The False Prophet Hananiah, 1-17

Jer 28:1 In the fifth month of that same year, the fourth year, early in the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, the prophet Hananiah son of Azzur, who was from Gibeon, said to me in the house of the LORD in the presence of the priests and all the people:

When Jeremiah was convinced that Babylon was about to conquer Palestine in spite of the easy optimism of the people, he made bonds and yokes and sent them to Edom, to Moab, to Ammon, to Tyre and to Sidon; and put a yoke upon his own neck that all might see it. By this dramatic action he made it clear that, as he saw it, nothing but slavery and servitude lay ahead (Jer 27:1-6); and when Hananiah, the false prophet with the mistaken optimism, wished to show that he thought Jeremiah’s gloomy foreboding altogether wrong, he took the yoke from Jeremiah’s neck and broke it (Jer 28:10-11).

‘Jeremiah’s general denunciations of false prophets now come to a head in a confrontation with one in particular. While Jeremiah is still wearing the yoke with which he had warned of coming servitude to Babylon (Jer 27:2), Hananiah deliberately opposes him (1b) and challenges his sign (2). Hananiah then utters just the kind of oracle which Jeremiah has been opposing (2-4; cf. Jer 27:16), promising that Babylonian pressure will very soon be lifted. This was tantamount to denying that God was judging his people and, consequently, that there had been grounds for his anger.’ (NBC)

The prophet Hananiah…said to me – Hananiah confronted and contradicted Jeremiah before the assembly that was present in the Temple.

Hananiah has all the appearance of being a true prophet.  He is described as such (not a ‘false prophet’, although the LXX does so).  He introduces his prophecy just as an authentic prophet would (v2).  There is no indication that he was mercenary or insincere.  He believed, rightly, that the Lord could deliver Judah.  His message was positive and ‘uplifting’.  But it did not come from God.  In fact, he did not take seriously enough either the lamentable failings of Judah or the resplendent glory of the Lord.

Jer 28:2 “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.

“I will break the yoke” – a sarcastic reference to the yoke that Jeremiah was still wearing.

The Theology of the False Prophets ‘The false prophets were zealous to maintain the inviolability and invincibility of Zion-for all times and for all occasions. They stressed the permanence of David’s dynasty, the temple, and the covenant-as a guarantee that operated for every generation! They were overly dependent on promises made at Sinai that God would be Israel’s God and Israel would be his people-thereby allowing more leeway than one would ordinarily think permissible. Any and all new revelations that would predict judgment, doom, and disaster were, from the false prophets’ standpoint, contrary to their list of immutables; therefore, they preached that all such negative declarations were wrong, treasonous, and unnecessary.

Thus it was the false prophet Hananiah who predicted in the name of “the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel” (Jer 28:2) that the exiles would be restored to their homeland and Jehoiachin and the temple vessels returned (vv. 3-4). At first, Jeremiah was startled by this apparent reversal in the revelation of God (v. 6), but he recovered sufficiently to add: “From early times the prophets who preceded you and me have prophesied war, disaster and plague against many countries and great kingdoms. But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true” (vv. 8-9).

This is what makes the discernment of what constitutes pseudoprophecy so difficult, for many of the false prophets also subscribed to some of the same theological traditions as did the canonical prophets.

The theology of the false prophets was characterized by the following: (1) a selective appeal to the Davidic/Zion and Sinaitic covenants as a type of fire insurance against any threatened calamity; (2) an exclusive teaching of hope/salvation with no attention given to any potential adversities for lack of obedience to God’s Word; and (3) a constant appeal to what the masses wanted to hear as a basis for promoting their own power and the status quo. This list is very similar to the four charges that Jeremiah brought in Jer 23:9-39.’ (EDBT)

Jer 28:3 Within two years I will bring back to this place all the articles of the LORD’s house that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon removed from here and took to Babylon.

“Within two years…” – In other words, since this prediction was made about four years after the First Deportation, Hananiah was saying that the exile would last six or seven years – nothing like the seventy that Jeremiah had predicted.’

‘Hananiah’s promises of restoration contradicted the statements of Jeremiah in Jer 22:24-27, thus bringing into acute focus the crucial question of truth and falsity in prophecy.’ The majority of the hearers would believe only what they wanted to hear.’ (Harrison)

Jer 28:4 I will also bring back to this place Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah and all the other exiles from Judah who went to Babylon,’ declares the LORD, ‘for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.'”

