Jeremiah 29:11 – It’s a verse many of us are familiar with. There are hundreds of image options on Google and just as many everyday items available for purchase at Hobby Lobby. I love this verse, but for years, I found comfort in it without ever understanding the context.
The book of Jeremiah is about a prophet, Jeremiah, and all the not-so-great news he’s called to relay to the leaders and the people of Judah. The people had been disobedient, rebellious, and refusing to turn from their own ways to instead follow the law of their God. Jeremiah warns them again and again about coming destruction and bondage in Babylon, but the people fail to take him seriously. They are captured by King Nebuchadnezzar and taken into captivity for 70-years.
This is what the Lord says: “When the seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 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.” (Jeremiah 29:10-11)
And this is where we tend to stop. But if we keep reading we see this:
Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity…” (Jeremiah 29:12-14)
God was going to bring his people back home, back to the geographic location he had originally promised his people and had purposefully driven them out of because of their sin. But in their time away, they would learn what matters most – they would remember who matters most.
As I was considering my own life, times when I was disobedient and rebellious toward God, I was struck by the idea that it was my sin itself which became my “Babylon”. The things that I held so tightly to became the very things that enslaved me, the things that held me captive. I needed the same lesson about what matters most, and just like the Israelites, I was brought to the one who matters most.
Jesus names it the most important commandment: “The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:29) There is one Lord, and it is God. We’re called to love him, to worship him only, to delight ourselves in him.
When it comes to highlighting Jeremiah 29:11, I think we have to be cautious of wanting the promises of God more than God himself. Because if we find ourselves obeying God or coming to him only because we want something, the thing that we want God for is likely the very thing that is holding us captive. It becomes the object of our worship instead of God. It becomes the thing we cling to more tightly than the Creator himself.
God eventually brought his people back to Israel, back to the homeland he originally gave them, just as God so graciously brings us back to himself, back to the relationship he originally created us for. We can find comfort in knowing that God ultimately works things for good, but the greatest comfort is first found in the Comforter.
I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart. (Jeremiah 24:7)
Read: Jeremiah 29:1-14
Stepping In: How long were the Israelites in captivity in Babylon? How does that affect your view of God’s timing for his plans in your life? How does it shape your view of God to know that he offered his people such a promise during a time of their rebellion?
Journeying Further: Who brought the Israelites into exile in Babylon? (Verse 4) Who were the 70 years completed for? (Verse 10) What were the Israelites instructed to do in Babylon? (Verse 6)
How do you see God use his people to exalt his name within Babylon? (Daniel 3:28-29, 6:25-26)
Listen: In this podcast, Rev. Tim Keller highlights a different passage in Jeremiah and goes even deeper to provide incredibly insightful teaching on our sin and the command to love God first.