Jeremiah – Choose Your Zip Code

Introduction to Dialogue #10

Some may hesitate to call this passage a “dialogue”. But it is included here because God DID speak, Jeremiah DID answer, and the consequences were great. Jeremiah’s last prayer is also recorded. It was offered on behalf of other people. They were anxious and worried, forced to wait ten long days for their answer. These were unusual times.

Flow of Conversation

Easily the strangest “dialogue” of all, the two parties communicate indirectly. God’s “servant”, Emperor Nebuchadnezzar, finds and frees Jeremiah (39:11-14). The Lord speaks through another foreigner to say, “Chose where you will live out the rest of your days.” (40:1-5). Jeremiah remains silent but answers with his feet (40:6). People force the prophet to reengage with Supreme Commander (42:1-3). Who then delays His answer (42:7) but eventually speaks clearly (42:9-22). Which the people reject anyway (43:1-2). Yes, this is a strange dialogue.

We can’t imagine the feelings of loss, devastation, and helplessness as Jeremiah watched the city walls torn down, the palace buildings destroyed, and the Temple of the Lord demolished.
The Babylonian officer in charge of the demolition was Nebuzaradan, a VIP Captain of the army, who received orders directly from King Nebuchadnezzar. He arrived a month after the wall was breached and King Zedekiah was blinded and taken away. Nebuzaradan’s job was to level the city.
Nebuchadnezzar, the Great Emperor himself, was very aware of God’s spokesperson, Jeremiah, and was ready to protect and honor him. This is not so surprising and shows the broad and powerful influence God’s spokesperson had. The Babylonian emperor told his top deputy to find Jeremiah. “See that he isn’t hurt. Look after him well and give him everything he wants.” 39:12.
The text sidetracks a little to show how the Lord remembered the Ethiopian (who saved Jeremiah from the muddy cistern) and promised to keep him safe (Jer. 39:15-18).
Then comes this statement, “The LORD gave a message to Jeremiah after Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, had released him at Ramah.” (40:1). But this was not a direct message (as were all the preceding ones), the Lord used a human intermediary, the foreign Captain himself.
The captain of the guard called for Jeremiah and said, “The LORD your God has brought this disaster on this land, just as he said he would … But I am going to take off your chains and let you go. If you want to come with me to Babylon, you are welcome. I will see that you are well cared for. But if you don’t want to come, you may stay here. The whole land is before you – go wherever you like … it’s up to you; go wherever you like.” 40:2-5.
This was the Lord’s word to Jeremiah. He gives him complete freedom and impels him to make a decision. Will you choose to join the exiles in Babylon or will you choose to remain in the land? You must decide, no one will do it for you.
There is no verbal response recorded in the text. Jeremiah instead spoke with his feet.
So Jeremiah returned to Gedaliah son of Ahikam at Mizpah, and he lived in Judah with the few who were still left in the land. 40:6.

Jeremiah’s Decision
The text offers no comment on this decision.
Did he make the “right” (God honoring) decision or the “wrong” (self-serving) decision? What was his thinking and motives? For what reasons did he choose to stay? For selfish reasons? Self-pity? Or to avoid the attention that awaited him in Babylon? We can only speculate, but asking these honest questions brings us “into” the situation, and how the text addresses it.
It seems apparent, though, that he chose to stay among the “bad figs” in the land accursed by God. Perhaps this was motivated by bitterness. He had worked tirelessly, against great opposition for 40 years, motivated by the hope that the holy city and temple could be saved. He gave his all, and it was not enough.


