This is what the Lord says: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. - Jeremiah 29: 10-13 (NIV)
As we wind down our examination of the ten most searched Bible verses according to biblegateway.com, we come to number two. Jeremiah 29:11 is indeed one of the most used and quoted verses in all of Scripture. It is probably one the first verses you will hear from people trying to comfort you. I have heard criticism that it is taken wildly out of context and that it only was meant for the remnant in Babylon. That approach would render nearly all of Scripture as not being applicable to our lives. Hermeneutics requires that we take the entire context of Scripture into account. The Bible will confirm itself. We run into problems when people cherry pick a Scripture to make an unbiblical point without realizing that point is not supported anywhere else in the Bible. So in order for Jeremiah 29:11 to not apply to us today, the remainder of Scripture would have to not point to God having a plan for our future; to prosper us and give us hope and a future. Clearly the entire plan of God was to give us such a hope through the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary's hill. The problem as we will see is when people choose to take this one verse out of the immediate context to make the case that God is talking about earthly, material prosperity. Scripture is clearly unsupportive of such a notion:
"No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. - Matthew 6: 24 (NIV)
I have always had the question put to me of why can't God do both? The question essentially being - doesn't God also want to prosper His children materially in this life? My answer was always a milquetoast; of course He does. The more I read the Bible however and the more I see the abuses money and greed have perpetrated within the Body of Christ; the more I think the answer is actually no. Hear me out. I am not saying that God expects Christians to live lives of poverty and misery on this earth. I am saying that if that is your question then you are trying to serve two masters. If the question that dominates your thinking is whether God wants to bless me materially, then we are no better than the rich young ruler who refused to put God first. If making us poor and destitute will drive us further into His arms and deeper into His Word then yes, God would prefer that we be poor and destitute. The problem arising from the bless me theologies in this country is that people chase what God can give them instead of what He already has.
So we come to Jeremiah 29:11; a favorite of the false prosperity gospels. First off, I assume we all would agree that we never hear this verse quoted in the correct context. It is always a stand alone verse to assure us that God has a plan for our future - hallelujah - pass the offering plate. The actual context however speaks to the believer in the valley. The believer who has been going through some things. The believer in Babylon. The remnant was destined to remain in Babylon for seventy years. This portion of Scripture is God delivering a message to His people and the message stands today as well. It is a message for us in our darkest valley. When we do not know how we will come out of it; or if we will. Perhaps this message is for those really low moments when we start to question God. When we wonder if we have been forgotten. Elijah had his moment in the cave. I am sure Joseph had those moments in his prison cell for 13 years. I am sure Peter had those moments after his denials. Is this it Lord? Is this what I was saved for? The key verses today are for these moments and they serve to remind us that there is a promise and a responsibility within the valley.
The verses start with the backdrop of the promise. Everyone knows verse eleven but verse ten explains how we got there. God says when the seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. Beloved, God has a plan. He knows the time frame for this plan. He knew it would be 13 years before Joseph would be ready to lead. He knew how long David had to wait to be King. He knew the ten plus years the renegade Saul would need to become the Apostle Paul. I know that we think we know better but God is the one with the plan. But we need to remember the promises attached to this plan. First off, God assures us that He will come for us. What does this teach us today? God knows exactly where we are. We are not lost to God. Our condition, no matter how much it may seem to worsen, does not surprise God. He sees our despair. He sees our loneliness. He sees our plight. Not one tear we shed is ever lost to God:
You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. - Psalm 56: 8 (NLT)
God collects the tears we cry. He records them. They are not lost on Him. In order for God to come for us, He must be acutely aware of our position. He knew where Daniel was in the Lion's Den. He knew where the three Hebrew boys were in the fiery furnace. He knows the valley I stand in today and wherever you are as well. Secondly, He says He will fulfill His good promise to us. The promises of God are always good. We just need to know them better and believe them more. We need to be found in His Word so that we can hide these promises in our heart. The Bible is our contract with God. We know that God will always be faithful to His Word. The problem is that we often do not know the terms of the contract we have entered into. When the problems of life intensify or the valley runs deep we need to run to our contract and rely upon the provisions God has made. The world will always present us with something to distract us from the promises of God. One day the fighting men of Israel were all cowering before the giant Goliath. Along came the shepherd boy who one day would be king: