Sunday, December 04, 2022

“I Know the Plans I Have for You” [Matt's Messages]

“I Know the Plans I Have for You”
Uprooted - The Words of Jeremiah
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
December 4, 2022 :: Jeremiah 29:1-32

“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.”

There’s a reason why this verse is so famous and so favorite.  There’s a reason why this verse is so beloved by so many.  It’s because what this verse says is just so good!

“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.”

Doesn’t that just sound wonderful?!

That the LORD knows His plans. That means that they are already made. They are in the works. They are certain to be fulfilled. Remember how in chapter 1, the LORD said that He is watching to see that His word is fulfilled? The LORD knows His plans. He hasn’t forgotten them. He hasn’t abandoned them. He isn’t going to change them.

And His known plans are good plans. They are plans to prosper His people. The Hebrew word there for “prosper” is “shalom,” the word that we often translate “peace.” These are plans for peace.

And it’s not just peace as in the absence of conflict, but peace as in wholeness and happiness and goodness and well-being. That’s why the NIV has “prosper.”

The LORD plans to “shalom” His people. I don’t know about you, but I want to be shalomed!! “Shalom me, Lord!”

The LORD declares that these known plans are not for His people’s harm but for their peace and prosperity and well-being. They are plans for good!

And they are plans for the future. A future full of hope!

Doesn’t that just sound wonderful?!

There’s a reason why this verse is so beloved by so many. It’s because what it says is just so good!

However! This verse was not written in the first place to you and me. And it doesn’t just show up on its in own, devoid of context. It doesn’t just show up on a poster or a meme or a wall-hanging in a nice little living room. It shows up in the middle of a letter written by the prophet Jeremiah to the exiles of Judah living in enemy territory, Babylon.

To really understand Jeremiah 29:11, you have to understand the rest of Jeremiah 29. And when you do, then you really understand just how wonderful the promise of it is. So, let’s jump back up to verse 1 and see where this promise comes from.

Jeremiah chapter 29, verse 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. (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.) 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...” (vv.1-3). 

Jeremiah has pasted a copy of his prophetic letter into His prophetic book.

He wrote this letter sometimes after 597 BC. That’s when Nebuchadnezzar deported that first group of exiles including King Jehoiachin and his mother (whose name was Nehushta) and a bunch of other leaders. At least 3,000 of them. They had been drug off to Babylon against their will. 

And King Nebuchadnezzar had installed Jehoiachin’s uncle Zedekiah onto the throne as the king of Judah. King Zedekiah then had to send some kind of delegation to Babylon. A guy named Elasah and and a guy named Gemariah. And as they are headed out of town, Jeremiah said to them, “Hey, guys, can you take this letter while you’re going there and pass it on to any of the elders of the people who have survived the terrible journey to Babylon?” And they do.

It’s a lot like one of the Apostle Paul’s letters, isn’t it? A letter coming from afar with words from God through His spokesman to His people. An official letter from a prophet to these people who had been through so so much.

These people were not on a vacation!  They were in exile. 

What does the letter say?

Well, we know it’s going to say that LORD knows His plans for them. And they are good plans. They are shalom plans. And they are hopeful plans. Plans for a hope and future!

But that’s not the first thing that He says. The first thing He says is, “Don’t get excited, guys. You’re going to be there a while.” Look at verse 4. “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 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” (vv.4-6).

I’ve got three points of application that I want to draw out of this chapter this morning for us, and here’s the first one:


The LORD has good plans for His people, but they are future plans, and He has things He wants them to do while they wait for that hopeful future to come.

In the case of these exiles, he wants them to settle down as residents of Babylon! I almost titled this message, “Settle Down.” Like the British poster from World War Two, “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

This was not going to be just a short little exile. Like the late Prophet Hannaniah had predicted last week in chapter 28. He said 2 years, remember?

But the LORD says, “Build houses. Plant gardens. Plan to eat from those gardens. Get married. Don’t wait for the exile to end. Get married now. Have kids. Have them get married! Have them have kids! V.6 ‘Increase in number there.’”

Now that sounds good, and it is good. The LORD is promising to prosper them right where they are. The blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant are in still in place even in exile! They are to be fruitful and increase and not decrease.

But! They are still in exile. And it’s not going to be just two years. 

