About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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Plans To Prosper Who?


"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11).  This is a popular Bible verse but because we ignore its hermeneutical setting (context) it's often misinterpreted, misunderstood, and misapplied.


Hermeneutics is all about good communication skills.  It's the process by which we attempt to understand what others say, not by imposing our thoughts into their words but by understanding their words as they mean them to be understood.  I'm sure you don't like it when someone misquotes you by saying you said something when in fact you didn't say it.  We don't like it when people put words into our mouths.  Well, we often put words into the mouth of the Bible and make it say something it never said.  In Biblical terms, hermeneutics is the process by which we attempt to understand the Bible as it is meant to be understood, not as we'd like it to be understood.  With this in mind I ask a few common sense questions that helps explain Jeremiah 29:11.


Who spoke the words found in Jeremiah 29:11?  God spoke these words through his prophet Jeremiah.


To whom is Jeremiah 29:11 directed?  It is directed to Jews.  


On what occasion did God speak these words to the Jews?  He spoke them while they were exiled in Babylon.


Why were the Jews exiled in Babylon?  They were being punished by God for their disobedience to Him.   


How does Jeremiah 29:11 fit into the rest of Jeremiah 29?   In Jeremiah 29:4 through 10 God told the Jews that while exiled in Babylon they should marry, have children, buy houses, and plant gardens.  In other words, they were to settle in for the long haul.  They would be there a long time; 70 years to be precise.  Also, they were not to follow false prophets as they had been doing in their homeland.   


Now we come to our famous verse.  Jeremiah 29:11 says that God's plan wasn't to harm the Jews, which they might have thought since they were being punished by Him.  That's assuming they actually realized they were being punished.  They were so far removed from their God that most of them probably didn't realize their exile was punishment.  So, like many Christians today, these Jews had no clue that God would discipline or punish His people.  Hebrews 12:5 - 6, Proverbs 3:11-12, and Revelation 3:19, clearly say the God does discipline His people.  Despite the fact that God was punishing the Jews, His plan was to eventually prosper them.  Here's the question.  According to Jeremiah 29:11, why did God want to prosper the Jews and when would this happen?   


The answer to "why" is found in Jeremiah 29:12 and 13.  Prosperity was to be a result of these same Jews seeking their God and then finding Him.       


The answer to "when" is found in Jeremiah 29:14.  Despite the hope that prosperity would come after their exile ended, that's not the case.  The text states that prosperity would accompany the Jews return to their homeland from all the nations and places where God had banished them.  This did not take place at the end of their 70 year exile because Israelis were only banished to Babylon, not across the known world.  


The Jews began to be banished to all the nations of the world a few hundred years later; when in 70 A D the Roman army devastated Jerusalem.  From then on down through the centuries Jews fled to all regions of the world.  Jeremiah 29:14 states that God would prosper the Jews when He brings them home from all nations.  This began to take place in the late 1800's, not when the 70 year exile ended.   


Jeremiah 29:11 states that God's plan for Jews is to gather them from all nations, and once gathered, they would find Him and prosper.  The ultimate fulfillment of the promise of Jeremiah 29:11 will be realized when Jesus returns to Jerusalem and meets up with those Jews who have returned to their homeland and have given themselves to their God. 


Despite the common consensus, Jeremiah 29:11 was not spoken to Christians.  In your desire to prosper you might ask if there is a secondary meaning to this verse that could apply to Christians.  My answer is simple.  No, there is no secondary meaning.  We shouldn't put words into God's mouth by inserting our secondary meanings to make Him say something He didn't say.  If you're looking for a promise of material prosperity, you'll have to look elsewhere in the Bible where Jesus speaks directly to and about Christians, but that may be difficult.  Jesus never guaranteed material prosperity for Christians.  That doesn't mean Christians can't prosper.  It means that prosperity isn't why we exist.  Abundance in all of its varying aspects will be ours farther down the road, as I believe is the ultimate meaning to John 10:10.       


Understanding the Bible, including Jeremiah 29:11, is a matter of hermeneutics.  It's a matter of common sense and taking what God says at face value.  Let's not misrepresent Him by putting our words into His mouth.  We don't like it when someone does that to us and I suggest that Jesus probably doesn't like it when we do it to Him. 


Jews from all nations have been returning to their homeland for more than a hundred years now, as the Bible has predicted.  In 1948, the nation of Israel was reborn in one day as was predicted in Isaiah 68:8.  Most Jews don't realize it, but they are being drawn back to their homeland by their God.  Those Jews who survive the Great Tribulation will submit to their God as Zechariah 12:10 and following states.  At that point Jeremiah 29:11 will find its ultimate fulfillment. Israel will finally prosper. 

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