Tuesday, July 19, 2005


I Know the Plans I Have for You

A favorite Scripture for wall hangings and baby dedications is taken from Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”

The people who choose this verse today should realize that it is not a promise to them. It is a promise to the people of Jerusalem as they are going into captivity in Babylon for 70 years. And, even for them, it is not a promise that each of them will experience prosperity or even survive the captivity. It is a corporate promise to the Israelites that there will be a return.

It is amazing to me that people who are quick to take this verse out of context and claim it for themselves and their children do not also take a companion verse (also addressed to Israel in the face of judgment) in Jeremiah 21:10, “I have determined to do this city harm and not good, declares the LORD. It will be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will destroy it with fire.”

People don’t choose 29:11 and reject 21:10 on the basis of any indications in the text that it applies to them, but on the basis of what they want to hear from God. This is not reading with open eyes.

In the unfolding of God’s plan of salvation, both of these verses are important. God’s standards of holiness and his covenant with his people had been ignored and violated by Israel for generations. As a faithful God, the Lord carried out his promised judgments in an awful, yet appropriate, destruction of his own holy city. Yet, he did not finish off his people.

Through Jeremiah, not only was the coming disaster predicted, but also the eventual restoration and salvation were assured. What a dramatic lesson on the nature of sin, on the faithfulness of God, on the determination of God to accomplish salvation and complete his purposes. The theme of exile and return appears in many of the Biblical stories, from the garden of Eden, to Jacob, to Absalom, to Babylon.

How should we apply these verses, then? We can’t separate the two and choose the favorable stuff only. We have to recognize that any favorable stuff we get is not because of our deserving, but because of God’s mercy. And, the favorable stuff is on the other side of the unfavorable. Sin must be punished, and God’s promises must be kept—the curses and the blessings.

The cross, of course, is the ultimate point of all the stories of punishment and restoration. Jesus took the exile, the desolation, the wrath of God that he did not deserve, so that we can experience the “plans to give you a hope and a future” that we don’t deserve.

If we want a Jeremiah motto for our walls, we would do better to take Jeremiah 42:6 (though the people who originally spoke these words were insincere), “Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the LORD our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the LORD our God.”

Let’s read with our eyes open.

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