In a commonly quoted Bible verse, the prophet Jeremiah says in Jeremiah 29:11 – “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.” But who was Jeremiah talking to and what were God’s plans at that time? God was about to exile Israel from the Promised Land and take away all of their cherished (and God-given) political and religious institutions. Jerusalem and the temple would be torn down and burned by the Babylonians, while God would tell the Jews to love their brutal enemy, and to be a blessing to them, contributing to the prosperity of the Babylonian kingdom. After 70 years of exile, Jerusalem and the temple would be rebuilt, but disappointing: “many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid”.
This is not the plan I would wish on any of us, but it was God’s will at the time, to discipline His people. Clearly, God has different plans for each one of us – specific to us and not a photocopy of specific Biblical people or situations.
The prophet Isaiah provides an excellent picture of how God cares for individuals. Right after declaring that God would lay a new cornerstone, a new foundation, in Zion (later revealed to be Jesus), he declares in Isaiah 28:23-26:
“Give ear, and hear my voice;
give attention, and hear my speech.
Does he who plows for sowing plow continually?
Does he continually open and harrow his ground?
When he has leveled its surface,
does he not scatter dill, sow cumin,
and put in wheat in rows
and barley in its proper place,
and emmer as the border?
For he is rightly instructed;
his God teaches him.”
Isaiah describes how a farmer works diligently with God-given wisdom to plant his crops. The farmer does things step by step, plowing, then sowing each plant according to its kind. Some crops grow best in rows, and some are suitable as borders. Everything is in its time and place. Isaiah then continues with verses 27-29:
“Dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge,
nor is a cart wheel rolled over cumin,
but dill is beaten out with a stick,
and cumin with a rod.
Does one crush grain for bread?
No, he does not thresh it forever;
when he drives his cart wheel over it
with his horses, he does not crush it.
This also comes from the LORD of hosts;
he is wonderful in counsel
and excellent in wisdom.”
Here, some crops need to be threshed or even crushed, but other crops do not. All of the farmer’s work is done with God’s wisdom. Yet is Isaiah only concerned with crops? No, because the context in Isaiah is a story of Judah’s discipline, followed by a restoration. Just as a farmer’s wisdom in dealing with crops is from God, in the same way God knows how to deal with His people skillfully, to each as needed.
The Reformation Study Bible notes on verse 29: “Yet the Lord is wiser than any good farmer…and knows exactly the methods to use to cultivate His harvest—when to judge and when to restore His people.” As different grains need to be planted and treated differently, so God treats each person according to His own intentions for them and to their own needs. After laying the cornerstone of Jesus Christ, God, like a farmer, knows how to deal with each of His people individually, giving each exactly what they need when they need it, building His family diligently, step by step, and with infinite wisdom.
Therefore, when Jeremiah says: “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,” he declares the general principle that for each of us, God has a plan, a future, and a hope. The Lord delivers us from evil and provides for our welfare in eternity for all time, after our sojourn in this world is complete.
For every meal, thank a farmer, but for every opportunity to grow in Christ, in good times and in bad, thank the Lord for His wisdom in dealing with you as an individual. Only He, as Creator, knows best how we are broken and how we are intended to be.
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6