Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Covid-19, Jeremiah 29:11, and These Hard Times

There is a promise from God in Jeremiah 29:11 that is often quoted by Christians but almost always misinterpreted.

Like any conversation you have with others, it's not enough to know what someone says, we must strive to understand what that person means.

The prophet Jeremiah speaks to the Hebrew people on behalf of God. The Lord speaks to His people, declaring:
"For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11).
We misunderstand what God means if we pluck this verse out of its context. 

For example, if I claim Jeremiah 29:11 as a promise that God is about to change my circumstances for the better, then I have wrongly understood what God means.

Examine the context of this promise by asking several questions: 
When  was God's promise given? To whom was God speaking? What occurred to cause God to make this promise? 
When I ask and answer these questions of context, I'll discover that God is actually telling His people in Jeremiah 29:11 (and me) that He may NOT change my circumstances, but He says:
Though I may not take away your problems, I will give you the grace to bloom and prosper where I plant you.
I can personally thrive even during these crazy, chaotic, hard times.

That's the meaning of God's promise in Jeremiah 29:11.

"Bloom where you are planted" (Jeremiah 29:5) is an ancient biblical phrase that has its roots in the context God's promise to prosper His people in Jeremiah 29:11.

Let me show you.

Jeremiah was a prophet to God's people during a very difficult time. In 612 B.C. a wicked and brutal empire took control of the world. The Babylonians (sometimes called the Chaldeans in the Bible) defeated the ancient Assyrians and the Egyptians and took the stage as world conquerors.

Shortly after conquering the Assyrians, the evil Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon,  launched the first of his three attacks against Jerusalem and God's people (609/608 B.C. then 597 B.C. and finally 586 B.C.)

Each successive attack during this 21-year time period was more brutal than the previous one, ending in 586 B.C. with the destruction of the Jewish Temple and the desolation of the entire city of Jerusalem.

It was during Nebuchadnezzar's first aggressive move against Jerusalem (609/608 B.C.) that Daniel, his three friends (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego), and other Jewish leaders were taken captive. A decade later (597 B.C.), Nebuchadnezzar came back to Jerusalem to get more Jewish artisans and craftsmen to help the Babylonian Empire build better roads, erect stronger walls, and create greater weapons. Nebuchadnezzar didn't take all the Jews into captivity.

More Jews remained in Jerusalem after 597 B.C. than were taken to Babylon as prisoners. One of those who remained in Jerusalem after 597 B.C. was the prophet, Jeremiah. The prophet began placing a yoke around his neck proclaiming to God's people that the Babylonian captivity would last "until the seventy years for Babylon have expired(Jeremiah 29:10 NAS).

In 586 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar made his third and final advance on Jerusalem and destroyed the city and took the majority of God's people back to Babylon as captives. This is what the Bible calls "The Babylonian Exile."

Jeremiah the prophet kept telling God's people that their problems would continue until seven decades had passed. 

The seventy years of problems God's people had with the Babylonians began in 609  B.C. and would only come to an end in October 539 B.C. when the Persian King Cyrus invaded Babylon and conquered the Babylonians and freed the Jews.

Think about that for a moment. For 70 years the Jews would be subjugated by the wicked kings of Babylon.

That's a long time for God's people to be held in Babylonian captivity.

The United States war in Iraq has lasted for nearly 20 years. Can you imagine having your husband, son or other loved one in Iraq without having the ability to see him or hear from him for decades?

Or reverse the role. How would you like to be a young Jewish artisan or servant in the Babylonian Empire like Daniel and his friends, only to hear in a letter from Jeremiah that your captivity will only end after Babylon's 70-year world reign comes to an end?

More than a few Jews didn't like hearing Jeremiah's proclamations of long captivity (Jeremiah 25:1-14).

One such Jew was a priest and false prophet named Hananiah. He mocked Jeremiah's prophecy (see Jeremiah 28), ripped the wooden yoke off Jeremiah's neck, and told the people that "God told me the captivity would last just two more years" (Jeremiah 28:3).

The Jews in Jerusalem began believing the false promise that God would change their circumstances soon.

It was at this time that God had Jeremiah send "a letter" to the captives in Babylon. That letter is what we know as Jeremiah 29. God knew that the false hope of a quick release from their bad circumstances would make its way to His people held captive in Babylon. So God speaks to His people through the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 29:4-10 and declares:
"Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce (i.e. "bloom where you are planted").' 
Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare. 
 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 (Jerusalem)."
God is telling His people that - contrary to the testimony of the Jewish false prophets - the captivity will NOT be short, but their problems as prisoners of war in Babylon will go on for a full 70 years. Go ahead and bloom where you are planted. Have prosperity in the midst of your problems.

It is only after God tells His people to rest where they are (Babylon), and to pray for their wicked masters, and to be at peace in the environment that God has placed them in, that God gives His people the Jeremiah 29:11 promise:
"For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope."
I'd like to ask you a question. Which prophecy inspires more hope? Is it Hananiah's false prophecy of captivity for less than two years? Or is it Jeremiah's prophecy to "bloom where you are planted" and experience a long captivity of 70 years?

False prophecies about quick changes in circumstances are much more compelling. We want God to take away our problems. But God always has a greater purpose, and His promise is that He will prosper us through our problems. 

Babylon would last as an empire for 70 years. Jeremiah knew this, for God told him (see both Jeremiah 25:1-14 and Jeremiah 29:10). That means when Jeremiah sent his letter to the Jews in Babylon in 597 B.C. the Jews still had an additional fifty-eight years of captivity left. 58 more years of captivity versus 2 more years of captivity.

