And Jeremiah the prophet said to the prophet Hananiah, “Listen, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will remove you from the face of the earth. This year you shall die, because you have uttered rebellion against the Lord.'” Jeremiah 28:15-16
Jeremiah, I’m learning, is not a particularly uplifting or encouraging book! There are a lot of hard things to read – both about the Israelites’ continued disobedience and rebellion as well as God’s holy wrath against them.
But when I read these verses this morning, God spoke to me. In ch. 27, Jeremiah has just been speaking out to the Israelites and the other kings in the region about how God will place the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar over them and bless them if they will submit to him as king. He even tells them not to listen to prophets who prophesy peace because they are false prophets. Then this guy Hananiah shows up and tells the people – including Jeremiah – in the house of God no less, that God has said he will break the yoke of bondage over them within two years. For added emphasis, Hananiah takes the yoke around Jeremiah’s neck and literally breaks it in half. BAM!! What a powerful demonstration! What awesome words of hope! Two more years and God will free us!! You can almost hear the crowd encouraging one another: Hang in there, it’s almost over!! God is going to deliver us!
Jeremiah says “Amen!” but then leaves the people with some food for thought. He looks at Hananiah and says, “Boy, I really hope what you say comes true. I sure hope God sees our bondage and sets us free from this captivity.” (please excuse my paraphrase) But then, in front of God, the people, and everybody, he continues, “But I tell you this, Hananiah, if you’re going to stand here and prophesy peace and freedom, you’re really going out on a limb. As much as I’d like to believe you, only time will tell if God has really sent you.” And he goes on his way.
I’m sure the people were stunned with Jeremiah’s words. What a downer! Here they’ve gotten the best news in a long time – words of peace and hope and reconciliation and an end to their troubles – and Jeremiah has to be the party pooper.
Of course, Hananiah’s words don’t come true. Two years pass and the people are still in bondage. The yokes of Nebuchadnezzar are still firmly in place around their necks. They don’t get to return to their homeland or enjoy the blessing of peace. In a final showdown, Jeremiah once again faces Hananiah and utters God’s condemnation against him for deceiving the people. And sure enough, in that same year, in the seventh month, Hananiah dies.
I’m reminded: God doesn’t tolerate lies. He doesn’t approve of those who choose to change His words to fit their needs, wants, or desires. He’s not pleased with those who compromise the truth…especially when spoken by a leader. I’m not just talking about pastors or teachers, here. I’m speaking to parents, to mentors, to friends. To anyone who holds a position of influence in another’s life. God measures our words by the power they have over another’s actions. And if we are using our influence to deceive, we’d better be ready to face God’s righteous and holy anger in response. God defended the Israelites, though perhaps not in the way they expected. He removed the liar from their midst so they wouldn’t have to ride on his emotional roller-coaster again. He delivered them from believing the lie that may have caused them to forever doubt the truth…from having their faith shattered by an apparent lack of faithfulness on God’s part.
May I take this passage seriously. Better yet, may I take my words seriously. May I take my influence seriously. May I be mindful of those who are listening – both to my words and my actions – to be sure I am speaking God’s truth, even when that truth is hard.