‘Now, upon the reading of this sham prophecy, and comparing it with the messages that God sent by the true prophets, we may observe what a vast difference there is between them. Here is nothing of the spirit and life, the majesty of style and sublimity of expression, that appear in the discourses of Gods prophets, nothing of that divine flame and flatus. But that which is especially wanting here is an air of piety; he speaks with a great deal of confidence of the return of their prosperity, but here is not a word of good counsel given them to repent, and reform, and return to God, to pray, and seek his face, that they may be prepared for the favours God had in reserve for them. He promises them temporal mercies, in Gods name, but makes no mention of those spiritual mercies which God always promised should go along with them, as Jer 24:7, I will give them a heart to know me. By all this it appears that, whatever he pretended, he had only the spirit of the world, not the Spirit of God (1 Co 2:12), that he aimed to please, not to profit.’ (MHC)

Jer 28:5 Then the prophet Jeremiah replied to the prophet Hananiah before the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the LORD.

‘The issue, introduced in ch. 26, is how to know the true prophet from the false. Hananiah is called a prophet (1) and uses prophetic language, claiming to speak in the name of the Lord (2a; had he spoken in the name of any other god he could have been immediately denounced; Dt. 13:1-5; 18:20). Jeremiah is initially powerless to demonstrate that he is right and Hananiah wrong. He can only say that he wishes Hananiah were right (6). However, he stands by the word which he knows God has given him and delivers his own challenge (9). That challenge is an appeal to one of the criteria by which a prophet may be known to be true, namely whether his words come to pass (Dt. 18:21-22). Hananiah, undeterred, breaks the yoke from Jeremiah’s neck, thus claiming by the most potent kind of symbolism that he is the one who knows the will of God. With this he seems to have won the day, and Jeremiah retreats (11).’ (NBC)

Jer 28:6 He said, “Amen! May the LORD do so! May the LORD fulfill the words you have prophesied by bringing the articles of the Lord’s house and all the exiles back to this place from Babylon.

Jeremiah wishes that Hananiah’s message was true. See Jer 17:16. However, there may be irony in his reply. ‘This was not the first time that Jeremiah had prayed for his people, though he had prophesied against them, and deprecated the judgments which yet he certainly knew would come; as Christ prayed, Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, when yet he knew it must not pass from him. Though, as a faithful prophet, he foresaw and foretold the destruction of Jerusalem, yet, as a faithful Israelite, he prayed earnestly for the preservation of it, in obedience to that command, Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Though the will of Gods purpose is the rule of prophecy and patience, the will of his precept is the rule of prayer and practice. God himself, though he has determined, does not desire, the death of sinners, but would have all men to be saved. Jeremiah often interceded for his people, Jer 18:20. The false prophets thought to ingratiate themselves with the people by promising them peace; now the prophet shows that he bore them as great a good-will as their prophets did, whom they were so fond of; and, though he had no warrant from God to promise them peace, yet he earnestly desired it and prayed for it. How strangely were those besotted who caressed those who did them the greatest wrong imaginable by flattering them and persecuted him who did them the greatest service imaginable by interceding for them! See Jer 18:18.’ (MHC)

Note, there are certain things that we might wish were true, such as universalism.  But we must believe God’s word to be right and good even when it teaches uncomfortable truths.

Jer 28:7 Nevertheless, listen to what I have to say in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people:

‘The false prophets reflected upon Jeremiah, as Ahab upon Micaiah, because he never prophesied good concerning them, but evil. Now he pleads that this had been the purport of the prophecies that other prophets had delivered, so that it ought not to be looked upon as a strange thing, or as rendering his mission doubtful; for prophets of old prophesied against many countries and great kingdoms, so bold were they in delivering the messages which God sent by them, and so far from fearing men, or seeking to please them, as Hananiah did.’ (MHC)

Jer 28:8 From early times the prophets who preceded you and me have prophesied war, disaster and plague against many countries and great kingdoms.

It is not always possible to distinguish at once between true and false prophecy. The true prophet may have to say, “Wait and see.” Jeremiah could combat this false prophecy only by telling the people to wait until they saw it fulfilled in history (Jer. 28:8-9). Jeremiah could not even oppose Hannaniah when he tried to embarrass Jeremiah by breaking the symbolic yoke Jeremiah was wearing (vv. 10-11). Only later did Jeremiah receive a countering word from God to oppose Hananiah (vv. 12-17).

Jer 28:9 But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the LORD only if his prediction comes true.”

See Deut 28:21f.

Jeremiah does not dismiss Hananiah’s prophecy out of hand.  He adopts, instead, a ‘wait and see’ policy.

