Posts Tagged 'false prophets'

Jeremiah Was a Prophet, Part 5

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Jeremiah had a tough row to hoe. He was relatively young when God called him to be a prophet, and Jeremiah was sure he was just too young; too inexperienced. That’s probably how most of us feel when we’re faced with doing something we know the Lord wants us to do. The thing about God is this pesky passage:

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. (Jeremiah 1:5 NIV | 11)

That’s God laying it on the line for Jeremiah. When you realize, as our reluctant prophet soon did, that God knows you that well and that He is absolutely in charge of your life, it’s hard to argue with Him. You may think you aren’t good enough; worthy enough; spiritual enough; or whatever enough, but if God called you, then obviously He thinks you’re up to the challenge. To make matter ever worse, whom God calls, He equips:

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.” (Jeremiah 1:9 NIV | 11)

Well, that’s it then, isn’t it? The discussion was over for Jeremiah, and it’s over for us too. When God calls, just do what Mary, Jesus’ mother told some people:

But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you to.” (John 2:5 TLB)

The first verse in Jeremiah 26 sets the scene –

Early in the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah… (NIV | 84)

Jeremiah began his ministry during the reign of Josiah, who was a godly king, and under whose direction many religious reforms were instituted and a great revival took place. Josiah was killed in battle and very shortly thereafter, Judah became, for a time, a puppet state of Egypt. The king of Egypt put Josiah’s son, Jehoiakim, on the throne in Judah. He was a weak man, materialistic and self-centered. He not only rounded up and persecuted innocent citizens, but he tried to have Jeremiah killed. His end came none too soon:

Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon attacked him and bound him with bronze shackles to take him to Babylon. (2 Chronicles 36:6 NIV | 84)

Jehoiakim’s son, Jehoiachin, took over from his father, and just like his father he was a weak ruler who would have nothing to do with God. Nebuchadnezzar soon ended his career and took him off the throne and brought him to become a slave in Babylon. Like father, like son.

Self deception

This was the Lord’s instructions to His prophet:

This is what the LORD says: Stand in the courtyard of the LORD’s house and speak to all the people of the towns of Judah who come to worship in the house of the LORD. Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word.” (Jeremiah 26:2 NIV | 84)

This incident, though in chapter 26, actually took place back in chapters 7 – 10. With the passing of Josiah, the people, bereft of a sound leader of faith, soon lost interest in the religious reforms that Josiah put in place. Jeremiah, a prophet and man of vision, understood well the precarious position Judah had put herself in. Time was running out. The nation stood at the crossroads and her only hope was to return to God and if that was to happen, it would have to happen soon before the people drifted further away. Disregarding the obvious danger to himself, Jeremiah stepped up and, as Mary counselled generations later, he simply did what God had told him to do. As one Bible scholar noted,

Jeremiah stepped into the public light as a statesman of intrepid courage and political insight.

The message from God was a simple, direct, and highly offensive to the people who heard it – priests, prophets, and all the people: If they didn’t listen to the Word of God, their holy temple and city would be destroyed and made to be a curse before all nations. Their reaction was predictable and belied the violence in their hearts:

But as soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the LORD had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, “You must die! Why do you prophesy in the LORD’s name that this house will be like Shiloh and this city will be desolate and deserted?” And all the people crowded around Jeremiah in the house of the LORD. (Jeremiah 26:8, 9 NIV | 84)

Sure, they “crowded around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord,” but it wasn’t because they were listening in rapt attention to his dire words. They wanted to kill him! They wanted to stone the prophet to death because his sermon dared to contradict what the so-called professional prophets, priests, and religious leaders had been telling the people. To them, Jeremiah wasn’t preaching the Word of the Lord, he was guilty of blasphemy. The Temple of God, meant to be the dwelling place of God and the repository of His Word and teachings, had been turned into a symbol of the priest’s power over the people. In preaching something contrary to their teachings and going against the “majority opinion,” Jeremiah was undermining their authority. If this sounds familiar, something very similar happened to our Lord when He prophesied about the immanent destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in His day:

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:1, 2 NIV | 84)

Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.’ ” (mark 14:57, 58 NIV | 84)

Sometimes taking a stand for God and the truth can be outright dangerous. A lot of believers misunderstand Proverbs 15:22, believing that if all the preachers are saying the same thing, they must be right.

