What Jeremiah 29:11 Really Means

Anyone who grew up in the church will recognize this verse. But do we really have an accurate understanding of what it means?

This article came about as an accident of sorts. I was writing an article on whether or not God has a specific plan and purpose for our lives (I’m still working on that one). But when I got to the end and read over what I had written I realized I wrote more on the meaning of Jeremiah 29:11, oops. Rather than delete it and start over I thought I’d write a second article specifically on this verse. 

So here we go…

Besides John 3:16, Jeremiah 29:11 might be the most recognized verse in the Bible. 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.

Anyone who grew up in the church will recognize this verse. But do we really have an accurate understanding of what it means? Before we can know what it’s saying we have to understand the context it is written in.

For more on reading the Bible in context: How to Read the Bible (better)

When you read the surrounding verses we see that it is God talking to the Israelites through Jeremiah. God is promising that He has plans for the future of His people, the Israelites. As Jeremiah is relaying the words of God, the Israelites are being held captive by the Babylonians; in other words they are slaves.

During this time there were a few false prophets that were claiming that God was going to release His people soon. If you were to read the surrounding verses in Jeremiah 29, you would see God denounce the false prophets, tell them they are going to have to wait (70 years), and tell them while they are there to seek peace and prosperity.

This was tough news for the Israelites to hear. That’s why God follows this tough news with Jeremiah 29:11 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.

This verse is meant to encourage that despite things not going the way the Israelites wanted, God is still in control. The Israelites are told to trust God, even though things probably aren’t making much sense to them. That’s faith isn’t it? Believing now, what will only make sense in hindsight.

This passage is not addressed to a person, but rather God is addressing His people. He’s giving hope to a group of people that are struggling with understanding what God is doing. That’s the context in which this verse is written.

We must understand this context before we claim the promise that God is for us. The promise of God in this verse is that though things are tough right now, at the end of the day God is still in control. It’s a plea to God’s people that God’s plan is good and that the other paths that maybe look good, actually aren’t good.

While this verse is written to a group of captive Israelites thousands of years ago that doesn’t mean it has no application for us today. I would actually argue the context makes it more real and more powerful.

So where does this leave us? What do we do with this verse? This verse is a promise to God’s people that His plan for us is good. And who are God’s people? In the context of the verse it’s the Israelites. But when Jesus enters the picture He says He came for everyone. In others we are all His people. So the truth of this verse is still true for us today.

Many have taken this verse to mean that God will make their life easy, or they will get exactly what they want. But that’s not what this promise is. Remember God told His people this verse right after telling them some really tough news. And the Israelites didn’t want to hear it; they’d rather listen to the false voices telling them the better sounding noise. Sound familiar? That’s something we do all the time.

This verse is telling us that while life will get incredibly difficult at times, it is God who is in control. And while the difficult season might not end tomorrow, God is still there and He will bring his people through it.

This is why Jesus says, Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Matthew 6:25-26

This message is a direct tie to Jeremiah 29:11. It’s not a promise of a life where there’s nothing to worry about. It’s a promise of a life where in the midst of worrisome problems we can have peace. Having faith, believing in God, means trusting that His plan is what’s best for us, even when it doesn’t make sense.

What It Means to Rejoice in Suffering

Some things might never make sense in this life. It must have seemed that way to the Israelites that died in captivity. But God can see things we cannot. One day things will be revealed, and we will see the larger picture. Until then we have this promise. God is with us, and we can find peace and rest in that. The Gospel message isn’t one of an easy life. Rather a life in which we never have to be alone.

I want to hear from you! What do you think? How have you read Jeremiah 29:11?

13 comments on “What Jeremiah 29:11 Really Means

  1. Excellent post, Jeffery. When you write, “We must understand this context before we claim the promise that God is for us,” I give a hearty AMEN! I also love how you wrote, “If you were to read the surrounding verses …” I am amazed at how many Bible teachers and pastors just throw verses out there without giving the context. In this case, you are spot on: This text was meant for ancient Israel. God’s promise to them fit exactly the circumstances they were in. Now that we know the context, we can go on and see if it applies to us today, which, in this case, it does. I wish there were more teaching like this, Jeffery, all things in context FIRST, and THEN the modern-day application, if there is one. Thanks for the excellent post!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Good article. I always hear Christians claiming this verse as their own when it’s specifically for the Jews in their captivity in Babylon. Christians should focus on Romans 8:28 as their promise from God.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on The Biker's Wave and commented:
    Excellent review of this verse – a worthwhile read.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Love love love this. This verse is potentially the most misused verse in the Bible. Great thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Joe Butler

    Great post Jeffery. I actually use this verse in the bio of my blog page and do so with the understanding of its underlying meaning for Christians past, present, and future. God does indeed have a plan for us that means success and a hope. But it’s not necessarily the definition that’s normally brought to mind when that verse is taught. He has a plan for his people that brings us into communion with him for eternity. Now that’s something to truly get excited about. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I often say when I preach that to apply any scripture to our lives is to in some way take it out of its context – that being said context is there to limit the possible applications while forcing us to see if the idea we have taking from the text fits any other texts in the rest of the Bible – God has a plan and God wants to prosper us but prosperity for the Christ follower is guaranteed and limited by this idea, God has a future for us that will give us an eternity with Him that is without harm. Application in its original context works for Israel at the time it was written – application changes when we take the ideas and use them for ourselves in line with other scripture, it becomes a truth about God’s plan for those who have believed when time is no more – great post, makes me wonder what else we have manipulated out of its context for our own gain – I have a few ideas!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wonder the same thing about what our scripture we’ve twisted for ourselves. I know I’ve done it before, and I’m sure I’m blind to ways I’m twisting God’s word still. Good thing there’s grace, I sure need it.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Good word! Another verse that some tend to twist is Psalm 37:4. I guess we could name several that we’ve misunderstood at some point!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Context is key.

    I find it really intriguing that God’s next verses 12-14 to seking, no to genuinely seeking God and the promise to the Israelites that He will be found when they genuinely seeking Him. Yet the reason why the Israelites where taken captive Babylon is due to rebellion of God’s status for the Sabbath’s of the land.

    I understand the context of Jeremiah 29:11 is primarily for the Israelites as well as the following verses 12-14 but I cannot help to wonder about a potential current application…

    They were there due to their disobedience. Consequences. We, today, do things that make muck of our own lives which bear consequences. Then God promises us them even though they are suffering for their disobedience that God is still there and has plans for a future and a hope and not of evil. Same applies when I mess up today. Then God shares with His people in verses 12-14 how to get back on track and move away from backsliding. Promising that if they seek Him with all their heart they will find Him. Same is true today when I fall off the wagon and backslide.

    Just something to think on.


  9. I agree, this verse gains so much depth when we look at its context. I actually wrote a post about it recently.

    Also, I often use this chapter when I teach about being in a missional relationship with our local or global community.


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