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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Jeremiah 28

 

 


Verses 1-17

Hananiah, A Cult Prophet, Declares That There Will Be Full Liberation Within Two Years, And Breaks Jeremiah’s Yoke From Round His Neck. Jeremiah Replies That His Own Word From YHWH Will Come True And That Hananiah Will Die Within The Year As A False Prophet (Jeremiah 28:1-17).

We have already learned of the antagonism of the cult prophets in Jerusalem towards Jeremiah and one named Hananiah now challenges him head on. Using similar prophetic phraseology to Jeremiah he declares that within two years there will be full restoration for Judah and Jerusalem, with the Temple vessels, along with Jehoiachin and his courtiers, returning in triumph to Jerusalem. His antagonistic attitude is emphasised by the fact that he breaks the yoke off Jeremiah’s shoulder, considering by that means that he would break the power of Jeremiah’s prophecies. It was a direct challenge to Jeremiah’s claims and would be seen by him, and by many, as a prophetic working out of the coming deliverance and as a direct confrontation with Jeremiah’s source of truth. His very action would have been seen by many of the superstitious as contributing to the fulfilment of his prophecy. He claimed to be doing it in the Name of YHWH, but did not realise (because he was deceived) that he was in fact thereby directly opposing YHWH.

His visible action would have had a huge impact on the crowds, who would see it as a real step towards deliverance, countering what Jeremiah had been prophesying, and portraying by wearing the yoke. Jeremiah initially replies to him placatingly. He hopes that he is right. But he points out that it would be to go against previous prophecies of doom and destruction, and suggests that they let the future reveal the truth.

However, he is then required by YHWH to inform the people more forcefully that Hananiah is wrong, and that what Jeremiah has previously prophesied will come about. Furthermore all should note that, as a consequence of Hananiah’s action, instead of yokes of wood there would now be yokes of iron. They had made submission even more certain. Then, as a sign that what he has stated will take place, and that Hananiah is a false prophet, he informs them that Hananiah will die within the year because he is a false prophet, an event which accordingly takes place, thus vindicating Jeremiah and countering the impact caused by the breaking of the yoke.

Jeremiah 28:1

‘And it came about the same year, in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the fourth year, in the fifth month, that Hananiah the son of Azzur, the prophet, who was of Gibeon, spoke to me in the house of YHWH, in the presence of the priests and of all the people, saying,’

As we have previously seen these heading are a deliberate means of carrying the action forward from the commencement of Jehoiakim’s reign, when Jeremiah gave his address warning of what would come on the city and the Temple, through his wearing of a yoke as an indication of Judah’s servitude by the will of YHWH, which also commenced in the days of Jehoiakim, to the time when duplicates of that yoke were sent out to the surrounding nations who were contemplating rebellion against Babylon in the days of Zedekiah. Now things come to a head. A rival prophet of YHWH challenges him and his prophecies openly in the Temple in the presence of the priests and the festal crowds. The prophet was named Hananiah, who was the son of Azzur (otherwise unknown) and came from Gibeon. As will emerge, this was intended to be a head on challenge and collision between the two prophets, carried out with the people as witnesses, with the intention of settling mattes once and for all. The breaking of the yoke which was a prophetic symbol of Jeremiah’s message was intended to be a decisive step.

It is clear that ‘in the beginning’ included the fourth year of his reign. Rather than arguing about contradiction we should recognise that Jeremiah knew the nuances of Hebrew in his day better than we do. ‘In the beginning’ apparently therefore simply meant ‘in the initial stages, the commencing years, of his reign’.

Jeremiah 28:2

“Thus speaks YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel, saying, ‘I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon’.”

Hananiah declares that he speaks in the Name of YHWH of host, the God of Israel, and that His word is that He has ‘broken the yoke of the King of Babylon’. Note the use of the same distinguished and significant title as that used by Jeremiah, and no doubt by many prophets. He was claiming to speak on the same authority as Jeremiah. And he gave a prophetic declaration claiming to present the very words of YHWH. ‘Thus says YHWH --- “I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon”.’ It was a declaration directly in the face of what Jeremiah was saying signifying that God’s time was now. We can see why the crowds might have been confused. And there could be no doubt whose message they would want to believe. Hananiah’s message appealed to their sense of what YHWH owed to them as their God. They were still unable to believe that God was not satisfied with them.

Jeremiah 28:3

“Within two full years will I bring again into this place all the vessels of YHWH’s house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place, and carried to Babylon,”

He further declared that YHWH’s promise was that within two full years (in contrast with Jeremiah’s prophecy of seventy years of which fifty or so years remained) all the vessels of the house of YHWH which had been taken away by Nebuchadnezzar in the days of Jehoiakim, would be returned to Jerusalem and the Temple (this place). It would be restored to its former glory.

‘Within two full years.’ Literally ‘within two years of days.’

Jeremiah 28:4

“And I will bring again to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, with all the captives of Judah, who went to Babylon, the word of YHWH, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.”

