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 (Jer 29:11).
The words Jeremiah 29:11 often encourages believers who experience difficulty, and they in turn share the verse with others to give hope when much in this world seems hopeless. While almost everyone recognizes the good desire here to share a promise from God’s word, some criticize Christians for doing so.
The argument goes something like this. Jeremiah 29 is a letter from Jerusalem to exiles, and the promise relates to God’s plan to return the exiles back to Judea after 70 years (Jer 29:10). So, as the argument goes, Christians should not share this as a promise for them. It is for Israel, not us. We may learn some principal lesson here about God fulfilling his promises, but we should not claim for ourselves.
Not because I think it wise to ignore the historical context of Jeremiah 29 nor because I am unaware of the land promise to Israel. Rather, I am persuaded that the whole Scripture addresses Christians, including Jeremiah 29:11.
Let me explain why.
Exiles and Sojourners
While many Israelites lived in exile and awaited their return to the Promised Land under the Davidic King, they for a time sojourned among the nations. Jeremiah sent a letter to these exilic Israelites, which contained an address from God. The Lord God then tells the exiles how to live as exiles and sojourners in the world.
The New Testament models the Christian’s existence in the world after Israel’s exile to the nations. Hence, we are called exiles whose true home and citizenship are in heaven (1 Pet 2:11; Phil 3:20). Christians identify with heaven while living here on earth.
Based on these parallels and more importantly based on the reality that the Old Testament was written entirely for us upon whom the ends of the ages have come to show us how to live the Christian life (1 Cor 9:10; 1 Cor 10:11; Rom 15:4; Heb 1:2), Jeremiah 29 speaks to us as Christians.
Today, If You Hear the Spirit’s Voice …
To make the case plainer, consider the Book of Hebrews. It opens by telling us that God spoke in the past in various ways and parts. But now, the author claims, God speaks to us in the Son (Heb 1:2).
How does he speak to us in the Son?
Hebrews 1 and 2 answer by citing the Old Testament relentlessly, and interpreting these passages as either the Father speaking to the Son or the Son speaking directly (with the possible exception of Psalm 8).
In chapter 3, we learn that Psalm 95 addresses us directly and that the Spirit speaks in this psalm. When the author writes, “as the Holy Spirit says,” he uses the present tense. The Holy Spirit speaks to us directly in Psalm 95 now, today, in the present.
If that were not obvious enough, the author of Hebrews understands the phrase “Today, if you hear his voice” in Psalm 95:7 to mean, well, Today (his day). After citing Psalm 95, he writes, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13). He repeats the word today three more times to make his point (3:15; 4:6, 7).
In fact, the well-known passage, Hebrews 4:12, particularly means that God’s word is living because the Holy Spirit speaks to us in the Old Testament, often under the persons of the Father and Son as Hebrews 1 and 2 demonstrate. The living word lives because the Spirit speaks directly to us in the Old Testament.
I could cite passage after passage to prove the point. But I suspect this will suffice to show that the inspired authors of the New Testament see the triune God speaking in the Old Testament, which addresses us directly.
Paul can even cite a relatively unknown law like “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain” and say: “It was written for our sake” (1 Cor 9:9–10). Jude knows that Jesus led Israel out of Egypt (v. 5). Paul knows Christ was the rock Moses struck (10:4). Jesus knows Psalm 110 records the Father speaking to the Son (Matt 22:41–46).
Scripture knows what it is. The Holy Spirit tells us through the apostolic memoirs and writing. We know that in the Old Testament, God speaks to us in the Son. Today, he still addresses us by his Spirit.
Jeremiah 29:11 by type shows us how God commits to his promise to save and the hope of the resurrection and entrance into the true Promised Land. Through the history of Israel, God was making known to us upon whom the ends of the ages have come what confidence we can have. God will, after our years of sojourning in a foreign land (1 Pet 2:11), take us home to heaven (Phil 3:20), the heavenly Mount Zion (Heb 12:22).
Today, if you hear this verse, the Spirit speaks to you as an exile and sojourner in this world. He wants you to live your life now for the peace of the city of man until he returns to take you home (Jer 29:7).
The promise has an eschatological end (heaven) but grounds us during our sojourn here on earth so that we know how to live as political citizens today. It tells us to build homes and seek the welfare of our nation while we await our coming resurrection and full realization of the Promised Land—that city made without human hand, the city of God.
The Spirit of God says: 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.
It is true, and it is for you.