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. (Proverbs 15:22 NIV | 84)

Jeremiah and Jesus, and many reformers and martyrs down through the centuries have demonstrated that often, Proverbs 15:22 must be applied on a case-by-case basis.

The prophet’s defense

Then Jeremiah said to all the officials and all the people: “The LORD sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the things you have heard. Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the LORD your God. Then the LORD will relent and not bring the disaster he has pronounced against you. As for me, I am in your hands; do with me whatever you think is good and right. Be assured, however, that if you put me to death, you will bring the guilt of innocent blood on yourselves and on this city and on those who live in it, for in truth the LORD has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.” (Jeremiah 26:12 – 15 NIV | 84)

What an admirable, classic, and courageous defense:

• Authority: “The Lord sent me…”
• Warning: “…to prophesy against this house and city…”
• Committal: “…do with me whatever you think is good and right…”
• Warning: “…if you put me to death, you will bring the guilt of innocent blood on yourselves and on this city…”
• Authority: “…for in truth the Lord has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.”

His open and honest defense worked, at least for the moment. And in fact, Jeremiah found out he wasn’t the only prophet who had spoken the truth. Some of the elders remembered that a hundred years earlier, the prophet Micah said essentially the same thing as Jeremiah did.

Some of the elders of the land stepped forward and said to the entire assembly of people, “Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah. He told all the people of Judah, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: “ ‘Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.’” (Jeremiah 26:17, 18 NIV | 84)

What’s tragic about this whole incident is that while the people and the rulers recognized Jeremiah’s authority from God, they stubbornly refused to change their ways and obey the Word of the Lord. Had they done so, a great spiritual awakening would have taken place.

A deceived prophet

People and religious leaders are easily deceived and easily deceive God’s people. In Jeremiah 28, we read about a deceptive prophet whose name was Hananiah. This was his message to the people of Judah:

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon. 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.” (Jeremiah 28:2, 3 NIV | 84)

Hananiah was just a single false prophet but he represented an entire professional class – a professional class of religious profiteers; men who made money preaching what people wanted to hear. People like this are still in business today, by the way. In Hananiah’s case, he was not a “prosperity preacher” or preacher of “pop psychology” designed to make you happy. No, this false prophet was a prophet of peace – false peace. He was fool. He could see the “handwriting on the wall.” He recognized the awesome power of Babylon. He, like Jeremiah, had seen Nebuchadnezzar march into Jerusalem, take many captives back with him, along with many of the priceless Temple articles. Yet Hananiah publically prophesied a lie: that within two years Babylon’s power would be crushed and the captives returned home. It was a word full of “hope and change” and “sunny ways,” and the people lapped it up.

Jeremiah’s response is curious:

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.” (Jeremiah 28:6 NIV | 84)

The true prophet was clever. His response, though curious, made complete sense, for who wouldn’t want the optimistic, positive outcome prophesied by Hananiah? But, the clever response was followed this observation:

But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the LORD only if his prediction comes true. (Jeremiah 28:9 NIV | 84)

Jeremiah was clever, and he was no fool. He wasn’t born yesterday and he knew how God worked. He loved Judah and the people of Judah, and somewhere deep inside he hoped Hananiah’s words would pan out and be true. But he knew what God had told him. And Hananiah’s actions belied his attitude.

