Confronting False Teachers Among Us:
Jeremiah vs. Hananiah
In chapter 27 Jeremiah was commanded to wear a wooden yoke to symbolize Judah’s subjugation to the power of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar was given dominion over the people of God and Israel wore the yoke of slavery under his sovereignty. This authority would be given to him by God himself. This event likely took place in 594/3 BCE under the reign of Zedekiah (some manuscripts suggest that Jehoiakim was king, but evidence internally points to Zedekiah). A rebellion against Babylon was in the works among several nations and Judah was among them (Jeremiah 27:3). Jeremiah saw no good in these plans. His suggestion: give up and surrender to Babylon. In chapter 28 he is confronted by a contentious prophet named Hananiah. Hananiah would break the yoke Jeremiah had used to symbolize God’s will. His will was for them to surrender to Babylon. Hananiah refused to believe this was God’s will for the people of Judah. He countered Jeremiah’s threat by claiming that God would deliver them in two years! He had hope and confidence in God but a fruitless hope and unjustifiable confidence. He failed to open both his ears and his heart to God, thus, he failed to hear and see the truth.
Failure to proclaim the truth was the mark of the false teacher, but this failure was not always obvious. Many false teachers in the time of Jeremiah preached messages that were pleasing and hopeful. They appealed to God and his covenant promises. They were uplifting and placed faith in God’s ability to deliver them from the threat of disaster. They sounded true and hopeful. Who would not want to believe these messages? Messages today must be embedded in truth, not on whether they are positive or optimistic. The greatest danger of false teachers is not the most obvious perversion of the truth, which can be spotted easily, but the deceptions hidden beneath what we want to be the truth.
Questions for Study and Discussion
1. To whom did those in Judah turn to find hope (Jeremiah 27:9, 16-22)? How might we find confidence and hope in the wrong places? Discuss ways the church might avoid making this mistake.
I would do this question last. It does present a good summary of the lesson. There is no distinction in this passage between the prophet and the pagan sorcerers and those practicing the black arts. All were the same because they all spoke lies. The false prophet was accepted because his message was much more palatable to the people. He brought hope and peace, the true prophet judgment and doom. They only wanted positive messages, the prophet only spoke God’s message, even if it was negative and unpopular. The truth was the true prophets goal. We too must learn that God desires us to know the truth, whether pleasing or terrifying. There are realities in this world we do not want to hear, but they are realities, and some horrifying realities are from God himself. Judgment and punishment are from God. Hell is a necessary place if God is to remain holy. It is a message we do not desire to hear, but it is a message God deemed necessary to proclaim in his divine revelation. Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, and the rest of the New testament authors could not avoid the subject. It is part of theology that paints a picture of God as more than a gracious God, but one who is angered by sin and holy. It’s presence is an expression of God’s person. To ignore it is to have a deficient understanding of the God we worship. Seeking only positive messages can destroy lives and churches when accompanied by a desire to avoid guilt or a desire to refuse to see the truth of destructive teachings/ lifestyles.
2. What was Hananiah saying to the people of Judah (Jeremiah 28:1-4)? What could lead a prophet of God to draw such a conclusion? How do difficult times obscure our perception of the truth?