I’m certain that they were not that happy to read those words. “Oh, Jeremiah sent us a letter? What’s it say?” “Sit tight. It’s going to be a while. Maybe your grandkids will get to come home....Oh."

That’s the context that verse 11 shows up in. These refugees are being told that they are going to stay refugees. They are going to be semi-permanent residents in the land of their captors for three generations.

And then He says something that would have been even harder for them to receive. Look at verse 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’” (v.7).

“Wait. You want me to what?! You’re not just telling me to endure the next 70 years living among these people who brought us here against our will? You’re asking me to seek their shalom?” That’s the Hebrew word under the words “peace and prosperity” in verse 7. The Israelites were supposed to seek the shalom of Babylon.

That’s a new one! Up until now, they were supposed to pray for the shalom of Jerusalem. [Read Psalm 122.] But now, the LORD wants them to pray for the shalom of Babylon. “Pray to the LORD for it, because if it shaloms, you too will shalom.”

Jeremiah is finally prophesying about peace. Up until now, it’s been the bad prophets who have had “peace, peace” on their lips. “Shalom, shalom” where there is no “shalom.”

But now, Jeremiah says that the exiles should seek the shalom of Babylon. To invest in their neighborhood while they are stuck there. We might say, “Bloom where you are planted, even in hostile soil.”

This is closest thing the Old Testament has to our Lord’s New Testament teaching to love, pray for, and bless our enemies. The LORD knows His good plans for His people in the future, but while they are waiting, they are supposed to invest in their hostile neighborhoods.

I think that this is a good model for you and me to think about how we live in modern day America.

Just like we learned a year ago in 1 Peter, we are exiles, too. We are refugees, citizens of the kingdom of heaven, living here as ongoing residents in the kingdoms of this world. This world is not our home, but right now it is where we have our homes.

So what should we do? Invest. Seek the shalom of the city where we are stuck right now. Don’t get too comfortable, but also dig in and be good residents and love our neighbors even if they are not very lovable.

Can you imagine how they must have felt getting these instructions from the LORD? “You want me to what?! Do you know what these people did to my family? And now you want me to seek their shalom? Their well-being, their peace and prosperity!? You want me to pray for Babylon?”

Some of you had a hard time praying for President Trump and America under his administration. Many of you are having a hard time praying for President Biden and American under his administration. You feel like he’s Nebuchadnezzar, and you’re living in Babylon.

Well, I think that’s not a bad way to think about it.

President Biden may not be a Nebuchadnezzar, but we are living in a Babylon. We are not home yet. We never have been. Not until King Jesus returns. But that does not mean that we throw up our hands and quit. It means that roll up our sleeves and dig in. We invest while we wait. We pray for the shalom of our neighborhood, even if it’s a hostile neighborhood.

Of course, we don’t pray that the evil things our neighbors plan will succeed. But we do pray that our neighborhood knows shalom.

Does that make sense? Does that give you ideas about how to live in the here and now? Jeremiah says that when we pray for shalom for our hostile neighbors, then we will experience shalom ourselves, as well. If Babylon is blessed, then the people who are forced to live in Babylon will be blessed along the way.

I think that’s the kind of logic that the Apostle Paul was using in 1 Timothy chapter 2 when he urged prayer for the oppressive Roman government. He wrote, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone–for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

The LORD knows His good plans for us, and His good plans for us include our investing where we are while we wait for His good plans for us to come to fruition. Because it’s going to be a while.

Of course, that’s not what they wanted to hear, and they still had people around them ready to tell them what they did want to hear. They still had people ready to feed them lies. Look at verse 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. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,’ declares the LORD” (vv.8-9).

There He goes again with “Do not listen,” right? Notice what they are not supposed to listen to. “The dreams you encourage them to have.” Remember what we said last week, “Do not listen to those who only tell you what you want to hear.” “The dreams you encourage them to have.”

He’s going to say more about that as the chapter ends, but now we’re getting back to the good stuff. Here’s what the LORD is saying to them. Whether they want to hear it or not, this is the truth (v.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. 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” (vv.10-11).

Do you see what this verse is talking about in the first instance? It’s talking about the return of God’s people from their exile in Babylon. When seventy years are up (same seventy years he said back in chapter 25), the LORD is going to visit His people and bring them home again.

