There are two passages in the Bible that get misapplied more than any others. The first is Jeremiah 29:11, the second is Deuteronomy 28:1-14. These two passages are routinely ripped from their context and abused by all types of Christians. Tall, short, skinny, hefty, rich, poor, it makes no difference. It seems that these two passages have been rendered defenseless against the advent of technology and the “single-scripture-written-in-whimsical-fonts-over-a-picture-of-a-river-forrest-mountain-or-beach-then-posted-on-instagram-to-seem-spiritual” craze.
Well, I’m here to bring the context kicking and screaming into view for you. If you want to know how to irritate me, say that you know God has good plans for you, then quotes one of these two passages as proof. (Either that, or say that Satan’s name before he fell was Lucifer, but that’s the topic of another post for another time.)
If that just hit too close to home for you, let me clarify: God does have good plans for you, but my definition of good often involves pain, poverty, and death. Jesus said that those who are poor and weak were blessed. The Apostles rejoiced that they were counted worthy to share in Christ’s suffering. Paul prayed 3 times that the thorn would be removed from his flesh, and each time the answer came back, “My grace is sufficient.” So God’s plans are absolutely good, but good in the ultimate sense. Good in the sense that he is glorified. Good in the sense that unity with Him is the best good, and that unity often comes through hardship. Good in the sense that if you are killed for your faith, you will be with Christ and the gospel will be preached.
Okay… I’ll put this particular rant on pause until I show you what I mean from the text.
If you want to know how to deal with this passage, all you have to do is read Jeremiah 29:10. “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.” Now ask yourself a simple question, “When was the last time I spent 70 years in Babylon, then returned to the place I left from?” Answer: Never. You didn’t go into exile for seventy years. God wasn’t talking directly to you in this passage. God was talking to the nation of Judah as they enter Babylon as punishment for their wanderings from God.
None of the “promises” in this passage can be directly applied to us in the 21st century. If you didn’t go into exile in Babylon, you can’t claim those. You can’t say, “The lord is going to restore MY fortunes, and gather ME back from the nations and place ME in the land he promised ME” because he didn’t promise you any land, or take away your fortunes, or scatter your nation, unless there are Jews from 586 BC reading this blog post. If there are, I apologize profusely. By all means Jew-from-586-BC-who-went-into-Babylonian-exile, claim the promises to land, fortunes, safety, and the gathering of your people.
Does that mean the passage is useless? By no means! What can you do with this passage? You can say, “the Lord, on this occasion, showed mercy in the midst of judgment, by restoring those exiled.” You can say, “God will restore the people of Israel because of the promises he made with them.” You can say, “The Jews have a claim on the land of Israel.” There are many other things you can accurately say, and these conclusions are readily defended by the full revelation of scripture. This promise in particular shows us just how much God cares about his chosen people.
Even in the midst of destroying their nation he promises their redemption. By all means, preach that sermon. Do not preach the sermon that says every basic white girl who likes Starbucks too much and posts this verse on their twitter feed will be prospered monetarily and kept from all forms of harm. She may be, but then again, she may not. There is no scriptural guarantee for her.
This passage is near the end of Deuteronomy, the second telling of the Mosaic Law, (deutero – second; nomos – law) in which God gives Moses a list of physical blessings and physical judgments that will befall the people of Israel if they obey or disobey the laws he just gave them.
Let’s go back a ways…
So, The nation of Israel is coming out of Egypt, and they’re crossing the Red Sea, and they’re heading to Mt. Sinai, and Moses is going up the mountain to get the law, and then receives a big long list of do’s and don’ts. Yep They’re in the bible. 613 commandments tell the Israelites how to behave. In return for following these rules, God says that he will bless the people of Israel. He says he will give them things like abundant crops, and herds, victory in battle, well-known prosperity, etc. Basically, he promised them a thriving economy and military. They would “lend to many nations but not borrow.” Their GDP would be off the chart.
After listing all of those wonderful blessings, God goes into great detail about what will happen to them if they don’t follow the rules. Read the rest of the chapter and you will find promises nobody wants to claim. There are promises to the Israelites of confusion, destruction, becoming bird food, boils, tumors, scabs, madness, blindness, the rape of their wives, slavery, and even cannibalism. Seriously… read the rest of Deuteronomy 28. I’m not making any of that up.
The point? You can’t claim the blessings but leave the curses. God gave them both to the same people at the same time for the same reason: obedience to the Mosaic Law. In fact, you can’t claim that God gave you promises to any of these blessings or curses, unless you’re an Israelite, living under the Mosaic Law between the years of 1446BC and 32AD. This passage is primarily about and for Israel, not the church. We have a new law, as James would say, a royal law. The law of grace.
I highly encourage you to read Romans or Galatians for a great explanation of the difference between the Law of Moses and the law of grace. What does it all mean? It means that our sins against God will not be held against us simply for the asking. Repentance is all that is necessary for us to be reunited with God.
More specifically, it means that the promises made directly to us are a lot broader and a lot better. We get to experience life eternal and life abundant. Let me clarify another term: abundant. An abundant life is not necessarily one filled with money, fast cars, happy feelings and immunity to every major disease. It’s a life filled with love for your brother and for God, peace from God that surpasses all understanding, and joy unspeakable. These are the promises that Christians can claim, and they’re a lot better than the ones the Israelites had. These promises are for eternal blessings, and (in Jeremiah 29 and Deuteronomy 28) the Israelites had mostly temporal ones.
None of this means that God necessarily WON’T bless you with money, success, fame, power, etc. but I am confident that there’s nothing saying he has to.
Claiming that God is going to “prosper” you (“Prosper” is in quotes because it usually means money or physical health when people who claim the promise misquote it. In reality, “prosper,” means more than that, but I digress.) because of the promises he made to Israel is like claiming that the lottery owes you money because your uncle had a winning ticket.
Here is a more sure promise from Peter that is more directly applicable to us Christians in this dispensation. “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” There’s nothing about money or health in there, friends.
So here’s the real question, if God doesn’t have plans to prosper you on this earth, with money, power, freedom from diseases, and so on, will you still trust Him? Can you settle for the promises to life eternal and life abundant even, if he doesn’t have the life of luxury lined up in your future? Can you rest in the comfort of knowing that God will work all things together for good, but not necessarily that all things ARE good? If so, bravo. If not, why not? How big is your God?