Jeremiah 27-28 • When the False Prophet Meets the True
What is the role of a prophet? What makes them different from, say, a preacher or teacher or evangelist? In these chapters we have the opportunity to examine a true prophet of God side-by-side with a false prophet. We are provided not with just a case study of how to tell the true apart from the false, but with how we as believers are supposed to handle prophesy and react to God’s prophets. In this example we can see why true prophets are often called “evangelists to believers”.
Q: What kind of a teaching is this?
A: This is what we would call an object lesson. Jeremiah would do something that visibly parallels the greater symbolism of the Word of God.
Q: What is the meaning of the object lesson?
A: It symbolizes the nations who will fall victim to Nebuchadnezzar initially and remain subservient to Babylon through the reigns of his son and grandson.
Q: Why are these particular nations singled out?
A: These are the nations to whom the cup of God’s wrath was sent through Jeremiah in chapter 25 and against whom Jeremiah prophesied.
Q: Are these the only nations to conquered by Babylon?
A: Verse 7 indicates, “All the nations shall serve him”. But God wants these nations in particular to know in advance that the greater work of His judgment is empowering these things and that it’s not simply coming about by chance. These are all nations He has given the opportunity to come into a right relationship with Him at one time or another.
Q: What might be significant about how God indicates the length of time Babylon will rule?
A: The time of God’s judgment is fixed and in the end itself turns upon the instrument of that judgment – Babylon – who does not learn the right lesson of judgment.
Q: What is God’s desire? What will happen to those who ignore it?
A: God’s desire is that they submit to judgment. But if they resist it, He will send additional, supernatural events to add to their punishment.
Q: What will happen to those who accept it?
A: They will be subject to Babylon but will not be extracted from their land. (v.11)
Q: What does this tell us about God’s intentions?
A: He is disciplining them for the purpose of changing their behavior. He is seeking those who will submit to His discipline, not continue to rebel against it.
Q: Whom does God identify as their greatest threat in this situation?
A: “…your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your soothsayers or your sorcerers”. (v.9)
“Prophet” – Someone who is purportedly conveying a message from God.
“Diviner” – Someone who claims that their magic practices or incantations reveal a message from beyond. Their message is purported to come about as the result of the person’s own works.
“Dreamer” – Someone who claims to have had a divine revelation or prophetic vision as the result of a dream from God.
“Soothsayer” – Someone who claims they can predict the future by magical or mystical means, a kind of practitioner of false religious practices.
“Sorcerer” – Someone who practices magic, something that may or may not be directly connected with a particular religion.. Examples are Jannes and Jambres, the witch of Endor, and Simon the Samaritan (Acts 8).
All of these different disciplines cover all the ways by which people believe spiritual results could be achieved WITHOUT going through the One True God.
Point: One of the ways people rebel against God is by seeking false spiritual authorities to tell them what they want to hear rather than the truth. The greater problem here is with people who will listen to every spiritual deceiver of every kind but not to the Word of God.
Q: Now to whom is God speaking?
A: To Judah.
Q: Does He say anything different to them than to the nations?
A: No, it’s the same call.
Q: And what is their biggest spiritual impediment?
A: Prophets who “prophesy a lie to you…they prophesy falsely in My name”. Just as false spiritual influences are the main problem with the nations, so it is with Judah.
Q: What is the consequence of listening to false prophets?
A: It’s not merely that someone is getting bad information, but since it does not change behavior it leads to death.
Application: The difference between putting into practice God’s Word and ways as opposed to listening to false spiritual influences is literally the difference between life and death itself.
Q: Why are “the vessels of the Lord’s house” being discussed?
A: Previously the most costly and precious vessels had been removed during the reigns of Jehoiakim and Jeconiah. This was a warning, a kind of prelude from God indicating that everything would eventually be taken. Instead of repenting and learning the right lesson, they instead clung to the notion that it was something temporary, a false belief reinforced by false prophets.
Q: Why should this be such a big issue to the people of that day?
A: They had a false belief that God would never give His temple over to a Gentile nation much less allow it to be destroyed. They came to believe that the temple itself was their protection replacing their need to be obedient from the heart and that religious things would automatically protect them. So listening to false prophecies about the temple vessels coming back reinforced their wrong behavior.
Q: What is v.18 really stating about the false prophets?
A: That whether they are true or false prophets will be proven by what happens to the things of the temple.
Q: What is significant about the things mentioned in v.19?
A: These are the large, main items in the outer temple necessary for carrying out the actual sacrifices, not merely the smaller “vessels” by which the sacrifices were carried out. In other words, it wasn’t that the temple rituals would be hindered a little bit by removing the vessels, but that they would be impossible to carry out when everything in the temple was carried away or destroyed. (See Jer. 52:17, 20 & 21 when this ultimately happened.)
Q: How does their slavery to Babylon represent something greater?
A: They physical slavery to another will mirror their spiritual slavery because they will not be able to carry out the full letter of the Law as provided through Moses when they no longer have a functioning Temple. Just as they can no longer serve their own king but must serve another, so they can no longer properly serve and worship their heavenly King.
Application: When the things of God are continually misused they are withdrawn by God so that He can place the focus squarely on the heart.
