28 In the fifth month of that same year, the fourth year, early in the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, the prophet Hananiah son of Azzur, who was from Gibeon, said to me in the house of the Lord in the presence of the priests and all the people: 2 “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon. 3 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. 4 I will also bring back to this place Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah and all the other exiles from Judah who went to Babylon,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.’”
5 Then the prophet Jeremiah replied to the prophet Hananiah before the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord.6 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. 7 Nevertheless, listen to what I have to say in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people: 8 From early times the prophets who preceded you and me have prophesied war, disaster and plague against many countries and great kingdoms.9 But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true.”
10 Then the prophet Hananiah took the yoke off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah and broke it, 11 and he said before all the people, “This is what the Lord says: ‘In the same way I will 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 28:1-11 NIV)
In Chapter 27, Jeremiah had put on an oxen’s yoke as a symbol of servitude to Babylon and King Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah also spoke what the Lord said about ignoring false prophets who proclaimed peace and restoration and freedom.
In Chapter 28, we see a confrontation between Jeremiah and one of the false prophets named Hananiah. Jeremiah is continuing to prophesy God’s word of captivity and servitude to Babylon and still has the oxen’s yoke around his neck.
In the same year that Jeremiah began to preach God’s word with the oxen’s yoke around his neck, Hananiah confronts Jeremiah in the Temple, in front of the priests and the people. Hananiah proclaims that Judah will be free from their Babylonian rulers, that King Jehoiachin and all the exiles and all the temple articles will return home. And all of this will happen within the next two years.
In verses 5 – 9, Jeremiah responds. At first, Jeremiah’s response seems like he might have sold out or be intimidated by Hananiah because he agrees with Hananiah. But Jeremiah’s agreement is not selling out, but more like “Yes, Hananiah, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Lord intervened and brought back the people and the temple articles from exile?”
In verses 7 – 8, Jeremiah reminds Hananiah, not with a word from the Lord, but from his experience and knowing what he knows about what God has been telling him. Jeremiah states that the Lord has been saying war, disaster, and plagues, precisely the opposite of what Hananiah had just proclaimed.
In verse 9, Jeremiah reminds Hananiah of the real test of a prophet: The prophet is deemed genuine and from the Lord only if their predictions become true.
After Jeremiah had finished his rebuttal, Hananiah removed the oxen’s yoke from Jeremiah’s neck, broke it, then repeated his prediction that the Babylonian rule would end in two years. Hananiah predicted that this would be true not only for Judah but all the nations held by the Babylonians.
Notice Jeremiah’s response at this point. Jeremiah does not confront Hananiah on his power or argue with him. Jeremiah simply walks away. Jeremiah does not have a fresh word from the Lord about this situation, so he leaves. Jeremiah walks in integrity with the Lord and knows that the Lord will determine the outcome. If Hananiah is correct, it’s all the best for Judah. If Jeremiah is right, Hananiah will suffer the consequences of his false prophecy.
May we remember that God’s desire is to restore and redeem all people to Himself. May we also remember that God’s timing is not our timing, His purposes are not our purposes; His ways are not our ways.
May we remember that God loves us, and even when bad things happen, God in His Providence can and will use them to bring glory to Himself. Not all bad things that happen to us are discipline (remember Job), but God redeems all things for His glory and our good.