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JEREMIAH 26-28: THE CONTEXT
In chapter 26, Jeremiah, at Yahweh’s direction, prophesied concerning the disaster that Yahweh intended to bring on Judah. The priests and prophets advocated the death penalty for Jeremiah, because “he has prophesied against this city” (26:11). However, Jeremiah defended himself as relaying the words that Yahweh had given him. The officials recognized the truth of his defense and refused to punish him.
In chapter 27, Yahweh instructed Jeremiah to “make bonds and bars, and put them on your neck” (27:2)—in essence, making a yoke for his own neck. Jeremiah was to tell the envoys of the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon that Yahweh had given their lands to Nebuchadnezzer of Babylon, and Yahweh would punish any nation that failed to submit to Nebuchadnezzer’s yoke (27:8). Therefore, they must not listen to false prophets who tell them not to serve Babylon (27:9). Jeremiah delivered that message to King Zedekiah (27:12) and to the priests and the people (27:16).
Chapter 28 begins by identifying the time as “the fourth year (of) the fifth month” of the reign of King Zedekiah of Judah—approximately 594 B.C.—between the time of the initial subjugation of Jerusalem by Babylon in 597 B.C. and the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. A number of the people of Judah have already been taken into exile in Babylon, but many still remain in Jerusalem.
In 28:1-4, the false prophet Hananiah told the people that God had broken Babylon’s yoke and would restore the temple furnishings that had been carted away—and would bring back King Jeconiah and all the exiles who had been taken to Babylon.
JEREMIAH 28:5-6. THE PROPHET JEREMIAH SAID TO THE PROPHET HANANIAH
5 Then the prophet Jeremiah said to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests, and in the presence of all the people who stood in the house of Yahweh, 6 even the prophet Jeremiah said, Amen: Yahweh do so; Yahweh perform your words which you have prophesied, to bring again the vessels of Yahweh’s house, and all them of the captivity, from Babylon to this place
“Then the prophet Jeremiah said to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests, and in the presence of all the people who stood in the house of Yahweh” (v. 5). In verse 1, we learned that Hananiah was from Gibeon—a town in the territory of Benjamin, not far from Anathoth, Jeremiah’s hometown. Hananiah’s name means “Yahweh is gracious”—a good name. However, Hananiah’s intent is to emphasize Yahweh’s graciousness as a way of countering Jeremiah’s prophecy of judgment. In doing so, Hananiah is promoting false hopes and contradicting what Yahweh has told Jeremiah to tell the people.
Hananiah delivered his false prophesy in the temple, “in the presence of the priests and all the people” (v. 1). Now Jeremiah responds in the same place and in the presence of the same people.
“even the prophet Jeremiah said, Amen: Yahweh do so; Yahweh perform your words which you have prophesied, to bring again the vessels of Yahweh’s house, and all them of the captivity, from Babylon to this place” (v. 6). Jeremiah could have responded angrily, accusing Hananiah of lying and of being a false prophet—but he chooses a different tack. He says, “Amen: Yahweh do so; Yahweh perform your words which you have prophesied, to bring again the vessels of Yahweh’s house, and all them of the captivity, from Babylon to this place.” While it is possible that Jeremiah intended his response as sarcasm, most scholars consider it to be an honest response—a sincere hope that the temple vessels and exiles will soon return from Babylon.
JEREMIAH 28:7-9. WHEN THE WORD OF THE PROPHET SHALL HAPPEN
7 Nevertheless hear you now this word that I speak in your ears, and in the ears of all the people: 8The prophets who have been before me and before you of old prophesied against many countries, and against great kingdoms, of war, and of evil, and of pestilence. 9 The prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet shall happen, then shall the prophet be known, that Yahweh has truly sent him.
“Nevertheless hear you now this word that I speak in your ears, and in the ears of all the people”(v. 7). As much as Jeremiah would like to believe that Hananiah’s prophesy is true, Yahweh has tasked Jeremiah to deliver an altogether different message—a proclamation of judgment. Therefore Jeremiah calls for Hananiah and all the people to pay attention to what he has to say.
