Have you ever claimed the truth of this verse in your life?
“I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive” (Jeremiah 29:14).
Just a guess, but I bet you have not. Highly doubtful that many people pick this as their life verse and find comfort in it.
It’s a beautiful passage, and there is much in it that should provide comfort, but most of us don’t consider ourselves to be in captivity among nations and places that God has driven us. Surely God himself hasn’t carried you away captive, right?
However, it is not uncommon for Christians to take another verse from this passage and claim it as their life verse: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
This verse has become a cherished one among Christians, often invoked for its uplifting message of hope and divine plans. In fact, I have a little sailboat figurine that has this verse inscribed on it.
Unbeknownst to most Christians, this verse does not apply to them, and they unwittingly steal this promise from the true audience, Israel.
Jeremiah 29:11 encourages the Israelites during their Babylonian exile, and the context makes it clear that the verse is specifically addressed to them and not to anyone else.
The broader context (Jeremiah 29:1-14) reveals God’s instructions to the Israelites in exile, encouraging them to build homes, plant gardens, and seek the welfare of the city where they were captives. The promise of a hopeful future in verse 11 is intricately tied to the specific circumstances of the Israelites during their exile.
Verse 4 says, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon.” Obviously, Israel in exile. Not you, and not me.
Take a look at verse 7: “And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace.”
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” anyone?
Read the rest of Jeremiah 29, and you’ll see that this is definitely not a description of our circumstances and life situation.
So don’t steal this promise for yourself.
“But it’s so encouraging and hopeful! The principles can still apply to my life, right?”
Well, in a sense, yes, we know that God does want us to have peace, a future, and a hope. But since we find these promises throughout Scripture, why not latch onto verses that are actually directed toward us than ones that are not? There are plenty of other verses in the Bible that convey messages of hope, trust, and divine guidance with broader applicability.
For example, Proverbs 3:5-6 encourages readers to trust in the Lord and seek his wisdom and understanding, acknowledging principles that transcend cultural and historical contexts. The result is that God will guide and direct us, thus giving us a future and a hope.
Philippians 4:6-7 provides a timeless call to present our requests to God with thanksgiving, promising the peace of God that transcends understanding and guards our hearts and minds.
Romans 8:28 assures believers that God works for the good of those who love Him, a promise applicable to Christians of all backgrounds.
It’s common for Christians to draw inspiration selectively from specific verses without considering their original context. While Jeremiah 29:11 offers a powerful message of hope, it’s vital to recognize that the verse is part of a specific historical and cultural narrative that doesn’t include us.
Just as we wouldn’t take the instructions for the Israelites in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:5-7) and apply them directly to our lives, we should approach verse 11 with a nuanced understanding of its intended audience.
In doing so, we honour the integrity of Scripture, we honour the intended audience of each promise, and we find encouragement that resonates across diverse circumstances and cultures.