The Importance of Context: The Bible in Lent Day 26
We like to pick and chooses verses in the Bible. Some, we do well but others are taken completely out of context.
Jeremiah 29:11 is a great example of the importance of context in understanding the intent behind the words.
In Jeremiah, we see a prophet who is mistreated and conspired against because the people don’t want to hear what he has to say about the coming trials and their sin. Instead of trusting in the true word of the Lord, they trust in false prophets who tell them what they want to hear.
But the words of Jeremiah come true, and the leaders are taken into exile along with a remnant of the people.
During this time, the false prophets are telling them it is only for a moment and will soon be remedied. Contrary to these prophets, the true prophet says that it will get much, much worse and that the exiles will never see their land again themselves but will remain in exile for 70 years before returning to Jerusalem. He tells them to build houses, plant gardens, get married, and simply start living their lives, seeking the best for their new land.
In this context, we find the hope of Jeremiah 29:11
This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good 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 on 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. – Jeremiah 29:10-12 RSVCE
Jeremiah continues to remind the people that their sin is severe and they need to stop listening to the false prophets.
But the people conspire against him against because of these words.
Jeremiah 29:11, the passage heralded by many as their hope, enraged these people.
They didn’t want to hope in the future, they wanted a God who acted on their terms. Instead of the covenant relationship with God, they wanted an indulgent God who allowed them to persist in sin that harmed them.
Like a toddler, angry that their parent stops them from running into traffic, they continually wanted to pursue what harmed them, angry at the one who stopped them.
The idea that part of God’s good plan was correction enraged them.
And it’s something we completely skip over when we use this verse as a stand-alone battle cry.
Now, don’t mistake me, this is a hopeful verse. God was working to benefit His people even if they didn’t like or want His work. But the people at the time received this message with anger.
They didn’t want to the plan to prosper them to include exile into Babylon, but it did.
When we miss out on the context of the verse, a call to hope in the midst of discipline, we miss out on the beauty of the application to our own life.
It’s not about God answering our prayers immediately or seeing His might displayed, it’s about trusting that He is working in all things, even the hard things, for our benefit.
The Lord wasn’t displaying His people because He was done with them, He was doing it to purify them. So now we also see how God allows trials in our lives that we might turn from sin and rely on Him with our whole hearts.
This is a prime example of why it is important to read Bible verses in context. It helps us understand what is truly people said and what it meant to the people at the time it was written.