Jeremiah 28 Commentary: There’s a man named Rob Bell. He’s the former pastor of a church in Grandville, Michigan called Mars Hill Bible Church. A few years ago, this man wrote a book called “Love Wins.” The book made quite a stir because in effect it taught Universalism. Universalism is the doctrine that all people eventually end up in heaven with God. It’s a doctrine that flatly denies the existence of an eternal hell where sinners are punished forever.
Jeremiah 28 Commentary: Hell is Hard to Accept But Biblical
The doctrine of hell is obviously one of the most sobering realities ever taught in Scripture. It might be one of the most difficult to accept. And yet it’s a reality that Jesus taught multiple times. It – and the sin that leads a person to this place – is what Jesus came to save his people from.
Jeremiah 28 Commentary: Rob Bell is a False Prophet
So, hell is a thoroughly biblical reality. And so, when a man like Rob Bell comes out with a book and makes national news for denying the existence of hell, this makes him a false prophet. He is proclaiming a message on behalf of God – and in that sense he’s a prophet. But his message is not according to the Scripture. And therefore, his prophecies are false.
Jeremiah 28 Commentary: Getting There
Jeremiah 28 records a run-in between the prophet Jeremiah and a false prophet named Hananiah.
But before we get into Jeremiah 28, let’s recover the context of this chapter. In Jeremiah 27 we saw God giving a message to Jeremiah for all the people. And as is so often the case, God gave Jeremiah something physical to do to proclaim that message. Do you remember what physical device God had Jeremiah make to communicate his message?
Yeah, it was a yoke and bonds. A yoke of course would be used to bring animals under the control of the owner of that animal. And similar to that, God was putting a metaphorical yoke on the shoulders of the nations. And even though it was God putting the yoke on, he was delegating his authority to a particular nation to rule over those other nations. Who was that? Babylon.
And so, God told Jeremiah to wear that yoke himself and to also send some yokes to the surrounding nations. And along with the yoke, and the message, the Lord also emphasized through Jeremiah that the kings of the nations needed to not listen to false prophets who were directly contradicting that very message. These false prophets were proclaiming in the name of God the very opposite of what the true God was proclaiming. And so, everyone should just ignore them and not take any action on what they proclaim.
And so now in Jeremiah 28 we see the reaction of one of those false prophets to that message of submission to Babylon. The false prophet’s name is Hananiah. And he’s got a different message to preach.
Jeremiah 28 Commentary: Setting the Scene
So, Jeremiah 28:1 sets the scene for what we’re about to see for the rest of the chapter.
First, we’re told when the following events happened.
KJV Jeremiah 28:1 ¶ And it came to pass the same year, in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the fourth year, and in the fifth month,
So, we’re in the first half of the reign of Zedekiah. Zedekiah was the last king of Judah. He reigned for 11 years. And this is the 4th year and 5th month of his reign, which makes it apparently the “beginning” of that reign in the sense that it was the first half of the reign.
Now, pay attention especially to the month reference. We’re right now at the beginning of the events related here in the 5th month. We’ll get another month reference at the end of Jeremiah 28 that we’ll need to compare to this month to get the total significance of the matter.
So, we’ve seen the “when” – “when did this happen?” And now, to end Jeremiah 28:1 we have the “what”. What happened?
that Hananiah the son of Azur the prophet, which was of Gibeon, spake unto me in the house of the LORD, in the presence of the priests and of all the people, saying,
Gibeon was a city given to the Levites in the territory of Benjamin. What I found interesting in m studying of Gibeon is that the tabernacle was kept there even after the Ark of the Covenant was moved to Jerusalem. The tabernacle was kept on a high place there where there was probably unorthodox worship going on in conjunction with the Ark itself. So, that’s where Hananiah haled from.
Hananiah was the son of Azur. There’s an Azur mentioned in the book of Ezekiel. And there, that man is portrayed as one who is giving a false message to the people of Jerusalem. So, it could be that the Azur of Ezekiel is the same Azur here. In which case, both father and son are engaged in false prophecy.
Well, Hananiah is a false prophet. But you don’t see the word “false” in this passage. In fact, you don’t see that term “false prophet” anywhere in the Old Testament. He’s just a prophet. And we’ll have to know him by his fruits. So, let’s see what this prophet has to say and whether it accords with God’s word.
Jeremiah 28 Commentary: Hananiah’s Message
Hananiah’s original proclamation takes up Jeremiah 28:2-4. He starts…
2 Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, saying,
“I broke the yoke”
So, speaking on behalf of the Lord, Hananiah claims the following…
I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon.
