In previous blogs in this series I wrote of the nature and limits of prophetic gifting in our time, as contrasted with that which pertained in the Tanach (Older Testament). See here. I also wrote of the various kinds of false prophets in our day, those who are intentionally so and those who are unintentionally so. See here. Having laid that background, we will now examine the true prophet Jeremiah and contrast him with the false prophets of his day, seeking in this way to pay attention to what his prophecies have to tell us about our times and the responsibilities that confront us.
To the extent that it is to be found here, Hear the Word of the Lord.
Josiah was the last good king of Judah, and it was during his reign that Jeremiah received his prophetic call, when he was probably a teen-ager. At that time, Assyria was the big gun power in the region, but that status was to pass from Assyria to Egypt, and then to Babylon. Meanwhile, smaller states like Judah had to watch their P’s and Q’s.
We could spend quite a few paragraphs on the history of the time, but to preserve our focus let this be our brief overview:
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. The chapters of Jeremiah which we are considering, chapters 25 to 29, begin during the reign of Jehoiakim.
It is with Jehoiakim that Jeremiah becomes an unfashionable and unpopular prophet. It is also a time when God calls the prophet to step up his game. By nature, prophets see the events of their time from God’s perspective, conveying that vision to God’s people and other rulers and nations, whether for their warning or for their encouragement. So it will be with Jeremiah in these chapters. We ought to pay careful attention because it will become clear, at least to some of us, that Jeremiah’s words to his generation have application to our own. Let those with ears to hear, hear.
Here are eleven aspects of Jeremiah’s message that are going to be delivered to a wide variey of audiences and in different ways. The wide range of contexts and frequency of repetition is the Bible's way of reminding us how crucial this message is. Nevertheless the rulers, leaders, and people of God will repeatedly reject the message and turn vehemently against the messenger. And now, on the heels of Tisha B’Av, some 2600 years later, we are still paying the price for their folly.
We should also note that this tendency to reject unwelcome news as Fake News remains with us in our day. We ought to pray without ceasing that in repeating their tendency to reject the unpalatable, we do not court the kind of disasters they faced.
Here are eleven aspects of Jeremiah’s communally rejected divine message.
Now let’s look at the multiple contexts and ways in which he drives this home. Don't skip this step. Each and all of us need to feel the weight of these events in order to avoid dooms of our own.
CHAPTER 25 - This chapter serves like something of a headline for the rest of the chapters we are examining, saying “God is turning this area over to the Babylonians. Get with the program . . . or else.” We will see that this is not a popular message. It almost gets Jeremiah killed. But this message about submitting to ungodly pagan Nebuchadnezzar is nothing less than the Word of the Lord.
Here Jeremiah also tells Judah that since they have habitually ignored God’s word through himself and earlier prophets, they will be going off into captivity in Babylon for a long time: seventy years.
““Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the Lord, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation. Moreover, I will banish from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the grinding of the millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste” (Jeremiah 25:8-12).
Again, don’t miss how God brings judgment upon his people through the wicked, violent, idolatrous, and depraved Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar, whom ADONAI terms “my servant.” Only after he has done this strange work will God in turn bring judgment upon Babylon itself.
A century and a half earlier, God did the same thing with Assyria, terming Assyria “the rod of God’s anger” against sinful Israel. The Assyrians were the ISIS of the ancient world. Yet God used them as his instrument to judge Israel. And now, through Jeremiah, God announces he going to do the same to Judah, using Nebuchadnezzar as his instrument. Keep that in mind as we continue our considerations.
Despite these repeated warnings, the leaders of Judah and its people treat it all like Fake News. Jeremiah becomes an enemy and is seen to be the lackey of the hated Babylonians.
CHAPTER 26 – Jeremiah obeys God and makes matters more explicit, laying things out for all the people and leaders in a sermon to the multitudes gathered at the Temple site (see also chapter 7). Here he gives the same indictment of the people for ignoring his words and those of the prior true prophets sent by God to turn them from their evil ways toward paths of righteousness.
The response of both leaders and people is swift and decisive:
“The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the Lord. And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, ‘You shall die!’” (Jeremiah 26:7-8).
The false prophets are unanimous against him as Jeremiah the true prophet is put on trial before the priests, prophets, and officials, barely escaping with his life.
CHAPTER 27 - By this time, Jehoiakim is gone, as is his brief figurehead successor. Zedekiah is now King (some Bible manuscripts say Jehoiakim, but that is a scribal error since by this time he is deposed, Judah is firmly under the heel of Babylon, and Zedekiah is King of Judah).
