Don’t mess with God – Monday, 18th week in ordinary time – Jeremiah 28:1-17
King Zedekiah was the last of the kings of Judah before king and country were taken into exile in 586 BC. Today’s narrative is part of a larger section that spans chapters 27 and 28. It is set in the fourth year of King Zedekiah. In chapter 27, Yahweh asks Jeremiah to wear a wooden ox yoke to send a visual message to his people. This was to be an Instagram moment that would get no ‘likes’ for the people were told to submit to the yoke of the Babylonians
At this time, Jerusalem was hosting an international conference (27:3). Representatives from Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre and Sidon were all present. Apparently they were trying to decide what to do about the Babylonian problem (27:1-3). The prophet’s message from Yahweh to them was clear: Don’t rebel! (27:5-11). He delivered the same message to King Zedekiah to submit to, and serve the king of Babylon (27:12-15).
Whereas previously the role of the prophets was to call upon Israel’s kings to resist allegiances to foreign kings or powers (e.g., Hosea 5:13; 8:9-11), according to Jeremiah it would now be false prophets would who say such words (27:14-15). These prophets keep saying “Don’t worry! Everything’s going to be fine (Jeremiah 23:17)! But in doing this they have drummed up their own “prosperity preaching”. Their words are smooth, sweet, comforting. “But my word,” says the prophet, speaking in the name of the LORD, “is like fire, like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces!” (Jeremiah 23:29)
One of the ‘prosperity preachers’ was a prophet called Hananiah who claimed that God had broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. He claimed that in two years God would bring back to Jerusalem the vessels of the house of the Lord along with King Jeconiah and the exiles. It was in 605 BC that The Babylonians had first attacked Jerusalem and taken the temple vessels and the king and several citizens of Jerusalem as ‘captives’. This was done in order to prevent any insurgency or rebellion by the people of Judah. It was in this exile that Daniel and his companions were carried away.
But Judah under King Zedekiah and the false prophets decided to raise the flag of rebellion against their Babylonian oppressors. We know that the end result was a two-and-a-half-year siege of Jerusalem followed by a massacre of its people and the destruction of Jerusalem. But for now, no one wanted to hear the gloom and doom that Jeremiah preached. God had decided to send his people into exile and they were not to resist it.
But let’s be honest; Hananiah’s message was the popular one; it was bold, patriotic and uplifting. The fact is that Jeremiah was quickly losing seats in his congregation while ‘Hananiah’s church of prosperity was full. After all which message would we want to hear?
The showdown between Jeremiah and Hananiah reached a feverish pitch with Hananiah removing the yoke around Jeremiah’s neck and smashing it into smithereens. But while Hananiah’s theatricals may have won a round of applause from the priests, prophets and people, God made sure that the curtain would fall on this, his last act.
Jeremiah is sent to announce that God had upped the punishment. The wooden yoke was to re-placed by a yoke of iron and Hananiah would die within a year since he had rebelled against God. And it came to pass.