Many followers of Jesus have what we call “life” verses. These are verses that we hold onto. They are verses that we commit to memory. When life throws us twists and curves, we recall these verses. These “life” verses bring us comfort in times of hopelessness.
There are a few verses that seem more to be more popular to use than others. One of those verses is Jeremiah 29:11. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
This is a great verse with a great promise. However, like many passages of scripture, it has to be understood in its full context. It can be easy to take one verse and make it mean whatever you want it to mean. When reading the Bible, one needs to always remember the larger story.
This verse is a great promise for the Israelites, but we must understand why this promise was given to them and what the circumstances were.
You could go back to Jeremiah 29:1, but you at least need to go back to verse 10. Verse 10 tells us that the Israelites are about to enter a 70-year period of exile. They will live under another group of people’s rule for 70 years.
Try and imagine what they were feeling when those words were delivered to them. They had to prepare themselves for a long time in captivity. They were told to seek peace while in this time of captivity. They were told to not be deceived during this time. In other words, they had to guard their hearts while they were under rule of another authority. To me it sounds like the Israelites were going to face difficult days.
So here is this group of people that is about to hear two distinct messages. The first is this, “You will be held captive for the next 70 years.” They will not be in their rightful place. They received the bad news first.
Then came the good news: God has plans to prosper them and give them a great future. This group has been given a great promise, but they will have to wait to see it fulfilled. They will have to endure some trials to see this promise come true. Some Israelites might not even see this promise become a reality.
When we read these words in 2016, we get excited and have great hope. But we must remember that when these words were first heard, it was not met with the same excitement many of us read these words with today.
There was nervousness and disappointment. These were not easy words for the Israelites to hear. Their hardships would not go away. They would not be freed from captivity. Yet as one has said, “God’s promise would stand, and he would fully restore his people and bring them out of their desperate situation, but he would not do it in the way any of them would have planned it.”
God does have a hope and future for those who seek him, but we must always remember it will be in his timing.
Josh Robertson is pastor of New Hope Church of the Nazarene east of Greenfield. This weekly column is written by local clergy members.