Hananiah never claimed that Judah would not go into exile. How could he deny this? Many of his kinsmen were already in exile in Babylon. It had already become a reality. In 605 and 598 BC, Babylon came to Judah and Jerusalem and forced many Judeans into slavery. As a matter of fact, in 598 BC, Nebuchadnezzar sent his troops to Jerusalem and attacked the city after king Jehoiakim refused to pay tribute and allied himself with Egypt. He took captives and spoils from God’s temple. These are the furnishings and vessels Hannaiah prophesied would return to Jerusalem. In 605, many of their prominent leaders and noblemen had been taken (Daniel 1). He never denied that Judah would not live under the tyranny of Babylon. He denied the length of time Jeremiah claimed Babylon would maintain sovereignty over their territory and keep their fellow Judeans in captivity. Two years, he claimed, in opposition to Jeremiah’s seventy years (question 4). But why? Nowhere in these two chapters is he indicted as a pagan soothsayer or sorcerer. He is a prophet of God, the God of Israel. He should have been standing side by side with Jeremiah proclaiming “repent or die!” His heart was elsewhere and his eyes blinded. He may have been influenced by the presence of the nations of Edom, Ammon, and Moab and the Phoenician city-states of Sidon and Tyre, all plotting the overthrow of the tyrant, Nebuchadnezzar. A conflict to the west of Babylon had distracted Nebuchadnezzar, possibly the nation of Elam, and this appeared to be the right time for rebellion. Babylon was busy elsewhere. This rebellion would never take place (see Intro.). Two years, he claimed, and the yoke of Babylon would be broken. This was his word from God: Babylon’s oppressive rule would be broken. Jeremiah had been told to wear a wooden yoke to symbolize this era of their history. This yoke symbolized Judah’s subjugation to the oppressor Nebuchadnezzar. This was unacceptable to Hananiah. In a symbolic act of rebellion against Jeremiah’s message, he broke the wooden yoke. Jeremiah, seemingly not knowing how to respond, simply leaves. God sent him back to Hananiah with a response. The yoke of Babylon would be made of iron, unbreakable iron, and Hananiah would die. Jeremiah was proven to be the true prophet. Hananiah was a product of his culture. The people sought messages of hope and peace, so he gave them what they wanted. He believed in the power of God to save and had no doubt that God would save them from Babylon. His problem was that he failed not simply to listen to God, he failed to understand him. The knowledge of God leads one to understand that God will not save those who abuse his grace. Hananiah failed see the perversion of morality and religion that had swept its way through Judah. God needed to purge this from his people by the power of Babylon. He needed to rid his people of the current corrupt generation and begin anew with the next. His people needed 70 years of captivity for God to work out their salvation.
3. How did Jeremiah respond to this message (Jeremiah 28:5-9)? What is surprising about it and why would he react this way? How did Jeremiah say a true prophet would be revealed?
It seems that Jeremiah did not readily reject Hananaih’s prophesy about the “two years” of subjection to Babylon’s might. He may have believed that the Lord was speaking to him through another prophet and was hesitant about confronting Hananiah until he learned otherwise. Perhaps his persistent request to God that he spare the people led him to this moment of confusion. Perhaps, he thought, God has changed his mind. He apparently decided to wait this out. A true prophet who preached peace would be known when his prophesies came true. Despite the fact that the prophets who preceded them preached judgment and doom for Judah (27:8; see Micah 3:12), Jeremiah was hopeful God might relent. Jeremiah would wait. The wait would not be long. God would intervene and confirm his message through Jeremiah, not Hananiah. I can imagine the profound disappointment in Jeremiah.
4. How long did Jeremiah say that the exile would last (Jeremiah 25:11-12; 2 Chronicles 36:21; Daniel 9:2)? Compare this to the length of time Hananiah prophesied the captivity would last. Why would they be there this length of time (Jeremiah 27:22)? How would this prediction give Judah hope?
Seventy years was the promised length of time Judah would spend in exile according to Jeremiah. This was the amount of time God had determined his people needed. Two years was not long enough. God would purge Judah of the current generation and begin again. The purpose of this was restoration (27:22). Once God had done what he needed to do, he would bring them back. When we look at the state of Judah after the return from Babylon, we find a nation that still had their problems, but idolatry would rarely be found among that list. Mainstream Judaism would be purged of this sin. The captivity did have a powerful effect on the people of God. And even though God promised 70 years of captivity, he promised an end to it and to Babylon (which will be discussed later). His people will come back and the covenant bond restored. They must endure captivity for the sake of a better relationship with God.
5. What does God do to Hananiah as a result of his lies (Jeremiah 28:15-17)? Why would God be so harsh (See Deuteronomy 13:1-5; 18:20-22)? How were God’s people to determine who was a true and who was a false prophet?
God killed Hananiah because of his fruitless and empty hope. A hope that rested on lies that he had come to believe. A hope that cheapened the grace of God. God had laid this principle out in the Law. In the Deuteronomy passages listed, God made it clear that the fate of every false prophet was death. That is how serious God viewed their sin. There were two ways to know a false prophet. One was in whether or not their prediction came true (Deuteronomy18:20-22) . Truth was always an earmark of the true prophet and deception of the false prophet. Second, was whether or not they spoke “in the name of the Lord”, not merely in the sense of calling on his power, but in whether or not their message was accompanied by a call to follow God and God alone (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). Doing anything in the name of the Lord must be qualified by the character of God and his desires. Any who failed to prophesy in the Lord’s name was deserving of death. God’s words are not just truth but bring life. Any message contrary to this is not just a lie, but produces death. Here this principle is seen made practical.
