It has been over 5 months since I posted an entry to our liturgy on Jeremiah. Some of it has been busyness. However, most of it has had to do with spiritual wrestling. You see, Jeremiah 29 has the verse. You know, the verse.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” — Jeremiah 29:11 NIV
It is on coffee cups, journals, engraved in rocks, posters, coasters and Bible covers. That verse practically has its own theology. I know that my struggle is one that has its roots in faith and Christianity that is cursed with abundance. It creates a kind of narcissism that might rival the ancient Greeks. I believe that verse, out of context, has done more damage than any other verse in the Holy Scriptures.
It reminds me of this lyric from the group, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds:
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds — Abattoir Blues
There is this shortsightedness that comes from ignoring something important, and treating it lightly, and highlighting our personal gain while doing so. Reading Jeremiah 29 (and verse 11) with such hubris, leads us exactly where Satan wants us: thinking that everything is about us.
The previous 28 chapters do a better job of showing what the world looks like when everything is about us. Truth is we choose faithlessness and unfaithfulness. Jeremiah 29 should and does, show us how much God loves us. Don’t you dare read Jeremiah 29 without considering the story in the preceding 28 chapters.
“The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah after Hananiah the prophet had broken the yoke bar from the neck of Jeremiah the prophet: “Go say to Hananiah: This is what the Lord says, ‘You broke a wooden yoke bar, but in its place you will make an iron yoke bar.’ For this is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says, ‘I have put an iron yoke on the neck of all these nations that they might serve King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and they will serve him. I have also put the wild animals under him.’”
The prophet Jeremiah said to the prophet Hananiah, “Listen, Hananiah! The Lord did not send you, but you have led these people to trust in a lie. Therefore, this is what the Lord says: ‘I am about to send you off the face of the earth. You will die this year because you have spoken rebellion against the Lord.’” And the prophet Hananiah died that year in the seventh month.” — Jeremiah 28:12–17 HCSB
No commentary necessary; just take the time to consider the words.
“In that same year, at the beginning of the reign of King Zedekiah of Judah, in the fifth month of the fourth year, the prophet Hananiah son of Azzur from Gibeon said to me in the temple of the Lord in the presence of the priests and all the people, “This is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says: ‘I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will restore to this place all the articles of the Lord’s temple that King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took from here and transported to Babylon. And I will restore to this place Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon’ — this is the Lord’s declaration — ‘for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.’”
The prophet Jeremiah replied to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the temple of the Lord. The prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the Lord do so. May the Lord make the words you have prophesied come true and may He restore the articles of the Lord’s temple and all the exiles from Babylon to this place! Only listen to this message I am speaking in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, disaster, and plague against many lands and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace—only when the word of the prophet comes true will the prophet be recognized as one the Lord has truly sent.”
The prophet Hananiah then took the yoke bar from the neck of Jeremiah the prophet and broke it. In the presence of all the people Hananiah proclaimed, “This is what the Lord says: ‘In this way, within two years I will break the yoke of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon from the neck of all the nations.’” Jeremiah the prophet then went on his way.
The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah after Hananiah the prophet had broken the yoke bar from the neck of Jeremiah the prophet: “Go say to Hananiah: This is what the Lord says, ‘You broke a wooden yoke bar, but in its place you will make an iron yoke bar.’ For this is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says, ‘I have put an iron yoke on the neck of all these nations that they might serve King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and they will serve him. I have also put the wild animals under him.’”
The prophet Jeremiah said to the prophet Hananiah, “Listen, Hananiah! The Lord did not send you, but you have led these people to trust in a lie. Therefore, this is what the Lord says: ‘I am about to send you off the face of the earth. You will die this year because you have spoken rebellion against the Lord.’” And the prophet Hananiah died that year in the seventh month.” — Jeremiah 28:1–17 HCSB
There is a lot being said here. It is worth studying Zedekiah’s life. However, there is a definite point here; the prophets at the time where trying to gain the people’s favor by telling them something good would happen. Sounds very contemporary doesn’t it? Why would prophets do that? In addition to that, how often do we try to subvert God’s plan for us when it might include pain and suffering?
The more I read this chapter the more contemplative I become.
““As for the nation or kingdom that does not serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and does not place its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation I will punish by sword, famine, and plague”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“until through him I have destroyed it. But as for you, do not listen to your prophets, diviners, dreamers, fortune-tellers, or sorcerers who say to you, ‘Don’t serve the king of Babylon!’ for they prophesy a lie to you so that you will be removed from your land. I will banish you, and you will perish. But as for the nation that will put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will leave it in its own land, and that nation will cultivate it and reside in it.” This is the Lord’s declaration.
I spoke to Zedekiah king of Judah in the same way: “Put your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, serve him and his people, and live! Why should you and your people die by the sword, famine, or plague as the Lord has threatened against any nation that does not serve the king of Babylon? Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are telling you, ‘You must not serve the king of Babylon,’ for they are prophesying a lie to you. ‘I have not sent them’—this is the Lord’s declaration—‘and they are prophesying falsely in My name; therefore, I will banish you, and you will perish—you and the prophets who are prophesying to you.’”
