבָה) pertains to the purpose or design of the Lord for His people–whether good or bad. See Jeremiah 18:11, “Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the LORD, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.” מַחֲשָׁבָה can sometimes speak of the skill and craftsmanship it took to fashion the furnishings in the tabernacle (Exodus 31:4). The term in Jeremiah 29:11 focuses on a “carefully thought out design that is not put together haphazardly”.

The commentators Keil and Delitzch nailed the meaning of this phrase:

Although I appoint so long a term for the fulfilment of the plan of redemption, yet fear not that I have utterly rejected you; I know well what my design is in your regard. My thoughts toward you are thoughts of God, not of evil. Although now I inflict lengthened sufferings on you, yet this chastisement but serves to bring about your welfare in the future

(C. F. Keil and Delitzsch F., Commentary on the Old Testament, Accordance electronic ed. (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), paragraph 27869.
Photo by Samet Kurtkus

Due to the chaos of our lives created by ourselves or dire circumstances, we may assume our lives are out of control. We attempt to sketch out plans ourselves, but end up with more clutter and lack of clarity. Likewise, in Jeremiah 29 there is a group of people tossed back and forth by their own doubts and concerns. They may have wondered whether the Lord had rejected them or reneged on His plans regarding Israel’s future. The return to the Land. The rebuilding of the Temple. The fulfillment of the messianic promises. A lot was on the line while they hunkered down in Babylon. Thereafter, Jeremiah’s message is this: Trust in your Lord during this time of disappontment. He has your future in His hands.

Some observations about the intentions and designs of God are essential:

  • The knowledge of God is not an invitation to figure out God’s plans. The Lord’s assurance in verse 11 is not a solicitation for His people to search and frantically discover His will. This is a major error in modern Christianity. Following God’s will is often treated like a mystery the believer needs to figure out. In contrast, in Jeremiah 29:10-11 the Lord clearly lays out His will. So the invitation to call on God and pray to Him later in verse 12 is not a commission to figure out His plans for their future. Rather, His design for Israel is already known by the Lord and He declares the details of His program.
  • The knowledge of God is meant to provide security in unstable circumstances. When we are blessed with material benefits and possessions, we are tempted to think we have fully realized the Lord’s blessings. However, God’s knowledge informs us there is much more to our walk with God. A thriving stock portfolio, a well stocked refrigerator, two luxury cars in the garage and a clean bill of health is not the goal of our relationship with God. In the same way, the experience of the exiles in Babylon is not the end all of their expectations of the Lord. The God of Israel is telling His people He has plans that includes a destiny which has not yet been realized.
  • The knowledge of God will not be thwarted by human sin or erroneous messages. Despite the confusion created by the sins of Israel that brought on their captivity and the pseudo assurances presented by false prophets, the Lord’s plans for His chosen nation Israel will continue.

B. God’s knows His plans are for the wholeness of His people not their destruction ( Jeremiah 29:11b). The text states, “plans for welfare and not for evil.” The word for welfare is the Hebrew shalom (שָׁלוֹם). The common glosses for this word are “wholeness, completeness, soundness, peace” (BDB). The classic lexicon Brown, Driver and Briggs identifies the use of שָׁלוֹם in this verse with “peace with God”. This understanding is especially observed in references to the “covenant of peace” between the nation and the Lord as seen in the prophetic books (Isaiah 54:10; Ezekiel 34:25, 37:26). In Haggai 2:9 the prophet speaks of the Temple, “The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.”

The peace referred to in Jeremiah 29:11 may well apply to Israel’s experience of intimacy with God. Despite the captivity and the difficult years attached to that experience, the Lord will bring His people close to Him. In contrast to plans of evil and destruction, God has designed peace for Israel that is rooted in Him. Oddly, in verse 7 the Lord instructs the exiles to pray for “shalom” for their captors. Despite Babylaon’s evil intentions towards Israel, the Lord admonishes them to pray for their shalom. Do you pray for our leaders despite their politics or do we only fervently pray for political officials who echo our sentiments?

Suffering is not a sign God is finished with us. Enduring hardships is no indication we are headed towards failure.  In the future the exiles would experience the privilege of continuing their relationship with the Lord in the land of Israel. If they had lost their confidence in God because of their situation, here Jeremiah restores that confidence. New Covenant believers can also take heart that our adversities are no indication God has left us in a lurch.

