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“I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for.” - Jeremiah 29:11

A verse that, I am sure, most of us have run into in one way or another – whether it be in an encouraging note from a friend/loved one in a bad time; as a way for someone to try and motivate you towards bigger and better things; or as a prophetic promise given to you. It is a verse that has been over-used, “done to death”, as a quick solution to sticky/uncomfortable emotions or situations. It has also become one of the flagship verses for any prosperity gospel worth its salt (and then you and I both know what the hope equals…think The Apprentice’s theme song…). It has become a verse all about how God’s only desire is to help us prosper, to protect us and to ensure our every need satisfied while nothing bad happens to us. But is this message that we have become so accustomed to what God initially intended? Was that the message He was trying to convey to his people? For those answers we will need to look a bit farther than we might be used to – at the rest of the text surrounding the verse…

The verse forms part of a message, conveying God’s will, sent by the prophet Jeremiah to the exiled Israelites in Babylon. And here we have to pause a moment to allow for sinking in… Because of Israel’s constant rebellion and disobedience, God had permitted for His people to be defeated and taken away into exile in Babylon. They had gone from free citizens of their own kingdom, to being a small minority in an alien culture constantly being mocked, harassed and humiliated. Their cities, their homes and their land, had been destroyed – worse yet, the Temple, the earthly dwelling-place of God had been flattened to the ground. And now they were being kept prisoner so far away from Zion that it must be impossible for God to be with them. Under these circumstances “holding onto their faith” becomes an ever-dwindling daily battle. And it is into exactly these circumstances that Jeremiah speaks, that he brings his people news of God’s promise of prosperity and hope. But then not the prosperity and hope that they were expecting…

“The LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those people whom he allowed Nebuchadnezzar to take away as prisoners from Jerusalem to Babylonia: ‘Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what you grow in them. Marry and have children. Then let your children get married, so that they also may have children. You must increase in numbers and not decrease. Work for the good of the cities where I have made you go as prisoners. Pray to me on their behalf, because if they are prosperous, you will be prosperous too. I, the LORD, the God of Israel, warn you not to let yourselves be deceived by the prophets who live among you or by any others who claim they can predict the future. Do not pay any attention to theirt dreams. They are telling you lies in my name. I did not send them. I, the LORD Almighty, have spoken’. The LORD says, ‘When Babylonia’s seventy years are over, I will show my concern for you and keep my promise to bring you back home’. – Jeremiah 29:4-10

We cry out: "Save us as we want to be saved!" The Israelites were hoping for a power play from God – that He would come forcefully and redeem them from exile; taking them back to the Promised Land and blessing them with more than they could need. THAT would be prosperity and hope! And, if we were only to read verse 11, then that hope could very well sound very plausible. BUT, taking the rest of the text into account, that type of future fades; for, instead of immediate rescue and restoration, God proclaims that the exiles should “settle in comfortably” (i.e. build houses and gardens, marry and have kids etc.) and help build Babylon’s interests. Not only that, He commands them to PRAY FOR Babylon and its people! Because Babylon’s interests are now their interests…the country that still humiliated them at every turn was now their country too…A truth that God ensures is “taken home” by His emphasis on the fact that anyone dreaming or saying anything different – proclaiming quick rescue and immanent departure – should be known for the liars they are. There IS promise of rescue, but then only in seventy years time. It is after this “wonderful” news that we find verse 11, promising prosperity and hope. So how is that supposed to work?! Luckily, God is not done talking yet…

“Then you will call to me. You will come and pray to me, and I will answer you. You will seek me, and you will find me because you will seek me with all your heart.” – Jeremiah 29:12-13

Wherein lie the prosperity, the future and the hope that God promises in verse 11? NOT in physical rescue/redemption or material success, BUT in the NEW ESSENCE/NATURE of the relationship between themselves and God. It is not rescue that comes first or is most important for their future and their joy – the foundation of the new future and joy that God promises is thus not to be found or bound to circumstance. It is to be found in God’s eternal self/essence and in His being with them in any circumstance.

Why is it important for us to hear at the beginning of 2012? Because we can (and do) also easily feel like we are in an alien situation/country and that no one is looking after our interests (in fact, that some people are fighting against our interests). We also tend to focus on the negatives of our circumstances – because they do make our lives unpleasant – and lose faith. But faith is to look past circumstance and to see God there.

“An undivided heart, which worships God alone, and trusts Him as it should, is raised above all anxiety for earthly wants.” - John Cunningham Geikie

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