December 18, 2017

Be Careful Who You Listen To

Don Johnson

In discussing the interpretation of Psalm 44, my friend Mark Ward observes, “Psalm 44 doesn’t just express the nation’s feelings of frustration; it expresses their faith. They still instinctively reached out to Yahweh and not to other gods.” It strikes me that we can see this on display in Jeremiah 27 as well, but the application to us ought to bring us to our knees with trembling. The instinct in Jeremiah 27 is present, but feeble.

In Jeremiah 27, the prophet launches into a lengthy battle with false prophets who were confusing the people of Israel, preaching “peace and safety” while Jeremiah and a handful of others were preaching judgement and exile. In 593 B. C., or thereabouts, envoys from surrounding nations gathered in Jerusalem to talk revolution with Zedekiah, king of Judah. The dominant force in the world at that time was Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians, who had already exacted a heavy toll on Judah when the previous king was on the throne.

God instructs Jeremiah to construct a yoke for himself and wear it in the presence of the rulers and emissaries, preaching to them a message of servitude. If they would submit to the Babylonians, they would live, if they resisted, all they would get would be “the sword, the famine, and the pestilence.” Neither opportunity was appealing. And the majority of preachers of the day, both in the foreign nations and in Judah, were preaching a contrary message. They claimed the future was rosy outside of Babylon’s control.

One commenter makes a significant remark about these prophets of fortune: “In times of national crisis, religious fakers always flourish because many people want to hear only comforting messages.”[1] In that day, the popular message was “peace and safety” and the people loved to hear it. Jeremiah, on the other hand, was not popular (to put it mildly).

Jeremiah’s message is the same to both the foreign ambassadors, the king of Judah, and the people of Israel (with one key difference):

To the foreigners: “Therefore hearken not ye to your prophets, nor to your diviners, nor to your dreamers, nor to your enchanters, nor to your sorcerers, which speak unto you, saying, Ye shall not serve the king of Babylon.” (27.9)

To Zedekiah: “Therefore hearken not unto the words of the prophets that speak unto you, saying, Ye shall not serve the king of Babylon: for they prophesy a lie unto you.” (27.14)

To the people: “Also I spake to the priests and to all this people, saying, Thus saith the LORD; Hearken not to the words of your prophets that prophesy unto you, saying, Behold, the vessels of the LORD’S house shall now shortly be brought again from Babylon: for they prophesy a lie unto you.” (27.16)

Do you notice the key difference? The foreign kings had in their court a whole range of wise men from various “soothsaying disciplines” — prophets, diviners, dreamers, enchanters, sorcerers… the gamut of pagan wise men. When Jeremiah speaks to the Israelites, their false assurers are simply “the prophets.” Recall the line from Mark Ward: “They [Israelites] still instinctively reached out to Yahweh and not to other gods.”

That’s true. Even in its apostasy, Israel was found with the “right kind” of apostasy. No diviners, dreamers, enchanters, or sorcerers for them. They hearkened only to prophets. They frequented the temple (and entertained the pagan gods on the high hills), and maintained their “traditional values,” listening to messages from “Yahweh” that promised peace and prosperity. They loved to hear messages like this.

If you were to take a survey of a wide swath of the preaching in the western world today, what would you hear? Would you hear faithful proclamation of the word of God or would you hear the things people like to hear? There is a certain loyalty (in North America) to Christendom. The churches that remain give some recognition of Christian tradition and some credence to the Bible, but what do the people in those churches most like to hear? I would suggest that on average most pulpits are full of messages that please the hearers, congratulating them on their life choices, offering at most a mild corrective so that the hearers can live happy, prosperous, productive lives.

Who is against happiness and prosperity?

But on the other hand, what picture does the Bible paint of the future? As we observe the rising forces of secularism, hear the voices of those demanding acceptance for perversion, what message ought we to be bringing? What message should we be listening to?

It is time for men and women to look to God and His Word and really listen to what He has to say for their future. We ought not to shrink from proclaiming repentance and begging God’s people to order their souls in line with God’s will and in opposition to the siren song of the world. We ought to call Christians to endure hardness as a good soldier, to live disentangled with the world, to strive lawfully for the prize of the high calling, to hard labor in God’s vineyard, just as Paul urged Timothy to do (2 Tim 2.1-6).

The mission of Christians is different from that of the world. We aren’t here to gather toys only to leave them behind when we pass to the judgement. We are here to gather souls into the kingdom, proclaiming the gospel to everyone who will hear.

Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.

  1. Charles L. Feinberg, “Jeremiah,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 6 (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1986), 544. []

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