“The prophets who have been before me and before you of old prophesied against many countries, and against great kingdoms, of war, and of evil, and of pestilence” (v. 8). Jeremiah offers two tests by which the people can test Hananiah’s prophesy—and, for that matter, Jeremiah’s prophecies. The first test is to compare what current prophets are saying with the prophecies of earlier prophets. The people are familiar with prophecies of war, famine and pestilence. They have also seen those prophecies come true.
“The prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet shall happen, then shall the prophet be known, that Yahweh has truly sent him” (v. 9). Earlier, Moses promised that Yahweh would raise up a prophet like himself, but warned that false prophets would try to lead the people astray. He said that false prophets should be put to death (Deuteronomy 18:20; see also Deuteronomy 13:1-5)—and further said that people could determine the truth or falsehood of a prophesy by determining whether it did or did not come true (Deuteronomy 18:22).
Now Jeremiah applies this Deuteronomic test to current prophets. The test of time will prove whether Jeremiah or Hananiah is the true prophet. Their prophecies oppose each other, so it isn’t possible that both will come true. Hananiah has prophesied peace. Will the people find themselves living peacefully? If so, Hananiah will be found to be a true prophet and Jeremiah will be found to be a false prophet. However, if the people experience war, famine, and pestilence, they will know that Hananiah is the false prophet and Jeremiah is the true prophet.
JEREMIAH 28-29: POSTSCRIPT
After Jeremiah spoke to the people, Hananiah took the yoke from Jeremiah’s neck and broke it (28:10), symbolizing his prophecy that Yahweh would break the yoke which Babylon had imposed on Judah. Yahweh then told Jeremiah to warn Hananiah that he an iron yoke would replace the broken wooded yoke (28:13). Jeremiah also warned Hananiah that Yahweh would require Hananiah’s life within the year because of Hananiah’s false prophecy, and “in that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died” (28:17).
Jeremiah then, at Yahweh’s direction, sent a letter to the exiles in Babylon, saying:
“Thus says Yahweh of Armies, the God of Israel, to all the captivity, whom I have caused to be carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat their fruit. Take wives, and father sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there, and don’t be diminished. Seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to Yahweh for it; for in its peace you shall have peace. For thus says Yahweh of Armies, the God of Israel: Don’t let your prophets who are in the midst of you, and your diviners, deceive you; neither listen to your dreams which you cause to be dreamed. For they prophesy falsely to you in my name: I have not sent them, says Yahweh” (29:4-9).
In other words, they are in for a long captivity. They shouldn’t expect deliverance anytime soon.
Yahweh then told the people that only after Babylon’s seventy years were completed would Yahweh visit them and bring them back to Jerusalem (29:10). Yahweh also warned that, because of the people’s unfaithfulness, he “will send on them the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, and will make them like vile figs, that can’t be eaten, they are so bad” (29:17). Yahweh then said that he would deliver the false prophets Ahab and Zedekiah into Nebuchadnezzer’s hand, and Nebuchadnezzer would kill those two false prophets publicly (29:21). Then Yahweh pronounced judgment on the false prophet Shemaiah for claiming falsely that Yahweh had sent him as a prophet (28:24-32).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Bracke, John M., Westminster Bible Companion: Jeremiah 1-29 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000)
Clements, R. E., Interpretation Commentary: Jeremiah (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988)
Fretheim, Terence, E., Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Jeremiah (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Incorporated, 2002)
Harrison, R.K., Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Jeremiah & Lamentations, Vol. 19 (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973)
Huey, F. B. Jr., New American Commentary: Isaiah, Lamentations, Vol. 16 (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993)
Keown, Gerald L.; Scalise, Pamela J.; and Smothers, Thomas G., Word Biblical Commentary: Jeremiah 26-52 (Dallas: Word Books, 1995)
Longman, Tremper III, The New International Biblical Commentary: Jeremiah & Lamentations (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008)
Martens, E. A., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Jeremiah (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1986)
Miller, Patrick D., The New Interpreters Bible: Jeremiah, Vol.VI (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001)
Stulman, Louis, Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries: Jeremiah (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005)
Thompson, J.A., The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Jeremiah(Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980)
Tucker, Gene M. in Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, A (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1992)
Copyright 2010, Richard Niell Donovan