6. How are we as New Testament Christians to determine who is a false and who is a faithful teacher/ preacher (2 Timothy 3:1-17; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 1 John 2:21-23; 2 John 9; Jude 4)? What is our responsibility when false teachers become evident within the church?
False teachers are no less offensive to God in our day as the false prophets were in Jeremiah’s day. 2 Peter 2:1-3 makes that very clear. The false teachers of our day are the false prophets of the Old Testament. But how do we define false teaching? How do we respond to false teachers? I do not believe we are called to put them to death. The passages below are not exhaustive, but do give us an insight into how the New Testament defines false teachings and how to respond to those guilty of this sin. Read them over and talk about their implications.
2 Timothy 3:1-17
The last days refers to the last period of time in God’s redemptive plan before Jesus returns and brings history to an end. False teacher are promised to appear within the church. They are described as amoral and self-serving. They will allow their lustful appetites to rule them and abuse the weaker members of the church. The will be known by their desire to manipulate the truth for wealth and prestige. The “destructive heresies” is important as well. “Heresies” means factions or divisive groups. The false teachers will make efforts to divide churches. They intend to cause rifts among believers.
2 Peter 2:1-3
These false teachers will cheapen grace by preaching “freedom” from sin (2:19). The will proclaim that grace is a license to sin, not a demand for righteous living. Reading the entirety of this chapter, you begin to see men of arrogance, such that they malign the demonic world, believing they were superior by slandering these beings. A strong warning is given to any who do that. They lived lives of and taught the right of every believer to a life of unfettered and unrestrained immorality. True Christian freedom is costly.
1 John 2:21-23 and 2 John 9
The liar is the one who not only denies that Jesus is the Christ, but denies that he came in the “flesh” (1 John 4:1-6; see also 1 Corinthians 15:33-34 regarding consequence of rejecting Jesus and the resurrection of the dead). In other words, that Jesus the God came into the world as a human. Hating one’s brothers by refusing to aid them in times of need and refusing to keeping God’s commandments are also earmarks of the false teacher (1 John 2:7-11, 4:12). The 2 John passage does presents some difficulties in the Greek. What are the “teachings of Christ”? First, it could mean the teachings about Christ. The fact he came in the flesh and was the Son of God. Second, it could be what Christ taught, such as keep God’s commandments and love your brother. Or third , it could be what is called semantic density, having both meanings. This fits the context well.
The false teachers will be those who “secretly slip” into the church. They will not be outsiders, but people among us. They will claim a commitment to Jesus, but will teach cheap grace. They will proclaim not a freedom from sin, but a freedom to sin. This is called antinomianism for all you theologians. Look it up. They would, by this teaching, deny the Lordship of Jesus.
Our responsibility is to oppose these teachers and push them out of the church (Romans 16:17; 2 John 10-11). We are to have nothing to do with false teachers.
7. What does God’s reaction to Hananiah’s proclamation say about the nature of God’s Word (Hebrews 4:12-13)?
God’s word is life, any other message is death. His word must be taken seriously in its fullest sense. We must study the complete revelation of scripture, surrendering ourselves to the full revelation of God. We must accept his judgmental and wrathful nature as well as his gracious and kind nature. We must read scripture to be changed and challenged by it in its fullest sense, not creating a understanding of God by limiting our knowledge to scriptures that makes us feel good or are not so harsh. Scripture presents the way to life, real life. Life that endures through the beauty and the ugliness of this world. Hananiah had deluded himself into believing God was defined by his own perceptions and belief system. God would never act contrary to his understanding. He never allowed God to be God. He refused to see the person of God and his role in history because he refused to let God reveal himself as he truly is. Babylon was evil and Judah was good according to Hananiah and God must always be on Judah’s side. God was their Savior and Defender. He had the power to save them and he would save them. Hananiah’s theology blinded him to the reality of God. He died because of his corrupted, optimistic views.
So, what can we say about our theology? How has it blinded us to the reality of God? I do not believe anyone can claim complete innocence in this.
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