C. God knows His plans are for the future of His people (Jeremiah 29:11c). Future and hope are often tied together in scripture: “Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off ” (Prov. 23:18 ESV). Prov. 24:14 continues the same thought, “Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, there will be a future, and your hope will not be cut off (ESV).

In Jeremiah 29:11 the term “future” (אַחֲרִ֥ית) refers to the “close of a period of time that begins a new era”. In the Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew the term is understood as “end, result, future.” Ecclesiastes 7:8 refers to “the end of a matter.” In Genesis 49:1 the term in Jacob’s mouth is a prophetic reference to the days to come for his twelve sons.

Within the context of the Babylon Captivity, the future refers to the end of the seventy period in which the Jewish people were in exile in Babylonia. God is briefing the exiles that this period of diaspora will come to a close after the prescribed time of seventy years. Therefore, the end of the captivity speaks of a future for the exiles from Judah. No conditions are mentioned. This is a divine promise.

When Christians apply this passages to the gaining of material blessings, the message goes against the grain of what the future for these exiles is about. Nothing is mention about financial prosperity or materialistic abundance here. To these exiles their hearts were set on returning to the land, not amassing more loot.

D. God knows His plans will provide His people hope (Jeremiah 29:11d) The Lord not only promises the exiles a borderline to their hard times, but He also provides them with the expectation of good things to come. The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew translates the Hebrew תִקְוָֽה (tikvah) as a “hoped for outcome or prospect”. The result of this hope is the outcome God promises His people. This is not a vague hope. Nor is Jeremiah talking about a hopeful emotional state. Rather, this hope pertains to Israel’s blessing in the promised land while enjoying fellowship with their God and peace with their neighbors. For further illumination the Gordon McConville notes in the New Bible Commentary:

Just when all planning seems futile, the Lord has plans again for his people (11). The act that had seemed to put an end to the covenant in fact gives life where there had been but the appearance of it. 

Gordon McConville, Jeremiah, ed. D. A Carson et al., New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition. Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 693.

This above quote by McConville is the essence of this passage. Verse 11 provides assurance, confidence and hope during a time when planning might have been thought of as a waste by the exiles. Despite their captivity, their lives were in God’s hands. Sure, they were boxed in by the seventy years of captivity, but God wanted them to know this was not the end of His plans for the Jewish nation. When evangelicals rip this verse out of context, we minimize the importance of the Lord’s unending commitment to the nation Israel.

God calls His people to respond in faith to His plans (Jeremiah 29:12-14)

The game of dominoes typifies a cause and effect relationship. IF a single domino knocks into another, THEN that tile will fall into another causing them all to eventually drop.

Domino Effect
Image by Ivana Divišová from Pixabay

The relationship between Israel and God is often like setting up a row of dominoes. Throughout their history Israel was taught they must line themselves up in a conditional connection to the Lord to please Him. The nation was educated through Moses to set up their dominos through law keeping. However, as the dominoes are falling some situations, the Lord often inserted His hand to stop the cascade. The Lord sends the message that in a grace relationship we are to cease from our efforts to win His rewards and rely on the goodness of His gracious character. This is a cause for great celebration of the lovingkindness of God.

As already noted, the issue of a conditional relationship with God comes up in Jeremiah 29. Now in verses 12-14 we face this matter once more. We must ask, “Is Jeremiah 29:11 another promise of God that can only be realized when Israel has set up the dominoes in a correct pattern?” According to many Bible commentators and teachers, the blessings described by Jeremiah in 29:10 and 14 can only be enjoyed if the Jewish nation merits God’s kindness. In contrast, other commentators maintain the grace relationship between God and Israel as described in these verses.

One example of a conditional return to the promised land for the exiles is espoused by Charles Dyer in the Bible Knowledge Commentary,

The restoration of the exiles to Judah would happen only when God’s seventy years of judgment in Babylon were completed (cf. 25:11-12). Then God would fulfill His gracious promise to restore the exiles to their land. The 70-year Exile was a part of God’s plans to give Judah hope and a future. The judgment prompted the exiles to seek God wholeheartedly (cf. Dan. 9:2-3, 15-19). Once they had turned back to their God He would gather them from all the nations where they had been banished and return them to their land (bold italics mine). 

Charles H. Dyer, Jeremiah (The Bible Knowledge Commentary; ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck; Accordance electronic ed. 2 vols.; Wheaton: Victor Books, 1985), 1:1186.