The results
We learn that things turned out horribly for him. There was hope for peace while Gedaliah served as governor, but then he was murdered. Jeremiah was in the hands of this murderer and about to be taken to Ammon.
A rescue mission took place and now there was a diverse group of people under the leadership of the rescuer, Johanan. They felt they should flee to Egypt before the Babylonian armies brought vengeance for the murder of the appointed governor. But they decided to ask Jeremiah to check what God thought about their plans.
Then all the guerrilla leaders, including Johanan son of Kareah and Jezaniah son of Hoshaiah, and all the people, from the least to the greatest, approached Jeremiah the prophet. They said, “Please pray to the LORD your God for us. As you can see, we are only a tiny remnant compared to what we were before. Pray that the LORD your God will show us what to do and where to go.” 42:1-3.
Jeremiah agreed to enquire.
“All right,” Jeremiah replied. “I will pray to the LORD your God, as you have asked, and I will tell you everything he says. I will hide nothing from you.” 42:4.
They promised to do whatever the Lord said.
Then they said to Jeremiah, “May the LORD your God be a faithful witness against us if we refuse to obey whatever he tells us to do! Whether we like it or not, we will obey the LORD our God to whom we are sending you with our plea. For if we obey him, everything will turn out well for us.” 42:5-6.
But, the Lord did not answer quickly. Think of the times Jeremiah received almost immediately a “Word of the Lord.” But here a whole week went by without an answer. These are people living in fear; fear for their very lives. Eight days, no answer. Nine days, no answer.
The Lord’s spokesperson did not receive a word from him until the 10th day. Jeremiah was not in close fellowship with his God at this point of his life. Anger, bitterness, disappointment raged in this heart.
During this long wait the distraught seekers made up their own minds what to do. Jeremiah finally delivered a detailed, lengthy, well documented “word from the Lord” on the 10th day (42:7-22). But by now the people were prepared to go completely against the Lord’s instructions. They went to Egypt where God’s wrath awaited, and they forced Jeremiah and Baruch to go with them.
The Lord gave a few more messages to his spokesperson for the hearing of those in Egypt, but they were only messages of judgement that the people refused to hear. (43:8-13, 44:1-14, 44:20-30).

Conclusion
Jeremiah was forced to choose his own zip code. He could not blame God for that choice, the results that followed were entirely upon himself.
Jeremiah’s time in Judah and Egypt were, for all we can see, a waste. There is nothing good that came out of it.
The other place Jeremiah could have taken up residence had hundreds of thousands of the Lord’s “good figs.” The Lord’s heart, the Lord’s favor, and the Lord’s future plans were with those exiles. His seasoned spokesperson could have had (and I would say “should” have had) a strategic impact among those favored people.
But this was a choice Jeremiah had to make himself: To set aside his heart-pain and be willing to offer himself as a “living sacrifice” to the Lord, for the sake of his captive people.

Jeremiah was overcome by tragedy. But his amazing, longsuffering, relationship-driven God was not done with him. It would seem clear that God’s spokesperson, and the spokesperson’s scribe were in Egypt for some length of time. And as their hearts softened, as they allowed their loving God to renew their strength, they took the opportunity to work together in constructing this amazing, lengthy, full-disclosure scroll that we now know as The Book of Jeremiah.

Prophets’ Showdown

Babylonian Chronicle – News Release

The people of the small vassal territory of Judah have long earned their reputation as shallow, fickle and even silly. Here is the latest news from our unfortunate correspondent assigned to their capitol city, Jerusalem.[1]

Verbal Duel by Two Prophets

The prediction of a Jewish but pro-Babylon prophet, Jeremiah ben Hilkiah, in Jerusalem, came true recently when another Jewish prophet, Hananiah ben Azzur, also of Jerusalem, suddenly died.[2]

Here are the details as best we can figure them out.

Prophet Hananiah had been boldly (and ludicrously) prophesying that “the yoke” of Almighty Babylon over tiny Judah would end within two short years; all the prisoners would return; and their failed king (of a mere three months), Jehoiachin, would re-establish himself on Judah’s puny throne! To demonstrate his prophecy, he broke a wooden yoke that Prophet Jeremiah had been carrying around for months on his own neck. “What!” (you say)? You may want to read the above paragraphs again before you continue reading. These “prophets,” are revered leaders among the Jewish people and here they are acting like spoiled toddlers!

