Jer 29:11 (NIV) "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."Ironically, this verse--on so many hearts, posters and mirrors--is smack dab in the middle of God's pronounced judgment of 70 years captivity.
The judgment of bondage against Judah begins in Jeremiah 25, because "you did not listen to me." At the announcement of God's penalty, the leaders try to kill the messenger Jeremiah for having spoken desolation, but he escapes. Later, Jeremiah puts a yoke on his neck in chapter 27 to symbolize God's judgment to be in bondage to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon for 70 years of captivity.
The message was bleak, and the people did not like it. So they collected prophets and teachers to themselves to tell them pleasant things. The resultant contest between Hananiah the false prophet and Jeremiah in chapter 28 is a case study for discernment and contrast between true and false prophets; and I encourage you to read it and think how you might have responded had you been there.
Hananiah was preaching short-term prosperity and "peace, peace" when there was to be no peace. Jeremiah had a sober and true message--dismal and condemning in the short term but not without a future hope. Hananiah had showmanship and popular support. Jeremiah had stood in the council of the Lord, and was speaking the very words of God.
In chapter 29, Jeremiah sends a letter to the exiles. Regardless of the false-hope message of Hananiah's short term victory and vindication, God had made up His mind--70 years of captivity. In this context, the Lord instructs the people not to be overcome by the severity of the judgment, but to take heart in a long distant promise. They are to build houses, have children, carry on, etc., and not shrink back from all hope.
Here it is, in context:
Jer 29:10-14 (NIV) 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. 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. 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."70 years is generally regarded as a "type" of a human life span. It is the time that represents our sojourn here on earth.
Ps 90:10 (NIV) The length of our days is seventy years--or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.So it is fitting that so many of us have taken a shine to this verse. For we too have been sentenced to live as exiles in this world for seventy years--so to speak.
Jeremiah 29:11 is thus a ray of hope in this dark world--not of short-term success and prosperity, but rather that after the just sentence of God has passed... we will be restored.
But let us not trifle with the severity of the prophecy of seventy years of captivity, lest we hanker after the Hananiahs out there who are winning such popular support.
1 Pet 2:11 (NRS) Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul.