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.”

Jeremiah’s Early Naivety

Everyone grows up in social, moral and religious environments. It’s natural to accept one’s surroundings as the norm.[1] Same for young Jeremiah. A godly king was ruling on the throne. King Josiah removed the idols, purified the temple and reestablished God’s law as the focus of civil and religious life. From outward appearances the nation was in good spiritual shape; far better than before. And young Jeremiah was oblivious to what lurked under the surface until forced by his Commander to face the facts.

The Challenge

Early on, God gave a challenge to his rookie prophet with a hefty reward if successful. Perhaps he could set aside his mantle and retire before he hardly even started!

“Run up and down every street in Jerusalem,” says the LORD. “Look high and low; search throughout the city! If you can find even one just and honest person, I will not destroy the city.” 5:1.

Wow. No destruction. Life as we know it goes on. “The pot boiling in the North” can be dismissed, if only Jeremiah can find one person of integrity.

But no. Not even one just person. So, empty-handed and out of breath he kind of blames God[2] and says:

“LORD, you are searching for honesty. You struck your people, but they paid no attention. You crushed them, but they refused to be corrected. They are determined, with faces set like stone; they have refused to repent.” 5:3

Rationalization

Jeremiah thinks harder and has a brilliant thought: The common people simply don’t know better, they are ignorant, can’t expect too much from them. But the leaders know God’s ways; surely some must qualify as “honest”.

Then I said, “But what can we expect from the poor? They are ignorant. They don’t know the ways of the LORD. They don’t understand God’s laws. So I will go and speak to their leaders. Surely they know the ways of the LORD and understand God’s laws.” 5:4-5.

The Discovery

However, his naivety quickly becomes obvious. The leaders are detaining the people in ignorance and disobedience.

“But the leaders, too, as one man, had thrown off God’s yoke and broken his chains.” 5:5.

The young man is hit with a jarring truth. These fellow priests and prophets are acting all righteous and godly, but “Their rebellion is great.” 5:6.

To understand the book of Jeremiah, we must meet a truly evil people.

Jerusalem “is wicked through and through. She spouts evil like a fountain.” Jer. 6:6-7.

To understand the book of Jeremiah, we must meet a ferocious God.[3]

So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “I will pour out my terrible fury on this place. Its people, animals, trees, and crops will be consumed by the unquenchable fire of my anger.” Jer. 7:20.

Family

The result of standing on the side of truth and righteousness, and speaking the forceful words of God, was that Jeremiah made many enemies. He spoke publicly. He spoke privately. He confronted sins that were hidden and sins that were public.

His family turned against him and literally wanted him gone:

The men of Anathoth… wanted me dead. They had said, “We will kill you if you do not stop prophesying in the LORD’s name.” 11:21.

Even your brothers, members of your own family, have turned against you. They plot and raise complaints against you. Do not trust them. Jer. 12:6.[4]

Co-workers

The prophets and priests, who should have been his allies, also worked to get rid of him:

The priests and prophets presented their accusations to the officials and the people. “This man should die!” they said. 26:11.

Kings and Palace Officials

Even kings saw him as a pesky nuisance and wanted him gone:

So these officials went to the king and said, “Sir, this man must die! … This man is a traitor!” King Zedekiah agreed. “All right,” he said. “Do as you like.” 38:4-5.

Summary

This is the environment, the severity of conflict that Jeremiah endured. It stretched his coping powers to the limit. He suffered battle scars. He ended up saying,

“I am hated everywhere I go. I am neither a lender who threatens to foreclose nor a borrower who refuses to pay – yet they all curse me.” Jer. 15:10.

The rest of this section focusses on these battles or escapades and their resultant scars. Jeremiah recorded these episodes not to gain notoriety or sympathy for himself, but for the truths they reveal about the wickedness of the people and leaders, and the incredible longsuffering of his God.


[1] The old “Frog in a pot” syndrome.

[2] “You struck your people… You crushed them…” i.e. Your strategy only made things worse!

[3] But Divine anger is a vastly different breed from human anger, so different that it deserves an entirely different term.

[4] For a Jew in Jeremiah’s day, rejection by your family had to be the severest of hardships. Everyone grew up among a very large extended family which provided a sense of stability, longevity, and belonging; a safety net no one wanted to be without.