This post is written by Katie Orr and is published as a companion to Unit 15, Session 3 of The Gospel Project for Adults Vol. 5 (Fall 2022): From Rebellion to Exile.
Jeremiah 29:11 is a crowd favorite. From t-shirts to coffee cups, many celebrate the good plans of God through the use of these familiar words. “‘For I know the plans I have for you’—this is the LORD’s declaration—‘plans for your well-being, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope’” (Jer. 29:11).
Yet, many have rightly brought up that it is best practice not to take a verse out of context. Some skeptics suggest that since Jeremiah did not have us in mind when he wrote these words, we cannot claim them as our own. They scoff at the cups, memes, and wall art that illustrate the guarantee of God’s good plans.
So, which is it? Does this pledge extend to all people? Or it is a promise of the past, meant only for God’s people in exile? Is donning our bedroom walls and smartphone wallpapers with this verse a misuse of Scripture? Is there any comfort we can take from Jeremiah 29:11 today?
Context of Jeremiah
Looking at the context of this popular verse, we see this affirmation given smack dab in the middle of a message. The prophet Jeremiah is proclaiming the purpose of God to a disobedient people. For centuries, they had neglected His word and rejected His ways. They were an obstinate, disobedient people led by kings, most of whom did evil in the sight of the Lord.
Because of this, God removed His presence and protection from the nation of Judah, which ushered defeat at the hands of Babylon. The Babylonian army invaded Jerusalem, looted and destroyed the temple, and took control of the area. They splintered the people from one another. The best and the brightest were captured, torn from their homes, and sent into exile in Babylon. They left the rest behind to work the land—no longer for the flourishing of their family line—but now for the benefit of Babylon. These were dark days for God’s people.
Earlier details from Jeremiah 29 suggest that God’s people thought their exile would be short. But this was not to be so. Jeremiah told them to build houses, plant gardens, settle down, marry, have children, then seek and pray for the welfare of the city they found themselves in—the very nation that had brought to them such suffering! Here the message holds another coffee-cup message for the exiles: bloom where you are planted. And after seventy years of captivity in Babylon, Jeremiah guaranteed, God would bring them back to the land of Judah.
A Promise of Restoration
The assurance of Jeremiah 29:11 is intertwined with the realities of the impossible in-between life the exiles found themselves in. Though life has been turned upside down, God is still on His throne. He has a plan and it is a good one. Jeremiah 29:11 is encouragement for the uprooted and confused; it is a promise of restoration, embedded within a call to serve God in difficult circumstances throughout their time of exile.
So, what can we take away from this? Though we may never find ourselves in this specific situation, like every story in Scripture, we can always learn more about God and His ways. As we uncover the timeless principles, we respond to those truths in our today. In this Jeremiah passage we are given a picture of an in-control God who allows hard things to happen to His people. We also hear the call to recognize that even in the hard circumstances—the very ones we brought on ourselves through our sinful ways—God will use them for our good. Even when we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of darkness and destruction, we can trust in our sovereign, powerful God who always has a plan. So, when we find ourselves in the in-between times, in places we never imagined we’d be, we must strive to settle in and serve God, trusting He is working in ways we cannot see.
Katie Orr is the author of Secrets of the Happy Soul: Experience the Deep Delight You Were Made For, seven FOCUSed15 Bible studies, and is the creator of the Bible Study Hub community where you can receive training, encouragement, and accountability to enjoy God’s Word. Katie, her husband, and their three children live in central Florida. Learn more about and connect with Katie at katieorr.me.