Jer 29:5 ‘Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what you grow in them.
Jer 29:6 Marry and have children. Then let your children get married, so that they also may have children. You must increase in numbers and not decrease.
Jer 29:7 Work for the good of the cities where I have made you go as prisoners. Pray to me on their behalf, because if they are prosperous, you will be prosperous too.
Jer 29:8 I, the LORD, the God of Israel, warn you not to let yourselves be deceived by the prophets who live among you or by any others who claim they can predict the future. Do not pay any attention to their dreams.
Jer 29:9 They are telling you lies in my name. I did not send them. I, the LORD Almighty, have spoken.’
Jer 29:10 “The LORD says, ‘When Babylonia’s seventy years are over, I will show my concern for you and keep my promise to bring you back home.
Jer 29:11 I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for.
Jer 29:12 Then you will call to me. You will come and pray to me, and I will answer you.
Jer 29:13 You will seek me, and you will find me because you will seek me with all your heart.
Jeremiah 29:11 is a very famous passage among Jesus Followers. “I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for.”
The verse is (mis)quoted by health and wealth hucksters to help fleece the flock, and it’s quite frequently shared by good hearted Believers to encourage those going through rough patches. Unfortunately, as I see it, even those good hearted people are only partly right in the way they use the verse.
When you read the passage in its entirety, we see the people of God listening to false prosperity teachers telling them to resist their exile. Now God is telling them that these so called prophets are only leading them farther away from redemption.
God tells them first, that the exile is from Him. That He is calling them to repentance and obedience. He tells them to not only accept the exile, but to trust Him and prosper where they’re planted. He even lets them know that the exile is not going to be short lived. It will last for generations.
Then it gets even tougher. God tells the people to work for the good of their oppressors and to pray for them. What? You heard right. Go back and read verse 7 again.
It’s only AFTER God sets the expectations that there will be no quick fix for the hardships the Israelis are facing, that he gives them the good news that their exile is finite. He has set a time of liberation. He promises more than freedom, He intends to prosper them. And He wants them to hang on to that promise through the long years they are facing.
I find that to be a hard lesson in an age of instant gratification. Our computers don’t move fast enough, our microwaves cook too slowly, even instant pudding takes 5 minutes so we buy little tubs of it already made and filled with highly questionable ingredients, but at least we don’t have to wait the 5 minutes.
The fact is, sometimes our valleys are going to be long and deep. I don’t want to hear that. I don’t want 70 year exiles; I can barely take three days, before I expect my resurrection. I am not good at waiting. Patience is not the most evident aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) in my life.
Not content with the warning, God tells the people to make lemonade out of their lemons. He assures them, that even in this place they don’t want to be, He is willing to bless them if they do their part.
Then adding what we would think is insult to injury, He tells them to work for the prosperity of their oppressors and pray for them. My American Nature cries out, “No Way, Jose! They’re godless Democrats, Republicans, Atheists, Muslims, evil people.”
The simple truth is, God’s people are supposed to handle adversity differently than the rest of the world. Our example comes from the One who pleaded for forgiveness for the soldiers who drove the thorns into his brow and the nails through His hands and feet, as well as for the crowds who mocked Him as He hung suspended between the heaven and earth He created, seemingly a part of neither (‘Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.’ Luke 23:34).
These things are much easier said than done. Jeremiah’s message to the Israeli exiles was hard to hear and hard for the people to implement. Similarly, it can be very difficult for us to trust when the path in front of us is shrouded in darkness and fog. Faith is not an easy thing, but sometimes it is the only thing.
The One who conquered the cross and ruptured the grave, has promised to return and make all things new. Let’s hold on to that promise. Let’s hold on to the Promise Keeper. And let’s hold on to each other. There’s strength in numbers. We’re in this together.