24 Tell Shemaiah the Nehelamite, 25 “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: You sent letters in your own name to all the people in Jerusalem, to the priest Zephaniah son of Maaseiah, and to all the other priests. You said to Zephaniah, 26 ‘The Lord has appointed you priest in place of Jehoiada to be in charge of the house of the Lord; you should put any maniac who acts like a prophet into the stocks and neck-irons. 27 So why have you not reprimanded Jeremiah from Anathoth, who poses as a prophet among you? 28 He has sent this message to us in Babylon: It will be a long time. Therefore build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.’”
29 Zephaniah the priest, however, read the letter to Jeremiah the prophet. 30 Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 31 “Send this message to all the exiles: ‘This is what the Lord says about Shemaiah the Nehelamite: Because Shemaiah has prophesied to you, even though I did not send him, and has persuaded you to trust in lies, 32 this is what the Lord says: I will surely punish Shemaiah the Nehelamite and his descendants. He will have no one left among this people, nor will he see the good things I will do for my people, declares the Lord, because he has preached rebellion against me.’”
(Jeremiah 29:24-32 NIV)
In the previous post, we saw the Lord deal with two exiled false prophets in Babylon. The Lord’s charges against them were adultery and prophesying lies to the exiles. Because the false prophets also committed rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar had them burned alive.
In today’s passage, we catch a glimpse of the ongoing correspondence between Jerusalem and Babylon. Jeremiah’s letter has reached Babylon, and Shemaiah, one of the exiled prophets in Babylon has responded.
Shemaiah wrote to three groups in response to Jeremiah’s message:
- The remaining people of Jerusalem
- Zephaniah the priest
- All the other priests in Jerusalem
Shemaiah calls out Zephaniah the priest for not dealing with Jeremiah. Zephaniah was the priest in charge of the Temple in Jerusalem; he had the authority to address all issues, including disciplinary actions against priests and prophets.
Shemaiah calls Jeremiah a “maniac”, a madman if you will, and a false prophet. And what are the basis of Shemaiah’s charges? Jeremiah’s claim that it would be a long time (seventy years) before the exiles would be released to return to Jerusalem (vs. the two years all the false prophets were saying). And what was Shemaiah’s recommendation for Jeremiah’s punishment? Public humiliation again via stocks and neck irons.
What was Zephaniah’s response? Instead of carrying out Shemaiah’s demands, Zephaniah the priest took Shemaiah’s letter and read it to Jeremiah. Why did Zephaniah the priest not implement Shemaiah’s demands? Was he sympathetic to Jeremiah and wanted to obey the Lord? Or did Zephaniah remember what happened to the last priest who put Jeremiah in stocks (see 20:1-6) and showed Jeremiah the letter just to save himself? Scripture does not say.
Notice that in verses 30 – 32 that Jeremiah does not respond, but rather waits for a word from the Lord. When the Lord answers, He tells Jeremiah to address the letter to the exiles in Babylon. The Lord’s message? Shemaiah was preaching rebellion against the Lord. The Lord’s judgment on Shemaiah? The same fate as Hananiah (see 28:15-17) – the death sentence for false prophets (see Deuteronomy 18:20-22).
As we close out Chapter 29, we also come to the end of this group of events in Jeremiah’s history. Let’s take a quick look back on the events of the last few chapters of Jeremiah’s life:
- He preaches of the Temple’s destruction and Jerusalem’s desertion; a lynch mod immediately forms and demands his death (Chapter 26)
- He disrupts a high-level international gathering of ambassadors coming together to rebel against Nebuchadnezzar by wearing an oxen’s yoke and preaching subservience to Nebuchadnezzar (Chapter 27)
- He has a face-to-face confrontation with a rival prophet who represented the majority opinion of the prophets and who had the heart and minds of the people (Chapter 28)
- He writes what many would consider a letter of treason to the exiles in Babylon, encouraging them to settle down and get on with their lives in Babylon (Chapter 29)
And if we could ask Jeremiah why he did all these things, he would likely let out a deep breath and say with quiet but firm conviction, “I am doing what the Lord told me to do.”
May we, like Jeremiah, have the courage to follow the Lord’s leadings, to be faithful to the Scriptures and God’s prompting, no matter what the cost.
May we, like Jeremiah, wait on the Lord for our response, even when the attacks are personal and unfounded, or the majority of public opinion has turned against us.
May we, like Jeremiah, be more concerned about giving God glory and speaking the truth in love than worrying about our reputations.
May we, like Jeremiah, put our confidence in the Lord and leave the results of our obedience in His hands, and not try to control the outcome of events in our lives.