This is the first installment of our Coffee Cup Doctrine series, a look at popular verses referenced in the American Christian culture that are typically used apart from their scriptural context. You can read the introduction to the series here.
“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).
Coffee cup commentary
Life is hard and things don’t always work out the way you think they should. But don’t worry. God has a plan for your life that is great and beneficial to you. You don’t have to worry about anything because God has this all figured out. Just stick to His plan and He will take care of your problems. God wants you to be comfortable and successful so trust in that. These words are like a security blanket to wrap around yourself on cold, dark nights. … But are they true and biblically sound?
This verse is taken from Jeremiah, a man known as the Weeping Prophet because most of his prophecies were tough to give and to receive. So tough, in fact, most people outright rejected Jeremiah and his prophecies.
The beginning of the chapter lets us know to whom this prophecy is addressed: “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” (Jeremiah 29:1).
Their captivity should not have come as a surprise. Jeremiah prophesied in Chapter 27 that God had given the land over to Nebuchadnezzar and if any kingdom refused to serve him or “put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon,” God would punish that nation “with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the Lord, until I have consumed it by his hand” (Jeremiah 27:8).
But the people refused to listen to Jeremiah and instead chose to follow false prophets who told them they could attain freedom from Babylon.
The people rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, and the king came down hard on Judah. He besieged Jerusalem for over a year and killed many people in the process. Of those who survived, Nebuchadnezzar took the choicest to Babylon and left the poor to farm the land.
It is after all of this we find Jeremiah 29:11, a great and beautiful promise. God is telling His people that none of this judgment was outside His hands. He was responsible for raising Babylon up as a world power. He was responsible for Nebuchadnezzar bringing the Jewish people into captivity. And He can be trusted to restore them.
The New American Commentary puts it like this:
The Lord assured the people that what had happened was not a series of unplanned, accidental events. He said, ‘I know the plans.’ His plan was not intended to hurt them in the long run, but to give them ‘hope and a future.’ He encouraged them to pray, for he would listen to them.
This judgment had a purpose. God raised Nebuchadnezzar as a way to make the people of Israel repent of following idols and false prophets. And it led to a revival. People began to trust God again and they no longer worshiped their false gods.
What we miss
Any time we take a verse out of context we always end up losing something important. This verse is no exception. The following context found in Jeremiah 29:12-14 provides a comforting truth to the children of God:
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.
God is faithful in both His justice and His unfailing love. The Israelites went into captivity because they worshiped idols and followed false prophets. God told the people through Jeremiah they would be in captivity for 70 years. After that time, He would restore them.
This is exactly what happened.
But there are two other truths we must consider before leaving Jeremiah 29:11.
The promise of, as the New American Commentary puts it, “a hopeful future,” does not mean the future of your dreams. It does not mean you will have your dream job where you make enough to drive your dream car to your dream house and get a welcome home kiss from your dream spouse.
The hopeful future is God.
The future is, “Then you will call upon me … you will seek me and find me … I will be found by you.” God is our hopeful future.
I am belaboring this point because we in America tend to think God is working for us and for our comfort. God is working all things out for His glory. And we have the most hopeful future when we are focusing all our attention, our affection, and our devotion to Him.
Pastor and author Voddie Baucham uses his blunt and honest approach to explain this verse in the video below:
May our comfort come from knowing God and knowing that He knows us – not from looking for the things we can get from Him.