Read: Jeremiah 27-29
God used Nebuchadnezzar as an instrument of discipline against the nations. His actions are difficult to understand by most and we see prophets arise to say things the people wanted to hear, yet they were words not from the Lord. Jeremiah calls them out, not a pleasant exchange, but what else can he do? He only tells the truth.
With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please. Now I will give all your countries into the hands of my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; I will make even the wild animals subject to him. Jeremiah 27:5-6
Even the animals…all will fall under the authority of Nebuchadnezzar for a period of time. Those who refuse will be punished.
But if any nation will bow its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will let that nation remain in its own land to till it and to live there, declares the Lord. Jeremiah 27:11
Jeremiah warns Judah to ignore the prophets that contradict God’s message to live under the rule of the king of Babylon. It’s strange and interesting and hard to comprehend why God would take this course of action as his means of shaping our ancestors. Perhaps that’s really the problem, I find it hard to understand–as if I were capable. I wonder if God tests us with trials today, places before us things which we cannot possibly understand just to see if we will be obedient. Who is our current Nebuchadnezzar? What has God put in my face that makes no sense to me? I can think of several things right away, things I won’t put in the blog, but current thoughts nonetheless.
The prophet Hananiah spoke words and took actions that the people wanted to hear and see.
“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon. Jeremiah 28:2
Jeremiah’s response provides a great example of how we should react to false teaching:
He said, “Amen! May the Lord do so! May the Lord fulfill the words you have prophesied Jeremiah 28:6
In other words, Hananiah has wonderful words to say, those which are pleasant for the people to hear, but they are lies. Hananiah then takes the yoke and breaks it to demonstrate what God will do, but again, all false prophecy. How often do we applaud that which we want to hear over that which is real?
As expected, it doesn’t go well with Hananiah:
15 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. 16 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.’” 17 In the seventh month of that same year, Hananiah the prophet died. Jeremiah 28:15-17
Later we see a similar fate for Shemaiah:
31 “Send this message to all the exiles: ‘This is what the Lord says about Shemaiah the Nehelamite: Because Shemaiah has prophesied to you, even though I did not send him, and has persuaded you to trust in lies, 32 this is what the Lord says: I will surely punish Shemaiah Jeremiah 29:31-32
It’s understandable that the leaders of the day wanted to hear a prophecy that met their expectations and desire, but that doesn’t make the prophecy true.
Letter to the Exiles
Jeremiah writes a letter to the survivors, those exiled, in an effort to provide specific instructions for their behavior during this period:
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Jeremiah 29:4-5
He goes on to tell them to get married, have children, increase in number and faith while trusting that God will provide. Further, he tells them to work with the government, support them and make themselves known as wise people who are seen as obedient. This is not a call to false humility, God wants them to earnestly support those who hold them captive. It’s in this context that we read one of the most quoted verses in the Bible:
11 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. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” Jeremiah 29:11-14
Understanding their situation helps me fully appreciate the power of the words in the Bible. Those who were faithful had to accept exile, captivity by a king that they knew was not a man of God. And in the midst of exile, of being carried away from the Promised Land, all that they knew and loved, in this setting, they are to love God and love their neighbors while trusting that God has a plan. This isn’t a call to worship their gods or become like those who are deceived by the lies of the world. Not at all. Jeremiah does not suggest we become like them; rather, we show them who we are as people of God.
How does Jeremiah do it? How does he discern the voice of God over the words of false prophets? Lord, help us to get close enough to you to hear your voice clearly, to know what it is you want and not simply words we prefer to hear.