Who Are We Listening To?

Jeremiah 23:9-40 has much to teach us about who we should be listening to.

Listening to the wrong sources of information isn’t just a problem today—it’s been a problem since the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve—perfectly created and in perfect fellowship with their Creator—went astray when they started listening to Satan more than God, and mankind has had a weakness for listening to the wrong people ever since. And if we don’t acknowledge this weakness about ourselves, and proactively try to prevent it from occurring, then we are likely to keep repeating the same mistakes.

False Sources

There are many sources of false information—false gods, false philosophies, and even the thoughts that come to our minds can be false.

Israel’s prophets were getting their false information from the false god Baal. It says in Jeremiah 23:13…

Among the prophets of Samaria I saw something disgusting: They prophesied by Baal and led my people Israel astray.

Imagine leaders being so corrupt that they don’t even try to pretend to hide the fact they’re speaking for false gods. While there are some today who openly claim to be Christian Buddhists or Christian Muslims, most false teachers today are more subtle.

Many teach false philosophies without using the names that would give them away. For example, the idea that a person must approve of all lifestyles to be loving is running rampant not just within our culture but within our churches. “Everyone is welcome in this place” is biblical but that doesn’t mean we should endorse every unbiblical lifestyle. Yet many do exactly that.

All Christians should believe in absolute truth but in surveys done within the last couple of years, it’s estimated that only 43% of those who identify as born-again agree with the idea of absolute truth. Instead, the majority believe false sources of information that say truth is relative.

That’s a concerning statistic but it’s one that I hope causes us to examine our own beliefs and not just point the finger at others. Our minds are where false beliefs start. ​Jeremiah 23:16 says this…

This is what the Lord of Armies says: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They are deluding you. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the Lord’s mouth.

Where do false prophets get their false ideas? They’re influenced by Satan, of course, but they’re also getting their info from their own minds. It sounds good to them and believable to others so the misinformation gets spread around. Jeremiah 23:26–27 asks…

How long will this continue in the minds of the prophets prophesying lies, prophets of the deceit of their own minds? Through their dreams that they tell one another, they plan to cause my people to forget my name as their ancestors forgot my name through Baal worship.

The point is false prophets were giving too much weight to the stuff they dreamt up themselves—and sadly the people loved it. And the longer it went on the more the people forgot about God.

Modern Examples

False prophets have been around since the Garden of Eden but these last few years we’ve seen quite a few false prophets say things and I’m afraid some of us might still be holding on to their words, even though they have been proven false.

For example, there are all the prophesies that Donald Trump was going to be reelected and when that didn’t happen, reinstated. Now I’m not talking about people who just desire to see him reinstated but those who have said God gave them a prophetic word.

This includes people like the self-described prophet Jeremiah Johnson who claimed to see a vision of Trump reelected in 2020. He’s since apologized and resigned from ministry over his mistake. Perhaps even more concerning, now he receives death threats and is accused of being “a coward and traitor to the Holy Spirit” by Christians who refuse to accept Trump’s defeat.

In many Christian circles faith in Trump’s return to the White House is a sign of true Christianity. And helping to propel this idea is Mike Lindell, owner of the My Pillow corporation. He doesn’t call himself a prophet but many people treat him as if he is. For example, he has declared with 100% certainty that his evidence proves the election was rigged and that compelling arguments will convince the whole world that Trump was supposed to be reinstated on August 13 and is actually our legitimate President. When that didn’t happen he changed the date to September 30th and I’m sure many more people will become disillusioned with his predictions when he changes the date yet again.

Going back further into the past, some of you may remember Hal Lindsay and Chuck Smith making similar kinds of predictions about the return of Christ in the late ’70s. Using mathematical calculations they “proved” Jesus would return before 1981. I don’t mean to pick on them because nearly every denomination has made false predictions about the second coming of Christ in the last several decades, but so many put their hope in them and sadly continue to do so.

Some other modern examples of false prophecies are related to the Corona Virus. For example, Chuck Pierce of Glory of Zion Ministries claimed God told him Covid-19 would be gone by last Easter. Similarly, Nigerian televangelist TB Joshua prophesied that Covid-19 would end on March 27, 2020. It didn’t, obviously, and now it’s worse than ever in Africa.

