“I know the plans…” (ESV). “I know the thoughts…” (ASV). As people discuss their plans for 2019, this passage may be used. Many have God considering a bright future for them. Such a passage has lit the denominational world ablaze, with this verse printed on coffee mugs, cards, shirts, posters, etc. It is used by the positive psychological, health-and-wellness, and prosperity teachers of our time. It is also quoted to bring peace to those in a trial or to encourage or inspire those facing a difficult decision about the future - pointing us to this promise of God’s specific plans to help us succeed and prosper. Don’t worry!!!
By itself, like other passages, it is comforting, assuring, and hopeful. I may not know what is going to happen, but God has a PERSONAL plan for me, and it may not be like any other person’s life. In an environment where there is some uncertainty and chaos, reading this verse as a “stand-alone” reassures an anxious heart.
The words of this Bible passage are in the letter Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, the priests, the prophets, and all the people who Nebuchadnezzar had taken into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon (Jeremiah 29.1), and the discussion of the Babylonian captivity, which goes back to Chapter 25.
The content of this letter is vv. 4-10, where Jeremiah tells the people to be content and settle in the land where they are in captivity, because they are going to be there for 70 years. Build houses. Plant gardens. Grow families. Be a blessing in this “new” community. Ignore the false prophets who may teach an early return to Canaan. It will not happen as they say. God did promise a remnant would return to Canaan at the end of 70 years.
This message is addressed to the captives of Judah, not Christians today. This is not a general blessing, nor a specific blessing to each individual person. This is a national admonition to Judah because of their wickedness. They will suffer hardship for 70 years. This letter did not remove trials nor periods of suffering as some today may think this passage exhorts. The results God looked for are found in vv. 12-14 - people who would turn their hearts toward Him. Seek and find Him, for in Him lies the only possibility of hope in the midst of captivity. There is nothing in this text to suggest financial or material prosperity, but physical and spiritual restoration of a people who have left God. Their rescue is tied to their relationship with God.
No Christian today can take “PERSONAL ownership” of this verse. If so, why not take all the passages which describe destruction, punishment, and hardship? They should be applied as well, but neither do they apply. Read from scripture instead of reading your beliefs into scripture.
God’s plan for all people is found in Acts 17.30 and 2 Peter 3.10-12. Will you be what God planned for you to be - a Christian? This is something He has planned for you since before the creation (Ephesians 1.3-7).