Hananiah The False Prophet

Jeremiah 28 reminds us of where true peace comes from.

In last week’s newsletter, we left Jeremiah with a yoke hanging around his neck. God told him to wear it as a reminder that Israel must submit to God and the authorities he sets over them. We concluded that being under the yoke of God is the best place to be because, even if it is God’s will for us to suffer temporarily, we know that he means it for our ultimate good.

But not everybody agrees with this conclusion.

Hananiah’s Contradiction of Jeremiah

Jeremiah’s message received a relatively quick response. “In the same year” that Jeremiah was told to wear the yoke and instructed to deliver the message of God’s sovereignty to the people, Hananiah the prophet was delivering an alternative point of view.

We don’t know that much about Hananiah other than he had an obvious love for his country, and that he seemed sincere. But he was also sincerely wrong about God’s will.

In Jeremiah 28, verses 2-3, Hananiah’s prediction is that within two years all the national treasures that belonged in the temple would be returned to Jerusalem. He tried to sound convincing by using the same kind of language Jeremiah did and says, “This is what the Lord of Armies says…this is the Lord’s declaration...” Then he gives an exact date for the return of all the national treasures—two years.

Hananiah’s message is comforting but wrong. In 28:4 he goes on to falsely claim God says…

“And I will restore to this place Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon”—this is the Lord’s declaration—”for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.”

Sounds good but this “declaration” directly contradicts what Jeremiah had said previously and more importantly, it directly contradicts God’s declaration that his people would serve the king of Babylon for 70 years, not two (Jer 25:11).

Now, let me ask a personal question. Would you rather go to Jeremiah’s church or Hananiah’s church? Would you rather go to the “doom and gloom” church where you could be sure to hear a message of repentance for the next 70 years or to the church with a popular, uplifting patriotic message that promised everyone it wouldn’t be long before their nation got back to normal?

I think most would choose Hananiah’s church. In fact, many are making that exact choice today preferring the word of man over the word of God. Hananiah’s message is a popular one but it’s not the right one.

Jeremiah could likely see people making the wrong choice, so how would you expect him to respond to Hananiah’s challenge?

Jeremiah’s Response

Jeremiah doesn’t waste much time replying to Hananiah but he doesn’t respond in the way we would expect. In verse 6 he says “Amen!” without any sarcasm. “Amen” is a very special word that means “so be it” or “may it be done as you say” so it’s unlikely he would use the word in a flippant way. More likely, Jeremiah’s response shows that he loved his country as much as Hananiah did and he hoped Hananiah was right—even though he knew he wasn’t.

Christians don’t talk about the judgment of God because they enjoy it. They do so because Jesus, himself, teaches it in the Bible. The parables of Jesus aren’t just entertaining stories, they have a serious point. The parable of the rich fool, the wise and foolish builders, the wheat and the tares— and all the other parables— contain serious warnings of coming judgment for those who won’t listen. So we preach what Jesus preached out of love, not from a desire to see the lost suffer.

For example, when a universalist speaks about everyone being saved, there is a part of me that hopes they’re right even though I know the Bible teaches differently. Of course, we want “everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” as 1 Timothy 2:4 says, even though we know that won’t happen. So Jeremiah hopes Hananiah is right about all of the captives returning to Israel relatively soon— it’s just not what God said would happen.

Secondly, Jeremiah responds with an appeal to the past in Jeremiah 28:8…

The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, disaster, and plague against many lands and great kingdoms.

In other words, peace is great, but is that what the prophets who preceded us said would happen? No, they prophesied war, disaster, and plague. It’s great that we all want peace, but if the past is any indication, peace is not going to come about the way we think.

For example, many people seem to think that if we all do our part and vote the bad guys out of office, reverse all of the bad laws, then we will have peace in our land. But is that what history teaches us? I don’t think so. That’s not the precedent. Even if we only had one political party that controlled the Congress, the Senate, the presidency, and could do whatever they wanted, how long do you think it would take before "the good guys” start to argue amongst themselves about what’s right and wrong and then lead our country into more turmoil than we already have? Not long.