Hananiah's false prophecy of problems going away quickly sounds better and makes everyone feel better. But God's promise for prosperity in Jeremiah 29:11 is about prospering in the midst of your problems because you know God has a greater purpose, and your problems are part of that purpose.

You exist for God's purposes, not your personal pleasures. And though God's purposes for our lives are always best and good for His greater purpose, they are not all the time comfortable and pleasurable for personal pleasure. Don't waste your sorrows. God is good, and He's told us to bloom where He's planted us, for His glory and for our good.

The common trap laid for us by our enemy is the one where we measure our personal prosperity by how quickly God changes our environment for the better. It would be wise for all of us to stop assessing God's favor in this manner.

God's purposes are much broader than our individual lives. That doesn't mean God doesn't care about me or you, for He does. He gave each of us His only Son.

To "bloom where you are planted," is to trust that God knows the bigger picture and is at work on a grander scale, fulfilling a greater purpose that we can't even understand right now.

So any measurement of my personal prosperity or God's favor for me must always be independent of my current circumstances. God is at work even when I can't see it.

And what God is doing is much grander, much more glorious.

One of the men who heeded Jeremiah's words to "bloom where you are planted" was the prophet, Daniel. We know that Daniel often read Jeremiah's letters while he was in Babylonian captivity (see Daniel 9:2).

Daniel listened and obeyed God's instructions in Jeremiah 29:11. He bloomed where God planted him. He prospered in the midst of problems.

Daniel built a house. He planted a garden for his produce. He prayed for the wicked kings of Babylon. He lived in peace. He was present at the king's palace during October 539 B.C. -- exactly 70 years after Babylon had become a world empire - when the hand of God wrote on the wall "Mene, mene, tekel upharsin."

That very night in October 539 B.C. God's justice was executed against the Babylonians and the Babylonian Empire came to an end.

God had led His servant Cyrus, King of Persia, to divert the Euphrates River and the Persian army crawled under the great walls of Babylon on a dry river bed and took the city as their own. God's purpose for Babylon was over.

Daniel never left Persia to go back to Jerusalem, even though Cyrus allowed the Jews to return and rebuild the Temple and their city.

Daniel's tomb is in Susa (Iran), the ancient capital of Persia (modern Iran). Because the Persians loved Daniel's ability to "foresee the future," they deemed him the greatest "magi" of all.

The Persians revered Daniel, kept his scrolls in Persia and studied them at their universities. The magi in the east came to understand through reading Daniel's scroll (the book of Daniel), that a great King - a King above all Kings - would be born among the Jews.

Five hundred years after Daniel's death, magi from the ancient Babylonian and Persian Empire lands (i.g. "magi from the east") came to Jerusalem and asked Herod:
"Where is He who is born King of the Jews" (Matthew 2:2
The magi eventually sought Jesus because Daniel bloomed where he was planted.

I propose that if you find yourself in a difficult situation that God seems in no hurry to change, and if you learn like the ancient Jews to "bloom where you are planted," there will come a day when those around you will come looking for your King.

That's your greater purpose.

Note: This article is an excerpt from Wade's book Radically New.


Anonymous said...

Isn’t it curious that people love to quote Jeremiah 29:11 as if it were a universal promise which applies to everyone who claims it. You can find it on plaques, coffee mugs, church bulletins, etc. However, no one ever quotes 29:15ff., or puts it on a plaque.

Jackie Newton said...

Thank you Wade for this insightful article. It is excellent!

Rex Ray said...


Now this post took a lot of research and thinking! We’re going on the second year of the Covid-19. I pray we don’t have 70 years.

Friday, I’m to have a usual 6-month pacemaker checkup at the VA in Bonham. (Bonham has one person with Covid-19.) All persons entering the VA will be checked for not having Covid-19.

(Jeremiah 29:17 NLT) “…I will send war, famine, and disease upon them and make them like bad figs, too rotten to eat.”

This reminded me of the ‘mischief’ in replacing the Lord’s Supper grape juice with green persimmon juice. (Instead of singing they whistled.)

Bob Cleveland said...

I've often heard "No weapon formed against you shall prosper...", as if it applies to individuals now. All I can say is that I don't know of many weapons that have not "prospered" against believers. Drunk drivers, murderers, diseases, and many others.

I'd rather just point out that God loves us ... each one, individually ... and all He does is based on that love. Whether it's an unexpected weapon or not.


Bless you.

Annette O said...

Thank you for this article, Wade. I work in the medical field here in Washington and after a really stressful draining week was encouraged after reading this. He does not promise that things won't get worse, but He does promise that He will be with us no matter what happens. Anyway, thank you for reminding me of truth this morning.

Wade Burleson said...


Rachelle's and my prayers are with you and for you, and all your fellow front-line workers. Thanks for your comment, and the Lord's richest blessings your way!

RB Kuter said...

It does bring to mind the lofty view God has over things considering His eternal perspective. When we are on the ground level, living in the midst of the chaos in this moment in time, it is impossible to envision where things are going.

In the past two days we have had several critical events in the lives of some close to us that were not directly associated with the virus. Still, one wonders if this shaking of the earth is not involved. It has resulted in hearts being moved that we formerly considered to be so hard as to cause us to doubt their having the capacity to seek God, yet today they call to ask us to pray to God for help! Totally shocking.

Anonymous said...

Why would anyone seek prayer from someone who had judged them and held them in contempt?