I find it difficult to sit through sermons I don’t agree with although I do try to accept what is being said, take something home from the Word and respect the preacher. But like eating a fish with a gazillion bones, I sit through some sermons bone picking left and right. The end result sometimes is that I go home with little bits of mashed up meat and don’t enjoy the meal much. Especially when the entire message is built upon things I don’t agree with. I reserve my right to be wrong, because I’m not perfect. But sometimes its just really hard, like listening to really bad music.

This week was particularly difficult because the message was built on certain assumptions that I don’t agree with. The assumption is that: God has an individual will for my life (and yours) and we need to be in the center of that will. That teaching is unbiblical and impractical to me. I did pick out some good things from the message but a majority of it was thrown out the window along with the obvious confusion between the “individual” and moral will (and perhaps even sovereign will).

It is a fine balance to receive the preacher’s word with openess and eagerness and not to leave our brains at the church door.

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
Acts 17:11

The Bereans did it. So can I.

The exiled Jews

Atfer this verse was mentioned on Sunday, I was keen to study it again.

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 29:11

Regarding prophetic literature, it is important to understand that all biblical prophesy has a view of God’s ongoing redemptive purpose, it always unveils God’s sovereign plan and intentions. Most importantly, it always points us toward God. In historical prophesy (regarding events already past), it is important to look at the environmental context of the verse – religious, military and political history of past, current and future events and timelines.

Just a short time line:

  • 609BC. Judah was under the Egytpian rule (2 Kings 23:34-35)
  • 605BC. Nebuchadnezzer defeated Egytpians
  • 605BC. Jeremiah prophesied of the attack of the Babylonians and 70 years of exile
  • 605BC. Nebuchadnezzar attacked Judah (2 Kings 24:1)
  • 605BC. King of Judah (Jehoiakim) paid tribute to Nebuchadnezzar and act as vassal king
  • 605BC. Nebuchadnezzar took hostages/exiles to Babylon (Daniel 1:1-6, Jeremiah 24:1)
  • 601BC. Egypt defeated Babylonians
  • 601BC. Jehoiakim switched back to loyalty with Egypt (2 Kings 24:1)
  • 598BC. Babylonia attacked Jerusalem (2 Kings 24:10)
  • 597BC. Jehoiakim’s death (succeeded by Jehoiachin) and surrendered to Babylonians (2 Kings 24:11-12)
  • 597BC. Nebuchadnezzar placed Zedekiah as vassal king, looted Jerusalem and deported Jehoiachin and 10,000 others to Babylon (2 Kings 24:13-15)
  • 588BC. Zedekiah revolts against Babylon against the advise of Jeremiah (2 Kings 25:1-7, Jeremiah 32:1-5)
  • 586BC. Jerusalem destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar due to revolt (2 Kings 25:8-20, Jeremiah 32:26-35)

Jeremiah’s purpose was to exhort Judah to repentance and to obedience to God’s word. He warns of (and eventually predicts) judgement in response to Judah’s disobedience. He also historically records the nation’s rise and fall and his life (imprisonment, advice to the king and dealings with false prophets).

Jeremiah 29:11 was written in 594BC, 10 years after the first prophesied 70 years of exile, where false prophests have been saying that their captivity would be very short (Jeremiah 28). Jeremiah replies, debunking the false prophets and tells the people to settle in exile (Jeremiah 29:1-9). Jeremiah 29:11 was written with a sense of looking to the future, it is sandwiched by v11 and v14 that talks about the end of the exile. It was written as a sense of hope that even through the 70 years of exile (and after), that God is sovereign and His plans will endure.

Does this passage mean that God has an individual plan for our lives? Probably not, it would be more correct to say that his actions have a good purpose and that it means his purpose cannot be hindered. Also, this passage was addressed to a group of people, namely the exiles in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:16, Jeremiah 29:19). There is no inclination of individuality. The “plans” that God has for us is obviously not referring to an individual life plan, but a plan for redemption. A very similar verse in the New Testament is Ephesians 1:11.

The Hebrew word used for prosperity is Shalom (שָׁלוֹם), which is normally translated as safety or can figuratively mean well, happy, friendly. But this word can mean different things abstractly as welfare, such as wholeness, harmony, health, peace (between people and between man and God). It is opposed to harm or ra’ (רָע), which means bad or evil. I would imagine that prosper might be a little far fetched at this stage, the readers probably imagined safety and well being. Similarly used in Jeremiah 38:4.

His words are one of comfort to a people who probably think that they are being thrown and tossed around like a ball. After being battered multiple times by opposing nations and conquered, they might think that God hates them and is out to kill them. Life in exile certainly isn’t easy (read Daniel). But through it all, God assures that his thoughts toward them are only good and he is not out to kill them but to restore them to Himself (Jeremiah 29:12-13).

Seeing it from New Testament eyes, we as believers are all in exile (1 Peter 1:1, 1 Peter 1:17, 1 Peter 2:11). Our dwelling is in heaven (Psalm 119:19, Hebrews 11:13) and our present sufferings and struggles on earth will eventually pass (John 16:33). We can be assured that even through our present difficulties whatever they may be, God has a brilliant redemption plan, one that only wants our good (John 17). It is not an escape route from this life, but one that brings us through both the good and bad days, all of our days. His plan and purpose of redemption through Jesus Christ, the prince of peace (shalom; Isaiah 9:6-7) has already stood and He is good indeed!