Twenty-twenty hindsight is a wonderful thing. As I read once again through the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah, God’s warning seems oh, so clear. Both of these prophets warned the people over and over to stop their idolatry, turn to God, embrace justice and righteousness, and live. And over and over the people ignored them.
It’s easy for me, sitting here in 2015, to think, what idiots. God told them what He was going to do! Why didn’t they obey Him? Wasn’t it obvious that an idol they themselves made of wood couldn’t solve their problems? And who would choose to sacrifice their child, when God never asked them to do so?
God clearly articulated their sin:
“Be appalled at this, you heavens, and shudder with great horror,” declares the Lord.
“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (Jeremiah 2:12-13)
Yet, the Israelites never did get it right. God told them to repent, and they didn’t. Then, when judgment was sure (although He was willing to call it off right up until the last moment—see Jeremiah 26:3), God told them to submit to the Babylonians and live. They didn’t. Then He told them not to go to Egypt for safety. They did. I had contrary two-year-olds who acted this way, but these are adults!
This morning I was reading through Jeremiah 28 with my usual sense of superiority and self-righteousness, when it hit me—they weren’t that dense after all, at least not in some ways. Jeremiah 28 is the story of Hananiah, a false prophet. Here’s the gist of what he prophesied:
God says that he’s going to defeat Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. All that stuff he stole from the temple will be returned. All the prisoners of war will come home. And it’s going to happen within the next two years. (See Jeremiah 28:2-4.) Of course, he says it all “prophet-y, using impressive vocabulary and intonation.
Then along comes Jeremiah, and he says something along these lines:
I wish that you were right, but you’re not. All the other prophets have been warning that God is sending war and disaster and diseases, and I do too. But we’ll know who’s got it right after it all happens, won’t we? (Jeremiah 28:6-9)
This is the same Jeremiah who, in the previous chapter, told the king and other government and spiritual leaders that they had better submit to Nebuchadnezzar, or they were going to die.
Now, if our government leaders suddenly submitted to our enemies, wouldn’t we say they were traitors? We’d haul them off and put them in jail (I hope)!
If you were the king, which prophet would you believe—the one who predicted the good life, or the one who told you to commit treason because your country was going to be destroyed?
There’s one more little tidbit that cements this point. In those days, the king and his officials were totally dependent on the prophets to know what God’s will was. We who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit have the privilege of praying and asking God to please clarify His word. They didn’t.
So, given that they were running blind, so to say, of course they chose to believe the wrong guy. Who wouldn’t?
Of course, God didn’t like Hananiah telling lies. Jeremiah passes on His word:
“Listen, Hananiah! The Lord has not sent you, yet you have persuaded this nation to trust in lies. Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I am about to remove you from the face of the earth. This very year you are going to die, because you have preached rebellion against the Lord.’” (Jeremiah 28:15-16)
And a few months later, he does die. Still, the damage was done—the nation was persuaded, and all that Jeremiah had warned them about came to pass.
It makes me wonder, are we listening to the voices we want to hear, or are we listening to God? To me, this is a good lesson that I need to talk to Him directly, and not rely on what other people are saying. God may confirm His word to me through others, but He will always tell me first, or at least try to. In fact, the only times that I’ve experienced God telling other people to give me His message, instead of speaking directly to me, is when I’m not listening.