Prophet Jeremiah (remember, he is the one who survived while the other one is dead) had been making a spectacle of himself by carrying this wooden oxen’s yoke on his shoulders. He did this in loud and public demonstration, urging Judah to surrender and submit to the authority of His Excellency, King Nebuchadnezzar. (We, of course, support his message and commitment, while his methodology leaves much to be desired).

It seems the prophet (with shoulders locked in the yoke) interrupted some high-level strategy meetings of ambassadors from five other nations.[3] Such meetings seem rather suspicious from our standpoint and perhaps should be investigated, but the prophet promised that voluntary submission to us would save the nation of Judah and the other nations as well.

The prophet was announcing repeatedly that their king, Zedekiah ben Josiah, should surrender and submit himself and their tiny nation to the yoke of Babylon. (Don’t resist the inevitable, you fools!).

This continued and escalated to the above-mentioned clash. The two prophets had a huge verbal boxing match in the middle of their temple, both prefacing their contradictory statements with the words: “The Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says:”[4] It appears obvious that these Israelites and their prophets are a greatly confused people.

Wisecracking Jeremiah said, “Amen! May your prophecies come true!” But everyone knows he is publicly guaranteeing the opposite – that we are going to quash the little bug of Judah. But maybe among these people it is ok to say one thing and still agree with the opposite.[5]

After Hananiah broke the wooden yoke off of Jeremiah’s neck, fiery Jeremiah spoke even more boldly. He said to him, “You have broken a wooden yoke, but you have replaced it with a yoke of iron. The Lord says, ‘I have put a yoke of iron on the necks of all these nations, forcing them into slavery under King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. I have put everything, even the wild animals, under his control!’” (Three cheers for Jeremiah!!!)

This prophetic showdown reached its climax two months ago, when Jeremiah said, “Listen Hananiah! The Lord has not sent you, but the people believe your lies. Therefore, this is what the Lord says: ‘You must die. Your life will end this very year[6] because you have rebelled against the Lord.’”

And sure enough, the news of Hananiah’s sudden death has caused panic and paralysis among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. It seems that this news has also been relayed to the surrounding countries and they too are trembling.

Further investigation has revealed that prophet Jeremiah has often been accused by his fellow countrymen as a traitor. They accuse him of accepting bribes from Babylon to push a pro-Babylonian policy. However, Jeremiah is a man of great integrity who can neither be bought nor swayed by threat. This is shown by the fact that his preaching has often brought peril to his own life, but he will not compromise.

Prophet Hananiah’s sudden death has proven to the inhabitants of Jerusalem that Jeremiah is a true and genuine prophet of God.

An autopsy was performed on Hananiah but failed to reveal the cause of death. Many religious leaders in Jerusalem believe that his death is attributed to making false prophecies in the name of Israel’s God.

Things to Note

1. Indeed, the cause of death was Divine judgement, a judgement Hananiah should have known was coming, Duet 18:20-21. Both men claimed to be speaking the words of “The Lord of Heaven’s Armies” (Jer. 28:2, 27:19). Only one could be speaking the truth.

2. Hananiah’s death was a God-given prophetic sign that should have stunned Zedekiah and all the people, causing them to submit to the call of surrender and be spared from death and destruction. But this sign, like so many others, was rejected outright.


[1] Obviously, a foreign correspondent is going to have biases and slanted agendas in what they write for their own people.

[2] Details of this spectacular showdown can be found in Jeremiah 27 and 28.

[3] Jer. 27:3-6.

[4] Jeremiah 27:4, Hananiah 28:2, Jeremiah 28:14.

[5] This is correct. Jeremiah was on public record repeatedly announcing the upcoming destruction. However, his heart favored the opposite which is what his nemesis was announcing.

[6] Poor Hananiah won’t live long enough to see his prophecies “fulfilled.”