Then the prophet Hananiah took the yoke off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah and broke it, and he said before all the people, “This is what the LORD says: ‘In the same way will I 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 28:10, 11 NIV | 84)

Anybody can say anything, but the proof is in the pudding. And sometimes it’s in history. In the past, the true prophets of God never prophesied good times ahead without emphasizing the responsibility of the people. Yet this was precisely what Hananiah and other false prophets were doing. The true prophets of God always spoke of ethical conduct and how that connected to eternal realities. Jeremiah knew that God dealt with people on a moral basis, not merely on desirable outcomes. The word of a true prophet wasn’t always sunshine and daisies, but a mixture of negative and positive.

God’s word to Hananiah through Jeremiah, though, was all bad:

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. 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.’ ” (Jeremaih 28:15, 16 NIV | 84)

And he did die, just as the Lord’s true prophet had said.

This chapter is an important one. In our world today, there is much talk of peace. Peace is something all people want. But God’s Word, which contains the objective Truth, doesn’t speak of a peaceful world, but of a world filled with wars and rumors of wars until the Lord returns. Any nation can do anything it wants to; treaties may be concocted and signed, but in the end, the Lord’s Word will always come to pass.

 

JEREMIAH, PART 11

Faithfulness and Foolishness

Jeremiah 26:1—15

Jeremiah was undoubtedly a powerful preacher. How did people in Judah react to his stirring and sometimes offensive words? In chapter 26, we see how some people reacted to the prophet’s stirring words.

Even though this is chapter 26, it goes all the way back to the early days of Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry during King Jehoiakim’s reign. Bible scholars note that the actual words of this “Temple Sermon” are found back in chapters 7 through 10, with Jeremiah’s experiences noted in chapter 26. Here, the whole sermon is given in greatly condensed form in just a single sentence:

Say to them, ‘This is what the Lord says: If you do not listen to me and follow my law, which I have set before you, and if you do not listen to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I have sent to you again and again (though you have not listened), then I will make this house like Shiloh and this city a curse among all the nations of the earth.’ (Jeremiah 26:4—6)

Jeremiah learned the hard way how hard the human heart can become toward the Word of the Lord. What our courageous prophet discovered is that the nation in general had deluded themselves into thinking that because they still had the Temple, they still had God’s favor. Therefore, as far they were concerned, Jeremiah was a heretic because his message didn’t line up with their beliefs. They were so ignorant to God’s Word, they didn’t recognize it when they heard it preached to them, preferring to cling to their own incorrect beliefs.

1. Jeremiah’s commission, verse 2

Stand in the courtyard of the Lord’s house and speak to all the people of the towns of Judah who come to worship in the house of the Lord. Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word.

To a young prophet, this might have sounded like a plum assignment! Surely the Word of the Lord would be well-received in the Temple of the Lord. You’d think that would be the case, but this was not even close to what Jeremiah experienced.

During this time in history, around 608 BC, the Near East was sitting on pins and needles. The Assyrian Empire was breaking up. Egypt was trying to become the rising power in Asia. Babylon was on the brink of killing the Assyrian Empire and becoming the dominant world power. The armies of all these empires and nations were converging at a place called Carchemish to do battle. The future of Judah was a big question mark, to be determined by the outcome of a skirmish that would take place in 606 BC.

But Judah, internally, was having some problems. The nation was still mourning the death of godly King Josiah. Jehoahaz (or Shallum) his successor had been removed from the throne by the Egyptians and puppet-king Jehoiakim, was put on the throne. He was weak, inexperienced, he was a deceiver and completely unscrupulous yet thought himself great.

Since Josiah’s death, the religious situation in Judah deteriorated and Jeremiah recognized that the nation was fast approaching a crisis where its only hope for continued survival lay in a national return to God. He knew the clock was ticking; he knew Judah had to choose God soon or be lost forever.

This was the stream of history young Jeremiah stepped into. God gave His prophet a specific order as to where and when he would address the nation and what he would say to them. Jeremiah was to give his sermon in the Lord’s House and there he would preach it all, holding nothing back.

