The opening time marker in chapter 28 indicates a continuation of the events recorded in chapter 27: “in the fifth month of that same year, the fourth year, early in the reign of Zedekiah . . .” (1). So this confrontation between Hananiah and Jeremiah occurs within a few months or weeks of Jeremiah’s “wooden yoke” pronouncement.
While Jeremiah is in the Temple, evidently still wearing the yoke he had made earlier (27:2), he is confronted and corrected by Hananiah “in the presence of the priests and all the people” (1). That Hananiah is an officially recognized prophet is indicated by his title (“the prophet Hananiah”—5, 15) and Jeremiah’s reference to him as a prophet in Israel (8). Hananiah is from Gibeon (1), a city associated with deception—a fitting home for one who turns out to be a deceiver.
Hananiah speaks a message of hope and peace, a message people in Israel were longing to hear. Jehoiachin and a group of leading citizens had been deported almost four and a half years prior and people longed for their return. Many of the Temple articles had been taken to Babylon, leaving the Temple diminished in glory (27:16). The nation had lived through years of war and subjugation to foreign powers; people were aching for peace and freedom. As a result, Hananiah found a receptive audience in Jerusalem. Jeremiah acknowledges that he had “persuaded this nation to trust in lies” (15).
Hananiah’s message is a direct refutation of the message Jeremiah had been preaching. Jeremiah had said the exile would last 70 years (25:12); Hananiah said it would be over in less than two more years (“within two years”—3). Jeremiah had said Jehoiachin would die in exile (22:26); Hananiah said the king would join the exiles in the return (4). Jeremiah often prefaced his messages with the phrase, “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says” (14); Hananiah uses the exact same language (2). Jeremiah makes the yoke; Hananiah breaks it (10).
Hananiah’s message is one the Jews in Jerusalem would have been glad to hear. By contrast, Jeremiah’s message was grim. His homemade wooden yoke was a symbol of further subjugation and humiliation.
This chapter reminds us that speaking God’s Word will be challenging for several reasons: 1) the marketplace of spiritual spokesman is filled with conflicting voices; 2) anyone can claim God’s divine backing for their words; 3) our message is not always “sweetness and light” but a call to repentance and trust; 4) people gravitate to words that promise peace without pain.
Jeremiah is put in a difficult place by Hananiah’s words. He, like all Jews, would want the exile to end quickly. He wisely responds to Hananiah’s message in a way that shows he is for, not against, the return of the exiles and Temple articles: “Amen! May the Lord do so!” (5). Interestingly, Jeremiah doesn’t mention Jehoiachin as coming back as he knows that is not God’s will (22:26); he does mention the exiles and the Temple articles.
After Hananiah publically contradicts his words and breaks Jeremiah’s homemade yoke, Jeremiah is simple said to have withdrawn from the Temple (“At this, the prophet Jeremiah went on his way”—11). There is a time for a standing your ground and a time to stop throwing your pearls in the mud. Courage is not always displayed by trying to shout down or argue down those who reject and refute our message.
We’re not told how Jeremiah responded internally to this public confrontation and personal humiliation. He had essentially called a liar and false prophet by Hananiah. Was he angry? Embarrassed? Saddened? All we know is that “shortly after” it happened, God gave him a message for Hananiah (12). It’s a message that calls out Hananiah as a false prophet “(“The Lord has not sent you”—15) who had damaged the spiritual life of the nation (“you have persuaded this nation to trust in lies”—15). It’s a message of judgment: “This very year you are going to die because you have preached rebellion against the Lord” (16). It’s a message that was fulfilled within two months (17).
I wonder what the reaction was in Jerusalem when the news of Hananiah’s untimely death occurred? Or the reaction when the two years were up (during the sixth of Zedekiah’s eleven years) and the exiles were still in Babylon? Did Jeremiah’s street cred rise? Did the people start to believe Jeremiah was God’s prophet and the others were bogus? Were hearts so hardened and cynical that no one was listening anymore?
And what should be our response today to “false prophets”—those who claim to speak for God but distort His revealed Word? Jeremiah’s example is instructive. While he disagreed with the content of Hananiah’s prophecy, he affirmed the hope Hananiah was announcing regarding the return of the exiles (“Amen! May the Lord do so”—6). So we too need to show we are for the welfare and blessing of people even when our message is contrary to the prevailing desires of those to whom we speak. When Jeremiah was publically confronted, he graciously held his ground and did not let Hananiah’s provocative actions (breaking of the yoke) provoke an ungodly response; he spoke his message and then “went on his way” (11). When directed by God (12), he confronted Hananiah (we don’t know if it was publically or privately) with the message of God’s judgment on his life, predicting his death within the year. While we can’t give timelines, we can confront those who distort God’s Word with a message of God’s promised judgment; God has revealed He is “against” false prophets (23:30) and will “punish” them (23:34). God’s Word will have the last word.