Nobody ever said the life of a prophet was easy. Today’s reading reminds of that. Jeremiah was put on trial in the presence of the priests and prophets with the sanctity of the temple at issue. Jeremiah had declared that the Lord was so disturbed by the actions of His people that not only would He destroy Jerusalem, but He would destroy the temple as well. He stood in the courtyard of the temple because the people of Judah gathered there during festivals. Through Jeremiah, the Lord gave the people a choice about what would happen to them in the future. If they would turn from their evil ways the Lord would change His mind about their destruction. And again, the standard of His judgement was how or if Israel obeyed the terms of His covenant. Obedience equaled blessing and disobedience meant punishment. Jeremiah reminded the people that their counterparts in the northern kingdom had chosen the path of disobedience and as a result their sanctuary in Shiloh was destroyed. If the people of Judah continued in their evil ways, the same thing would happen to them. The crowd at the temple did not like or receive Jeremiah’s message and they wanted to kill him because of his blasphemy against the temple. A charge of blasphemy carried the death penalty. His opposition argued that the Lord would never destroy the temple. The priests and prophets believed the pagan thought that said temples were indestructible because deities lived in them. Therefore the Lord would not destroy His own house.
This trial happened at the city gates. During this time period the city gates were covered and multi- chambered. This is where commerce went in and out, and the elders of the city would congregate here so they could preside over legal affairs and trials. This was actually a fair trial because the officials were fair. Each party had an opportunity to present their side of the story. Jeremiah had argued that God had sent him to speak against the city and the temple. He also reminded them that the impending disaster would not happen if the people would repent and return to the Lord. But, Jeremiah also told the officials he was in their hands. If they did make the decision to kill him they would bear the responsibility for killing an innocent man. He was successful in his defense because he was able to convince the officials he spoke for the Lord. Once here was done speaking some of the old wise men stood to speak. They remembered Micah who lived during the time of Hezekiah, more than 100 years earlier. Micah had written a small collection of his prophecies and now the elders quoted from these writings, Micah 3:12. This verse predicted the destruction of Mount Zion and Jerusalem, and the elders urged the officials to do what Hezekiah had done; turn from their sins and worship the Lord. The officials did remove their plan to harm Jeremiah but they did not seek the Lord.
Next the Lord ordered Jeremiah to send messengers to the officials from nearby countries to announce the Lord’s judgement on them. He was to illustrate his message by wearing a wooden yoke. This happened between 594-593 B.C. The entire weight of the divine name was behind this message and the Lord’s authority over everything was a direct challenge to the nature of the false deities worshiped by every other nation Jeremiah was sent to. God had given Nebuchadnezzar authority over the whole region so resistance to him was futile. All the nations would serve him and his descendants, but the fall of Babylon at the hands of Cyrus occurred in 539 B.C. Jeremiah warned…again…against those who delivered messages contrary to those of the Lord. False prophets made predictions that supported idol worship. There were fortune tellers, interpreters of dreams, mediums, and sorcerers. And they prophesied that the king of Babylon would not conquer the people of Judah. This was false because Babylon begin their conquest in 605 B.C. At this point the Lord was sufficiently angry with His own people that what was prophesied for Judah’s neighbors was also meant for them. In 597 B.C. all the gold was taken from the temple, and even the false prophets were called upon to repent and pray to the Lord. When Jehoiachin was taken prisoner, king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon left the large valuable
furniture in the temple but when he returned in 586 B.C. he took it all back to Babylon. After the exile, Cyrus the Persian let the Jews bring everything back to Jerusalem with them.
Not long after the events recorded in chapter 27, a false prophet named Hananiah publicly confronted Jeremiah in the temple courtyard. Both prophets gave what they claimed was a message from the Lord, but only Jeremiah’s came true. The people were all at the temple for this so it may well have happened at one of their annual festivals. One could say that Hananiah’s message was official propaganda but he used some pretty strong terms. By this time Judah had been under the yoke of Babylon since 597 B.C. The false prophets claimed that the Judean king Jehoiachin would return in a few short years. This implied that the current king, Zedekiah, held a lesser status over Judah. Hananiah even used the same formula as Jeremiah used…I, the Lord, have spoken. Jeremiah responded with Amen! Which means, so be it. He would have been happy if that actually happened. But Jeremiah knew better. He also knew that only when a prophet’s predictions come true can people be certain that he has spoken the Lord’s Word. This false prophet actually broke the wooden yoke Jeremiah was wearing as a sign of what He would do. Jeremiah left this encounter with no response because he had not received one from the Lord yet. But, Jeremiah did receive a response from the Lord and he delivered it. The wooden yoke Hananiah broke was replaced by a metaphorical yoke of iron. Now it was certain. The people would submit to Babylon because the Lord had decreed it. The penalty for false prophets was death and that was the Lord’s decree for Hananiah. Two month later this was carried out and Jeremiah’s prophecy was validated. Hananiah’s prediction about the temple treasures being returned in two months did not come true…not even close. The Lord showed once again that He was in full control.
Chapter 29:1-23 is a letter from the Lord to the exiles scattered throughout the world. It would be read over and over until every exile had the chance to hear it. Jeremiah urged the people to be ready to stay in Babylon for an extended period of time. In fact, God wanted them to become productive citizens. God wanted the Jews to be concerned for and pray for the welfare of the Babylonian communities in which the Jews were living so their communities could grow. And, what the false prophet Hananiah told them was not true. Jeremiah also had a warning for false prophets and fortune tellers. The exiles would be in Babylon for 70 years. This was not new information but the people had not believe Jeremiah when he told them before. Now they were in exile and they needed to accept reality. Even in exile, the Lord had plans for their good, and if they would just look for Him wholeheartedly, they would find Him. The exile taught the people to reject false gods and give their wholehearted devotion to the Lord. It also gave them a new commitment to the revealed word of God.
False prophets existed within the exhilic community, and they held out hope that they would soon return to the glory of the temple. God wanted to make sure that the people understood why they were in exile and that they were not worse off than those left behind. God reminded them there were still bad figs left in Jerusalem and their time of horror had not yet come. At this point Jeremiah was still in Jerusalem but the Lord was able to tell him what was happening in Babylon. The Lord named two prophets who were telling lies, and He put them to death. This chapter ends with a back and forth between Jeremiah and a false prophet named Shemaiah. He took issue with Jeremiah’s written advice that the exiles should put down roots and begin lives in exile, and he wrote a letter to a priest in Jerusalem urging him to take action against Jeremiah. Jeremiah responded with a letter to the exiles that condemned Shemaiah. The priest showed Jeremiah the letter. Shemaiah had no commission from the Lord, and he was a liar. We end with a three fold invocation of the Lord’s authority; he prophesied when the Lord had not sent him, the Lord will punish he and his family, and none of his descendants would live to see the good things God would do for His people. Shemaiah was charged, convicted, and sentenced to execution. And Jeremiah was still standing strong.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W