In J. A. Thompson’s commentary on Jeremiah, he too sees Israel’s return to the land as conditional. He states,

Yahweh could not dispense the blessings of the covenant to rebellious people (cf. Ezek. 2:3–5; 33:17–20). Obedience, loyalty, and fellowship were fundamental. . . . (Ezek. 33:11, 12). In Jeremiah’s words: When you call on me …   I will hear you, or “You will call … and I will hear.” 

J. A. Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah, Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 547-548.

Thompson continues in the same vein:

But the condition of their occupancy of the land was obedience. There was nothing automatic and nothing permanent for those who rejected Yahweh and his covenant.

J. A. Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah, Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 548.

Does the text make “returning to God” a condition for coming back to the land? Are God’s plans in this passage conditional or unconditional?

Primarily, I see two important principles: First, the restoration of the exiles happens when the 70 years of captivity in Babylon are complete (Jeremiah 29:10). If the return of Israel to the Promised Land is conditional, then if the exiles failed to return to God, the seventy years of judgment would be extended. However, the Lord made it clear that after the seventy years the exiles would be restored to the place of blessing. His promise to bless the exiles would commence without any stated conditions.

Second, the judgment of the captivity prompted the exiles to seek God with all their hearts. Rather than a condition, which if met, the exiles would be restored, we see their seeking after God as a response to His grace. With a condition, the listeners is asked to do something to merit God’s blessing, but in a grace relationship, the child of God is asked to respond to the unmerited blessing of God and seek to know Him.

To counter Dyer in the above quote, we must ask, “Where does the passage insert a condition to be met for the exiles to return to the land?” No where in the passage does it state the repentance or law keeping of the exiles is the condition God required before He would gather them from the nations. Generally, the principle of repentance as a condition for restoration is true (Deuteronomy 30:1-10). However, there are times when God restores His people out of His grace and mercy as seen in Ezekiel 36:22-24:

Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land.

Ezekiel 36:22-24 (ESV).

To be honest, the only condition in this text is the completion of the seventy years. The Hebrew supports the ESV translation that states, once the seventy years are complete, “Then you will call upon . . .” Some translations will use the word “when you call out to Me . . . ” (NET, JPS). However, the majority of Bible translations use the phrase “Then you shall call upon Me” (ESV, NAS, NRSV, NKJV, NIV, KJV). I could not discover any Bible translation from the Hebrew that uses the phrase, “IF you call upon Me . . .” The Hebrew supports the idea that the calling out to God will happen when the seventy years are over and the exiles respond in faith to the actions of God in bringing them back to the land. This perspective is brought out in the Jewish Study Bible:

. . . seventy years or three generations refer to the Babylonian regime and prophesy its eventual destruction; it is only here that this timespan sets the bounds of exile and the time of return and restoration in the land (see Zech. 1.12; 7.5; Dan. 9.2; 2 Chron. 36.21–22).

Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds. The Jewish Study Bible: Second Edition. Accordance electronic ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 974.

In addition, the prophet Daniel in 9:2 also chimes in with Jeremiah that the span of seventy years in captivity is required of Israel before God restores His people. Notice again the lack of conditions in the biblical text where many Christian theologians want to insert them:

in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years (Italics mine).

Daniel 9:2 (ESV)

A. God invites us to respond to His promises with prayer (Jer. 29:12): Jeremiah describes three actions on the part of the exiles in response to His commitment to restore the exiles to the land: They are to call upon the Lord, draw near to Him and pray to Him. In response He will hear their prayers.

Here we see the purpose of the captivity. According to Charles Dyer in the Bible Knowledge Commentary, the Babylonian Captivity, “prompted the exiles to seek God wholeheartedly (cf. Dan. 9:2-3, 15-19). . . . The larger purpose of the Exile was to force Israel back to her God (cf. Deut. 30:1-10)” (Charles Dyer, Bible Knowledge Commentary, pg. 1186). Recall that the goal is these passages is not only the restoration to the land, but most importantly is the nation’s return to the Lord.