(27:1-11) Prophecy to the nations in the area - Sometime between 596 and 594 BCE , Nebuchadnezzar is having military problems, and the little nations in the area, together with King Zedekiah meet together in Jerusalem to see if they can get out from under. God delegates Jeremiah to deliver to these messengers a graphic message to be taken back to their monarchs, involving an ungainly prop, that is, a yoke such as oxen would wear, but on the shoulders of Jeremiah. On behalf of the Lord of all the earth, and of their own lands, he addresses the messengers of the kings of Moab, Ammon, Edom, Tyre, and Sidon, directing them to bring it back to their leaders.
“‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: This is what you shall say to your masters: “It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me. Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes. Then many nations and great kings shall make him their slave. “‘“But if any nation or kingdom will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the Lord, until I have consumed it by his hand. So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your fortune-tellers, or your sorcerers, who are saying to you, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon.’ For it is a lie that they are prophesying to you, with the result that you will be removed far from your land, and I will drive you out, and you will perish. But any nation that will bring its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will leave on its own land, to work it and dwell there, declares the Lord.”’ (Jeremiah 27:4-11).
It is an expansion of what the prophet said back in chapter 25 - Nebuchadnezzar is God’s “servant” at this time charged with bringing all the nations of that area into subjection to himself. Those who cooperate will be able to remain on their own land and dwell there, although Judah will be exiled, but those who will not cooperate will be driven out and will perish.
But one thing is emphatically certain: They are not to believe their own prophets who are prophesying lies to them.
(How urgently do we treat the imperative for us to not believe the false prophets of our own day? Important question!)
(27:12-15) - Prophecy to Zedekiah and the Kingdom of Judah - Jeremiah now the same message to King Zedekiah himself. (1) Bring your necks under the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar my servant, serving him and his people; (2) By doing so you will live; (3) Otherwise you will perish by the sword, famine and pestilence (the death dealing consequences of war in the Ancient Near East); (4) Do not listen to the words of your prophets who are denying this verdict. They are lying, and I (ADONAI) have not sent them; (5) If you heed them I will drive you and them out—in other words, you will bring swift judgment on yourselves.
(27:16-22) Prophecy To The Priest And To The People - Here, he adds some important color. Don't miss this. It takes the black and white picture and makes it 3-D and color.
“Do not listen to the words of your prophets who are prophesying to you, saying, ‘Behold, the vessels of the Lord 's house will now shortly be brought back from Babylon,’ for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you (Jeremiah 27:16).
The people of the land and the exiles themselves believed that both the first wave of exiles, and the vessels plundered from the Temple would be returning to Jerusalem soon. Jeremiah says this is a lie from false prophets who are going with the flow of popular Judean politics. The truth from God is opposite to what they are saying. Not only will the captured vessels not be returning to Jerusalem, the other vessels of the Temple, yet remaining in Jerusalem, would also be taken off to Babylon, and that they and the Jews exiled there would remain in Babylon “until the day when I visit them . . . Then I will bring them back and restore them to this place” (Jeremiah 27:22).
But that will not be for seventy years or so. So yet again: the bad news that their exiles are not returning in the near term, and that the implements of the Temple are not coming back, is God's true news, and the good news, that everything is soon to blow over, is a lie.
Chapter 28 brings into sharpest focus the contrast between false prophecies joined to popular politics, and prophecies that are true, even if unpopular.
Jeremiah's response to the false prophet Hananiah, ben Azzur brings things home to us on the wide screen. As developed in a previous blog, such false prophets were not necessarily evil and malicious. They could simply be self-deluded, and also enticed by public excitement and entangled with the political powers and trends of their day.
Whatever variety of false prophet he is, Hananiah begins by co-opting the symbol Jeremiah has been using, the yoke. Standing in the Temple amidst people and priests, Hananiah declares that Adonai says that he has broken the yoke of Babylon, and that within two years, both exiles and implements will return from there. Jeremiah retorts that the burden of proof is great for a prophet prophesying peace, since the norm for prophets is to prophesy ware and calamity, (aparently implying that if peace comes they can say that God simply averted the evil decree). But to prophecy peace in a time of war, that's really something!
Hananiah doubles down and breaks the yoke from Jeremiah’s neck, and Jeremiah walks away, likely wondering if this prophecy can be true, whereupon the word of the LORD comes to him, and he returns to name Hananiah as a false prophet, whose prophecies are lies, and who will die within the year. Six months later he is dead.
