I’ve been reading the book of Jeremiah for a while now. Usually, we only read Jeremiah in 1-verse increments where the verse is always 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.” It’s SUPER famous and perfect for bumper stickers and tattoos. Of course, it follows a 70-year exile and continues with some instructions to seek God with our whole heart, but that doesn’t play as well in a sound bite. We prefer to think about all the ways we want God to “prosper” us, which don’t always include exile.
In chapters 42 and 43, a military officer named Johanan calls for Jeremiah and asks for guidance from God. He promises to do whatever He and his buddies say, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the Lord your God sends you to tell us. Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the Lord our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the Lord our God.” I do that, too, sometimes when I pray. Just save me, heal me, take this (whatever) away and I’ll do anything You ask.
Apparently, Jeremiah has heard all of this before, (for at least 42 chapters,) so when he gives the message from God to “NOT GO TO EGPYT,” he follows it up with, “And today I have told you exactly what he said, but you will not obey the Lord your God any better now than you have in the past. So you can be sure that you will die from war, famine, and disease in Egypt, where you insist on going.”
And of course, they DO go to Egypt, and it doesn’t go that well for them there.
The Bible happened, and the Bible happens. I think this Johanan is an imbecile, obviously, and could’ve saved himself all the trouble if he had only listened! God had plans for him, plans to prosper him and not harm him, but nooo, he had to do things his own way. I shake my head until my neck is sore at this prideful ignorance. And then, after I sit with this for a moment or a day or 20 years, I remember how often I ask for advice, or guidance, or direction when what I really want is approval. I want to be told that yes, my plan is just right. If I’m not told exactly that, then I move on and go to Egypt anyway. I am Johanan more times than I’d ever admit to you.
I want God to prosper me (but maybe prosperity means something different in God’s economy), to bless MY plans, to give me a hope and future as long as they’re the hopes and futures for which I’ve been praying (but maybe His idea of a hope and a future is different from mine.)
I want the control, I want to be right, I want to know, I want to go to Egypt. I used to think I had all the answers. Probably Johanan did, too. Probably going to Egypt sounded like a smart plan.
29:11 begins, “For I know…” Maybe I don’t have to know. Maybe it’s just enough that He does. And maybe that’s the point.