‘The prophet who spake only of peace and prosperity, without adding that they must not by wilful sin stop Gods favours, will be proved a false prophet. Those who do not declare the alarming as well as the encouraging parts of Gods word, and call men to repentance, and faith, and holiness, tread in the steps of the false prophets.’ (MHCC)

Among the tests of prophets are:

  1. Do their predictions come true (Jer. 28:9)?
  2. Does the prophet have a divine commission (Jer. 29:9)?
  3. Are the prophecies consistent with Scripture (2 Pet. 1:20-21; Rev. 22:18-19)?
  4. Do the people benefit spiritually from the prophet’s ministry (Jer. 23:13,14,32; 1 Pet. 4:11)? (Holman)

The church today has adopted too much the beliefs and attitudes of secular humanism, which sings only in the major keys of love, hope, and goodness, and regards any emphasis on sin, guilt, and judgement as pathological.

Jer 28:10 Then the prophet Hananiah took the yoke off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah and broke it,

‘The persecution of the true church, of CHristian believers who trace their spiritual descent from Abraham, is not always by the world, who are strangers unrelated to us, but by our half-brothers, religious people, the nominal church. It has always been so. The Lord Jesus was bitterly opposed, rejected, mocked and condemned by his own nation. The fiercest opponents of the apostle Paul, who dogged his footsteps and stirred up strife against him, were the official church, the Jews. The monolithic structure of the medieval papacy persecuted all Protestant minorities with ruthless, unremitting ferocity. And the greatest enemies of the evangelical faith today are not unbelievers, who when they hear the gospel often embrace it, but the church, the establishment, the hierarchy.’ (Stott, The Message of Galatians)

Jer 28:11 and he said before all the people, “This is what the LORD says: ‘In the same way will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon off the neck of all the nations within two years.'” At this, the prophet Jeremiah went on his way.

‘Whether by the force of a heated imagination Hananiah had persuaded himself to believe this, or whether he knew it to be false, and only persuaded them to believe it, does not appear; but it is plain that he speaks with abundance of assurance. It is no new thing for lies to be fathered upon the God of truth.’ (MHC)

Jer 28:12 Shortly after the prophet Hananiah had broken the yoke off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah:

Shortly after – The Heb. simply has, ‘After’.  The fact that there was some kind of interval before Jeremiah responded is indicated in v13, where the Lord commands him to ‘go and tell Hananiah’.

Jer 28:13 “Go and tell Hananiah, ‘This is what the LORD says: You have broken a wooden yoke, but in its place you will get a yoke of iron.

Jer 28:14 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: I will put an iron yoke on the necks of all these nations to make them serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and they will serve him. I will even give him control over the wild animals.'”

Jer 28:15 Then the prophet Jeremiah said to Hananiah the prophet, “Listen, Hananiah! The LORD has not sent you, yet you have persuaded this nation to trust in lies.

See here the literally deadly sin of false prophecy. What we might call wishful thinking, the word of God calls a lie. What we call unorthodoxy, God calls rebellion.

Jer 28:16 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.'”

Jer 28:17 In the seventh month of that same year, Hananiah the prophet died.

In the seventh month…Hananiah the prophet died – That is, two months after he had delivered his false prophecy, v1.

The narrative ‘points out the seriousness of “using” God for deception and self-interest’ (Wright).  God doesn’t usually strike people dead in such a dramatic fashion, but it did happen to the sons of Aaron (Lev 10), to the followers of Korah (Num. 16), to Uzzah (2 Sam. 6), to the Assyrian army (2 Kings 19:35), to Pelatiah (Eze 11:13) and to Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). The penalties of apostasy and rebellion are terrible to contemplate.

‘Good men may perhaps be suddenly taken off by death in the midst of their days, and in mercy to them, as Josiah was; but this being foretold as the punishment of his sin, and coming to pass accordingly, it may safely be construed as a testimony from Heaven against him and a confirmation of Jeremiah’s mission. And, if the people’s hearts had not been wretchedly hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, it would have prevented their being further hardened by the deceitfulness of their prophets.’ (MHC)

‘Hananiah dies because he is a false prophet (Dt. 18:20) who has helped prevent the people from seeing their true danger. His death serves also to vindicate Jeremiah. There is now no excuse, if ever there had been one, for failing to heed his words.’ (NBC)

‘The solemn story is a perpetual warning against lightly claiming that one has a special word from the Lord, and it calls all who would be teachers to be humble learners first, and always.’ (NBC)

Paul adds a footnote to the moral of this story, Acts 20:26f.