There is an expectation, even today, thousands of years removed from this period of Hebrew history and a world away from the Judaism of the Old Testament, that the truth should be the norm in the House of God. When a person walks into any church in any town or city in any country, he should always expect to hear the plain truth of God’s Word, not mixed with other ideas or diminished or added to in any way. Those who would distort God’s Word are putting themselves in real danger:

And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll. (Revelation 22:19)

What people who worship in church need today is not more gimmicks, louder music, bigger TV screens, a more casual atmosphere, and coffee in the pews! It’s the unedited, unfiltered, unapologetic Word of God preached honestly and with conviction.

Just as a side note, notice verse 3:

Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from his evil way. Then I will relent and not bring on them the disaster I was planning because of the evil they have done.

This points out that repentance is always as individual matter and God’s judgment always depends on the individual and the choices he makes to live in submissive obedience to God or not.

2. The message, verses 4—6

As was stated earlier, these three verses represent a severe condensation of Jeremiah’s actual sermon. This summation makes the preacher’s three main points really stand out:

  • The absolute necessity of obeying God’s law. This is not negotiable! You cannot call yourself a lover of God yet disregard His Word. In the context of Jeremiah’s sermon, judgment could only be avoided if there was a national return to God.
  • Jeremiah wasn’t the only preacher standing for God in Judah, there were others. The vast majority of prophets at this time was made up of liars, deceivers, charlatans, and thugs, but like always, God had a small band of warriors who dared to stand against the tide of falsehood and heresy.
  • The coming judgment was going to be severe. Shiloh, capital of Samaia (the Northern Kingdom) was not far from Jerusalem and the people could look to Shiloh to see the kind of devastation that awaited them if they didn’t straighten out.

When the blight of God falls on the house of God because of sin and unbelief, that same House of God becomes the object of scorn.

3. The opposition, verses 8—11

But as soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the Lord had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, “You must die! Why do you prophesy in the Lord’s name that this house will be like Shiloh and this city will be desolate and deserted?” And all the people crowded around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.

When the officials of Judah heard about these things, they went up from the royal palace to the house of the Lord and took their places at the entrance of the New Gate of the Lord’s house. Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and all the people, “This man should be sentenced to death because he has prophesied against this city. You have heard it with your own ears!”

A very similar thing happened to another preacher of righteousness:

Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23)

Religious people love religion but don’t care to hear the Word of the Lord if it cuts against their grain. By telling the people what God wanted them to hear, not what they themselves wanted to hear, Jeremiah was truly risking his life. A false prophet was punished by death, and as far the religionists of his day was concerned, Jeremiah was a false prophet. The charge against Jeremiah was led by the prophets and the priests, the ones who had been telling the people everything was going to be just fine; that God was pleased with Judah and there was no danger.

4. The call to repent, verse 12, 13

Then Jeremiah said to all the officials and all the people: “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the things you have heard. Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the Lord your God. Then the Lord will relent and not bring the disaster he has pronounced against you.”

Fortunately for our prophet, the court officials heard the ruckus in the Temple from the palace and investigated. This timely intervention probably saved Jeremiah’s life. The religious leaders accused Jeremiah of being a false prophet in front of the political class and all that remained was the judgment from these officials. But they apparently gave the prophet a chance to defend himself, and, like a dog going after red meat, Jeremiah was at it again! He was absolutely dedicated to God’s Word, resolute in his commitment to preach it not matter what or where, and, apparently, unafraid of the consequences!

In truth, while we may admire Jeremiah, he was God’s messenger and he was simply delivering God’s message to the people. How could he do any less and still remain faithful to his calling? In truth, Jeremiah could take back nothing he had said, for to do so just to save his hide would have made him just as bad as the false prophets and lying priests he was opposing. Besides, God had already clued Jeremiah into how rough it could get out there:

They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 1:19)

5. An honest testimony, verses 14, 15

As for me, I am in your hands; do with me whatever you think is good and right. Be assured, however, that if you put me to death, you will bring the guilt of innocent blood on yourselves and on this city and on those who live in it, for in truth the Lord has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.

