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It’s probably one of the more memorized verses of the Old Testament. If someone has memorized anything from the book of Jeremiah, this one is probably it: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (29:11). Nice verse; great promise. Let’s memorize it. But let’s understand it first.
Judah was defeated by Nebuchadnezzar and carried off to Babylon in 586 B.C. Jeremiah, still back in Judah, writes to his countrymen in exile. He tells them they are going to be there awhile—70 years (29:10). So what should they do? “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for yours sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 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” (29:5-7).
Now let’s get that favorite verse out again. It comes after all the verses cited above: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (29:11). Here is what we tend to forget, however. Everybody who first received this promise died in Babylon. In other words, their future and hope was to return to Jerusalem but none of them would make that trip. They lived and died in Babylon. The promised “future and a hope” was for their descendants; most of whom not even born.
This is where we often miss the verse, we take the application for the immediate (and generally for us) when God is already generations ahead. God’s plan was to bring them back from captivity; but “them” was their children and their children’s children.
We tend to live in the moment. For us, history was yesterday and the future is tomorrow—literally. So, we ask God, “What do you have for me today?” What He has is a plan much bigger than us.
Isn’t it fun to think that our sons and daughters might evangelize Israel or Iran someday or find the cure for cancer? Maybe our grandchildren will be the ones to end abortion and reclaim a culture we couldn’t turn around?
The point being God does have a plan; one that promises a future and a hope. It’s just that God is playing chess and He is multiple moves ahead of us. So let’s play our part; however small that part may seem to be—because our small part is still part of His greater whole.
There is a genealogy in Matthew 1. In verse 12 we read: “And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel…” Why is this important? Because the exiles heeded God’s word as delivered by the prophet Jeremiah—they had sons and daughters. It would be the grandson Zerubbabel who 70 years later would get to return to Jerusalem. And from Zerubbabel’s family line, twelve generations later Jesus was born (Matthew 1:12-17).
God certainly had a plan; that was His promise. Jesus came and gave us a “future and a hope.” So the next time we cart out Jeremiah 29:11 as God’s promise to us that He is going to send us a spouse, a promotion, a victory, a whatever—we may want to remind ourselves He had bigger plans when He made that promise.Pastor Rich Hamlin May 15, 2014