“Therefore thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I am about to remove you from the face of the earth. This year you are going to die, because you have counseled rebellion against the LORD.’” Jeremiah 28:16
Rebellion – I woke up today with Jeremiah 28 on my mind. That seemed very odd, so I determined to investigate this story. It is the story of the false prophet Hananiah. He foretells the defeat of Babylon and the release of Israel. But God had other plans. Jeremiah is instructed to return to Hananiah and deliver this message: you will die because you have counseled rebellion against God.
Don’t you find this message strange? Did Hananiah really suggest rebellion? It seems as if all he did was deliver a false message. We might accuse him of lying, but would we assert that he proposed mutiny against God? Perhaps we need to explore the Hebrew word here in order to appreciate the gravity of Hananiah’s prophecy.
The word is sarah. The consonants are Samech-Resh-Hey. The picture is revealing: “behold, the person slowly twisted or turned.” Sarah means defection, revolt or apostasy. The noun is derived from a verb that means to turn aside. In Deuteronomy it is used to describe turning to pagan gods. Obviously, this is a very strong accusation. How is Hananiah’s prophecy the equivalent of apostasy, of worshipping false gods? We must draw the conclusion that Hananiah’s attempt to predict good news is apostasy because it puts words into God’s mouth. Hananiah isn’t simply teaching false doctrine. He is declaring that God will bring peace when God intends captivity. Hananiah’s prophecy makes God a liar.
The result of Hananiah’s prophecy is both personal and corporate catastrophe. Hananiah is sentenced to death. Israel’s yoke of wood is replaced by a yoke of iron, a strengthening of God’s resolve to take the people into captivity. Things couldn’t be worse. An attempt to make God say what was not God’s intention destroyed Hananiah and further damaged the people.
In what sense is Hananiah’s prophecy rebellion? God intended the captivity to finally drive idolatry out of Israel. After a thousand years of warnings, God determines that Nebuchadnezzar will become His vehicle for restoration. But, of course, the specter of being crushed under Babylon is very unpleasant. So “prophets” arise who deliver a different message, a message not of repentance and renewal but of peace and prosperity. These prophets suggest that no substantial change needs to be made. All that is required is to wait for God to rescue. If you and I listen to these men, we will believe that God endorses our current condition. We will believe that today’s circumstances are merely a test of our faith, not a call to radical renewal. We will circumvent God’s objective by ignoring the coming chastisement. We will continue to live as if nothing terrible is going to happen. And that is idolatry.
I wonder if the people of God aren’t listening to Hananiah today. I wonder if we aren’t susceptible to the declarations of peace and prosperity. I wonder if we don’t secretly want God to just let us continue as we are. I wonder if we really believe God is capable and willing to send all of His people into calamity in order to purify them. It would be so much nicer to have an easier way. But then Yeshua wrestled with the same temptation, didn’t He?
Most of all I wonder why I woke up with this story on my mind.
Topical Index: sarah, rebellion, apostasy, Jeremiah 28:16, Hananiah, prophet