Times seem a bit tough right now. Depending on your frame of reference, you might be convinced that we (as a nation) have fallen on very hard times. Despite the truth of God’s Word being that we should lean on Him and rest in His Grace at all times, we tend to search for God in trials rather than in peace, in drought rather than in plenty. There is, however, a temptation for those who look to rapid expansion and exponential growth as the basis and litmus for right-standing with God, to misuse the Scriptures. In today’s Complete The Thought, I’d like to address one of the scriptures used to propel the lopsided teaching of prosperity that has led to many a mega-church rise to celebrity status. I’m not here to ascribe malice nor to engage in slander against celebrity leaders; rather, to bring focus to God’s Word in context.
Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV) 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Clearly, this is a message of hope. It is normally quoted as a generic message of God’s planning for all of His Children, and it is quoted to remind Christians that God has good plans for us not evil. On its own, that isn’t a bad thing (how could it be?). However, when the person quoting this scripture goes on to describe God’s plans for welfare as being rich & prosperous (treasures on earth?) to each individual… things get slippery. But let’s take this one step at a time. The first thing about this quote is that we don’t have any clear indicators of the audience based on the quote alone. Is it to an individual or to a people? Is God referring to some “as yet unrevealed future and hope” or is He referring to something specific? Why is He sending this message to the individual/people and why would God need to clarify that His plans are not for evil… what could possibly lead anyone to think that about the Lord God? What is expected of the individual/people to do while the plans for welfare unfold? These are critically important questions that MUST be asked before we can blindly fall head-long down the rabbit hole of an ear-tingling theology promising prosperity.
Let us begin… at the beginning of the chapter:
Jeremiah 29:1-3 (ESV) 1 These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the eunuchs, the officials of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metal workers had departed from Jerusalem. 3 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…
So, very clearly, this is a letter Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the Exiles, during the Babylonian Exile. So immediately, we are given the audience. It is to the exiles, those taken out of Jerusalem (elders, priests, prophets, royalty, officials, craftsmen, metal workers, etc. also see 2 Kings 24:10-16) by the Chaldeans to Babylon. Zedekiah is currently left in place as king in Jerusalem, under the will of Nebuchadnezzar. Let us continue reading…
It said: 4 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But 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 find your welfare. 8 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, 9 for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.
The Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, is the One who sent exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. This wasn’t a fluke and it didn’t catch God off guard. In fact, He goes on tell them to build houses, plant gardens, marry hand build families… they were going to be there for a while. So, they have fallen on hard times, and God was making 2 things abundantly clear to His children in exile… 1) it was punishment and 2) it was going to be for a long time. The next point is interesting, God calls out liars claiming to prophesy in the Name of the Lord. God instructs the exiles do not listen to the dreams that they dream…I did not send them. Let us continue on…
10 “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
A long time, indeed. After seventy years, God will visit the exiles and fulfill His promise. What promise? His promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:
Genesis 12:1-3 (ESV) 12 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Genesis 12:7a (ESV) 7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.”
The future and a hope is to serve as both a reminder and an encouragement that God has not forgotten His promise to Abraham and to his descendents. For us, this means that God is still going to bring about His promise of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. For that to happen, God will have to bring Israel out of exile and back into Jerusalem so that they will rebuild the Temple. This promise is to God’s people, of which we are a part thanks by the blood of Jesus Christ. Once their prescribed term of punishment is over (70 years) then God is telling His people to turn to Him (repent), call upon Him, pray to Him, and seek Him with all their hearts, and He will answer them. Look at what Jesus taught in Luke 11:5-13. God is still faithful to His promises and to His Word. This passage isn’t about prosperity, but about the love of a Father to care for His children, even while they are being disciplined. So let’s wrap up the remainder of the letter…
Jeremiah 29:15-23 (ESV) 15 “Because you have said, ‘The Lord has raised up prophets for us in Babylon,’ 16 thus says the Lord concerning the king who sits on the throne of David, and concerning all the people who dwell in this city, your kinsmen who did not go out with you into exile: 17 ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, behold, I am sending on them sword, famine, and pestilence, and I will make them like vile figs that are so rotten they cannot be eaten. 18 I will pursue them with sword, famine, and pestilence, and will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse, a terror, a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them, 19 because they did not pay attention to my words, declares the Lord, that I persistently sent to you by my servants the prophets, but you would not listen, declares the Lord.’ 20 Hear the word of the Lord, all you exiles whom I sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon: 21 ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning Ahab the son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying a lie to you in my name: Behold, I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall strike them down before your eyes. 22 Because of them this curse shall be used by all the exiles from Judah in Babylon: “The Lord make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire,” 23 because they have done an outrageous thing in Israel, they have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives, and they have spoken in my name lying words that I did not command them. I am the one who knows, and I am witness, declares the Lord.’”
Judgement is coming to the false prophets, and the judgement that is upon Israel will be carried out (and in some ways made deeper by their refusal to pay attention to God’s words sent by the prophets). God will make an example of 2 false prophets in particular, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire.
Are we promised riches and prosperity as part of being redeemed by the Blood of Jesus? As heirs and joint-heirs with Christ, in heaven, yes. On earth? We have other promises, mostly about meeting our needs, and joining in Christ’s suffering. Is prosperity evil? No. Is it the goal of Christianity? No. Is Jer 29:11 about prospering? Not in context. It’s about the Sovereignty of God, and His Faithfulness to keep His promises, even in the midst of discipline, so that His promise of the Messiah will be kept… by Him. Here, as in all areas of the Bible, we have a message of God’s saving Grace, and the lengths He went to for us, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jeremiah 29 is good news. We should study it more often. The biggest thing here is that this so-called prosperity doctrine is incomplete gospel. We aren’t promised a life of lavish luxury here on earth. In fact, we are told time and time again that we will face trials of many kinds. And we will face discipline, for we are the children of God. Yes. He is the perfect Father, which means that while His gifts are undoubtedly, unquestionably Good, they are Good by His standards, not necessarily by ours. And as our perfect Father, He disciplines us so that we might grow and yield peaceful fruit of righteousness…
Hebrews 12:7-11 (ESV) 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
May the Lord bless and keep you,