We read the same language in Joshua 9 and 2 Samuel 15. It always pays to be honest, especially when handling God’s Word. Though Jeremiah thought his fate was in their hands, it really rested in God’s hands. He was prepared for whatever was going to happen to him. He did not plead for his life. He knew je faced imminent death. But he knew he had done nothing wrong and committed no crime.

6. A voice of reason, verse 16

Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man should not be sentenced to death! He has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.”

In a weird twist of fate, the politicos and the people were more amenable to the Word of the Lord than were the priests and the prophets! Which goes to prove that religious bigotry and pride are often the most bitter enemies of God. Blinded by their religion and their lies, the religious class couldn’t see past their own beliefs, but others saw Jeremiah for what he claimed to be: a man delivering God’s message. To the everlasting shame of priests, the laymen got it! And Jeremiah was spared.

Interestingly, we read about a group of elders, probably from the countryside, who stepped forward in Jeremiah’s defense, reminding the people that a hundred years earlier, another prophet named Micah said much the same thing as Jeremiah just did and he also was spared.

7. A frightening post scriptum

To round off the chapter, we are read of another prophet named Uriah who, we are told, preached the exact same things as did Micah and Jeremiah. But unlike Jeremiah, Uriah fled for his life rather than stand his ground for God. He fled to Egypt, where he was pursued, found, dragged back home and executed for preaching the Word of the Lord.

Yes, it always pays to be honest when dealing with the Word of God and the calling of God!

JEREMIAH, PART 10

False and True

Jeremiah 23:24—32

Jeremiah wasn’t preaching the Word of God to win friends. Over his lengthy ministry, he offended more people than he won over to the Lord’s side. Sometimes the Gospel has this effect on people. God’s Word seldom makes any sense to those who don’t believe in it.

In Jeremiah 23, Jeremiah is at it again; offending people with the word of the Lord. First, he offends the kings of Judah:

Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. (verse 1)

The kings of Judah were considered shepherds who led God’s people on the right path. While Judah had some very godly kings, it also had its share of wicked and vile kings who did untold damage to the kingdom. Jeremiah makes it clear that God has noticed what these kings have done and they will be punished:

I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done… (verse 2b)

That’s not an uplifting sermon, it’s an offensive one.

So, after having opposed and offended the kings, Jeremiah sets his sights on the prophets of Judah who were not preaching the truth, especially about the severe consequences of their sins.These prophets were not just ignorant, they were dangerous because they preached for money. Monetary gain was their motivation and these worthless, dangerous ministers were herding the already rebellious people of Judah straight toward oblivion at breakneck speed.

These verses serve to show us that there are, in the kingdom of God, two kinds of preachers: those who preach the truth of God’s Word because they themselves have received that Word in their own hearts and those who preach things they dreamed up out of their own heads.

God’s denunciation of Judah’s prophets was justly severe. God had already seen the damage false prophets did to to the northern kingdom of Samaria. Thanks to them, Samaria fell to the Assyrians. What happened to the north a hundred years earlier is about to happen to Judah, and for exactly the same reasons.

1. The dreamers

I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’ (verse 25)

The problem with preaching a dream is that of authority. What authority does a dream have? None! A dream is NOT the Word of God, and it is the Word of God that carries the authority of God. It is the Word of God that changes a heart for the better. These false prophets were so because they preached a dream they had, therefore, so they thought, the whole world should sit up and take notice. But anybody can have a dream!

Now, we know what Joel 2:28 says—

I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.

There is a segment of the church that clings to that verse and uses it as an excuse to do just what God accused these false prophets of doing in Jeremiah’s day. The Joel prophecy is not saying that in the last days dreams would trump the Word of God. It is saying that “old men” would be given God-given direction through the infilling of the Holy Spirit. But it is still and will always be the Word of God that carries the authority of God. No dream or vision or message in tongues has that kind of authority.

These dreamers thought they had a unique message that was so awesome and so earth shattering, yet as far as God was concerned, these dreamers were just plain stupid.

