Jeremiah Was a Prophet, Part 5

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Jeremiah had a tough row to hoe. He was relatively young when God called him to be a prophet, and Jeremiah was sure he was just too young; too inexperienced. That’s probably how most of us feel when we’re faced with doing something we know the Lord wants us to do. The thing about God is this pesky passage:

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. (Jeremiah 1:5 NIV | 11)

That’s God laying it on the line for Jeremiah. When you realize, as our reluctant prophet soon did, that God knows you that well and that He is absolutely in charge of your life, it’s hard to argue with Him. You may think you aren’t good enough; worthy enough; spiritual enough; or whatever enough, but if God called you, then obviously He thinks you’re up to the challenge. To make matter ever worse, whom God calls, He equips:

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.” (Jeremiah 1:9 NIV | 11)

Well, that’s it then, isn’t it? The discussion was over for Jeremiah, and it’s over for us too. When God calls, just do what Mary, Jesus’ mother told some people:

But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you to.” (John 2:5 TLB)

The first verse in Jeremiah 26 sets the scene –

Early in the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah… (NIV | 84)

Jeremiah began his ministry during the reign of Josiah, who was a godly king, and under whose direction many religious reforms were instituted and a great revival took place. Josiah was killed in battle and very shortly thereafter, Judah became, for a time, a puppet state of Egypt. The king of Egypt put Josiah’s son, Jehoiakim, on the throne in Judah. He was a weak man, materialistic and self-centered. He not only rounded up and persecuted innocent citizens, but he tried to have Jeremiah killed. His end came none too soon:

Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon attacked him and bound him with bronze shackles to take him to Babylon. (2 Chronicles 36:6 NIV | 84)

Jehoiakim’s son, Jehoiachin, took over from his father, and just like his father he was a weak ruler who would have nothing to do with God. Nebuchadnezzar soon ended his career and took him off the throne and brought him to become a slave in Babylon. Like father, like son.

Self deception

This was the Lord’s instructions to His prophet:

This is what the LORD says: Stand in the courtyard of the LORD’s house and speak to all the people of the towns of Judah who come to worship in the house of the LORD. Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word.” (Jeremiah 26:2 NIV | 84)

This incident, though in chapter 26, actually took place back in chapters 7 – 10. With the passing of Josiah, the people, bereft of a sound leader of faith, soon lost interest in the religious reforms that Josiah put in place. Jeremiah, a prophet and man of vision, understood well the precarious position Judah had put herself in. Time was running out. The nation stood at the crossroads and her only hope was to return to God and if that was to happen, it would have to happen soon before the people drifted further away. Disregarding the obvious danger to himself, Jeremiah stepped up and, as Mary counselled generations later, he simply did what God had told him to do. As one Bible scholar noted,

Jeremiah stepped into the public light as a statesman of intrepid courage and political insight.

The message from God was a simple, direct, and highly offensive to the people who heard it – priests, prophets, and all the people: If they didn’t listen to the Word of God, their holy temple and city would be destroyed and made to be a curse before all nations. Their reaction was predictable and belied the violence in their hearts:

But as soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the LORD had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, “You must die! Why do you prophesy in the LORD’s name that this house will be like Shiloh and this city will be desolate and deserted?” And all the people crowded around Jeremiah in the house of the LORD. (Jeremiah 26:8, 9 NIV | 84)

Sure, they “crowded around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord,” but it wasn’t because they were listening in rapt attention to his dire words. They wanted to kill him! They wanted to stone the prophet to death because his sermon dared to contradict what the so-called professional prophets, priests, and religious leaders had been telling the people. To them, Jeremiah wasn’t preaching the Word of the Lord, he was guilty of blasphemy. The Temple of God, meant to be the dwelling place of God and the repository of His Word and teachings, had been turned into a symbol of the priest’s power over the people. In preaching something contrary to their teachings and going against the “majority opinion,” Jeremiah was undermining their authority. If this sounds familiar, something very similar happened to our Lord when He prophesied about the immanent destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in His day:

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:1, 2 NIV | 84)

Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.’ ” (mark 14:57, 58 NIV | 84)

Sometimes taking a stand for God and the truth can be outright dangerous. A lot of believers misunderstand Proverbs 15:22, believing that if all the preachers are saying the same thing, they must be right.

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. (Proverbs 15:22 NIV | 84)

Jeremiah and Jesus, and many reformers and martyrs down through the centuries have demonstrated that often, Proverbs 15:22 must be applied on a case-by-case basis.

