Sometimes when people quote Jeremiah 29:11 they don’t fully understand what it means. Some people will say God knows the plans he has for us so he’s going to make our plans work out. That’s actually not the case. In that verse, it says God knows the plans HE has for us, so this is not about our plans but his. This likely may come from people reading partial quotes of this scripture from memes on social media rather than reading in context as a whole verse.
Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT) For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
The first part of chapter 29 of Jeremiah is a letter that Jeremiah is writing to the Israelites taken in the first siege (598 BC), which would include the prophet, Ezekiel. They want to be restored immediately, but in those verses, before verse 11 God says they have to wait 70 years and that anyone who says otherwise is a false prophet. That means it’s their grandchildren that are going to be restored not them because God said so. This is similar to how Abraham was sent to Canaan to sojourn, but he was told in Gen 15:13-16 that he would not inherit the promised land but his descendants would 400 years later. Sometimes we plan for things to go a specific way but God has different plans. His plans for us are still good (Rom 8:28) and even better than what we thought, but sometimes that means letting go of our own plans which can be hard. We can’t make God change his mind, we can only submit to his plans.
Jer 29:4 This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: 5 “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. 6 Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! 7 And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” 8 This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let your prophets and fortune-tellers who are with you in the land of Babylon trick you. Do not listen to their dreams, 9 because they are telling you lies in my name. I have not sent them,” says the Lord. 10 This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 In those days when you pray, I will listen. 13 If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. 14 I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”
The 70 years is specifically set at that amount because they violated the law for the sabbath year (shmita) for 490 years. Every seven years they were supposed to let the land rest (Lev 25:1-7). There is a specific punishment in the Torah for violating this rule in Lev 26:33-35 and it’s recorded as the reason for the exile period in 2 Chon. 36:21.
Lev 26:33 I will scatter you among the nations and bring out my sword against you. Your land will become desolate, and your cities will lie in ruins. 34 Then at last the land will enjoy its neglected Sabbath years as it lies desolate while you are in exile in the land of your enemies. Then the land will finally rest and enjoy the Sabbaths it missed. 35 As long as the land lies in ruins, it will enjoy the rest you never allowed it to take every seventh year while you lived in it.
2 Chon. 36:21 So the message of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah was fulfilled. The land finally enjoyed its Sabbath rest, lying desolate until the seventy years were fulfilled, just as the prophet had said.
Ezekiel spent his whole life training to be a priest. At age 25 he was taken in the first siege by Babylon. At the beginning of the book of Ezekiel, it’s 5 years later and he gets a vision of God at age 30 calling him to be a prophet instead of a priest, which is a shock since he would have been a priest that year (1 Chron. 23:1-6). The prophets were the mouthpiece of God and had the authority to call out the kings and priests for their sins, so this was an upgrade. This is a promotion he didn’t expect or sign up for, a complete deviation from Ezekiel’s expectations of the future. I imagine that like most of those taken in the first siege, he was praying and hoping God would defeat Babylon and restore them within their lifetimes. However, in Ezekiel ch. 8, he showed Ezekiel a vision of what was happening at the temple. There was idolatry, and other sins going on in Israel, which was just too much and God had to execute his promise to punish Israel for breaking the covenant by exiling them.
In Jeremiah ch. 39-44 we find an example of rebellion against God from Jeremiah’s perspective among the people in Judah who survived the 2nd siege by Babylon (586 BC). Some Jews were taken from Judah to Babylon, and others were left behind. Of those left behind, some of them disobeyed God and followed their own “wisdom” out of fear. The Babylonians put a man named Gedaliah in charge but he is killed a bye a group of rebels. The Rebels are chased off by the rest of the Israelites but they are afraid Babylon will punish them for what the other rebels did they decide to go to Egypt, but first, they asked Jeremiah to consult with God. God said they should stay in Judah to be safe, but they didn’t trust God’s word and called Jeremiah a lair. God said they would be destroyed if they went to Egypt, and they rebelled and did it anyway taking Jeremiah with them. They went to Egypt and kept worshipping idols specifically the “queen of heaven” and when Jeremiah wanted them this would bring judgment they claimed that their queen would protect them from God’s judgment. The Babylonians came and wrecked Egypt and killed off the Jews who rejected God’s word from Jeremiah. God said in the Torah that the Israelites are forbidden from going back to Egypt or doing business with Egypt (Deut 17:16).
This is why Jeremiah writes his letter in chapter 11, to tell them the truth to contrast with what the false prophets were saying and confirm what Ezekiel was preaching, as well as comfort them with a promise of restoration in the future and preservation while they are in exile. They would not get the immediate restoration they wanted but God would be with them and eventually restore them. God has plans for us, our job is to trust them. That’s not always easy, but I believe it is always worth it. The worst we can do is know God’s plans and then rebel against them because they may be fatal consequences. He knows more than we do so, the smartest thing we do is trust him. After all, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10).
Isaiah 55:8 “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. 9 For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
Biblical faith is not about believing hard enough for our own will to be done. Faith is trusting God’s plan for us to be better than what we think is best. The world teaches people to “follow your heart”, even though the bible says that the heart is deceitful in Jeremiah 17:9. In the story of Jonah we see the prophet Jonah rebelling against God’s instructions to prophesy to the Ninevites because he hated them and wanted them to die. He got on a ship and went in the opposite direction of Nineveh. Nevertheless, he gets thrown overboard and swallowed by a sea creature only to be spat out on land in the direction of Nineveh. God had plans for Jonah and the Ninevites despite Jonah’s desire to let them die.
Hebrews 11:1 defines faith and then gives us examples of people from the Old Testament who displayed faith. Noah, Abraham, and Moses listened to what God’s plans were and believed them (Hebrews ch. 11). They could not “believe really hard” for God to change his plans so they could get their worldly desires met. Instead, they trusted him and followed his instructions. The flood was going to happen because of the violence and sin on the earth, and God’s plan was for Noah to preserve humanity (Gen 6:11-22). The Canaanites were going to be replaced because of their wickedness and God’s plan was for the descendants of Abraham that would replace them (Gen 15:13-16). The Pharaoh would not let the Israelites go so God sent Moses to challenge him (Ex 3:1-22). Real faith is trusting God’s plan and following his instruction. That means we should “build the Ark” like Noah, “move to Canaan” like Abraham, and “challenge the Pharaoh” like Moses, even when it looks ridiculous or impossible.
Jesus said to the fishermen Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John, that he would make them “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19, Mark 1:16–18). God turned a shepherd into a King (which is like a “shepherd of men”) when he had Samuel anoint David to be king (1 Sam ch. 16). When Elisha was called by God, the prophet Elijah just showed up out of nowhere and threw his cloak over Elisha as he was plowing in the field and called him to follow him (1 Kings 19:19-21), and Elisha told his family, said goodbye and then left. This reminds me of what Jesus said about those following him in Luke 9:57-62.
Luke 9:57 As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.” 59 He said to another person, “Come, follow me.” The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.” 62 But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”
God’s plans for us may deviate from our plans, but it is important that we recognize that and trust HIS plans because they are good for us and everyone around us.