He knows this. He knows His plan. He hasn’t forgotten it. He hasn’t abandoned them.

It’s going to feel like it! Living in exile is hard. They are going to feel like they’ve been dropped into Siberia without a compass or a backpack or satellite phone. They are going to feel totally alone.

But the LORD knows His plans for them. And, He’s actually shared those plans with them! These are not the secret plans that He doesn’t tell anybody about. He’s straight up told them what to expect. Seventy years. And then home. “I know the plans I have for you, and now you do, too.”

You know who took that to the bank? The Prophet Daniel. Read chapter 9 of his book this afternoon and see how Daniel prayed about these seventy years!

Daniel believed that the LORD knew what He was planning. And he believed that what He was planning was good. It was for their shalom and not for their harm. And it was for a hopeful future in the land.

So how should the exiles respond to that? The LORD says how in Jeremiah’s letter. He says, in fact, how they will respond. Verse 12. “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”


He knows the plan. And it’s good. So seek Him.

The LORD told the exiles that they could pray to Him even in Babylon. That’s good news. You don’t have to be in Israel. You don’t have to be at the temple. You can seek Him anywhere. Anywhere in the world. Even in Babylon. And if you seek Him, you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart.

Are you pursuing the Lord?
Are you chasing after Him?
Are you calling upon Him and praying to Him?

That’s what He wants.

Did you open your Bible this week and go looking for Him? 
Did you pray this week, calling upon His name?

The LORD loves to be pursued. The Planner loves to be pursued. 

And it’s so good for us when we do. He says that if we seek Him, we will find Him when we seek Him with all of our hearts.

Of course, that’s the exact opposite of what Judah has been doing. If they had been doing that, they wouldn’t have been exiled to Babylon in the first place!

This is going to take a change of heart. It’s going to take repentance. But the LORD says He’s going to effect that in their hearts, and when He does, they’ll be coming home again. Verse 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.’”

Sounds to me like He knows the plans He has for them, doesn’t He?


Again, they, unlike us, were not all that excited about Jeremiah 29:11–mainly because it seemed so far off. They had other prophets around that had a more favorable time-table than Jeremiah did. And prophets who didn’t require so much repentance. Look at verse 15.

“You may say, ‘The LORD has raised up prophets for us in Babylon,’ 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–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. 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. 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” (vv.15-19).

Last Sunday, Katie H. told me the idea that comes into her mind when I talk about Jeremiah being a broken record about the broken covenant and how the people refused to listen. She said it’s like Jeremiah was an alarm clock saying it’s time to wake up and repent, and the people of Judah kept hitting the snooze button. 

“Don’t want to listen to that. Don’t want to listen to that. Don’t want to wake up. Don’t want to repent.” Snooze. Snooze. Snooze. That’s really good theology, Katie. Excellent. Good job.

But it’s a terrible way to live, isn’t it?

Not listening to the plan of the Lord but listening to someone else’s plan instead.

The LORD says that those who have been hitting the snooze button were the bad figs (remember that from chapter 24?) that were going to be thrown out.

“The sword, famine, and plague.”
“The sword, famine, and plague.”
“The sword, famine, and plague.”

And those who sold them this bag of lies will also be thrown out. That’s the point of verses 20 through 32. Verse 20. “Therefore, hear the word of the LORD, all you exiles whom I have sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon. 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. 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.' 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” (vv.20-24).

These two men are not the kings, Ahab and Zedekiah, but two prophets Ahab and Zedekiah, and they were prophesying lies and living shameful lives. And the LORD knew it. Did you see that in verse 24? “I know it and am a witness to it.”

Just like He knows His good plans for His people, He also knows our wicked hearts and deeds. And the lies we believe and tell. He knows it and is a witness to it, and one day, He will fix it.

The people of Judah in exile should have executed this Ahab and Zedekiah for being false prophets under Deuteronomy chapter 13. But the LORD says that He’ll see to it Himself, and He’ll use Nebuchadnezzar to accomplish it! Nebuchadnezzar is the LORD’s unwitting servant after all.

Nebuchadnezzar likes to throw people into a fiery furnace. It didn’t work against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, but it will work against Ahab and Zedekiah. And rightfully so. And we should take a lesson. That’s where false prophets end up with their damnable lies that we are so tempted to believe.

