If you’re on twitter, you’ve seen them; Any play on “Stuff my Dad says”, “Stuff Nobody Says”, or even “Stuff Runners Say”. How about “Stuff the Bible Doesn’t Say?” Let’s be honest here, most Christians don’t spend time in the word. I’m not talking about listening to someone else tell them what it means, I mean actually reading, learning, and studying the word. This isn’t meant as a guilt trip, but it is what it is. Most polls show that less than 10% of professing Christians have read the entire Bible. If you ever wondered how so much goofiness gets passed off in the name of Christianity, that would be a good place to start. Where do the other 90% get their info from if not from the inspired/inerrant word of God? Well, they either hear it from someone else, they make it up as they go along, or they defer to what they feel (The good old “quiver in the liver”.) Over the next several posts, I’ll look at some of the most popular verses that simply do not say what people try to make them say. In other words, “Stuff the Bible Doesn’t Say.”
“Sometimes the immature
Christian suffers bitter disappointment not because
God failed to keep His promises, but because wellmeaning Christians made promises “for” God that
God Himself never authorized.” – R.C. Sproul
Next up on the list of most abused verses? Jeremiah 29:11
“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.” NIV
Now, let’s look at the verse in it’s full context:
[Jeremiah’s Letter to the Exiles]
[29:1] These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.  This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the eunuchs, the officials of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metal workers had departed from Jerusalem.  The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. It said:  “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.  Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.  But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.  For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream,  for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the LORD.
 “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.  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.  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.  I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
 “Because you have said, ‘The LORD has raised up prophets for us in Babylon,’  thus says the LORD concerning the king who sits on the throne of David, and concerning all the people who dwell in this city, your kinsmen who did not go out with you into exile:  ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, behold, I am sending on them sword, famine, and pestilence, and I will make them like vile figs that are so rotten they cannot be eaten.  I will pursue them with sword, famine, and pestilence, and will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse, a terror, a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them,  because they did not pay attention to my words, declares the LORD, that I persistently sent to you by my servants the prophets, but you would not listen, declares the LORD.’  Hear the word of the LORD, all you exiles whom I sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon:  ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning Ahab the son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying a lie to you in my name: Behold, I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall strike them down before your eyes.  Because of them this curse shall be used by all the exiles from Judah in Babylon: “The LORD make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire,”  because they have done an outrageous thing in Israel, they have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives, and they have spoken in my name lying words that I did not command them. I am the one who knows, and I am witness, declares the LORD.’”
(Jeremiah 29:1-23 ESV)
3 years later (594 BC) Jeremiah (who was not in captivity) wrote a letter to the exiles in Babylon. This was sent to in response to false teachers who had been telling those in exile that captivity would be short (in contrast to God’s word in Jeremiah 25) and that they would soon be returning home. (And I’m sure the people ate it up, I mean God only wants our good, right? He wouldn’t SEND us into captivity ((He did)) and he would surely get us out of this quickly ((He decreed 70 years)) Right?) This false teaching led to the people just “hanging in there” when the message from God, via Jeremiah, was that you are NOT coming home anytime soon, continue to live your normal life in Babylon.
(NOTE: They would not return until Persia conquered Babylon and more than 40,000 captives were freed by Cyrus II/Cyrus the Great)
I’ve seen the verse used in prosperity preaching to say that since God has plans to “prosper” you, that it must mean financial prosperity, or even “a life of enjoyment”. This exegesis of scripture shows a serious misunderstanding/mishandling of the text. Is there anything, ANYTHING in that text that would lead you to believe that God was speaking to financial increase? Or “life of enjoyment”? Can you point to anything IN THE TEXT that would support that? Notice that “prosper” is translated as “welfare” or “take care of you” in other versions. Let’s go to the original Hebrew. The word used is SHALOM.
Shalom contains many deep meanings: Peace, Wholeness, Harmony.
This SHALOM is contrasted with RA-AH in Jeremiah 38:4, which Jeremiah writes 8 years later which states:
“Then the officials said to the king, “This man should be put to death. He is discouraging the soldiers who are left in this city, as well as all the people, by the things he is saying to them. This man is not seeking the good (SHALOM) of these people but their ruin (RA-AH).”
(Clearly, Jeremiah was not going to be put to death for not seeking the “financial prosperity” of Jerusalem.)
We cheapen God’s promise, and the sovereignty of His plan by interpreting this verse as giving us “smooth sailing” or “more stuff”. In fact, the text here isn’t a personal promise at all; it was a promise that the nation which found itself in captivity would be freed, and on the timeline which God had decreed.