Then I spoke to the priests and all these people, saying, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Do not listen to the words of your prophets. They are prophesying to you, claiming, “Look, very soon now the articles of the Lord’s temple will be brought back from Babylon.” They are prophesying a lie to you. Do not listen to them. Serve the king of Babylon and live! Why should this city become a ruin? If they are indeed prophets and if the word of the Lord is with them, let them intercede with the Lord of Hosts not to let the articles that remain in the Lord’s temple, in the palace of the king of Judah, and in Jerusalem go to Babylon.’ For this is what the Lord of Hosts says about the pillars, the sea, the water carts, and the rest of the articles that still remain in this city, those Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon did not take when he deported Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, from Jerusalem to Babylon along with all the nobles of Judah and Jerusalem. Yes, this is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says about the articles that remain in the temple of the Lord, in the palace of the king of Judah, and in Jerusalem: ‘They will be brought to Babylon and will remain there until I attend to them again.’ This is the Lord’s declaration. ‘Then I will bring them up and restore them to this place.’”” — Jeremiah 27:8–22 HCSB
This first paragraph is something else. Here God says clearly that he is expecting His people to come under the headship of a King that had committed atrocities against them. Not just political differences. Death and torture. Why would God do this? There is an answer to this question. Do you remember reading it? Did you notice that God is speaking not only to the King (Zedekiah) but to the nation and to the priests and all the people as well?
There is something to be said here that God completely subjected His people to the hands of a violent nation. Yet there is this soft glimmer of hope and restoration: “… will remain there until I attend to them again.” “I will bring them up and restore them to this place.”
There is a plan and God is executing it.
“In the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord. Thus the Lord said to me: “Make yourself straps and yoke-bars, and put them on your neck. Send word to the king of Edom, the king of Moab, the king of the sons of Ammon, the king of Tyre, and the king of Sidon by the hand of the envoys who have come to Jerusalem to Zedekiah king of Judah. Give them this charge for their masters: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: This is what you shall say to your masters: “It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me. Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes. Then many nations and great kings shall make him their slave.”
— Jeremiah 27:1–7 ESV
Now consider verse 5:
It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me.
I can’t help but chew and stew on these words in this post-election season. So much of the world doesn’t make sense to me, indeed, at times, it seems senseless. So much of our nation’s turmoil is rooted in a lack of humility; a lack of understanding and acceptance of the truth in verse 5.
Jeremiah Spared from Death
Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the LORD our God.” And certain of the elders of the land arose and spoke to all the assembled people, saying, “Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, and said to all the people of Judah: ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts,
“‘Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
and the mountain of the house a wooded height.’
Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him to death? Did he not fear the LORD and entreat the favor of the LORD, and did not the LORD relent of the disaster that he had pronounced against them? But we are about to bring great disaster upon ourselves.”
There was another man who prophesied in the name of the LORD, Uriah the son of Shemaiah from Kiriath-jearim. He prophesied against this city and against this land in words like those of Jeremiah. And when King Jehoiakim, with all his warriors and all the officials, heard his words, the king sought to put him to death. But when Uriah heard of it, he was afraid and fled and escaped to Egypt. Then King Jehoiakim sent to Egypt certain men, Elnathan the son of Achbor and others with him, and they took Uriah from Egypt and brought him to King Jehoiakim, who struck him down with the sword and dumped his dead body into the burial place of the common people.
But the hand of Ahikam the son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah so that he was not given over to the people to be put to death.
— Jeremiah 26:16-24 ESV
There are a couple of notes I have worth mentioning here:
- Did you notice in verse 16 who is hearing God speak and more attuned, who is not? It seems as though there is still a remnant (that is a word we have talked about before) that still cares about what God might be saying. But what does it mean for us to read in Jeremiah that the priests and “prophets” are not listening to God?
- Notice that while we have been reading through Jeremiah, there are other Godly Prophets, speaking on behalf of God. In verse 18 we get word of Micah. You can read more at Micah 3:12. We also see Uriah, here in verse 20. Not much is known of him outside of this verse.
Jeremiah Threatened with Death
In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came from the LORD: “Thus says the LORD: Stand in the court of the LORD’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the LORD all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word. It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent of the disaster that I intend to do to them because of their evil deeds. You shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD: If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, and to listen to the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently, though you have not listened, then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.’”
The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the LORD. And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the LORD had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! Why have you prophesied in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the LORD.
When the officials of Judah heard these things, they came up from the king’s house to the house of the LORD and took their seat in the entry of the New Gate of the house of the LORD. Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, “This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.”
Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and all the people, saying, “The LORD sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the LORD your God, and the LORD will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you. But as for me, behold, I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the LORD sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.” — Jeremiah 26:1-15 ESV
We have been reading that the kingdom(s) that Jeremiah has been prophesying to weren’t really listening. They were in fact, quite obstinate in their response, wouldn’t you say? Even to the point of murder. It is a classic case of “I don’t like what you say, so you should die.” Apropos in this political climate. However, did you notice what Jeremiah’s response was? Read it again.
“But as for me, behold, I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you.”
Do we have that kind of confidence in the Lord?