And what was more their legitimate king, Jehoiachin (Jeconiah), who had been chosen by the people (Zedekiah had been appointed by Nebuchadnezzar and ruled by default) would again be brought to this place, along with the other exiles, and would once again be their king present among them, and most importantly, the yoke of the King of Babylon would be broken (a direct reference to the yoke that Jeremiah was wearing). It was a cheering message for the people, and he emphasised n good prophetic manner that it was by ‘the prophetic and sure word of YHWH’. His message must have uplifted the crowds and raised their hopes, making things difficult for Jeremiah, and seemingly exposing him as a false prophet. It was an encouragement to the king and the people to partake in what would be a fatal rebellion.

But it was probably not just a saying taken out of the air. We know from what is called ‘the Babylonian chronicle’ (historical records which were regularly maintained by the Babylonians although unfortunately we do not have all of them), that around this time there was a serious rebellion in Babylon which Nebuchadnezzar had to quell, and it may well be that hopes raised by that event, as communicated back to Jerusalem, combined with the rise of a powerful Pharaoh in Egypt (Pharaoh Hophra), were responsible for Hananiah’s confident prediction (the rebels in Babylon may well have promised some of the exiles that in return for their support they would be allowed to return home with the Temple vessels. See Jeremiah 29:21 which could have been connected with such a situation). Hananiah does genuinely appear to have believed that he was a prophet of YHWH, and the priests clearly believed it too. But it is a reminder that it is not enough to have confidence in one’s own spirituality, based on popular opinion. We can so easily deceive ourselves, whilst others will admire us if we say what they want us to say. It is a reminder to us that we need to beware of overstating our own inspiration by the Holy Spirit. The widespread disagreement on certain doctrines among genuine Christians is an indication that none of us are guided fully. And we are foolish to think otherwise. I am always a little wary when someone says, ‘the Holy Spirit told (showed) me’. Full inspiration was limited to the Apostles. We are vulnerable to error.

Jeremiah 28:5-6

‘Then the prophet Jeremiah said to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests, and in the presence of all the people who stood in the house of YHWH, even the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen. YHWH do so. YHWH perform your words which you have prophesied, to bring again the vessels of YHWH’s house, and all those of the captivity, from Babylon to this place.”

Very wisely Jeremiah did not enflame the people gathered in the Temple (and thus full at the time of religious zeal of a kind) by directly denying Hananiah’s prophecy. Rather he responded sarcastically. What Hananiah prophesied was very good, but it was to be noted that it went against the trend of past prophecy. So, yes, if YHWH wanted to do this, so be it (amen). Let YHWH perform the words that Hananiah had prophesied, bringing back from Babylon to Jerusalem the vessels of the Temple and the people from exile. Nothing would please Jeremiah more. But it went against all that the ancient prophets had spoken.

Alternately Jeremiah may have been wondering whether YHWH had indeed given a new revelation to Hananiah without communicating it to him. It would explain why, in spite of his doubts, he was willing to go along with it until he had further information from YHWH.

Jeremiah 28:7

“Nevertheless hear you now this word which I speak in your ears, and in the ears of all the people,”

Then he hardened his position. Let his words now come into the ears of Hananiah, and into the ears of all the people, for they were of vital importance.

Jeremiah 28:8

“The prophets who have been before me and before you of old prophesied against many countries, and against great kingdoms, of war, and of evil, and of pestilence.”

And that word was that the ancient and revered prophets who had prophesied before either of them were born, and whose words had been preserved because of their accuracy, had prophesied of war, evil and pestilence which would strike at many countries and even at great kingdoms. That was the trend of past prophecy.

Jeremiah 28:9

“The prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come about, then shall the prophet be known, that YHWH has truly sent him.”

Thus it was the prophet who prophesied peace and well-being whose prophecies were to be seen as in doubt. Indeed they were to be seen as in such doubt that it was only when they came into fulfilment that they could be looked on as prophecies coming directly from YHWH. When the word actually came about, that was when the people could know that it was YHWH who had sent such a prophet.

It will be noted how cleverly Jeremiah had dealt with the situation He did it by sowing doubts in the minds of the people rather than by a direct refutation which could have raised their anger. He left them to ponder on the facts, demonstrating thereby that he was not alone in his views whatever current prophets might be saying, which incidentally demonstrates the high regard in which those past prophets were held by many even at this time (as we have already seen in Jeremiah 26:18).

Jeremiah 28:10

‘Then Hananiah the prophet took the bar from off the prophet Jeremiah’s neck, and broke it..