Many, many more people— and perhaps some of us reading this article—believed or still believe that the virus is only a hoax designed to prevent Trump from being reelected and would disappear after the election. “You’ll see,” they said, “as soon as the election is over it will be gone.”

Sadly, Christians are the ones primarily keeping these false prophesies alive. Christians are the ones who say that vaccines contain computer chips and along with masks are the mark of the beast. And when they don’t pan out we are all too eager to jump on board with the next conspiracy.

Where do people get these ideas from? Not from Scripture. Not from your pastor. They come from false sources of information that we are all too willing to believe. False prophecies usually come from well-known people and then are passed along by you and me just like in Jeremiah’s day. Jeremiah 23:30 says…

Therefore, take note! I am against the prophets”—the Lord’s declaration—“who steal my words from each other.

These prophets were copying and pasting from one another and then passing the words off as “God’s words.” Not much has changed since then, only I think we have “perfected” the art of copy and paste in the 21st century.

I’m not trying to pick on anyone because we are all susceptible. Just the other day I received an “emergency prayer request” about the 229 Christian Missionaries sentenced to death in Afghanistan last week which sounds believable, right? The only problem is there aren’t 229 Missionaries sentenced to death in Afghanistan and this “emergency prayer request” has been copied and pasted and then passed around since 2009.

Now, the above example is a fairly benign one because Afghans certainly do need prayer. But it’s also an example of just how easily we can be misled. All of us are susceptible.

Christians should not be the purveyors of false information no matter how good our intentions are. Not only do we look foolish and gullible but we become known to the world for our belief in conspiracy theories more than for our belief in biblical truth. To the world, we just add fuel to the fire that our belief in Christ is just another one of those kooky conspiracy theories. This isn’t the look we want.

The Council of the Lord

So how can we be sure we are repeating the truth and not just the opinions of men? We need to focus on the council of the Lord. There are many sources of false information and false prophecy but there is only one source of truth—God.

Alternate sources may contain distortions of the truth but they do not have the whole truth. If we want the whole truth we need to go to God’s word and we need to listen to those who have been with the Lord. Jeremiah 23:18 says…

For who has stood in the council of the Lord to see and hear his word? Who has paid attention to his word and obeyed?

The false prophets had not. Instead, they had been in the presence of alternative sources of information like Baal and in the presence of dreams from the minds of men. As a result of not paying attention to God’s word, they weren’t able to speak the truth.

Many of us also spend too much time with the wrong sources of information. And as a result, even when we do read God’s word, it’s understood through a filter. Maybe it’s a liberal or a conservative filter, or some other kind of man-made filter, but these filters are causing us to misunderstand, and in some cases, even reject God’s word.

For example, some Christians are now reluctant to show compassion to refugees over political reasons even though the Bible clearly says we are to treat foreigners as citizens of our communities and offer them compassion because we were once foreigners (see Lev 19:34; Genesis 15:13; Hebrews 13:2; Mal 3:5).

There’s not any debate, or at least there shouldn’t be, that compassion for refugees is what the Bible teaches, and yet many Christians make political or national excuses for why we shouldn’t help. These excuses are usually just echoes of what they hear on the news outlets...let other nations do it, we’re inviting terrorism into our country, it’s a drain on our economy, etc.

Christians also downplay racism as no big deal even though the Bible makes it clear we should be concerned about it and act against it. Again, many Christians just echo what they hear on the news— “I’m not racist and I don’t know anyone who is. We don’t have a problem with racism in this country” they say.

And the result is that we tend to downplay the need to help the homeless and those that are poor. We quote verses like “if they don’t work they shouldn’t eat” while ignoring all the other verses about showing compassion and giving to those in need.

Sadly, pastors are even being removed from pulpits who dare to emphasize caring for the poor and needy. For example, John Piper’s successor Jason Meyer and 3 other pastors at Bethlehem Baptist church resigned recently because the other leaders became domineering, manipulative, and hostile towards them. Why were they hostile? Because they were trying to lead the church to show greater compassion toward black people, toward the poor and needy, toward refugees, and toward the kind of people that the Bible tells us to care for.

Of course, there’s always more than one side to every story but when people are pushed out of leadership who are honestly trying to be faithful to the council of the Lord, that’s an alarming problem. When politics become more influential than the council of the Lord among Christians, that’s a crisis.

