There’s a story in the Old Testament that is easily overlooked. It’s never told in childhood Sunday School classes nor taught in seminary lecture halls. In fact, I’ve read the Bible through at least dozen times and it never stuck with me until today. But it’s truths are essential–it’s message sobering.
Jeremiah 28 tells the story of Hananiah. This psuedo prophet proclaims a “word from the Lord” that isn’t really from God at all. In front of a large assembly, He states, “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will remove the yoke of the king of Babylon from your necks. Within two years I will bring back all the Temple treasures that King Nebuchadnezzar carried off to Babylon. And I will bring back Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the other captives that were taken to Babylon. I will surely break the yoke that the king of Babylon has put on your necks. I, the Lord, have spoken!’” (verses 2-4).
Jeremiah, being a true prophet and one who was in touch with the Lord, immediately recognized that this statement was highly suspect. Right in the assembly, Jeremiah stood up and said, “I sure hope you’re right, because if you’re not, you’re in deep doo-doo! (my paraphrase).
The story goes on with Hananiah taking the yoke on Jeremiah’s shoulders (which God had Jeremiah put there to demonstrate the yoke of captivity in their future) and breaking in dramatic fashion, affirming stronger than ever that their captivity would only be two years. Everybody was happy! Here was a nice prophet who preached hope and happiness! Here was a “man of God” who brought news of God’s love and restoration for His people — this in contrast to Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, who almost always predicted judgement and doom.
But there’s one little problem. The nice words were false words.
That’s why, in that very setting, Jeremiah was the next to boldly proclaim a prophecy: “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 because you have rebelled against the Lord,’” verses 15-16.
Hananiah died two months later.
This reminds me of a recent story from one of our Converge Worldwide mission fields. One man, who was a leader partnering in the ministry, was pilphering some money and speaking badly of the leaders. In fact, this person and another were leading an undercurrent of discontent intended to run our missionaries off of the field. The things that were going on were blantantly ungodly, but done in the name of Christ. Our missionaries prayed against them asking God to free them from this man–to cast judgement on him so that the good work they were doing would not be hindered. It was only a short time later that this false servant was brutally killed in a violent one-car crash. God is not mocked.
Consider a few nuances from this story and what they might mean for us:
- It states in the first verse that Hananiah was the son of a prophet. Have you ever felt pressured to be who your father was–to live up to expectations that others place on you? I’m guessing there was a little of this going on. Whatever the details, Hananiah was trying to be the prestigious godly man that his father was. Obviously, however, Hananiah was either not called or was taking short-cuts to being the man God wanted him to be. The word that comes to mind here is INTEGRITY. This means to be the real deal through and through. God looks for these people–for those “whose heart is completely His.” No facade, no short-cuts, no nice sounding, but empty rhetoric. We need to be who God has called us to be and walk in the blessing of the Lord in the specific calling on our lives…whatever that may be.
- Nice words spoken that are untrue are deeply dishonoring to God. This is true not only of prophets, but of every one of us. Have you ever said, “I’ll pray for you,” and then never did…nor maybe never intended to. But in the moment it seemed like a nice way to express care–and may I say, like Hananiah, to gain favor with others. This may be one of those common sins among Christians. These idle words about prayed slip off the tongue, but they are lies. How easy it is to speak good things but not live what we say. Just last evening, Susan and I promised to pray for someone every day for the next few months as they go through a challenging season in their life. We talked about making sure these would not be idle words, but a vow we would keep every single day. This is walking the talk.
- Jeremiah was willing and ready to say whatever needed to be said for the glory of God and the good of the people. He was not popular, but He was blessed by God. My wife, Susan, amazes me with her commitment to truth. With tenderness and boldness, she will tell people what they need to hear, not stay silent to be popular. By the way, she has done this to me all through our 29 years of marriage and before that — and it has served me well. This truth-telling is the spirit of Jeremiah. God holds these people in high esteem, even if men and women discard them or avoid them because of their truth-telling.
2 Timothy 4:3 states, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires.”
So the questions are simply this: Who do you want to be–a Hananiah or a Jeremiah? Who do you want in your life — a Hananiah or a Jeremiah?