And the chapter ends with another false prophet. Shemaiah. Just like Uriah and Hannaniah and Ahab and Zedekiah, this is another prophet who only makes one appearance in the Bible, and it’s right here in this chapter.

Shemaiah lives in Babylon right now. He’s an exile. Jeremiah lives in Jerusalem. He’s not yet in exile. Jeremiah sends letters to Babylon with prophecy in them–and notes about Shemaiah. Shemaiah sends letters to Jerusalem with prophecy in them–and notes about Jeremiah. Look at verse 24.

“Tell Shemaiah the Nehelamite, ‘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, '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. So why have you not reprimanded Jeremiah from Anathoth, who poses as a prophet among you?

[He’s trying to get Jeremiah in trouble.] 

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.' [What is that? That’s verse 4. He’s giving a negative review of Jeremiah’s letter to the priest in charge of the temple, hoping to get Jeremiah up on charges of treason. V.29]

Zephaniah the priest, however, read the letter to Jeremiah the prophet. Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: ‘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, 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.'”

Shemaiah was preaching the message everyone to hear. Even though he was in exile, he was preaching that the exile was going to be short and that they didn’t need a change of heart. They just needed a rescue. He was saying that Jeremiah was a crazy man in rebellion against Judah, but it was Shemaiah that was in rebellion against the LORD.

It sounded good, but it was all wrong. The LORD was saying that His people should trust in His plan and not anyone else’s. That’s hard when God’s plan seems to include so much tough stuff, right?

I mean, a lot of people take this one verse out of context and twist it to make it seem like God has a plan for you and it won’t include anything bad. If you belong to the Lord, then it’s all smooth sailing from here. 

But Jeremiah 29:11 teaches no such thing. This is not a prosperity gospel even though the word “prosper” is right there in it. The prospering is down the line.

The perfect shaloming is still to come. It’s in the future. 

These words were written to a people who were foreigners in a foreign land, there against their will. 

It didn’t seem like it was all shalom and no harm. So there are other voices that want to sneak in and tell us that God’s plan is no good. And their plan is “so much better.” They might even call it God’s plan!

Don’t listen to them.

The LORD knows His plans for His people.
They are plans for shalom and not for harm.
They are plans to give us a hope and future forever.

Shemaiah (v.32) was not going to see the “good things,” the good plans that the LORD had for His people because he was preaching his own way. You and I need to put our faith in God’s good plan and then wait to see it come to pass.

Invest in your neighborhood while you wait for His plan.
Seek the Planner with your whole heart.
And trust in His plans and no-one else’s.

There’s a reason why this verse is so beloved. 

It’s because the LORD’s plans for His people are just so good.


Previous Messages in This Series:

01. "The Word of the LORD Came to Me" - Jeremiah 1:1-19
02. "I Bring Charges Against You" - Jeremiah 2:1-3:5
03. "Return to Me" - Jeremiah 3:6-4:4
04. “Oh My Anguish, My Anguish!” - Jeremiah 4:6-5:31
05. "Ask for the Ancient Paths" - Jeremiah 6:1-30
06. “This Is the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD!” - Jeremiah 7:1-8:3
07. "Is There No Balm in Gilead?" - Jeremiah 8:4-9:22
08. "Boast About This" - Jeremiah 9:23-24
09. "Like a Scarecrow in a Melon Patch" - Jeremiah 9:25-10:25
10. "Conspiracy" - Jeremiah 11:1-12:17
11. “My People For My Renown” - Jeremiah 13:1-27
12. "I Can No Longer Show Compassion" - Jeremiah 14:1-15:21
13. "I Have Withdrawn My Blessing, My Love and My Pity" - Jeremiah 16:1-21
14. "I the LORD Search the Heart" - Jeremiah 17:1-27
15. "Go Down to the Potter's House" - Jeremiah 18:1-19:15
16. “Insult and Reproach All Day Long” - Jeremiah 20:1-18
17. "Woe to the Shepherds" - Jeremiah 21:1-23:8
18. "I Did Not Send These Prophets" - Jeremiah 23:9-40
19. "“My Eyes Will Watch Over Them For Their Good” - Jeremiah 24:1-25:38
20. "This Man Should Be Sentenced to Death" - Jeremiah 26:1-24
21. “Under the Yoke” - Jeremiah 27:1-28:17