Am I only a God nearby,” declares the Lord, “and not a God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord. (verses 23, 24)

These false prophets viewed God as big as their dreams. But by His own testimony, God is so much bigger than any man can dream! These two verses make the point that Yahweh, unlike the false gods that were common to different localities, is not confined only Judah! God is so big and His presence so pervasive that He cannot be escaped; nobody can hide from Him. These two verses brilliantly make the case that our God is both immanent and transcendent, omniscient and omnipresent. No false prophet , no matter how eloquent and attractive he may be, can hide his sins from God. If he is speaking lies, he will be judged. To coin a phrase, you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can never fool God any time.

These false prophets thought their sins were hidden from God, but God was well aware of them. They preached lies to the people, using the pretense of a dream to give their lies credence. Dreams had always been viewed as a legitimate way to discern God’s will, but these babbling false preachers were using dreams, not to further God’s will or confirm it, but to fill their own pockets. In the end, though, they were completely distorting the character of God.

How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds? They think the dreams they tell one another will make my people forget my name, just as their fathers forgot my name through Baal worship. (verses 26, 27)

This is a rhetorical question, for the false prophets would not keep getting away with lying. To Jeremiah and other faithful preachers of God’s true Word, it may have seemed like the false prophets were lying with impunity. Not so, declares the Lord! They will not last. These false prophets and their sermons of lies were having the exact same effect on Jeremiah’s people as Baal worship had had on Samaria a hundred years earlier, but they were so full of themselves, they couldn’t see it.

Of course, there wouldn’t have been false preachers if there wasn’t an audience for them. People have always been more attracted the false teaching than the truth of God’s Word. The Apostle Paul confirms this kind of thing went on and goes on even to this day:

For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:3, 4)

2. Receivers

Are all dreams bad? Should a preacher never mention a dream or an idea he had from behind the pulpit? Of course not! In verse 28, the Lord laid down a guideline:

Let the prophet who has a dream tell his dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?” declares the Lord.

If a prophet had a dream and preached about it, he had to tell his listeners it was just a dream and nothing more than that. Why? Because dreams and the pure Word of God should never be mixed together. Dreams are to the Word as weeds are to wheat. The words of the dreaming false prophets were worse than worthless to those who heard them—like weeds in the garden. But a sermon made up of God’s Word is like wheat! It nourishes and strengthens those who hear it. This is God’s point in verse 28. If a man is going to preach something other than the Word of God, let him tell his people where his ideas came from. Don’t deceive the audience into thinking it’s from God when it isn’t!

Of course, a false teacher or false prophet would never do that because they know God’s people really want God’s Word and the only way to keep them coming back is to trick them into thinking that’s what they are getting. But how can the average person, in Jeremiah’s day and today, tell when they are having the wool pulled over their eyes? How can we tell the truth from lies when they come from behind the  pulpit? The easy answer is to simply exercise discernment. Every believer is filled with the Holy Spirit, and part of His job is to help the believer tell the difference. But the Word of God itself has certain qualities that will prove it to be the truth. A genuine Word from God will be known by the divine energy that accompanies its proclamation.

Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (verse 29)

No dream or doctrine of man has that effect! God’s Word is like a fire, compared to the cold, useless words of the false prophets. Nobody should ever be in doubt about God’s Word; it will always authenticate itself! God’s truth is like a fire! It is penetrating, purifying, and it consumes anything in its way. This was something Jeremiah himself understood clearly:

Therefore this is what the Lord God Almighty says: “Because the people have spoken these words, I will make my words in your mouth a fire and these people the wood it consumes.” (Jeremiah 5:14)

But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. (Jeremiah 20:9)

Jeremiah, like all who preach the truth of God’s Word have themselves received that Word in their hearts. Their messages are not dreams. They are not full of worldly wisdom, necessarily. What makes a preacher great is not his educational pedigree. It’s the Word burning in His heart, trying to get out.