Jeremiah’s words clearly got under Hananiah’s skin, for he advanced on Jeremiah, determined to prove his credentials. He seized the yoke that was around Jeremiah’s neck, the symbol of his message, and deliberately broke it. We must not underestimate the significance of this act carried out in full view of the gathered people. It was a fierce and emphatic indication that Jeremiah was a false prophet, and that the prophetic sign that he wore around his neck was not to be seen as having any effect, but as a fraud. For certainly there would be some among the people who took it very seriously, indeed as a guarantee that YHWH would maintain the subjection of His people. Hananiah was almost certainly aware of the impact that it was having among the people. Once it was broken, and there was no reaction from YHWH, some would breathe a sigh of relief. They would see it as indicating that YHWH had changed His mind. That was why once it had been done, it could not be overlooked. There had to be a strong response. (They would otherwise have argued that no one other than a prophet who had a counter-message from YHWH would have dared to tamper with such a sacred symbol, and that the fact that he had got away unscathed proved him to be in the right).

Jeremiah 28:11

‘And Hananiah spoke in the presence of all the people, saying, “Thus says YHWH, Even so will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon within two full years from off the neck of all the nations.”

Many in the crowd were probably apprehensive at what might be YHWH’s response to Hananiah’s action, perhaps he was a little apprehensive himself, but when nothing did happen he then declared triumphantly to the people that YHWH had said that in the same way He would break the yoke of Babylon from the neck of all the nations. He appeared to have gained a significant triumph. But his folly was shortly to be revealed. (We can tend to forget that God has plenty of time. He does not always react to things immediately).

Jeremiah 28:11

‘And the prophet Jeremiah went his way.’

Jeremiah was probably shaken by the incident and went quietly away with nothing further to say at the time. He knew that it was time to consult with YHWH. Perhaps he too wondered why YHWH had not revealed His anger at Hananiah’s action. Or possibly he felt that the excitement of the crowds was such that it would have been foolish at the time to say anything more. But he was soon to learn that far from not being concerned about what was happening YHWH was about to Hananiah’s act very firmly.

Jeremiah 28:12

‘Then the word of YHWH came to Jeremiah, after that Hananiah the prophet had broken the bar from off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, saying,’

YHWH’s reply is specifically said to be connected with Hananiah’s action in breaking off the yoke from the neck of Jeremiah. Such were the ideas of the people that it was not something that could pass unnoticed or be ignored. It would have been looked on as highly significant.

Jeremiah 28:13-14

“Go, and tell Hananiah, saying, ‘Thus says YHWH, You have broken the bars of wood, but you have made in their place bars of iron’. For thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘I have put a yoke of iron on the neck of all these nations, that they may serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and they will serve him, and I have given him the beasts of the field as well’.”

YHWH points out through Jeremiah that by breaking the wooden yoke Hananiah has accomplished nothing. He has only added to the woes of the nations, for it has meant that YHWH has replaced His wooden yoke with a yoke of iron on all the nations involved. It meant that Nebuchadnezzar’s position was even more secure. And while Hananiah might break a wooden yoke, he would be totally unable to break a yoke of iron. His action had thus caused the people nothing but harm. The reference to the ‘beasts of the field’ in addition to men reminds us of Jeremiah 27:6 and demonstrates Nebuchadnezzar’s total control of the area and of all forms of life (compare also Jonah 4:11 which demonstrates how closely man and beast were seen as involved with each other).

Jeremiah 28:15

‘Then the prophet Jeremiah said to Hananiah the prophet, “Hear now, Hananiah. YHWH has not sent you, but you make this people to trust in a lie.” “Therefore thus says YHWH, Behold, I will send you away from off the face of the earth. This year you will die, because you have spoken rebellion against YHWH.”

And because YHWH had not sent him, and because he had made the people trust in a lie, he was convicted of being a false prophet, and the punishment for that was death (Deuteronomy 18 22). It was therefore YHWH’s intention that he be removed from the face of the earth, and that he die within the year, because he had spoken rebellion against YHWH. Because YHWH had not ‘sent’ him He would now ‘send’ him away altogether.

Jeremiah 28:17

‘So Hananiah the prophet died the same year in the seventh month.’

And sure enough he did die within the year, in the seventh month. His death was necessary in order to counter the impression that he had made on the people by breaking Jeremiah’s symbolic yoke. It was a further warning of the fact that what Jeremiah had prophesied was the truth, and confirmed that Hananiah’s action in breaking the wooden yoke was false and had accomplished nothing. It was also a warning of the danger of falsely speaking in YHWH’s Name. While the good prophets had to fear men’s opposition (Jeremiah 26:20-23), the false prophets needed to fear God’s. A similar example will also end chapter 29.

It is in fact understandable that Judah wanted to be free, and why they felt so deeply about it, but there was an important lesson underlying what was happening to Judah if only they had realised it, one that had already been emphasised when Israel had gone to Egypt in the days of Joseph. And that was that it was not independence and possession of the land that was most important to God, but obedience to Him. That was why YHWH was taking them into Exile. He was removing them from the places that had gripped their minds with idolatry and was emphasising to them that environment and freedom were only of secondary importance (many Christian slaves would later have a poor environment and little freedom). The only hindrance to the worship of YHWH was an unbelieving heart.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jeremiah 28:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/jeremiah-28.html. 2013.

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Tuesday, December 1st, 2020
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