“I’ll bring back the Temple vessels”
And as a result of supposedly breaking the yoke of the king of Babylon, the Lord would bring the Temple vessels back to Jerusalem…
3 Within two full years will I bring again into this place all the vessels of the LORD’S house, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place, and carried them to Babylon:
“I’ll bring back the exiled king”
And not only that, but the Lord supposedly would be bringing back the exiled king Jeconiah…
4 And I will bring again to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, with all the captives of Judah, that went into Babylon,
saith the LORD:
“I will break the yoke”
And Hananiah’s message ends with a repeated assertion that God has broken the yoke of Babylon…
for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.
Jeremiah 28 Commentary: Summary of Hananiah’s Message
So, that’s the message of Hananiah, supposedly on behalf of the Lord. In summary: God broke the yoke of Babylon, God will bring the Temple vessels and the exile king back, and God broke the yoke of Babylon.
This no doubt would have been a very welcomed message to the people of Judah. Jeremiah’s message had been very heavy and negative and filled with disaster and punishment for the people’s sins. But this message was upbeat and positive and optimistic. What’s best – no doubt in the eyes of most of the Jews of that day – Hananiah’s message involved success and blessing for the people while at the same time completely leaving out any call to repent.
If Hananiah was a 21st Century American politician, his slogan would surely have been something like “Make Jerusalem Great Again.” Of course, just like we see with any current politician who wants a great America, Hananiah wouldn’t have had any concept of what truly made Jerusalem and Judah and Israel great in the first place – their relationship to the one true God.
Well, there’s no doubt that Hananiah’s prophecy was false. He was a false prophet whose message contradicted the word of the Lord.
So, now let’s see the response of the true prophet of God to this false prophet.
Jeremiah 28 Commentary: Jeremiah’s Response
Jeremiah’s response to Hananiah is found in Jeremiah 28:5-9. It begins…
5 ¶ Then the prophet Jeremiah said unto the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests, and in the presence of all the people that stood in the house of the LORD,
6 Even the prophet Jeremiah said,
And notice the repeated mention of the word “prophet” to describe Jeremiah. Remember – Hebrew doesn’t use the phrase “false prophet.” So, it’s as if the Lord here wants to point to the fact that Jeremiah is the true prophet in this story, not Hananiah.
“I wish you were right”
Well, here’s the start of Jeremiah’s words to Hananiah. In short, Jeremiah begins by saying something akin to “I wish you were right.”
Amen: [i.e., May] the LORD do so: [i.e., May] the LORD perform thy words which thou hast prophesied, to bring again the vessels of the LORD’S house, and all that is carried away captive, from Babylon into this place.
You might think that Jeremiah was giving in here. It can sound as if Jeremiah is siding with Hananiah in a prophecy that Jeremiah surely knows is not true.
But I don’t think Jeremiah is giving in or capitulating to this false prophet.
First, Jeremiah was not one to enjoy the destruction of his own people. We have recorded earlier in this book that he did not long for the fateful day. He didn’t want judgement to come on his people. In fact, her interceded for God to delay his punishment at least three times as recorded in this book. So, when Jeremiah hears a prophecy to restore God’s people and the Temple materials, well, objectively of course Jeremiah would have loved for that to be the case.
Added to that, God would do the very thing that Jeremiah is saying here. God would still bring the people and Temple vessels back to Jerusalem. But only after 70 years of captivity. So, part of Hananiah’s prophecy is true – but only when viewed in light of an intermediate exile.
And isn’t that how false prophecy works? It contains an element of truth. But the truth is distorted. Or it’s taught out of balance with the rest of truth – it’s overemphasized or underemphasized. Or its taught out of order or out of context.
Well, so Jeremiah would have loved for God to restore his people to their land, and he would someday. And yet, Jeremiah knew full well that this prophecy wasn’t accurate in the way it had been communicated. And so, ultimately I think Jeremiah’s response which we just saw was probably spoken with at least a hint of sarcasm.
And we know this is the case because Jeremiah follows up his statement of wishing Hananiah’s prophecy were true with a big adversative…
7 [Nevertheless/Yet/But] hear thou now this word that I speak in thine ears, and in the ears of all the people;
“The typical prophetic message is negative”
And what Jeremiah wants Hananiah to know and recognize is this fact. The typical prophetic message is negative…
8 The prophets that have been before me and before thee of old prophesied both against many countries, and against great kingdoms, of war, and of evil, and of pestilence.
“So, we’ll have to wait and see if your message comes true”
And so, because the typical prophet message is negative – involving war, evil, pestilence, etc. – because that’s how these messages usually go, then Jeremiah says something like “We’ll have to wait and see if your message comes true.”
9 The prophet which prophesieth of peace [i.e., a fairly foreign theme of most prophetic messages], when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that the LORD hath truly sent him.
Jeremiah 28 Commentary: Summary of Jeremiah’s Response
So, in other words, Jeremiah admits that Hananiah has an attractive message that he wishes were true. And yet, Jeremiah knows better and realizes that Hananiah’s message is not true. He points to the tone of the typical prophetic message and declares that Hananiah’s message sticks out like a sore thumb in the history of prophecies because it is so exclusively positive.
