Jer 29:1 This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.

Jer 29:2 (This was after King Jehoiachin and the queen mother, the court officials and the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen and the artisans had gone into exile from Jerusalem.)

Jer 29:3 He entrusted the letter to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. It said:

Jer 29:4 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:

Jer 29:5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.

Jer 29:6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.

Jer 29:7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

It is as if God is saying: “Accept your punishment; get used to living in exile.  You will not be here for ever, but you will be here for many years.  If you regard Babylon as simply ‘the enemy’ and yourselves as ‘the victims’, then you will neither take proper responsibility for what you have done nor find peace in the land to which you have been exiled.”

Therefore, ‘the exiles should pray for Babylon because it is their home and because in the near future, the fate of Babylon will be the fate of the people as well. God will continue to use the enemy to instruct his people. Perhaps the people will offer some witness to the “enemy” and thereby lead to another aspect of God’s instruction—to be a light to the nations (Isa. 42:6; 49:6; 51:4).’ (NIVAC)

Jer 29:8 Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have.

‘True hope is based on the revealed Word of God, not on the “dream messages” of self-appointed prophets’ (Wiersbe)

Jer 29:9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the LORD.

Jer 29:10 This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.

“When seventy years are completed for Babylon” – this in contradiction of the false prophets, v8f, who were predicting that the exile in Babylon would be of short duration, and that the people should therefore not put roots down there. Note, we should not only oppose false teaching, but present the truth. You won’t persuade someone to pull down the house he has built on the sand, unless you can also point to a rock which will provide a surer foundation. (Henry)

‘Though the deliverance of the church do not come in our time, it is sufficient that it will come in God’s time, and we are sure that that is the best time.’ (Henry)

“I will…fulfill my gracious promise” – ‘Let not the failing of those predictions which are delivered as from God lessen the reputation of those that really are from him.’ (Henry)

Jer 29:11 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.

“I know the plans” – Though we often do not know our own minds, and when we do, our actions are often far different, it is not so with God. He knows his own mind, and his actions perfectly match his thoughts.

“Plans to prosper you and not to harm you” – It would be easy to suppose, during a time of protracted adversity, that God’s purposes were against us. But he knows that the contrary is the case. Even that which seem evil is designed for good.

‘From what is said in vv. 4–9 the recipients of the letter would not see this change from judgment to redemption, but perhaps their children or grandchildren would.’ (Longman)

“Plans to give you hope and a future” – ‘The nation shall not come to an end; the exile shall be followed by a restoration.’ (Barnes)

In context, this wonderful promise was given to his people during their time exile.  The fulfilment of the promise to restore Israel’s fortunes would not be seen by the present generation, but rather their children or even their grandchildren (v10).  The promise is framed in terms that demand an earnest seeking and praying to the Lord (v12f).  For these reasons, it would be quite wrong to apply this verse glibly and indiscriminately to ourselves today.

Plans to prosper and not to harm – really?

John Lennox asks what it meant then, and what it means now, for God to have ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you’.  It certainly didn’t look like that to Daniel and his three young friends, as they stumbled out of Jerusalem, looking back (as we may supposed) with tear-filled eyes at the sorrowful faces of their parents.

What does Jeremiah mean when he says that God has plans not to harm us? Were Daniel and his friends not harmed by being wrenched from the stability of their homes and taken to Babylon? Is a person not harmed by injury or disease, persecution or famine? Does a cancer that takes a wife from her husband, or a mother from her children, not harm that husband and family? What then can it mean, that God has plans not to harm us?

Lennox points us to the words of Jesus, when he makes it clear that the kind of harm that kills the body is not harm as God sees it (Mt 10:28-31).  And Peter follows suit, when he teaches that when we suffer for righteousness’ sake we will be blessed (1 Pet 3:13f).

We need, then, to look at harm, and the ultimate ‘harm’ (death) from an eternal perspective:-

‘If physical death is the end of existence, as atheists assert, then Peter’s words are utterly empty. Worse than that, they are positively deceitful. If death is not the end, but a doorway that marks a transition into something much bigger, everything looks different.’

Daniel himself was given this assurance from a heavenly messenger:- ‘But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.’ (Daniel 12:13.)

That is a perspective that a naturalistic worldview cannot envisage:-

‘By definition, a supernatural hole in history cannot be seen through the lens of a materialistic (or naturalistic) world-view. But that does not prove it isn’t there. A physical apparatus that is designed only to detect light in the visible spectrum will never detect X-rays, but it doesn’t prove that X-rays don’t exist.’

Lennox, John C. Against the Flow: The inspiration of Daniel in an age of relativism

Jer 29:12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.

‘When God designs mercy, he puts it into the hearts of his people to pray for the mercy designed. When such a spirit of prayer is poured out, it is a sure sign of coming mercy.’ (JFB)

Jer 29:13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

This promise of exquisite tenderness echoes Deut 4:29-30, and anticipates Mt 7:8.

Jer 29:14 I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

Jer 29:15 You may say, “The LORD has raised up prophets for us in Babylon,”

Jer 29:16 but this is what the LORD says about the king who sits on David’s throne and all the people who remain in this city, your countrymen who did not go with you into exile–

Jer 29:17 yes, this is what the LORD Almighty says: “I will send the sword, famine and plague against them and I will make them like poor figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten.

Jer 29:18 I will pursue them with the sword, famine and plague and will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth and an object of cursing and horror, of scorn and reproach, among all the nations where I drive them.

Jer 29:19 For they have not listened to my words,” declares the LORD, “words that I sent to them again and again by my servants the prophets. And you exiles have not listened either,” declares the LORD.

Jer 29:20 Therefore, hear the word of the LORD, all you exiles whom I have sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon.

Jer 29:21 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says about Ahab son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying lies to you in my name: “I will hand them over to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he will put them to death before your very eyes.

Jer 29:22 Because of them, all the exiles from Judah who are in Babylon will use this curse: ‘The LORD treat you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon burned in the fire.’

Jer 29:23 For they have done outrageous things in Israel; they have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives and in my name have spoken lies, which I did not tell them to do. I know it and am a witness to it,” declares the LORD.

Jer 29:24 Tell Shemaiah the Nehelamite, 25 “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: You sent letters in your own name to all the people in Jerusalem, to Zephaniah son of Maaseiah the priest, and to all the other priests. You said to Zephaniah,

Jer 29:26 ‘The LORD has appointed you priest in place of Jehoiada to be in charge of the house of the LORD; you should put any madman who acts like a prophet into the stocks and neck-irons.

Jer 29:27 So why have you not reprimanded Jeremiah from Anathoth, who poses as a prophet among you?

Jer 29:28 He has sent this message to us in Babylon: It will be a long time. Therefore build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.'”

Jer 29:29 Zephaniah the priest, however, read the letter to Jeremiah the prophet.

Jer 29:30 Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah:

Jer 29:31 “Send this message to all the exiles: ‘This is what the LORD says about Shemaiah the Nehelamite: Because Shemaiah has prophesied to you, even though I did not send him, and has led you to believe a lie,

Jer 29:32 this is what the LORD says: I will surely punish Shemaiah the Nehelamite and his descendants. He will have no one left among this people, nor will he see the good things I will do for my people, declares the LORD, because he has preached rebellion against me.'”