The Most Misused Verse in the Bible?

Why do we twist God’s promises—and how can we stop doing so?

by Chris Blumhofer

j2911“Jeremiah 29:11 is one of the most misused promises in the whole Bible!” a teacher of mine once proclaimed. I nodded in agreement when I first heard my teacher say that, but to be honest I couldn’t tell you what he meant. “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11, ESV). What’s wrong with applying that to our lives?

Here’s how I learned the hard way: I first had the promise of Jeremiah 29 offered to me in a greeting card at my college graduation. Two “Precious Moments”-type figures prayed on the front of a card, and on the inside was God’s promise to give me a future and a hope. Naturally, I knew exactly what God’s future and hope meant for a person in my situation: a job. I had already begun looking for work, and the verse from Jeremiah was a boost to my confidence.

I spent most of the next year trying to find work. I sent hundreds of emails, revised dozens of resumes and cover letters. I perfected the “just checking to see if you received my application and would like to set up a time to talk” phone call. I had a few good interviews but no offers.

In this rather pitiful way, my job-seeking failures evoked a crisis. What was God waiting for? I asked. Where was my future and my hope? And why was God not providing for me? As I waited for answers to these questions, I learned how to read Jeremiah 29 differently and, even more importantly, how to recognize the subtle ways that my view of God had been twisted out of shape.

The real story

Learning to re-read Jeremiah 29 required me to back up and understand the story of Jeremiah, especially chapter 28. That earlier chapter records a confrontation between the prophet Jeremiah and another prophet named Hananiah. They are standing in the Jerusalem temple—which is empty because the Babylonians had ransacked the city—when Hananiah makes a bold promise: God is going to restore Israel in two years. (Two years!) All the things that were stolen, all the people forced into slavery, everything will be better in two short years. The tens of thousands of people living in exile will be coming home soon.

Jeremiah recognized exactly what kind of promise this was. It sounded good in the short term and would make Hananiah and his supporters very popular. Hananiah may even have believed the promise himself. But it wasn’t true. God had no plans to make everything better in two years. Speaking through Jeremiah, God says to Hananiah, “You have made these people trust in a lie.”

Then comes Jeremiah 29…

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