Let’s look at God’s invitation to discover Him as outlined in Jeremiah 29:12:

  • Call upon the Lord. “To call upon the Lord” can refer to a proclamation of praise to the Lord for His goodness or a summons to Him for help. After the seventy years, it would be normal for the exiles to call on God to fulfill His promises of restoration. They would also praise Him for His gracious promises. Once again, the goal was to come into a close relationship with the Lord.
  • Come to the Lord. To “come to God” (הֲלַכְתֶּ֔ם) in the Bible can refer to one approaching God with a pattern of conduct that honors Him (Kohlenberger/Mounce Hebrew Lexicon). The God of Israel desires His people recognize Him by their life choices: practices honesty, worships God alone, leaves no room for idols and upholds integrity in marriage and business dealings. We come to God not only with words, but with a life submitted to Him. After seventy years of living in Babylon as a judgment, the Lord invites His people to draw near to Him with transformed lives. We know from the books of Ezra and Nehemiah the returnees were not perfect. They still rebelled against God when they returned to the land. God was not seeking perfection, but hearts that seek to honor Him.
  • Pray to the Lord. As the seventy years of exile drew to a close, the evacuees would naturally bring up to God His promises of gathering the people back to the land. They would remind Him of His promises in Jeremiah 29:10-11 and 14. According to the John MacArthur Study Bible, “The Lord would answer their prayer, by returning the Jews to their land.” Yet we must always keep this in mind when interpreting this passage– coming into a deep knowledge of the living God takes precedence over land and borders and walls and buildings. God wants the people to know He is waiting for them. The Almighty did not want to bring His people back to the land in the same condition in which they left it. He wanted to restore His people both physically and spiritually.

B. God expects us to seek Him with all of our heart (Jeremiah 29:13). I find it odd when the Lord manifests His grace to Israel in the Jewish Scriptures, Christian theologians scramble to insert legal conditions. In the iconic Old Testament commentaries by Keil and Delitzsch we read, “”This future destiny and hope can, however, only be realized if by the sorrows of exile you permit yourselves to be brought to a knowledge of your sins, and return penitent to me. Then ye will call on me and pray, and I will hear you” C. F. Keil and Delitzsch F., “Jeremiah”, Commentary on the Old Testament, (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996).

Despite this tendency on the part of respected Bible teachers, there are many powerful examples in the Jewish Scriptures where God demonstrates His grace even under the Law. We can see His grace in His forgiveness of King David after he committed adultery, conspired to murder his mistress’ husband and lied to the nation. The stipulations of the Torah calling for the death of a murderer and adulterer were not applied in David’s dire situation.The same can be said about the consistently wayward judge of Israel, Samson. The Lord was abundantly gracious and merciful to His rebellious child until he met his fateful doom. In the passage before us in Jeremiah 29 God demonstrates His grace again.

man on ledge
Photo by Elijah Hiett on Unsplash
  • The requirement is to seek the Lord. Here we do see a condition. However, this is not a requirement to return to Israel. Rather, we see a condition to know the Lord. He desires that His people do not return to a pre-exile relationship with God filled with unfaithfulness and disobedience. What we are witnessing is God’s invite to His people to pray to Him and to seek Him. He is the goal.
  • The reward is to find Him. The goal is not keeping laws, though that will certainly follow. However, God’s desire is that His people demonstrate a yearning for Him.
  • The motivation is to seek Him with all their hearts. God is calling for a life choice; not a momentary gush of emotions. Like a man who stands on a rock ledge, the one seeking God is putting all his trust in the strength of the Rock to hold him. God is not pursuing external compliance with His ordinances as a way to catch His attention, but a wholeness of heart towards Him. In Matthew 6:21 Jesus taught, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.

C. God promises blessing to those facing long term suffering (Jeremiah 29:14). Repeated once more, here are the blessings God promises the exiles as they are asked to revisit their relationship with the God of the covenant.

He will be found by those who seek Him (Jeremiah 29:14a). In the Believer’s Bible Commentary, William MacDonald states, “God is always available. His longing is that all men may look to Him and live. His arms are always open in loving invitation to any who will turn to Him (Believer’s Bible Commentary. Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 2016, 932).

The focus once again is on the relationship between the God of Israel and His people. The exiles are not seeking prosperity or wealth or health. They already had these things in Babylon. In contrast, God wants the exiles to inquire after Him. For a people who lost touch with God and were judged by the Babylonian Captivity, God offers another opportunity to draw close to Him.  

The message is clear: Our hearts are not to be fixed on God’s blessings, but on God Himself. This principle applies to the prosperity teaching where the gifts from the divine giver seems to overshadow the Giver. Jeremiah corrects that thinking. 

