Different people want different things in a disaster. There is one type of person who wants a plan. No matter how bad things are around me, nothing makes them feel better than a solid step 1, step 2 plan to get them where they want to go whether that is budgets or home repair. Some things, of course, are beyond one’s personal ability to fix, like, say the state of a nation. I know many have felt that way about America, particularly so in the last ten years. It gets really hard to watch the news because there is very little that any particular individual can do about the culture of a country. We all know that if there is going to be any sort of real, lasting change, God is going to have to be the one to make it happen. That’s where we find this verse in 2 Chronicles 7:14 that seems to give us the ultimate step 1, step 2 scenario! The planning people are satisfied!
But there is another group of people who would rather have a powerful promise that someone will take care of their problem. These types of folks see the road in front of them, and honestly, a plan is a little overwhelming! They’re not so much into step 1, step 2, because they know that they are not powerful enough or confident enough to implement those things. They would rather have someone that they can lean against to do it for them, thus ensuring that it is going to be done correctly. For folks like this, Jeremiah 29:11 seems like the perfect place to land on, and indeed, many have made this verse a theme for their lives, claiming it on everything from business to highschool graduation cards.
Both of these passages are absolutely perfect for an “Oh, so close” kind of interpretation. People are tantalizingly close to correct in what these passages mean, but those promises were made to different people, and the way we tend to claim them puts our focus in the wrong place. It is true that God will work things out for our ultimate good, and in the end, the glory that awaits us will make all of our problems seem small (Romans 8), but if we think that Jeremiah 29:11 means that we will never go through any long-term struggle, we are simply wrong. And while it is true that prayers and repentance do bring blessing even to a whole nation, 2 Chronicles 7 isn’t a blueprint or formula to course correct a nation. There is actually a greater Kingdom coming that should be our greatest focus (Bargerhuff, Eric The Most Misused Verses in the Bible, 76).
Today we are going to look at two points today: God makes promises to specific people and God’s best is yet to come.
Here is where the context of the people is important to keep in mind. God is in the midst of relaying the covenant that He has made with Israel, in particular the covenant with David. The promise is still sure that the throne will last forever, BUT that doesn’t mean that they are able to do whatever they want to. When they stray from God’s commands they will experience hardship, but if they repent, the skies open back up, enemies are defeated, and the land is healed.
If we are going to understand the specific promises in these verses, we are going to have to remember some covenants, aka, the context of the people.
Let’s go ALLLLLL the way back to Genesis 12:1-3. In these verses, what we have here is a covenant with God (later ratified in chapters 15 and 17) between Himself and the nation of Israel. All of the descendants of Abraham, by virtue of being his descendants, are given the incredible promise of experiencing divine blessing, and having the opportunity of passing on that divine blessing. That promise was not made with other nations. The Egyptians couldn’t claim those promises. The Canaanites didn’t have this covenant. And by extension, nether do Americans. This promise of blessing and passing on a blessing was the exclusive gift and responsibility of the Israelites.
This position of blessing had some expectations on behavior, something that we see spelled out for us in what we know as the Torah, the Law, the first five books of the Old Testament. Here the expectations were laid out clearly and exhaustively, governing how one dressed, ate, washed, lived, worshiped and, well, governed! Such was the life of the Israelites, and anyone who wanted to enjoy the benefits of this covenant left all other gods behind, and worshiped the true God the same way that they did. Obviously, no one was ever perfect then, so it was by grace then just as much as it is now, but the Israelites were to be the shining example pointing the rest of the world to come and get to know their God who had done so much for them.
When they would sin, God would send hardships into their lands in the form of pestilence (2 Samuel 24:10-15), war (2 Samuel 12:10), and ultimately, exile to both Assyria and Babylon. The promise always was, even in exile, that if the people would repent, God would bring them back to the land of Israel, which He did. This is because God had a covenant with Israel that promised exactly that (Deuteronomy 30:11-20; Isaiah 44:28; Jeremiah 29:11).
So now the question remains: can we use these verses as a promise to us, American Christians? Both of these verses would have been verses to cling to for Israelites in exile, and would be consistent with other verses promising these things, but can we Americans use them?
Well, that depends on what you mean by that.
There is an ultimate sense in what God was promising Israel. He wasn’t just saying that they would be redeemed from physical slavery to live in the geopolitical location of Israel, but that they would be redeemed to be citizens of the Kingdom that is not of this World. That they would be redeemed from spiritual slavery! This is the component of the promise that we can claim as well! The covenants that God made were ultimately pointing to Jesus, so if you look at Jeremiah 29:11 and think that “plans for good” means redemption by Jesus Christ, then you claim that promise, people! That promise is for you!
However, if you are using this promise to mean that God is going to bless your new cookie business that you are starting on the side with record profits, then no you are not using that promise correctly. We need to look at the context. For this particular verse, we only have to go back literally one sentence to realize who God is making this promise to: captives in Babylon. When the 70 years are over, THEN God is going to bring them back as He promised He would thereby showing that God is not just out to smash Israel but actually has a future and hope for them that will ultimately be fulfilled in Christ and in His second coming. You can’t rip the promise out from its situation. As one pastor pointed out, even the original audience of that promise (the Isrealites heading into captivity), wouldn’t live long enough to see that promise fulfilled, as it would be 70 years from then! Most of them would have to declare this promise to their children and grandchildren who would actually see it fulfilled (Bargerhuff, Eric The Most Misused Verses in the Bible, 38).