More than a fire, the Word of God is like a hammer in the strong hands of somebody who knows how to use it. A message full of God’s truth will not put a needy heart to sleep! The truth of the Word can break a heart to bring it to repentance. No dream can do that! The wonder of the Word is that convicts and converts. It does not amuse or entertain.

Once, after Jesus had risen from the dead, He met a couple of believers walking on the road to Emmaus. As the three of them walked along, the two men didn’t recognize Jesus. He was, after all, supposed to be dead. As they walked along, Jesus quoted the Word to them. It wasn’t until after Jesus left them that they realized who this stranger was!

They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

In other words, they should have known who this Guy was! When they received the Word, it burned in their hearts.

Why in the world would anybody want to listen to the whims of a man when they could listen to the Word of God?

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12, 13)

That may be why. Some people might be afraid to let the Word get too close to them. Once you’ve been exposed to the Word, you have a choice to make. Do you change your life and live? Or stay the same and risk being lost forever? Some people would rather not choose. To them, the dream is preferable. What about you?

JEREMIAH, PART 7

Plastic flowers, like hypocritical Christians, look genuine but they aren’t.

Jeremiah 14:17—2

Chapter 14 is largely autobiographical, as is chapter 15, because in these two chapters we see God’s man living among the people he loved; the people who were playing fast and loose with God. What is Jeremiah’s first thought? When faced with cold hearts and false prophets, the man of God’s first inclination is to pray for his people. God’s answer to Jeremiah’s prayer is surprising:

Do not pray for the well-being of this people. Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Instead, I will destroy them with the sword, famine and plague.” (Jeremiah 14:11, 12)

In other words, friend Jeremiah, don’t waste your time praying for your friends. God’s mind was made up and their destiny decided. This is a hard place for a soft heart to be in! The people were far from the Lord, yet they prayed to Him. Instead of listening to the Word of the Lord from prophets like Jeremiah, they were listening to false prophets, preferring to hear what they had to say to what God had to say. God heard Jeremiah’s prayer of intercession but made it clear to him that the people he was praying for were individually responsible for their backslidden condition. Wallowing in sin while fasting and praying is a waste of time; it’s a mockery of the kind of relationship God desires from His people, and this is exactly the game the people were playing.

Why were the people so blind? Why did they believe the feel-good messages of the false prophets? In spite of the famine, the nation wasn’t hurting enough. The people were still living as though the “good times” would continue.

1. A dire need, verses 17—19

Still, Jeremiah could not stop praying for his people. God’s answer didn’t sit well with the prophet. Rather than accept the Lord’s response to his prayer, Jeremiah chose to bemoan the state of his life.

Why have you afflicted us so that we cannot be healed? (verse 19)

God’s people are not immune to negative emotions. Jeremiah was totally invested in God’s mercy, but now it appeared as though there was no mercy left. We can only imagine how Jeremiah’s heart ached for his people. His accusation of God was unfounded and untrue. But the prophet was overcome with grief and was tired. He tried to help his people, but they would have nothing to do with him. Worse still, Jeremiah confused how he was feeling about his people with what he once knew about his God.

Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? Will you be to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails? (15:18)

Jeremiah was not made of stone! Maybe we can cut him some slack as he blamed God for his pain. But in fact, it wasn’t God who was causing his pain, it was his people. Jeremiah’s big mistake was one that many ministers make: he was so close to the people he ministered to that be became too much like them.

The need of the people was going to be dire:

If I go into the country, I see those slain by the sword; if I go into the city, I see the ravages of famine. Both prophet and priest have gone to a land they know not. (verse 18)

Life in Judah was about to change forever! What Jeremiah is writing about here is not the present condition, but what it will be like once the Babylonians begin their assault.

We hoped for peace but no good has come, for a time of healing but there is only terror. (verse 19b)

God gave His man a glimpse into the future, and that caused Jeremiah to make his stunning confession.

2. The confession, verse 20

O Lord, we acknowledge our wickedness and the guilt of our fathers; we have indeed sinned against you.

