More than once Jeremiah comes into conflict with false prophets. Most times they are anonymous, but here we meet one in particular who is unhappy with Jeremiah’s message in chapter 27. There Jeremiah wore an oxen yoke before the king and the region’s ambassadors to invite them to join him in submission to Nebuchadnezzar.
As chapter 28 opens, we should keep in mind that several weeks, if not months, have passed. Jeremiah is still wearing the yoke, and it gets to Hananiah. He meets Jeremiah in the Temple court and confronts him with his own message. In the course of two verses, 3 and 4, he contradicts all the major points in Jeremiah’s message from the last few chapters. Hananiah is tired of the bothersome prophet and he is tired of the yoke. Hananiah’s next move is to take the yoke from Jeremiah’s neck and smash it to pieces (vs. 10-11).
The first thing that strikes me about this confrontation is the difference between Hananiah and Jeremiah. If all we had of this book was the first two-thirds of this chapter, it would be hard to tell God’s true prophet from the false prophet. They both have prophetic names, they both sound alike in their proclamations, and they both make use of the yoke-the symbolic tool. The difference, though possibly elusive, is crucial and profound.
Part of Jeremiah’s response to him is a history and theology lesson wrapped up in a couple of short verses. Here is how the Message puts parts of verses 7-9:
But listen to me, listen closely. Listen to what I tell both you and all the people here today: The old prophets, the ones before our time, preached judgment against many countries and kingdoms, warning of war and disaster and plague. So any prophet who preaches that everything is just fine and there's nothing to worry about stands out like a sore thumb.
Jeremiah reminds him that the role of prophet is to warn people of their rebellious behavior, and that the prophet preaching only “peace and safety” is the odd man out. As a result of such behavior, we know that the prophet has at the core of their message a theme of turning away from sin and toward God.
In a way, Hananiah’s message is actually accurate. All the things he says God will do, God eventually does. All Hananiah gets wrong is the timing and the process. He preaches a message of prosperity and blessing without outlay; a message of success without responsibility; a message of reconciliation without repentance.
On the other hand, Jeremiah’s message has been clear. God wanted a blessed and intense relationship with His people, but their behavior was driving a wedge between them. If they repented and turned to Him, He would forgive and bless. If they continued in their sin they would simply suffer the consequences.
Because of God’s great love and His initiation, we have a chance at that blessed and passionate relationship. And just as with our meaningful relationships with other people, we sometimes need to examine our behavior and turn ourselves toward that person to reconcile. Take advantage of what is available to you with God by laying aside all those empty and meaningless things that steal your soul and your relationship with Him all at the same time.