The prophet’s defense

Then Jeremiah said to all the officials and all the people: “The LORD sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the things you have heard. Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the LORD your God. Then the LORD will relent and not bring the disaster he has pronounced against you. As for me, I am in your hands; do with me whatever you think is good and right. Be assured, however, that if you put me to death, you will bring the guilt of innocent blood on yourselves and on this city and on those who live in it, for in truth the LORD has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.” (Jeremiah 26:12 – 15 NIV | 84)

What an admirable, classic, and courageous defense:

• Authority: “The Lord sent me…”
• Warning: “…to prophesy against this house and city…”
• Committal: “…do with me whatever you think is good and right…”
• Warning: “…if you put me to death, you will bring the guilt of innocent blood on yourselves and on this city…”
• Authority: “…for in truth the Lord has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.”

His open and honest defense worked, at least for the moment. And in fact, Jeremiah found out he wasn’t the only prophet who had spoken the truth. Some of the elders remembered that a hundred years earlier, the prophet Micah said essentially the same thing as Jeremiah did.

Some of the elders of the land stepped forward and said to the entire assembly of people, “Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah. He told all the people of Judah, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: “ ‘Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.’” (Jeremiah 26:17, 18 NIV | 84)

What’s tragic about this whole incident is that while the people and the rulers recognized Jeremiah’s authority from God, they stubbornly refused to change their ways and obey the Word of the Lord. Had they done so, a great spiritual awakening would have taken place.

A deceived prophet

People and religious leaders are easily deceived and easily deceive God’s people. In Jeremiah 28, we read about a deceptive prophet whose name was Hananiah. This was his message to the people of Judah:

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the articles of the LORD’s house that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon removed from here and took to Babylon.” (Jeremiah 28:2, 3 NIV | 84)

Hananiah was just a single false prophet but he represented an entire professional class – a professional class of religious profiteers; men who made money preaching what people wanted to hear. People like this are still in business today, by the way. In Hananiah’s case, he was not a “prosperity preacher” or preacher of “pop psychology” designed to make you happy. No, this false prophet was a prophet of peace – false peace. He was fool. He could see the “handwriting on the wall.” He recognized the awesome power of Babylon. He, like Jeremiah, had seen Nebuchadnezzar march into Jerusalem, take many captives back with him, along with many of the priceless Temple articles. Yet Hananiah publically prophesied a lie: that within two years Babylon’s power would be crushed and the captives returned home. It was a word full of “hope and change” and “sunny ways,” and the people lapped it up.

Jeremiah’s response is curious:

He said, “Amen! May the LORD do so! May the LORD fulfill the words you have prophesied by bringing the articles of the LORD’s house and all the exiles back to this place from Babylon.” (Jeremiah 28:6 NIV | 84)

The true prophet was clever. His response, though curious, made complete sense, for who wouldn’t want the optimistic, positive outcome prophesied by Hananiah? But, the clever response was followed this observation:

But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the LORD only if his prediction comes true. (Jeremiah 28:9 NIV | 84)

Jeremiah was clever, and he was no fool. He wasn’t born yesterday and he knew how God worked. He loved Judah and the people of Judah, and somewhere deep inside he hoped Hananiah’s words would pan out and be true. But he knew what God had told him. And Hananiah’s actions belied his attitude.

Then the prophet Hananiah took the yoke off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah and broke it, and he said before all the people, “This is what the LORD says: ‘In the same way will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon off the neck of all the nations within two years.’ ” At this, the prophet Jeremiah went on his way. (Jeremiah 28:10, 11 NIV | 84)

Anybody can say anything, but the proof is in the pudding. And sometimes it’s in history. In the past, the true prophets of God never prophesied good times ahead without emphasizing the responsibility of the people. Yet this was precisely what Hananiah and other false prophets were doing. The true prophets of God always spoke of ethical conduct and how that connected to eternal realities. Jeremiah knew that God dealt with people on a moral basis, not merely on desirable outcomes. The word of a true prophet wasn’t always sunshine and daisies, but a mixture of negative and positive.

God’s word to Hananiah through Jeremiah, though, was all bad:

Then the prophet Jeremiah said to Hananiah the prophet, “Listen, Hananiah! The LORD has not sent you, yet you have persuaded this nation to trust in lies. Therefore, this is what the LORD says: ‘I am about to remove you from the face of the earth. This very year you are going to die, because you have preached rebellion against the LORD.’ ” (Jeremaih 28:15, 16 NIV | 84)

And he did die, just as the Lord’s true prophet had said.

This chapter is an important one. In our world today, there is much talk of peace. Peace is something all people want. But God’s Word, which contains the objective Truth, doesn’t speak of a peaceful world, but of a world filled with wars and rumors of wars until the Lord returns. Any nation can do anything it wants to; treaties may be concocted and signed, but in the end, the Lord’s Word will always come to pass.

 

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