Today we’re going to discuss why the order of application matters. Why can’t we just read a verse from the Bible and immediately apply it to our lives? There’s no one-size-fits-all with the variety of verses contained in the Bible. So there will of course be instances where that may work out and a verse means just what it sounds like, even after seeing the larger framework. However, with many other verses and passages, if we skip ahead of noting genre and context, we can skew the original meaning altogether.
Let’s use another well-known verse as an example:
“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.”
Jeremiah 29:11 is often perceived as this notion that God will not let harm befall us; nothing bad will ever happen; God has good and prosperous things planned for me; and God is going to rescue you quickly from any troublesome situations. Again, a sort of motivational verse.
Read in isolation, that does seem to be the case. God knows the plans he has for us and it sounds like he wants to give us prosperity and a hopeful future. Golly, if I’m going through a hard circumstance, it would sure seem like God is going to come to my rescue, for surely he doesn’t wish anything bad on me?
Well, sort of. That idea isn’t all fallacy, but there are holes in that theology.
If we put on the brakes and use the Inductive Method we’ll discover several important points to understand what God is saying here and why he is saying it. Jeremiah 29:11 is written at the point in history where the last of the Israelites’ land has been conquered by the Babylonians and they have just been taken into Babylonian Exile (see Part 4 for a Timeline and major Biblical events ). After ignoring Jeremiah’s warnings and pleadings for 23 years for them to repent, Israel is facing the consequences of breaking their Covenant relationship with God.
At the beginning of Chapter 29, titled A Letter to the Exiles, God begins by letting the exiles know they will be in captivity for 70 years. He instructs them to ignore the false prophets who are spreading ideas that God will come to their immediate rescue and destroy Babylon. Instead, God tells them to build houses and settle down, plant gardens, and marry. He is making it very clear that they better get comfortable because they’re going to be there for a while.
At that point, we approach verse 11 within its full paragraph:
10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 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. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
So what is God’s point here? He tells them to hunker down because exile will last 70 years. But then he says he will come to them and free them from captivity after that 70 years because he knows the plan he has for them. There is light at the end of the tunnel. He knows the journey through the dark tunnel may appear daunting, but ultimately, he has a plan; a plan that will result in a much better ending than if he’d merely taken away their immediate discomfort. He is encouraging them to hold on, have faith in him. There is hope and a future, it just may not involve squelching the discomfort today brings. It is meant to instill hope in the midst of their exile, not to provide news that exile will be short-lived.
Now that you have the larger context of Jeremiah 29 and what it meant to the original listeners, take a moment to reflect and see how it applies to your life, to situations you may be facing.
How would you apply Jeremiah 29:11 to your life now? Does it still seem to fit within the Prosperity Gospel belief that if you follow God, no harm will come upon you? Does it still leave you with the assumption that immediate rescue is imminent? Or does it enable you to reflect on that verse differently? Does it teach you something new about the character of God? Does it cause you to reflect on your own trials in a new light? Does it provide a fresh lens with which to see a God in whom we can trust for ultimate purpose and intention, even when we at times have to experience pain in this life?
I hope and pray this example has helped you gain insight as to why we should be cautious to apply scripture too hastily. Briefly pausing to understand the greater scope really can open the doors to a deeper understanding of God’s character and heart, and thus, how that pertains to our daily lives.
And in case you were curious about the end of the story, Babylonian Exile does end in 539 BC when Cyrus, king of Persia (who had since captured Babylon), allowed the Jews to return to their homeland. See the book of Ezra to read that story. All of that, combined with the world events that occur over the 400 Years of Silence (period between Old & New Testaments), set the stage for the perfect timing of the arrival of the Son of God, Jesus, who brought about the incomparable hope and future for mankind….but those details we’ll save for another time.
Keep practicing and don’t get discouraged if the process still feels messy. Later this week, we’ll take a look at tools I’ve found helpful for studying the Bible.