A Devotional - Jeremiah 29:11
This is a well-known verse, often quoted to reassure someone that God has a purpose for their lives. In some translations, such as the NIV, “wholeness” is rendered “prosperity,” and some have used this verse to support the idea that God intends every Christian to have worldly wealth.
The problem with taking this verse as a personal promise from God, as many Christians do, is that it isn’t addressed to them. This is part of a letter from Jeremiah to the Hebrew exiles in Babylon (verse 1), which, among other things, instructs them to build homes, take families, and seek the prosperity of the Babylonian cities they live in (verses 5-7) and, in the verse immediately before, informs them that they will return to Israel after seventy years! (verse 10) Obviously, these are not instructions and promises for modern believers. In context, then, this verse is a promise for displaced and traumatized Jewish refugees, in a strange place far from home, that the Almighty God of their fathers has not forgotten them, and indeed, has a plan and a future for them.
Does this mean we can’t learn anything from this verse, if it’s not addressed to us? Absolutely not. The letter, in our Bibles, identifies God repeatedly as the LORD, an English word meaning Yahweh – God’s special, covenant name that He used with His chosen people. God was reminding his special people, the children of His unbreakable covenant, that He was still there for them. By using this name, he reassured them that His promises to Abraham, to make of him a great nation, were still in force. And that meant that He would protect and preserve His people, even in exile.
We, as Christians, are also in covenant with God: the New Covenant in Christ’s blood. God has one covenant people – those chosen by Him, who trust in Him by way of faith. As God’s covenant children, like the exiles Jeremiah comforted, we can be assured that God indeed does have plans for us, and a bright future. This is not because of a promise in a letter written to a specific group three thousand years ago, but something even deeper and better - God’s nature as a faithful, covenant God. He always cherishes those in covenant with Him.