‘The prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then that prophet will be known as one whom the Lord has truly sent’ (Jeremiah 28:9).
The question arises: what are the people of the church to do when two ‘prophets’ or preachers of the same denomination both preface their sermons with the claim, ‘Thus says the Lord,’ but their messages are diametrically opposite? Pick and choose? Compromise, hoping that everybody can find their place and thus be happy?
Two men, Jeremiah and Hanaoiah of Gibeon (a town of liars in Joshua!), are called prophets in Jeremiah 28, but they come with exactly opposite messages. So it is possible to have prophet versus prophet, sermon versus sermon, false word versus God’s Word.
Jeremiah 28 presents a duel between these two men. Hananiah’s word is positive and delivered with decisive action. He promises a return of the temple vessels within two years and he deliberately destroys the wooden yoke which Jeremiah had worn as an acted-out parable from God. This yoke symbolized the fact that God’s people must submit to God’s verdict of surrender to Babylon.
What is the Lord’s concern in this? That is revealed in those whom Jeremiah addresses. The Lord is concerned with foreign nations, the king and the people of the church. Thus Jeremiah seeks to honour God’s Word but also to be concerned with the welfare of God’s people. Will the church give obedience to what the Lord wants? Jeremiah made it crystal clear that any message other than that of surrender to Babylon is a message that makes God to be a liar.
It must be admitted that Hananiah’s sermon is much more desirable and hopeful. The vessels of the Lord’s house and the Davidic prince will be resumed. That was great news! No gloom and doom preacher, this Hananiah!
Jeremiah gives a rousing ‘Amen’ to what he has heard, but it seems that his voice drips with sarcasm. ‘What a nice message, Hanaoiah, but is it what God says?’ Jeremiah does something else too. He reminds Hanaoiah and the audience about what the criterion is for evaluating any prophetic message. He says, ‘The prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then that prophet will be known as one whom the Lord has truly sent.’ He refers to Deuteronomy 18:21-22, the infallible standard for whatever prophecy one may hear.
Jeremiah reminds Hananiah of the covenantal test, and then he goes away after Hanaoiah smashes the wooden yoke. But God does not abandon Jeremiah the faithful preacher. He vindicates Jeremiah and verifies his word to the people. By telling the congregation to believe a lie, Hananiah has undermined the spiritual life of the church. What is more, since Hananiah has shattered the divinely sanctioned object lesson of the yoke, God will make Hananiah himself a personal, public object lesson in the sight of all. By preaching ‘peace’ Hananiah has counselled rebellion. The punishment is death. Hananiah will become an object lesson for what happens to all those who rebel against the word of the Lord. He dies before the year is out.
Sometimes the people of the Lord are tempted to discouragement when they hear all the debates that rage around them about matters of doctrine and Christian living. They are tempted to say, ‘If the leaders cannot agree, then what am I to believe?’ Such thinking must be cautioned against. It is the Gamaliel approach: ‘I don’t have to decide; what will be, will be.’ But the standard to evaluate any view is the same standard to which Jeremiah pointed, but now in the New Testament era, it is complete. It is the full Word of God. Like the Bereans, God’s people are challenged to an even greater study of the Bible.
One never benefits the people of God by telling them whatever they want to hear. At the same time one does not help them by telling them whatever they do not want to hear. One pastors them by telling them whatever the Lord wants them to hear! In Acts 20 Paul tells the elders that he did not f ail to proclaim God’s kingdom and the whole counsel of God. But he also warned them of something that would happen after his departure: wolves would attack the church from both within and without (Acts 20:28-3 1). Whether God’s message at any particular time be sweet or bitter, that is what must be brought. Any deviation from the pure word of the Lord causes the congregation to suffer and ultimately rebel against God.
No ‘prophet’ or preacher is authorized to add or detract from the word of the Lord. Every spirit must be tested. True doctrine will never pass away while the husks of man-made theology, though they appear to be positive and attractive, will die and blow away in the winds of time.
We can thank and praise the Lord that he defends his own word. Jeremiah does not lose his life, but Hanaoiah dies before the Lord Almighty. What great confidence this gives to us in every word which has come from the mouth of the Lord!