Monday, December 15, 2014

Misquoting the Bible: Jeremiah 29:11

"Now these are the words of the letter which Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the rest of the elders of the exile, the priests, the prophets, and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. (This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the court officials, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem.) The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan, and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, saying,
"Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, 'Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens, and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. And seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.'
"For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, 'Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream. For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them,' declares the LORD.
"For thus says the LORD, 'When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. And I will be found by you,' declares the LORD, 'and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,' declares the LORD, 'and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.'"
" Jeremiah 29:1-14
This verse is frequently misquoted and misapplied by Christians who rip it from its immediate context and attempt to apply it to various situations and circumstances in their life or others. It has nothing to do with our personal pursuits and endeavours. It has nothing to do with skills or abilities, employment, relationships, or anything else like that. When someone we know shares with us their struggles, fears, worries, doubts, or concerns about a particular area of their life and we quote this verse to them as some attempt to comfort, we are doing so erroneously and incorrectly. We are ripping the verse from its immediate context and performing eisegesis upon it.

Jeremiah 29:11 is not about us. It does not apply to us. Jeremiah is not using this verse to say God has plans to prosper us in our careers; he is not using this verse to say God has plans to prosper us in the pursuit of new skills; he is not using this verse to say God has plans to prosper us in our marriages. We need to keep this verse in the context of what he said in the preceding and following verses. Jeremiah uses this verse to state that God has a plan to restore Israel to their land after the Babylonian captivity has run its course.
"This deliverance will not depend upon your merits, but upon my own mercy and kind thoughts and purposes I have for the seed of Abraham my servant, and I am resolved in my own thoughts what to do; I intend not the blotting out of the name of Israel from the earth, but to give such an end to their trouble as themselves expect and desire, thought not so soon as they may expect it, being deceived by their prophets. There shall be an end of your captivity in my time, and that is after you shall have fulfilled seventy years in that captivity." —Matthew Poole's Commentary On the Holy Bible, vol. 2, p. 581.
"This antithesis is not in keeping with what follows. The meaning is rather: Although I appoint so long a term for the fulfillment of the plan of redemption, yet fear not that I have utterly rejected you; I know well what my design is in your regard. My thoughts toward you are thoughts of God, not of evil. Although now I inflict lengthened sufferings on you, yet this chastisement but serves to bring about your welfare in the future." —Keil & Delitzsch Commentary On the Old Testament, vol. 8, p. 255.
The context for this passage is very simple. Verses 4 through 7 are things God commands Israel to do while they are captive in Babylon. Verses 8 through 9 are things God commands Israel not to do while they are captive in Babylon. Verses 10 through 14 address God's promise to restore Israel to their land once the Babylonian captivity comes to an end. This passage has nothing to do with Israel in the future (as Dispensationalists falsely interpret it), and verse 11 has nothing to do with us.

Christians should never have favourite Bible verses, unless those verses come from the book of Proverbs. Why? Because far too often they are isolating it to itself at the expense of the immediate context surrounding it that explains its meaning, and then misapplying it to their situation. Christians should have favourite Bible passages, understanding what the passage teaches and applying it correctly.