What do true prophets prophesy about? What is the council of the Lord? Here are some verses to remind us…

  • Amos 8:4, 7 “Hear this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end...The Lord has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: I will never forget all their deeds.”

  • Isaiah 1:17 “Learn to do what is good. Pursue justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause.”

  • Jer 22:13 “Woe for the one who builds his palace through unrighteousness, his upstairs rooms through injustice, who makes his neighbor serve without pay and will not give him his wages”

  • Ezk 16:49 “Now this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters had pride, plenty of food, and comfortable security, but didn’t support the poor and needy.”

  • Micah 6:8 “Mankind, he has told each of you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

  • Zech 7:9-10 “The Lord of Armies says this: ‘Make fair decisions. Show faithful love and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the resident alien or the poor, and do not plot evil in your hearts against one another.’”

These verses are the council of the Lord and we would be wise to listen. But will we? Are we listening to God’s true prophets, or are there other “prophets” that we are giving more weight to? In the name of winning the next election or “the culture war” are we neglecting to be obedient to God’s word?

I pray we are not misled, because false information only leads to...

A False Hope

Many that have put their hope in the false prophesies about Trump being reelected or Covid-19 ending any time soon are now disillusioned. Many feel crushed without hope. Everyone needs something to hope for but if it’s built upon falsehoods, at best there is only false hope. Jeremiah 23:17 says…

They keep on saying to those who despise me, ‘The Lord has spoken: You will have peace.’ They have said to everyone who follows the stubbornness of his heart, ‘No harm will come to you.’

But they don’t have peace and harm is going to come to them. Many preachers are hesitant to tell people about God’s wrath. They cry “Peace, peace when there is no peace.” They say God is just “a little disappointed” with sinners and not that angry. To give a little hope, they distort the truth and actually remove the potential for real hope.

Instead, all faithful prophets should encourage people to turn from their evil ways as Jeremiah 23:22 says, because “If they had really stood in my council, they would have enabled my people to hear my words and would have turned them from their evil ways and their evil deeds.”

But instead of the truth, false prophets tell people what they want to hear, much as our media does. When we turn on the news, and it doesn't really matter which one, we’re getting a bias from people with an agenda, and it’s an agenda that needs to keep us coming back for more. So they shock us. They speculate. They alarm. They exaggerate to get us to come back for our next fix of “news.”

The news media has to keep our attention or order to continue to exist and the best way to do that is to say crazy things. “Christians are being beheaded! They’re taking over our schools! Masks and vaccines are killing people! Immigrants are ruining our country! White people are racists!” There is an element of truth in all of these statements but they are also distortions of the truth designed to get our attention and make us think in a certain, not necessarily biblical, way.

What many of us are consuming on a daily basis is influencing how we think and hindering our ability to obey the word of God. Because there are so many distortions, they are hard to filter out and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for Christians to know what to believe anymore. Many are losing hope. It’s heartbreaking.

A Broken Heart

Jeremiah didn’t take any pleasure in pointing out the false prophets. He didn’t get angry with them or try to get even. Instead, he wept. In Jeremiah 23:9 he said…

Concerning the prophets: My heart is broken within me, and all my bones tremble. I have become like a drunkard, like a man overcome by wine, because of the Lord, because of his holy words.

The truth must be defended at all costs but there is an arrogant way to go about it and a compassionate way. Smugness is not a very pleasant trait but it’s one far too many of us are guilty of. Instead, our hearts should be broken over all of the misinformation, some of which we have helped to spread.

And our bones should tremble at the thought of what is happening in many churches. Sadly, churches are dividing over issues of politics. Pastors and members are not speaking up about social issues because they’re afraid they will be put on someone’s list of “liberal people” that we shouldn’t listen to. The fact that this kind of “canceling” is occurring should cause us to weep.

Listen to Jesus

Instead, turn to Jesus. The only prophet we need to listen to is Jesus Christ because we can always trust him. Jesus has been in the council of the Lord like no other. We can completely trust his word. So let’s make Jesus’ priorities our priorities. He doesn’t make false predictions. Jesus doesn’t give us false hope and if we trust in Him, He will never break our hearts.