I love our country, but I can say with authority because of what the Bible says about human nature, that politics aren’t the answer to our problems. Sure, we should vote and do all we can to encourage good legislation, but we shouldn’t foolishly put our hope in people or politics. For evidence, all we have to do is look at history.

So, Jeremiah appeals to the past in response to Hananiah and then he says that time will prove who’s right in Jeremiah 28:9…

As for the prophet who prophesies peace—only when the word of the prophet comes true will the prophet be recognized as one the Lord has truly sent.

Time will tell if peace is in our near future. I’d like to think that we can fix things and avoid further trouble in our land but that’s not the way things tend to go so it’s best to be mentally prepared if things don’t go the way we hope.

Hananiah’s Response

Hananiah didn’t care for Jeremiah’s response very much, so in verses 10-11 we see him getting more dramatic. He even gets physically violent in Jeremiah 28:10…

The prophet Hananiah then took the yoke bar from the neck of the prophet Jeremiah and broke it.

This violent act must’ve been shocking to those that saw it. People who like that sort of thing were probably impressed and convinced but his outburst didn’t make his words any more true. Once again Jeremiah doesn’t respond as expected. In verse 11 it says he just goes on his way.

Think about it. Jeremiah had just been physically accosted but instead of defending himself, he turns the other cheek and shows brotherly love. He didn’t even say a word.

Proverbs 26:4-5 gives a pretty good summary of how to respond like Jeremiah, “Don’t answer a fool according to his foolishness or you’ll be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his foolishness or he’ll become wise in his own eyes.” This means there’s a time to speak and there’s a time to be silent, and Jeremiah knew this was a time for silence.

Besides, nothing Jeremiah could have said would‘ve convinced anyone anyway. So Jeremiah just walked away…for a while.

Jeremiah’s Stronger Pronouncement

After a period of time, God came to Jeremiah and told him it was time to speak up. And when God tells us to deliver a message, we’d better do it.

​Jeremiah 28:13 says,

Go say to Hananiah, “This is what the Lord says: You broke a wooden yoke bar, but in its place you will make an iron yoke bar.”

When Hananiah broke Jeremiah’s yoke he probably felt pretty clever. He probably felt like he’d won when Jeremiah walked away, but now Jeremiah shows up with an iron yoke meaning God’s not going to budge when it comes to how long the people will be in captivity. It’s 70 years, not 2.

So in verse 15, God makes it perfectly clear that Hananiah doesn’t speak for him and sentences him to death in verse 16…

Therefore, this is what the Lord says: “I am about to send you off the face of the earth. You will die this year because you have preached rebellion against the Lord.”

False prophecy can have deadly consequences, but Hananiah’s sincerity makes it even more dangerous. What some might call “positive and hopeful” God calls a lie and rebellion.

So, God’s judgment against Hananiah fits the crime. Two months later Hananiah is dead, and two years later Judah is still under Babylon’s yoke just as God said they would be. They should have listened and repented.

The other day I spoke with someone who doesn’t believe in repentance. They think Jesus is a nice guy and a good person but they don’t take his words seriously. They believe everything is fine with their eternal future. But the truth is that if they don’t repent of their sins they will have a yoke of iron permanently placed on their necks. That is the kind of situation false prophecy like Hananiah’s ultimately leads.

Hananiah predicted peace and we have to give him credit for desiring it but he couldn’t do anything to make peace happen. No matter how persuasive he was or how many impressive political stunts he performed, he was powerless to bring it about. We are also powerless to bring it about.

But Jesus can.

Jesus predicted judgment but he also predicted peace. In John 14:27 Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Don’t let your heart be troubled or fearful” (see also John 16:33 and Phil 4:7). Where Hananiah fails, Jesus succeeds. Hananiah was powerless to bring about peace but Jesus is not.

Jesus is the true prophet because he predicts and brings about true peace. So be at peace with God. Doom and gloom may be in our near future, but for those who repent and trust in Christ, there will be a peace that surpasses all understanding.