Jeremiah 28 Commentary: Hananiah Breaks the Yoke
But Hananiah is not deterred. In fact, he’s going to ratchet up his rhetoric and actions against Jeremiah’s true message in Jeremiah 28:10-11.
10 ¶ Then Hananiah the prophet took the yoke from off the prophet Jeremiah’s neck, and brake it.
11 And Hananiah spake in the presence of all the people, saying,
Thus saith the LORD;
Even so will I break the yoke [i.e., of servitude] of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the neck of all nations within the space of two full years.
You can imagine that Hananiah’s bombastic actions would have wowed the crowd. Here they are, watching a man who claims to be a prophet break the yoke off the neck of another prophet whose message they don’t particularly like. And surely the boldness of Hananiah would have emboldened at least some people to ignore Jeremiah’s message of submission to Babylon.
Jeremiah 28 Commentary: Jeremiah Leaves
Well, put yourself in Jeremiah’s sandals. Here he is giving an unpopular message to his own people. He was proclaiming this message while wearing a big wooden yoke that only animals ever wore. And now to make matters worse, a false prophet comes along and breaks the yoke off of him and tells everyone that what he just said was wrong. How embarrassing.
How does Jeremiah respond? Jeremiah 28:11 says…
And the prophet Jeremiah went his way.
The text neither condemns nor commends to us how Jeremiah responds here. He could have stayed and kept talking and proclaiming judgement. I get the sense that maybe he was just tired of fighting with these people. He did his part. He spoke God’s word. He made the yokes and sent them to the nations and put one on himself. He even responded to Hananiah’s challenge with a challenge of his own.
What else could Jeremiah have said or done that would have made any difference at this point?
Jeremiah 28 Commentary: God Responds
Well, even though Jeremiah had basically given up on this battle with Hananiah, there was someone who wouldn’t. That’s the Lord. The Lord finally responds to Hananiah’s challenge in Jeremiah 28:12-14.
Here’s when God responded.
12 ¶ Then the word of the LORD came unto Jeremiah the prophet, after that Hananiah the prophet had broken the yoke from off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, saying,
Command to go
Then God gives a command to go.
13 Go and tell Hananiah, saying,
Thus saith the LORD;
Iron replaces wood
And the message that Jeremiah is to now give to Hananiah is to alert that false prophet to the fact that iron will now replace wood in the situation with the yoke.
Thou hast broken the yokes of wood;
but thou shalt make for them yokes of iron.
14 For thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel;
The nations will serve Babylon
God now reasserts that the nations will indeed serve Babylon.
I have put a yoke of iron upon the neck of all these nations,
that they may serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon;
and they shall serve him:
and I have given him the beasts of the field also.
So, that’s God’s message that he wants Jeremiah to go back and proclaim to Hananiah.
Jeremiah 28 Commentary: Jeremiah Proclaims God’s Message
And Jeremiah proves once more to be a faithful servant as he proclaims God’s message in Jeremiah 28:15-16.
15 Then said the prophet Jeremiah unto Hananiah the prophet,
Jeremiah is now quite a bit bolder in his confrontation with Hananiah. He basically says, “you lie” to Hananiah.
Hear now, Hananiah; The LORD hath not sent thee; but thou makest this people to trust in a lie.
16 Therefore thus saith the LORD;
You will die
And because Hananiah lied, Jeremiah declares that he will die.
Behold, I [will/am about to] [cast thee from off/remove you from] the face of the earth:
this year thou shalt die,
Why the death penalty? It’s because Hananiah’s lie will lead to rebellion against the Lord.
because thou hast taught rebellion against the LORD.
Jeremiah 28 Commentary: Hananiah Dies
And here’s the punchline of the whole story. Hananiah – this threatening, menacing false prophet, who’s so full of words and deception – this man dies by God’s doing.
17 ¶ So Hananiah the prophet died the same year in the seventh month.
Catch the time reference. Hananiah dies in the same year as what we heard of in the first verse – the fourth year of Zedekiah. Now, basically Jeremiah 28:1-16 all happened in the fifth month of that year. When did verse 17 happen? The seventh month. That’s two months, folks.
Note the irony. Hananiah declares falsely that God will release Judah from Babylonian power in two years. That never happens. But what does happen is that Hananiah dies – not in two years – but in two months.
Jeremiah 28 Commentary: Conclusion
So, brothers and sisters, stick to God’s word. Don’t be derailed by strange teachings. Don’t give up on trusting the words of the Lord over the words of people.
Resist false teaching. Resist the false teaching of men and women who claim to have God’s message. But let me also urge us all to resists the false teaching of our own idolatrous flesh. Our flesh lies to us all the time. It tells us unbiblical things. And we all too often listen to it.
May the Lord help us to ignore anything that contradicts God’s message and tempts to lead us astray. May he help us to know and love and obey his word. We won’t regret it in the end.