Jeremiah 29:11 states, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope”. Verses of promise. Given to the children of Israel but they still seem to resonate with us. They paint the picture of the God that we all love and desire. We picture him as a heavenly father that wants good for us. That has a plan for our lives that does not include evil but prosperity and a bright future. We also understand our role. It is stated for us in the next verses, “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Words of hope and promise. If we will repent and seek the Lord then all will be well. We understand that we must do so with all of our hearts or this formula will not work. That caveat seems to help us make sense of the times when we truly believe we are seeking the Lord and yet we do not receive the prosperity that we were hoping for.
The key, though, to truly understanding the greatness of God’s promises is found in the context of the verses. God is speaking these words to the children of Judah as they were being forced into Babylon. Listen to verse 10, “For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.” It is here that you begin to understand the greatness of the promises of God. He made a covenant with Israel. If they obeyed, then he would bless them. If they disobeyed, then he would discipline them. God is keeping his promise by sending them into Babylon. They have disobeyed. They have failed to keep the Sabbath years. So for seventy years, they will be scattered and in captivity. They will be servants in another land. What will happen at the end of seventy years? Our first answer is what we believe to be the obvious answer...the people will repent and seek the Lord once again. God, we believe, in his omniscience knows that this will happen at seventy years and so he shares that with them. But do not miss a few phrases. Notice that God says that at the end of seventy years, “I will visit you”. God will come to Israel and do what? He will come and fulfill his promise of blessings for obedience. Notice the first word of verse 11. I will visit (verse 10) “FOR I know the plans I have for you”. I will come, not because of your repentance but because I know that I have made plans to prosper you. I remember my promise. Look at the first word of verse 12, “Then”. It is after God comes and visits, because of his great plans and promise, “then” they will call upon him and repent. God visits, moves their heart, brings repentance, they repent, and then they are able to receive his promise of prosperity. It is all a work of God. He knows that it will be seventy years because it is then that he will visit. It is then that he will change their hearts so that they will repent. He does not dictate that they repent but he does a work in their heart that brings a spirit of repentance that the people respond with.
God is a good father. He does love to prosper us, to bring us blessing, and to give us a bright future. We do need to repent and follow him with our whole lives. But never miss that even that repentance is first a work that he does in our hearts. Don’t miss that even the seventy years was part of his promise and were a measured discipline from a loving father. Do not miss that the promises made to us are even greater than these promises made to Israel. They received forgiveness and grace based on looking forward to the Messiah. We have received all good things based on the finished work of Jesus on the cross. Our promises are made secure because the work was finished on the cross.
Our present crisis of isolation and disease is also measured by our loving father. Lord willing, it will not be for seventy years but it will also not be one day shorter or longer than God has planned. This plan of God, like all plans, is designed to bring him glory by conforming his children to the image of his son and bringing his enemies to their knees. God, in his great wisdom and power, will use even this time to prosper us and to bless us. It is not the path that we would choose but it is the path that is part of his great plan. We walk one step at a time knowing that in his time he will bring this to an end. May we be reminded today of his goodness, his great promises, and his complete sovereignty. May this bring us hope.