12 After the prophet Hananiah had broken the yoke off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 13 “Go and tell Hananiah, ‘This is what the Lord says: You have broken a wooden yoke, but in its place you will get a yoke of iron. 14 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: I will put an iron yoke on the necks of all these nations to make them serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and they will serve him. I will even give him control over the wild animals.’”
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 28:12-17 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, 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. Hananiah predicts that Judah and the surrounding nations will be free from their Babylonian rulers, and all the Temple articles restored within two years.
Jeremiah responded that it would be wonderful if Hananiah’s prediction were to come true, but the Lord had been saying the opposite. Hananiah then took the oxen’s yoke from Jeremiah’s neck, broke it, and declared it an object lesson as to what the Lord would do within two years. Not having a word from the Lord, Jeremiah did not argue with or try to refute Hananiah. He quietly walked away, not in fear or embarrassment, but with integrity. Jeremiah took the high road.
As we begin today’s text, we see the word of the Lord come to Jeremiah. We don’t know the time between Jeremiah walking away and the Lord speaking to him. Our only clue is verse 13, where the Lord tells Jeremiah to “Go and tell Hananiah”, thus indicating a physical separation between the two men.
What was the message from the Lord? That Nebuchadnezzar’s control over these nations will not be breakable. Nebuchadnezzar will have absolute authority over everyone, as indicated by the yoke of iron the Lord promised. The Lord even promised that Nebuchadnezzar would have control over the wild animals. Nebuchadnezzar’s authority would be second only to God Himself.
After the Lord cleared up the matter of the false predictions, the Lord then dealt with Hananiah. In verses 15 – 16, the Lord accused Hananiah of two additional sins besides the false prophecies: Leading the people to trust in lies (v. 15) and for preaching rebellion against the Lord (v. 16). And what was Hananiah’s fate? Death.
The Lord had clearly stated that false predictions were dealt with severely:
But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.
(Deuteronomy 18:20 NIV, God speaking)
Chapter 28 concludes the matter: Hananiah had predicted that within two years, all would be well. The Lord had the final say: within two months, Hananiah died. The Lord had clearly shown the true prophet (Jeremiah) and the false prophet (Hananiah), yet the people were unfazed. While we would hope for a revival, it seemed to be another day, with no lessons learned or turning to the Lord.
So what are the lessons learned from today’s text? One would certainly be that our resistance to the Lord’s discipline only adds to our chastening, as shown by the Lord exchanging an iron yoke for the wooden one (v. 13).
Also, the Lord deals severely with those who speak words on His behalf that He has not commanded or given. While most people today would not call themselves “prophets”, some go around saying “God says…” or “the Bible says…”, when, in fact, there is no evidence that either is true. May we carefully consider our words and do our homework before claiming that the Lord or the Bible have said something.
May we not, in our frustration with the local church or the church at large, declare either judgment (like Jeremiah’s symbol of bondage) or victory (like Hananiah’s symbol of freedom). Walking with the Lord in New Testament times like the days of the early church and like our days today is messy and often painful and frustrating. May we give grace to ourselves and others as we journey together with the Lord and with each other.