He will restore all the fortunes of His people (Jer. 29:14b). The idea of restoring comes from the Hebrew, “to return”. God will return or restore all that was lost in the captivity. The word for “fortunes” is a noun that literally means, “your captivities”. The text says, “I will return (שַׁבְתִּ֣י) your captivities (שְׁבִיתְכֶם)”. That which was taken in the captivity will be restored and no longer be held captive. These precious items are Israel’s fortunes. This includes the nation-state of Israel, their political leadership, the priesthood, the Temple and its stolen gold and the city of Jerusalem.  

He will gather them from captivity (Jeremiah. 29:14c) . The Lord promises to bring back the people from the nations and places where He had banished them. However, the renewal of their residence in Israel is only part of this promise. We get in trouble when we only see Israel returning to the land as a physical regathering. The spiritual renewal is just as important. God is not advocating pure Israeli nationalism. Instead, he desires a nation made up of Israelis who worship the God of Israel.

Jews Returning to Israel
Public Domain
The Palmach/ Created: 18 July 1947

He will bring them back to Israel (Jeremiah. 29:14d). It is essential to note this verse fills in more details regarding the welfare, future and hope affirmed in verse 11. The blessings have to do with the end of the captivity, the return of the exiles to the land and most importantly, a renewed relationship with the Lord. To take these verses and apply them to material blessings as is done by the prosperity teachers disregards the meaning of the text and superimposes an understanding of blessing foreign to the prophecy of Jeremiah.

When that best life becomes the American Dream and not a connection to God, we realize how far off we are in our interpretation of this passage.

Conclusion

man hugging pillow
Man hugging pillow

A few weekends ago I viewed The Return 2020 event from Washington, D. C. Their Facebook page characterizes this event, “The Return is a movement, an appointed time, and a specific day set apart for one purpose – the return to God by coming before His presence in humility, in sincerity, in prayer, and repentance.” The day of prayer set aside for global and national revival included many speakers. One speaker was the “My Pillow Guy”, Mike Lindell, CEO and founder of MyPillow.

Lindell was sharing his gripping testimony and claimed when we come to the Lord, according to Jeremiah 29:11, there will be blessing and prosperity IF one calls on the Lord. The MyPillow CEO placed a condition within the words of this passage where none exists. However, this is typical of individuals who quote the passage and add their own spin.

I take it Jeremiah 29:11 will continue to be misapplied and misused despite what has been written in this article. Does Jeremiah 29:11 apply to followers of Yeshua at all? Sorry, but the passage doesn’t promise evangelicals the kind of future American culture prizes.

The lesson of this passage is that when you suffer, know that God can and will restore your life. However, Bible students must refrain from using this passage in a way the original promise to Israel is disregarded or over spiritualized.

Bible teachers will still try to make this passage applicable for NT Christians. In his helpful book, The Most Misused Verses in the Bible, Eric J. Bargerhudd, wonders, “Is there anything from this prophecy that I could still apply to my life today?” Bargerhudd sees the greatest fulfillment of this passage is realized in a spiritual way (pg. 39). He cites, “The promise ought to bring a great sense of joy to the believer who longs for the ‘future hope’ of experiencing eternal life with God, a restoration that will be experienced in the fullest sense.”

Bargerhuff rejects the materialistic understanding of this passage professed by the prosperity teachers. Yet he too offers his own spin and spiritualizes the passage to make it apply to modern day believers. He ignores the fact he is glossing over the words of the text and bending the prophecy to speak of a future heavenly hope for those who place their faith in Yeshua. Where is this application supported by the words of this passage? Barggerhuff ends up contradicting himself when he argues,

But if we make the mistake of redefining the phrase “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” with our own preconceived notion of what that ought to look like for our lives today in the material sense, then we’ve overlooked and hijacked the context to suit our own human needs and desires.

Eric J. Bargerhuff, The Most Misused Verses in the Bible, pg. 41

I observe several problems when Christian teachers try to make ths promise to Israel apply to Christians even in a spiritual sense:

  • if we apply this passage to refer to spiritual blessings, we are still hijacking the original intent of the text
  • we should allow the promise to be fulfilled in the way God intended and not force the verse to point to New Testament blessings.
  • we cannot argue against prosperity teachers by employing a similar method to force the text to refer to spiritual blessings.

Jeremiah 29:11-13 cannot be used to demand God grant us the American Dream, but neither can the passage be twisted to make it refer to heavenly blessings that are outside the scope of this prophetic passage.

Hopefully, this study has caused us to apply our hermeneutical brakes before we exploit a biblical passage to suit our desires and as a result sidestep the blessing God intended for the original audience Jeremiah had in mind.

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