The same goes with the Chronicles passage. The context is the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. This is a huge event, one that has been in the works since 2 Samuel 7. At the completion of the Temple, God reiterates the covenant terms that have been in place since Moses: obey and receive blessing, disobey and receive cursing, repent and receive blessing again.
So, is this something that we can claim here? Well, just like the Jer. 29:11 passage, it depends. If you are praying this believing that if we get enough people praying, eventually God has to return and heal the land, then, no, that’s not for us. The promise was made to Israel, not America. HOWEVER, this doesn’t mean that God won’t be merciful if Americans pray to Him. God is a merciful God, so absolutely we should pray for our country. Nevertheless, I think our focus should be in a different place than it usually is when we pray this prayer.
The thing I think we can take away from both of these passages as correctly understood that can still be deeply comforting to us. Both of these passages highlight the mercy, grace, and forgiving nature of God. Do we realize how deeply God owes us nothing? We lose our patience with people after a handful of unpleasant interactions. But God’s grace endures sin after sin after sin after sin after sin. We repent, and God forgives over and over again. This isn’t something that we treat lightly or abuse, but it is something that we should be in awe over. In Israel’s case, God kept forgiving. In the disciples’ case, Jesus kept being patient, and in my case, God keeps showing mercy and grace. We see over and over again God’s mercy being shown, and in that we can have comfort.
The best thing is that we can have that comfort whether times are good or bad. I think this is the main thing that I want to drive home to us today. The way that I see these verses often employed is the idea that once we have the thing we are claiming these promises for, then, and only then, we will be really happy. When it seems like God’s plan for you is to suffer (you know, like how basically every Christian in the New Testament experienced it), it feels like Jeremiah 29:11 is a tease. The same goes for 2 Chronicles 7:14. We don’t want to think that we cannot praise the Lord, or can’t have real hope when a culture’s politics are wrong. No matter what happens to this country, God’s plans are still going to move forward. God doesn’t need any nation.
Now, as it has been properly pointed out, this doesn’t mean that we don’t pray for our government or our culture. Indeed, quite the opposite, because 1 Timothy 2:1-4 tells us to pray for those who are in power in our governments (Bargerhuff, Eric The Most Misused Verses in the Bible, 76). It is true that when Christians are living like Christians it does affect a nation. And it is certainly a great thing for the gospel when governments allow it to spread easily. I very much enjoy getting to do this job legally, and I pray that I would be able to continue to do so for many years to come. But I do not have the promise of God that if I do that He is obligated to rescue my country from its own destruction.
The promise that I do have, however, is the country that I am going to is one of total peace, security, and rest before the King, Jesus. That is the place that I am going to regardless of what happens here. This doesn’t mean that I don’t care about what happens here, but it does mean that my experience of hope doesn’t rise or fall based on who is in office. I need to pray just as hard for my own repentance from sin no matter who is in office, or what sort of policies are being promulgated.
Indeed, as the context of Jeremiah 29:11 shows, God’s people shouldn’t expect to never suffer. The Israelites spent a good portion of their nation’s history in some sort of trouble. We are not owed any sort of easy way out of anything.
But we have been granted something even better. Israel was thrilled with the idea that they would be given a land, and who could blame them? But as I hinted at earlier, all of these promises have their eyes set a little further beyond the horizon. Beyond settled borders or a healthy crop yield and a righteous government stands a risen Messiah. We have prayed for healing of our land and healing of ourselves, and God sent His only Son. Jesus is able to reach so deeply into our hearts and heal so much more than we ever thought we could. One day, He promises to return and not just set up just laws or put the right people in office. He is actually going to be in office! More than that, death, disease, and decay will one day be no more! One day the Lord will return and establish a renewed creation better than Eden! There will be no need of court systems or even law enforcement. I mean, there is not going to be the need for the sun anymore because God Himself is going to provide the light for the world! We will get to dwell directly in God’s presence as we were always meant to be doing.
Is that enough of a good plan for you? That is a far bigger dream than any highschooler would dare to dream. Even if you got everything you think you would want by claiming those verses, it wouldn’t compare to what God is actually bringing you. Again, I am not saying that it is wrong to pray for a country that honors God. I am not saying that you can’t pray to God to prosper the plans that you have. It is good to pray. It is necessary to pray. But as you do so, never forget what God is already doing for you. It will actually give you a stouter heart to pray for the world as it stands now. Your heart won’t fail when you watch the anger stokers on TV or doomscroll through the Twitterverse. God isn’t failing because America is. God isn’t failing because you are. Indeed, God can triumph directly through those failures, and even when things seem to be going the absolute worst, God can bring it out to the best.
Of course, all of what I just said here is only true if you are in Christ. If you have not surrendered to Christ, been united to Him, then this is as good as it is ever going to get. This is as sure as life will ever be for you. Things will get much, much worse, so I plead with you to get right with God today if you haven’t already. Only then will you find the comfort that these verses can actually bring you.
Image by Lorenzo Cafaro