Another important piece to consider when interpreting a verse is the literary context. In other words, what’s going on in the Bible before and after this verse? To do this, we have to zoom all the way out to consider where the verse fits into the larger story of the Bible, then zoom in to see where it fits into its book of the Bible, and then where it fits into the surrounding verses.
For example, let’s look at Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’”
First, let’s zoom all the way out. God created everything good, but people sinned and brought brokenness to all of creation. So God promised a future Rescuer who would come through Abraham and His descendants, the Israelites. But the Israelites kept on rebelling against God, so He sent people called prophets to warn them to turn back to Him. But they refused and were captured by their enemy, Babylon. It’s around this time that we find our verse, but let’s keep going. Later, Israel was delivered out of Babylon and, even later, God sent Jesus to rescue us through His death and resurrection. And someday Jesus will return to make all things new.
Now, let’s zoom in to the book of Jeremiah. In the first half, Jeremiah (a prophet) accused Israel of sinning against God—oppressing the poor, doing violence, and worshiping idols. He warned them about God’s judgement. Around Jeremiah 29:11, Israel was conquered by Babylon and many were taken into exile. God’s judgment came through Babylon, but He reminded His people of a coming Rescuer. The book then shows God’s judgement against other nations, including Babylon, and it ends with a glimpse of hope: that the Rescuer would come.
Now, let’s look closer at the passages around Jeremiah 29:11. Israel had been captured by Babylon, and false prophets were saying that God would save them soon. We see God’s response in Jeremiah 29:4-14. God, through Jeremiah, told His people to settle down in Babylon, because they would be there for seventy years. But Jeremiah 29:11 tells us that God will rescue them. One day Israel will return to their home, and one day, much later, the Rescuer will come.
Looking at the broader context of Jeremiah 29:11, we see God was telling Israel that, while the people He was talking to would die in captivity, His ultimate plan to redeem the world would not be thwarted. And in that plan we find hope. • Taylor Eising
• How can looking at a verse in its literary context help us understand the Bible, and God, better?
“If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” Jeremiah 29:13 (NLT)