Hananiah delivered popular news, and no doubt many cheered him when he broke Jeremiah's Nebuchadnezzar yoke. But it was all lies, leading in the same direction as Hananiah went. Toward death.
Chapter 29 - Nebuchadnezzar has sent off another layer of Judean society into exile, and Jeremiah sends some letters off to the exiles by the hand of some of the officials who are in charge. Jeremiah has heard that some popular but false prophets are finding favor among the Jews in the exile. Because false prophecies provide false hopes that lead to communal disaster, he must respond to this situation. And so be does. But just imagine how the people responded to this message. This is Jeremiah's block buster:
4 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 8 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, 9 for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord. 10 “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place" (Jeremiah 29:4-14).
Look what he says here! It is ADONAI and not just lousy luck or circumstances who has sent these first two contingents into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, and He is telling them to get themselves established there—build houses, plant gardens, take wives, and have sons and daughters and get spouses for them there, in pagan Babylon! What? Are you crazy? (That word, meshuggah, will actually be used of Jeremiah later in the chapter). He goes on with more “nonsense”: “Multiply there, and do not decrease . . . seek the welfare of the city . . . that pagan idolatrous city, for in the welfare of Babylon, in their shalom, you will find your shalom!” And by the way, as for your local prophets who are preaching a more positive message about you as being God’s nation, and Jerusalem being His city, and the Temple being His house, and about your sojourn in idol-country as being a temporary bump in the road . . . they are lying to you! Again, just try and imagine how this message was received!
I discussed this with a brilliant and spiritually dynamic Israeli-American friend, born in Jerusalem, and she readily admitted that if she had lived at that time, she too would have taken a stand on Judah being God’s land, the Davidic King being God’s chosen, despite his personality flaws, Jerusalem his city, the Temple his house, and that no way could it possibly be God’s will that these should all be put into the hands of vile idolatrous Babylon!
And what abou you? What would you have said, especially considering Jeremiah’s status as a very minority voice?
Yes, he goes on to prophesy a happy ending . . . but that will not be for seventy years! We can be certain his message was violently rejected! Let’s look more closely at that for a moment.
The repeated pattern with biblical religious communities is more often than not that they reject true prophets and their distasteful prophecies, and instead gather to themselves more pleasing prophets who celebrate the current powers that be and validate the preferred vision of the masses. This is precisely what happens next in this chapter. And Jeremiah says that the consequences of believing these lies will be more swift and severe judgment. Read:
15 “Because you have said, ‘The Lord has raised up prophets for us in Babylon,’ 16 thus says the Lord concerning the king who sits on the throne of David, and concerning all the people who dwell in this city, your kinsmen who did not go out with you into exile: 17 ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, behold, I am sending on them sword, famine, and pestilence, and I will make them like vile figs that are so rotten they cannot be eaten. 18 I will pursue them with sword, famine, and pestilence, and will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse, a terror, a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them"(Jeremiah 29:15-18).
In keeping with the pattern of these chapters, where the same message is frequently repeated, and applied to a wide variety of contexts, Jeremiah then specifically names two popular community false prophets, named Ahab and Zedekiah who are prophesying lies in the name of God. Adonai decrees concerning them.
“21 Behold, I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall strike them down before your eyes. 22 Because of them this curse shall be used by all the exiles from Judah in Babylon: “The Lord make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire 23 because they did not pay attention to my words, declares the Lord, that I persistently sent to you by my servants the prophets, but you would not listen, declares the Lord.’”
False prophecy is deadly business. It is not Christian Television couch potato entertainment. It misdirects God’s people, ratifying their preferred delusions, and making their ears deaf to the voice of His Spirit. God takes this very seriously. And as mentioned earlier in this series of blogs, false prophets far outnumber true prophets. Therefore, should we not be careful what we entertain and approve of? Should we not walk in holy fear?
Jeremiah is not done addressing the problem of false prophets and false leaders who drown out the voice of God’s Spirit with the noise of popular political clamor. It is not enough that they prophesy lies: false prophets attack true ones and seek to neutralize them.
This is why Jeremiah next addresses Shemaiah of Nehelam, who has written back to Jerusalem, urging Zephaniah ben Maaseiah the priest and all the priests to shut down Jeremiah, whom he terms an “ish meshuggah” (a madman/crazy man). Shemaiah urges that Jeremiah be rebuked, that he be put in the stocks and in neck irons, therefore imprisoned and publicly humiliated.
Here is God’s verdict for Shemaiah, who would shut down true prophets with their bad news message:
About false prophets:
About prophecy in our time. (For more detail see here).
Therefore, seven challenges for all of us.