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Who is right – Hananiah or Jeremiah?

As we approach a General Election, and pledges and promises are flying around in all directions, before we turn our attention to the present day situation will you bear with me while I draw some comparisons with Judah in the sixth century BC? If not, please skip directly to the section ‘And so to today!’

There appear to have been only a handful of genuine prophets in the Judah of Jeremiah’s day – but a whole welter of false ones. These were the ones who had learnt to tickle people’s ears, (2 Tim. 4:3) mistakenly convincing themselves that what people wanted to hear must indeed be what God was saying. So it was that for years they had been declaring that God would never allow Jerusalem to fall to an enemy power. After all, had He not chosen Zion forever and set His seal on David? (Ps. 132:14, and 89:20).  And rescued the city from the hand of Sennacherib? But these false prophets had none of the anointing of Isaiah and Hezekiah, and God would no longer move to protect the city – as Jeremiah warned.

People can be so gullible. We look to ‘prophets’ (Economists? Political pundits? Influencers?) to present a perspective on our times, but if they have got things wrong, then the ‘signs’ they are pointing people to will be as misleading as incorrect information on a road sign. Self-seeking and self-appointed ‘prophets’ immunise people against God’s warnings – especially when they blithely assure us that God will never allow us to feel the consequences of our decisions. (e.g. Jer. 14:13).

Why did the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day find such a ready audience? Because deep down people were only too willing to be deceived by smooth words (Is. 30:10)! But they were to be proved wrong when Jerusalem was captured, and ten thousand of the leading figures were taken to Babylon in the First of three Deportations. (2 Kings 24:13–15) Another explanation was called for now (Jer. 28:2-4,11). Step up Hananiah, who cdelcared in the name of the Lord Almighty that He would break the Babylonian yoke within two years, and restore all the sacred things that had been taken from the Temple. In other words, to borrow a phrase that was on so many people’s lips in 1914, “The war will be over by Christmas!”

Jeremiah’s response to this was a highly onomatopoeic  ‘Akh na.’ You can get the sense of that even without speaking a word of Hebrew! It literally means ‘yet now’– meaning, ‘Hang on a moment Hananiah: there’s another way of looking at this!’ Jeremiah knew that the Lord had spoken a very different message to him, telling him that the exile would last for seventy years, and that it was the Lord’s will for Judah to accept Babylonian overlordship, until God’s appointed time came to restore the people to the Land (Jer. 25:11–12 and 29:10).

This was not the message anyone in of Judah wanted to hear – especially the leaders. No wonder that Passhur the head of the ‘Temple police’ could not permit Jeremiah to have free rein to continue to bring his high highly pernicious messages to the temple.  No wonder false prophets sought to save their own reputation by speaking out their bland reassurances. And that handful of prophets who remained faithful to Yahweh soon found themselves in big trouble whenever they summoned up the courage to bring words of challenge and rebuke.

From this moment on, Jeremiah’s own suffering increased greatly.  (Jer. 20:1ff) King Jehoiakim’s threats were far from the idle ones made by that very emblem of Blind Fury, the Queen of Hearts, who relentlessly ordered everyone who provoked her in any way to be executed. (See Alice in Wonderland). Unlike Lewis Carrol’s fantasy world, there was no King of Hearts, nor complicit soldiers to ensure that these sentences were usually never carried out. Thus we find Jehoiakim pursuing Uriah, one of Yahweh’s true followers, even as far as Egypt for daring to bring the authentic word of the Lord (Jer. 26:20-23).

But, as surely as God’s indignation is directed against self-appointed leaders, (Hananiah himself would suffer the very things he refused to predict, for false prophecy carries a heavy price tag) He is with those whom He has raised up. As Jeremiah staunchly reminded the Lord,

‘I have not run away from being your shepherd;
you know I have not desired the day of despair.
What passes my lips is open before you. (17:16)

Thank You Lord, for giving him the resilience to remain at his post and to persevere in condemning those things that were an abomination in Your sight.

And so to today….

It was not only Judah that had more than its share of false prophets: they abound on every side to this day. The fact is that virtually every New Testament epistle majors on the need first to discern false teaching and wrong practices – and then to combat them. Just consider all the spin and propaganda that various prominent nations and media outlets promote in such sophisticated ways. Try looking up the words ‘Russia’ and ‘propaganda,’ for instance, on our blog.

Political parties may not quite promise everyone free trips to the Moon, or waiting times of less than five minutes in A&E, but, like Hananiah spinning fairy tales out of straw, there remain no shortages of politicians to scatter dazzling pledges like confetti – so much so that the cartoonist Matt commented in the Telegraph that ‘Some parts of the UK have received a month’s spending pledges in the last month!’ It would take fairy gold to pay for all these grandiose promises! Austerity and Prudence are definitely out and irresponsible borrowing in.

As Jesus warned the Mammon-loving Pharisees, “You justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued amongst men is a detestable abomination in God’s sight.” (Luke 16:15)

It is so important to pray against delusions taking hold in people’s hearts, because they raise the same sort of false hopes that seduced so many when Hananiah ‘prophesied’ that those who had been taken away to Babylon would be coming home again soon.

Proverbs reminds us that, ‘Truthful lips endure forever, whereas a lying tongue lasts only a moment,’ (Proverbs 12:19) – but oh, how much damage can be done when people deliberately spread deceit and deception! Are not all lying tongues but an example of the spirit of ‘Death creeping in through our windows and entering our homes?’  (Jer. 9:21 TLB)

Father, let that which is born of deliberate deception and optimistic fantasy be exposed and fall to the ground, just as spent fireworks do. Keep people from becoming cynical and bitter when the promises that are dangled before them turn out to have been nothing but bare faced blandishments. As false promises are scattered like confetti, let the hearts of the people see through them, and become more mature – but not more angry and cynical.

Lord, raise up those who have truth to impart, and accord them a platform from which to share a positive and truly hopeful message. Let those initiatives that are of You triumph and prosper, we pray.

Help us, especially as Your people Lord, to think clearly and to see through all that is alluring but deceptive. Touch and open the hearts of young and old alike in our nation to hear and respond to You, and to experience and encounter You. Shape our outlook on life. Forgive our great waywardness and visit our nation again we pray. In Jesus’ name.

Let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the Lord. (Jer. 9:24)

PS With regard to the forthcoming General Election, it is never too early to pray for the forthcoming series of televised debates. For many people these will be their primary political input, and are likely to influence their vote substantially.