God Has a Plan for Your Life

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[1], 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”.[2]

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[3] (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

[1] Jeremiah 29:7
[2] Ezra 3:12
[3] Isaiah 28:16

Pictures of Holiness and Grace

A picture can be, as they say, worth a thousand words.  To make an impression, sometimes God uses pictures or images, and one example is how He lets us know just how holy He is.

When calling Isaiah to be a prophet, God gave him an image in Isaiah 6:1 “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.”  In this vision of a throne room, why bother to mention that “the train of his robe filled the temple”?  Because in this image of God’s presence, there is no room for anything that isn’t holy.  If anyone tries to walk into the temple, they will tread on the Lord’s robe with their dirty feet, and any lord would be immensely offended at that.  James Boice commented on the verse, that: “This suggests that there is room for no one else at the highest pinnacle of the universe.  It is not just that Jehovah reigns, therefore, but also that no one else reigns beside Him or in opposition to Him”[1]

Photo by Wonderlane on Unsplash

A similar picture of holiness comes from Revelation 15:8, which says: “and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.”  Until God’s judgment was complete – both on the unrepentant and on the cross for His people – there would continue to be no room in the sanctuary for anyone but the Lord.

A third picture, which was not just a vision, but built in actual, physical form, is the “Holy of Holies.”  During most of the Old Testament period, priests implemented an elaborate sacrificial system to illustrate God’s requirements for meeting with sinners: an innocent creature had to die.  These animals symbolized the later sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  But the “Holy of Holies” was the ultimate statement of how serious approaching God is.

This innermost room of the temple was only entered once per year (on the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur), and only by the high priest, who only can enter after hours of preparation.  Once there, the high priest would sprinkle the blood of a sacrificed bull on and in front of God’s “mercy seat”, the cover of the ark of the covenant and a sign of His presence.  Later Jewish tradition (not found in the Bible) indicates that others would stand outside the room holding a rope that was tied to the high priest, who also had bells tied around his waist.  If those outside heard the bells jingling, followed by silence, they would assume the high priest did not atone properly for the sins of the people, died in God’s presence, and needed to be dragged out by the rope.  God’s holy presence was to be taken seriously.

So Isaiah, presented with God’s holiness, cried out “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”  Isaiah’s “Woe” comes down to current times in the expression “Oy!”  Isaiah knew instinctually that being in God’s temple was a bad idea.  However, God provides redemption for His people, which He pictured for Isaiah like this: “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar.  And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”[2]

Isaiah was not saved by a burning coal, but by what it represented: the future sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  In God’s steadfast love for His people, He offered Jesus once for all, and the only sacrifice necessary and sufficient for us to know God.  Therefore, there is no longer a barrier to His holy presence for God’s people, so the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”[3]

Yes, God is holy and must be honored as holy, but when we feel insufficient or feel like yelling “oy!” when things go wrong, we can come “with confidence” to Jesus in His temple and ask Him to reassure us of His provision for our sin.  That we may know, like Isaiah, that “your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”


[1] From “May 9.” James Montgomery Boice and Marion Clark. Come to the Waters: Daily Bible Devotions for Spiritual Refreshment.  (2017).
[2] Isaiah 6:6-7
[3] Hebrews 4:16

Don’t Fear Jezebel’s Algorithm

Yesterday I re-posted a story of King Jehoiakim’s attempts to destroy the prophet Jeremiah’s words with fire, as recorded in Jeremiah 36:20-25 (which survived).  I decided to share it again based on two events: 1) a comment I saw on Facebook yesterday lamenting that owning a Bible could be made illegal, and 2) Facebook’s reminder to me in “Memories” that two years ago to the day I had posted this:

“To any religious person who is dismayed at “their side” being shut down by social media: Name one of Gods accomplishments that required Twitter or Facebook.  The Holy Spirit is the original (and best) social network. Listen to Him. Post to Him. Wait for Him. The Answer lies there. He remains online for eternity and He has a plan.”

Resistance to spreading God’s word is as old as time.  Consider the Old Testament story of Elijah, who prophesied during the reign of Israel’s evil king Ahab and his wife Jezebel.  According to Who’s Who in the Bible, “Jezebel devoted herself to bringing the worship of Baal and his consort Asherah to Israel. She employed 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophetesses of Asherah (1 Kings 18:19), and persecuted the prophets of the Lord, including Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-9).”[1]  Many prophets were killed.

Elijah despaired, as written in 1 Kings 19:10 – “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.

Apostles also struggled to stay strong, including Paul.  When he was frustrated at resistance and lack of progress in Corinth, “the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”[2]

When Paul needed an example to encourage others to persist, he used Elijah’s story in Romans 11:2 – “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel?  ‘Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.’  But what is God’s reply to him? ‘I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’”

Therefore, our hope is not in social networks where we can share God’s message, or in the benevolence of the programmers of algorithms that choose who sees what we post, or in the regulators and legislators who monitor the public square, or in the founding political documents that give us rights.  But:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
            and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
            giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
            it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
            and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” – Isaiah 55:10-11

Social networks, algorithms, regulators and government are not our enemy, but our enemy is the one who tries to convince us we need these things more than we need the God who made them and who made us all.  His word will accomplish its purpose, and we have Elijah’s and Paul’s words and actions as evidence.

God’s word withstands the fire.  Always.

[1] Gardner, Paul D., editor.  The Complete Who’s Who in the Bible.  (1995)
[2] Acts 18:9-10