God did not consider Jeremiah’s prayer on behalf of his people proper and valid, so God told Jeremiah he must repent. There is no other way to deal with sin honestly. As God loves a cheerful giver, so He desires an honest confessor!

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”—and you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32:5)

Jeremiah had to separate himself from the self-serving, worthless attitudes of his people and be the man God needed him to be. If Jeremiah was to be God’s man, he had to choose God’s calling, not his lost people.

3. The plea, verse 21

For the sake of your name do not despise us; do not dishonor your glorious throne. Remember your covenant with us and do not break it.

Here the nation, through Jeremiah, pleads its case to God. Notice, though, their pleas are based, not on their “relationship” with God, but on His honor. They sounded genuine. Of course, we know time would show they were not. But at the time, their words were good. The people, through Jeremiah, acknowledged the sin of their ancestors, and proceeded to give three reasons why the Lord should help them in spite of their sins:

  • His reputation;

  • His throne (or His temple);

  • His covenant.

So what was wrong these words? Nothing at all! The problem is, they were just words. Anybody can say anything to God. These were right words spoken in a wrong spirit. The people sounded like they had God’s best interests at heart, but really what they wanted was His help, not a relationship with Him. Insincere repentance is the bane of the church’s existence. We saw it in Pharaoh, in Balaam, in the life of Israel from beginning to end, and we see it in the lives of Christians every day. We are very quick to repent of a sin…when we get caught! But would we repent of it so casually if we knew our sinful act simply broke God’s heart?

Insincere repentance can sometimes lead to short-term changes in life for the better. But eventually insincerity will lead a person back to their old way of doing things. Why? Because the danger has passed. Because we feel safe. It is, in reality, an abominable wickedness to play this game with God.

4. The resolve, verse 22

Do any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain? Do the skies themselves send down showers? No, it is you, O Lord our God. Therefore our hope is in you, for you are the one who does all this.

Still haunted by the devastating drought, they proclaim a measure of faith in God’s ability to heal their land in verse 22. The same God that had answered Elijah by both fire and rain, is still in the business of meeting needs! Once again, we read a stunning confession of spiritual resolve. These words are supremely powerful in their implication: God is ultimately in control of even the weather. God alone was able to end their drought; God alone was their help. In the Talmud, we read this:

Three keys have not been entrusted to man but are kept in God’s hand—the keys of birth, rain, and resurrection.

Is it possible to know all the right things and to say all the right things but still be far from God? Absolutely! Chapter 14 is proof of this. The people of Judah, through Jeremiah, said all the right things but in the wrong way. They were completely insincere.

Why is insincerity such a grievous sin before God? It’s because insincerity leads to a false obedience and this is not a simple sin but a complex and devious act against the very nature and person of God. Here, during Jeremiah’s day, the Jews were manifoldly sinful in three things:

  • Their breach of faith with God and their fellow Jews. The people sinned against God in their disobedience to His will and they treated each other unjustly.

  • They dishonored the Lord by trampling all over His grace and mercy. Instead of serving Him in reverential fear, they took advantage of lovingkindness.

  • They lived in the height of hypocrisy. They spoke out of both sides of their mouths. On the one hand, they seemed to trust God; to have a relationship with Him. But on the other hand, their actions betrayed the true state of their hearts. That’s hypocrisy:  to claim on thing but act on another.

This kind of sin is not condoned by God or tolerated by Him for very long. The penalty for their sin was the destruction of what the Jews held most dear: their land. The Babylonians were on their way even while the Jews thought they were safe. God had no intention of stopping Nebuchadnezzar even while His people thought He would.

It is not our words or our intentions that determine our fate. It is our conduct. The awful fate that was Judah’s was not an accident. It was not an unfortunate twist of fate. It was not a whimsical act of a cruel despotic God. Judah’s fate was determined by its behavior. As it was with them, so it is with man today. Our fate depends on our behavior. Man can only be tormented by Satan when they are turned over to him.

…hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 5:5)


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