Q: Was Hananiah a prophet?
A: No, it only says that his father Azzur was acknowledged as a prophet from Gibeon.
Point: False prophets often count on their associations with true prophets to disguise their true nature and cause people to wrongly call them “prophet”.
Q: What is similar about Hananiah’s prophecy as compared to Jeremiah’s?
A: Using the same symbols, Hananiah predicts the exact opposite of Jeremiah.
Q: What does Hananiah prophesy that was not covered by Jeremiah?
A: Hananiah goes further by stating that not only would the vessels be returned, but the people who were initially taken into captivity would also be returned.
Q: How does this directly contradict what we have already discussed as the greater reason for God’s message through Jeremiah?
A: The greater message is that God is going to make their physical condition mirror their spiritual condition in order to draw them back to the issue of their heart. What Hananiah is essentially preaching is that there is no need to repent or change their heart.
Application: The true role of a biblical prophet is to call God’s backslidden people back into a right spiritual relationship with Him. Therefore the true working of a false prophet is to persuade God’s backslidden people that there is no need to repent or reconcile spiritually.
Q: What is the first and foremost thing Jeremiah did where Hananiah was concerned?
A: Jeremiah confronted Hananiah publicly not just in the presence of the priests, but all the people present.
Point: When confronted publicly, false prophets and those not properly understanding Scripture will often claim a violation of Matthew 18:15-20 saying that they’re not supposed to be confronted publicly until they’re first approached privately. This is only true in the case of personal sin occurring specifically between individuals. In every case of those teaching false doctrine or prophesying falsely, there is no biblical “right of privacy” as outlined in Matthew 18, but the repeated biblical example is to immediately effect a public confrontation of the truth.
Q: In the end, how is a prophet proven to be true or false?
A: “…when the word of the prophet comes to pass”. (v.9) Jeremiah is saying that it’s not whether a prophet’s message is pleasing or not, but whether the actual events predicted come about.
Q: But what is the problem in the interim until the event comes to pass proving which prophet is true?
A: They have opposing messages as to what to do. Whereas the true prophet is calling for repentance and return, the false is claiming nothing is wrong nor needing to be addressed. The spiritually undiscerning will only find out the truth when it is too late.
Application: False prophets often confuse the issue by turning the true message of God around to mean its exact opposite. Faith-Prosperity teachers assert we are to be rich in this life, when the Bible teaches our riches are to come in the next; Kingdom Now theology teaches there is no literal Millennial Reign to come, that it will instead be experienced in the course of this life; Replacementists teach that Israel has been replaced by the Church and there is no longer any use for literal Israel when Scripture still holds many unfulfilled promises yet to come for the nation of Israel. False prophets love to take biblical teachings and bend them 180 degrees.
Q: Why do you suppose at this point that Jeremiah silently “went his way”?
“When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.
— Deuteronomy 18:22
Having spoken in the Lord’s name, and having rebutted Hananiah in the Lord’s name, the only thing that is going to settle the issue is whether or not one or the other’s words come true. This is also probably an Old Testament application of Christ’s admonition…
“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
— Matthew 7:6
But it’s also worth noting that having provided God’s initial response, he goes no further until receiving an additional message from God as provided in the following verses.
Q: Why does God make the distinction between “yokes of wood” and “yokes of iron”?
A: If they had responded to the true message through Jeremiah they would have repented and their punishment under Babylon would have been much more bearable. But now their rebellion means that because they won’t submit to God’s discipline, their punishment will be so much more severe.
Application: There are consequences for sin which often cannot be avoided but can be endured differently depending on how the heart responds.
Q: So is the worst thing a false prophet can do is to falsely predict the future?
A: No, the worst thing they do is to deceive the heart. Their false predictions for the future are not just a trap of deception that will come about later, but actually take effect in the here and now.
Q: Is the work of a false prophet simply to make people “trust in a lie”?
A: The ultimate work is in what trusting in a lie results in: “you have counseled rebellion against the Lord”. (v.16) It’s not believing in the lie that the vessels or people would be returned within two years that’s the most devastating spiritually, it’s the fact that this lie encouraged everyone to continue to live the same without making any behavioral change whatsoever. In other words, to continue in their rebellion of God’s Word and ways in favor of their own desires.
Application: One of the ways we can know for sure that a false prophet is at work is in the fact that their adherents do not change according to God’s Word and ways but seek to justify and continue their own earthly and fleshly ways.
Q: Have we ever seen God strike down a false prophet?
A: Throughout history, and even in our present time, it’s interesting to note how personal tragedy has struck false prophets and yet most of those deceived by them refuse to learn to take it as a warning of the ultimate fall of all the lies to come.
Many people believe that a prophet is someone who predicts a specific event before it comes to pass. In reality, a true prophet is someone who is calling God’s backslidden people back into a right relationship with Him. The event the prophet predicts is most often a milestone when time runs out, when it will be too late to effectually repent and return to God. To properly listen to a true prophet of God is to respond to their message in the here and now before it is too late to do anything about it. This is the application of the myriad of prophecies concerning the Last Days. We don’t want to see it come true and THEN turn to God because by that time it will be too late. The opportunity to respond is in the time BEFORE such things come to pass.