Jeremiah Chapter 28: Out of the frying pan into the fire (wooden yokes to iron ones).
This chapter portrays practically one of the head false prophets as had been warned of in the preceding chapter (27:9-10). The chapter opens up with a clear reference to when the prophecy came in. It was in the beginning of Zedekiah’s rain though in the fourth year of this King’s reign and in its fifth month. According to Jeremiah 51:59, it is in the fourth year that King Zedekiah visited the King of Babylon and in the process his territory was expanded to rule over 5 other kings. Some writers want to convince us that, though it was the actual fourth of his reign over Judah, it was his first year’s reign over an extended dominion (see Jarchi’s expositions). However, according to Fausset and David Brown, it was an Israelite’s style of dividing any reign into ‘the beginning’ and ‘the end’ parts. Thus, though it was in the real fourth year of King Zedekiah’s reign, it is still upright to refer to this as the beginning of his reign. And since he ruled for about 11 years in total, then it is obvious the 4th year is in the beginnings (verse 1).
Actually, the events described here happened in the same period that Jeremiah was preaching about the need to submit or surrender to the leadership of Babylon. So while in the temple, where many had congregated (the priests, the leaders, the common people) to pray or worship, Hananiah (a priest, though not a high priest and from the town and line of priests-Gideon) opens up another prophecy which was contradicting to what Jeremiah was prophesying in the period (verse 2). Prophet Hananiah (the false prophet of peace and prosperity as affirmed by writings of Targum or Septuagint, and according to our previous chapters in this book) confronted Jeremiah (note that he didn’t speak to the general people though they were listening, the bible says that he addressed Jeremiah or spoke to Jeremiah-an act of challenging what Jeremiah had been preaching) and spoke as if sent by God in the most affirmative way, stressing how God was going to break the yoke in just two years compared to the seventy that Jeremiah had preached, and how He would restore everything to Jerusalem, including its king Jeconiah and all the officers he went with to Babylon (2-4).
The confidence, specificity, and the real origin and background (the line of priests and in Gideon town of priests) of Hananiah formed a great basis for many to take him as a prophet too (the contradicting two truths). When he got Jeremiah’s yoke of wood and broke it to signify this message (verse 10), he was exactly acting like a real prophet. Also, it is suggested that his mention of the return of Jeconiah-verse 4 (a king who many people loved), was intended to bring him quick recognition and acceptance by those who heard his message. His mention of the return of the temple’s vessels and priesthood would make Jeremiah jump with happiness.
Imagine, what do you think happened? How do you expect a great prophet like Jeremiah to have reacted the grabbing of his yoke that he put on his neck and breaking it in front of the mass? Have you ever met such instances when someone breaks in your concrete of truth and you don’t know how to defend yourself? (After all, both Jeremiah’s prophecy and this guy’s talk had not yet come true, what would be the measure of truth here?). After such a confrontation, Jeremiah stands up and addresses Hananiah in presence of the same people. He tells how he wished that prophecy of peace could come true, but he knew very well that it wasn’t going to happen. Other prophets like Zechariah, Zephaniah, and Nahum had prophesied the same message of doom and there was no way God was going to change that unless the nation repented (5-9).
Immediately, prophet Hananiah runs for Jeremiah’s yoke that was around his neck and broke it. In this act, he affirmed his prophecy that God was going to break Babylon’s yoke. According to Wiersbe Bible Commentary, King Nebuchadnezzar was having a revolt in his own dynasty, which to an extent convinced the people to believe in the lies of Hananiah since it was eveident that Babylon was soon falling, but this wasn’t true. This was too much. We expect Jeremiah to have reacted in the most serious way, but he instead did the opposite. Jeremiah walked away and went his way. Jeremiah’s silence might have proved to some that he had consented to the new message but Jeremiah wanted to wait upon God for the right answer (10-11).
Few hours or days passed and Jeremiah had the reply. However, what is more clear here is that the Lord’s answer didn’t delay since it came in whatever time but not greater than the two months said in the chapter. What can be sensed is that Jeremiah first parted with the false Hnaniah and waited on God who brought an answer to him either in a vision, a dream or a directed answer-searching soul or mind. The message was terrible. The nation would now suffer an iron yoke and not just a wooden one. And that’s what Jesus meant when He said, “Come to me you who are tired, my yoke is easy and light to carry”. We at times refuse to listen to God as we search for the easy life with no strings attached only to learn later that such a life is worse, more demanding, more torturing and more destroying. The Lord added that Hananiah, the false preacher, would have to die within the two months. This prophecy came true and Hananiah died in the seventh month of this fourth year of King Zedekiah’s reign over Judah (12-17). God doesn’t usually strike people dead in such a dramatic fashion, but it did happen to the followers of Korah (Num. 16), to Uzzah (2 Sam. 6), to the Assyrian army (2 Kings 19:35), and to Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).
Our Focus Today is verses 11&13, “….And the prophet Jeremiah went his way (11). Thou hast broken the yokes of wood; but thou shalt make for them yokes of iron” (13).
When Jeremiah was expected to fight back, to defend what He believes in with his mighty, to tolerate no more a very disturbing person, he did the opposite. He calmed and walked home defeated. This, instead, was his victory. The first reason he withdrew could be that he wanted to get the right answer or reaction for the challenge. He didn’t care how wrong it would take but he needed a concrete answer more than a fast one. In chapter 27, we studied that at times withdrawing or surrendering is your only wise weapon to win over an enemy. This gives you the chance to prepare rightly for the revolt if you should revolt. Also, the context brought us to the consensus that we can humble ourselves down and apologize if we find ourselves at a loose end. This saves more than stubbornly plunging ourselves into a fight we know well that we have lost. Though this wasn’t the case with Jeremiah’s scenario here but the former applies: He had to prepare enough and rightly for a concrete revolt against the lies and he did (I mean God did for him).
Secondly, we all know that many believers regard Christian life as a hard one. They think that there is too much to observe and obey that we lose our freedom and our pleasure. With that wrong mindset, they wander away from God in search of the easy and free life they dream of only to discover later, either late in life or during death times or after death that it was a dangerous deception. They later learn that the life they dodged was the real freedom and easiness, the real laughter and fun, the real pleasure and joy (the wooden yokes). When we revolt against God and embrace the devil, the wooden yoke becomes the iron one, the pleasure and joy becomes the sadness and sorrow, life becomes death and freedom becomes slavery. That is Christ’s gospel: To deliver us from these yokes of iron and make us live a complete-joyful life as He meant it for us. The procedure is simple: Accepting that we have fallen far away from His purity just as Judah had done and coming back to Him with a broken heart of repentance and through the concrete belief in His death to save us (faith) we receive that eternal forgiveness and freedom.
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