Have you ever seen a conversation like this take place between two believers?
Believer 1: How is life going, Believer 2?
Believer 2: Oh, life is terrible! My dog left me and I stepped on a LEGO. Things will never get better. Blah blah blah.
Believer 1: Oh no. Be encouraged! The Bible says, “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.”
Believer 2: Oh, wow! You’re right! Everything is just swell. I think I’ll ride off into the sunset now.
Believer 1 has just quoted Jer 29:11. If we look at the context of this passage, I think we’ll find that he has actually misused this particular verse (though, I’m sure his intentions were good).
Now, Jer 29:11 is a source of encouragement for many believers and I don’t want to rob anyone of encouragement. So, I have compiled a list of three reasons why we should rejoice that this passage is not about us. If Jer 29:11 was indeed about us, then:
1. We would be in exile in Babylon
Jeremiah 29 begins:
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 […]
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon […] (Jer 29:1, 4 ESV)
The content of this passage is directed toward Jews from Jerusalem in the Babylonian exile. You are not a Jew from Jerusalem living in the Babylonian exile and that’s a good thing. The Babylonian captivity was a difficult time for Israel. Consider what a jerk Nebuchadnezzar was. He threw people into a furnace if they didn’t worship a golden image of him. Granted, God saved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fire, but what about the mighty men that threw them in?
Speaking of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that’s another jerk move on the Babylonians’ part – renaming the Jews.
And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego. (Daniel 1:7 ESV)
Daniel (דָּנִיֵּאל) means, “My judge is God.” Hananiah (חֲנַנְיָה) means “Yah is gracious.” Mishael (מִישָׁאֵל) means, “Who is like God?” Azariah (עֲזַרְיָה) means, “Yah has helped.” Compare that to their Chaldean names. Belteshazzar (בֵּלְטְשַׁאצַּר) means, “Bel protects his life.” Shadrach (שַׁדְרַך) means, “Command of Aku.” Meshach (מֵישַׁך) means, “Who is as Aku is?” Abednego (עֲבֵד נְג֔וֹ) means, “Servant of Nebo.”
If you really want to chase a rabbit, you can do a study on the false gods, Bel, Aku, and Nebo (you might start here), which is fun and interesting, but too far off topic even for this blog.
2. We would be under the Law
The entire Babylonian episode was a consequence of the Mosaic Law.
But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you […]Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you. The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand, a hard-faced nation who shall not respect the old or show mercy to the young. (Deut 28:15, 47-50 ESV)
It should come as no surprise that at the end of 2 Chron, after a civil war that separated Judah from the Northern Kingdom, and after the Northern Kingdom was conquered by the Assyrian Empire, and after Judah had rebelled into extreme wickedness, that God followed through on the promise of Deut 28. The author of 2 Chronicles records:
The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD rose against his people, until there was no remedy. Therefore he brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or aged. He gave them all into his hand. (2 Chron 36:15-17 ESV)
Back to Jeremiah. Judah (the Jews that were in Jerusalem) had been taken away in accordance with the Mosaic Law, but as seen above, God still communicated with them through Jeremiah. They would have been in exile for only 70 years before God took them back to Jerusalem:
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. 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. 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. (Jer 29:10-14 ESV).
Notice what God’s plans were in Jer 29. He promised to take them back to a peaceful Jerusalem after 70 years. This prophecy is narrow in scope. It is not about us, but about this particular group of Jews at this particular time. In fact, this prophecy had already been fulfilled at the time 2 Chron was written:
[Nebuchadnezzar] took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years. Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:
“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the LORD his God be with him. Let him go up.’” (2 Chron 36:21-23 ESV)
If you want to study the return from exile further, check out the books of Ezra and Nehemiah and read the story of how the Jews rebuilt Jerusalem.
3. Our loved ones would be extras that died in the movie, 300
This one is a bit of a stretch, but since no sermon or blog post is complete without three points (no more – no less), let’s allow our imagination to go wild. Jeremiah’s prophecy was given in the early part of the Babylonian exile. About a century later, we have the story of Esther, who became the queen of Ahasuerus, who is often identified with Xerxes I. This same Xerxes invaded Greece and fought King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans (along with another 700 Thespians and 400 Thebans that didn’t make it into the movie). Ultimately, Xerxes was victorious at the Battle of Thermopylae, but the Greeks did kill many of his men, some of which could have been Jews who were born in your old age if you were alive in the days of Jeremiah, so if you apply Jer 29:11 to the Church, then you are basically paving the way for your great-grandchildren to be killed by a half-naked Greek man shouting, “This is Spartaaaaa!!!!!”
…well, maybe not exactly, but still, let’s not take this passage out of context, mkay?
Encouragement for the Church
Jeremiah 29:11 wasn’t written to us, so what Scripture do we have to encourage others with? Is there a single verse in the Bible that says, “Encourage one another with these words?” Actually, yes:
Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thes 3:18 ESV)
This is one of my favorites because Christians often say that doctrine is irrelevant to the Christian life. They’ll often claim to be panmillennialists who are too concerned with today to care about the future. But, if we look at “these words” that Paul tells us to encourage each other with, we will see that he’s talking about the doctrine of the rapture!
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thes 4:13-18 ESV)
What an encouraging thought! Just as God promised to relieve Judah after 70 years in Babylon, He has promised to bring those in Christ (both dead and living) together to be with Him in the air. And just as He fulfilled His promise to Judah, He will fulfill His promise to the Church!