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 (NIV)
The above scripture has often been used to suggest that it is God's will for Christians to have financial wealth but is that what this verse really means? Unless you know Hebrew, this verse has been translated into your native language and anyone who has ever learned a foreign language knows that often things really do get lost in translation.
When doing an in-depth study of a particular portion of scripture, in addition to looking at the context, I like to also read various versions. When I find differences, I ask myself the question, "Why did the translators of Version A translate it like this while the translator of Version B translated it this way? That's when I get out my "magnifying glass" and begin to look up the translated words in their original language. Often there is more than one definition and when that happens, you once again must go back and look at the context and decide which definition is correct.
In studying the above passage, I discovered that only two commonly used translations of the English Bible contain the word "prosper" in this verse. Those two versions are the New International Version and the New English Version. Thirteen translations, which includes the King James Version translate it as "peace", five translations translate it as "welfare" and the remaining words used are "good" and "well-being".
I decided it was time to get out the lexicon and this is what I discovered. The word translated as "prosper" in the NIV and the NET and "peace", "welfare", "good" and "well-being" elsewhere is "shalom" which means completeness, soundness, welfare and peace. (Strong's Hebrew 7965)
This verse is not talking about material wealth. It was a letter by the prophet Jeremiah to those who living in captivity in Babylon. The wrath of God had fallen upon them because they had turned away from God to worship other gods. They had not heeded God's warnings and refused to followed His commandments. As a result, enemies not only destroyed their homeland; they were taken captive and most of them would never see their homeland again.
Jeremiah 29 is a message of hope and restoration. At the moment, things were bad, they were suffering but God still loved them. At the appointed time, God would restore His people. They were to cling to that hope, even though they might not live to see the fulfillment of that hope. They were to trust God, no matter what and serve Him right where they were, regardless of their circumstances. They were to remember that God is the God of Hope.
So it is with us today. Our circumstances may be terrible and even hopeless but we must remember that the thoughts God has toward us are not evil. They are thoughts of peace.
Scripture quotation from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.