“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." (Jer. 29:11)
This is a popular one to use out of context and it is a popular one to debunk. We are going to debunk how it is commonly used. This verse is popular because it is triumphalistic, and Americans love to triumph.
It is also a passage that is often spiritualized to make the pronoun, “you,” mean the Church and the present-day Christian.
Jeremiah 28 is all about two prophets, Jeremiah and Hananiah.
Hananiah prophecies falsely that the nation of Israel will be restored in two years (remember they are being taken away by Babylonians). Here are his actual words:
"Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, 'I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. 'Within two years I am going to bring back to this place all the vessels of the LORD's house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. 'I am also going to bring back to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the exiles of Judah who went to Babylon,' declares the LORD, 'for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.'" (Jer. 28:2-4)
Jeremiah then spoke and reminded everyone that only if the words of the prophet came true was he a true prophet.
And then YHWH sends him back again to speak against Hananiah. Listen to the words:
"Then Jeremiah the prophet said to Hananiah the prophet, "Listen now, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie.
"Therefore thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I am about to remove you from the face of the earth. This year you are going to die, because you have counseled rebellion against the LORD.'" So Hananiah the prophet died in the same year in the seventh month. (Jer. 28:15-17)
When you read the context, you discover that the problems in the Church today are the same problems with false teachers that God’s people have always had. And in Israel it was no different either.
You have the reality of what sin does in the lives of people. They are deceived, they rebell, they wander and they fall away. Then discipline and consequences come and suffering is eventually the result.
Then faithful men rise up to teach truth from God and others come up behind them to give a happy alternative message that is full of good things. The true message is usually one of repentance and a call to continue to hope in God and in His time He will rescue you. The false is that you can have your best life now.
What is important to note is that it is against that backdrop the Lord gives this declaration to Jeremiah. But only after first telling the nation that they will be in captivity for 70 years.
Listen to the actual words: "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. (Jer. 29:8-10).
Now understand what this meant to those hearing it. With few exceptions, all of them would die in captivity. Perhaps a few young people and babies, but life is very hard in captivity so few would survive. Daniel would be one of those who would survive.
So this is a good word, but not for them. For them it is a word of discipline but one that also is wrapped in hope.
After that time God will bring the nation back to her land. The nation was in huge trouble, Jerusalem was falling, the people were starving and resorting to cannibalism. It is in that context that they read these words.
So these were not words that encouraged them individually because it was not FOR them! They would die in this foreign land, but God's covenantal faithfulness would not fail, for in His time they (Israel) would be restored.
As an aside, this passage is interesting because of how so many who would be Reformed in their hermeneutics handle it.
When dealing with the prophets of the OT, especially with regard to the Messiah ruling and the regathering of the people of Israel in the final days, the prophets are often spiritualized and used to refer to the Church instead. We find it humorous when we watch our truly Reformed and covenantal brethren rightly handle this passage, but then handle other prophecies in a completely opposite manner.