The Difference Between a False and a True Prophet

Morning Message: John Cline

Jeremiah chapters 21-28; Reader: Paul Palmer

How do you know if a person is a true prophet or a false prophet? As you may remember from last Sunday’s sermon, a true prophet had

These three things made up the prophetic message:

commands to forsake evil and follow God in righteousness;

warnings of coming judgments; and promises of hope.

Now, we are currently preaching through the Book of Jeremiah. Today is sermon #4 of an 8-sermon series. Jeremiah was a true prophet.

Jeremiah prophesied during the reigns of the final five kings of Judah: Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, Zedekiah

Jeremiah had messages from God for each of those last five kings. We will go through those prophecies in chronological order but the section of the book from which we are preaching, chapters 21-28, were not put into the book in chronological order, but in thematic order, so we will be jumping back and forth today as we read through them.

  1. King Josiah, 626 – 609 B.C. King Josiah was the last “good” king.

During Jeremiah’s first 5 years of prophesying, i.e., 626-621 B.C., he first prophesied to King Josiah a word about how a king should act:

“Moreover, say to the royal house of Judah, ‘Hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Lord says to you, house of David: “Administer justice every morning; rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done—burn with no one to quench it…Hear the word of the Lord to you, king of Judah, you who sit on David’s throne—you, your officials and your people who come through these gates. This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. For if you are careful to carry out these commands, then kings who sit on David’s throne will come through the gates of this palace, riding in chariots and on horses, accompanied by their officials and their people. But if you do not obey these commands, declares the Lord, I swear by myself that this palace will become a ruin.’” (Jer 21:11,12; 22:2-5)

Those are good general words of advice for a king to follow! But then,

In the mid-900s B.C., during King Solomon’s reign, until 621 B.C., the Book of the Law had been neglected inside the Temple. In 621 B.C, the Book of the Law was found, and King Josiah carried out religious reforms in the nation of Judah, destroying many of the altars and shrines to the foreign gods such as Baal and Molech. Josiah properly responded to God’s Word and made a commitment to following it.

Josiah’s officials went throughout Judah tearing down places of worship dedicated to those foreign gods. YHWH God was pleased with “Good” King Josiah and sent this word to him through Jeremiah:

“Because your heart was responsive, and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken . . . I have heard you,” declares the Lord (2 Kings 22:19).

When Josiah died, he was replaced by his son, who was not good.

  1. King Jehoahaz (Shallum), “Good” King Josiah’s younger son, ruled for only 3 months before being deposed by the Egyptian Pharaoh, who then installed Jehoahaz’s older brother, Jehoiakim, as the king of Judah.

Jehoahaz had not defended the poor or helped the needy or worshipped only YHWH God, so he was taken out. To Jehoahaz’s successor, his older brother Jehoiakim, who was mourning for his younger brother, God gave through Jeremiah a message of warning:

Do not weep for the dead king or mourn his loss; rather, weep bitterly for him who is exiled, because he will never return nor see his native land again. For this is what the Lord says about Jehoahaz, who succeeded his father as king of Judah but has gone from this place: “He will never return. He will die in the place where they have led him captive; he will not see this land again.” “Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the Lord. “But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion.” (Jer 22:10-12,15-17)

God took out Jehoahaz, but his brother Jehoiakim was barely better.

  1. King Jehoiakim (Eliakim), “Good” King Josiah’s older son, ruled from 609-598 B.C. He rebelled against Babylon and died in Jerusalem as the Babylonians were laying siege on the city.

God warned Jehoiakim to be like his father, Josiah, and not like his foolish brother Jehoahaz. However, Jehoiakim was foolish and sinful.

Early in the reign of Jehoiakim, this word came from the Lord: “This is what the Lord says: Stand in the courtyard of the Lord’s house and speak to all the people of the towns of Judah who come to worship in the house of the Lord. Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word. Perhaps they will listen, and each will turn from their evil ways. Then I will relent and not inflict on them the disaster I was planning because of the evil they have done. Say to them, ‘This is what the Lord says: If you do not listen to me and follow my law, which I have set before you, and if you do not listen to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I have sent to you again and again (though you have not listened), then I will make this house like Shiloh and this city a curse among all the nations of the earth.’” The priests, the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speak these words in the house of the Lord. But as soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the Lord had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, “You must die! Why do you prophesy in the Lord’s name that this house will be like Shiloh and this city will be desolate and deserted?” And all the people crowded around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord. When the officials of Judah heard about these things, they went up from the royal palace to the house of the Lord and took their places at the entrance of the New Gate of the Lord’s house. Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and all the people, “This man should be sentenced to death because he has prophesied against this city. You have heard it with your own ears!” (Jeremiah 26:1-11)

But, this harsh prophecy was not just for Judah. The same message of destruction would be for all the nations of the Ancient Near East, with the last one having God’s judgment on it being Babylon.

And all the kings of the north, near and far, one after the other—all the kingdoms on the face of the earth. And after all of them, the king of Sheshak will drink it too. (Jeremiah 25:26,27)

By the time Jeremiah made this prophecy, the first set of exiles had already been taken into Babylonian custody. Aware that it might be dangerous for the Jewish exiles to have this written prophecy about the downfall of Babylon discovered by Babylonians, Jeremiah hid his message by his using a grammatical key. This is found in the word…“Sheshak” which was a cryptogram (an “atbash cipher” in which the first letter of a word is replaced with the last letter) for “Babylon”. It was unsafe for the exiles in Babylon to hear such a prophecy against Babylon while they were in Babylon so Jeremiah had to write it in a coded manner for their protection, but surely God would judge Babylon after first judging the other nations. Babylon’s sin would bring it down. Back to King Jehoiakim,

The word came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, which was the first year of

Nebuchadnezzar…Therefore, the Lord Almighty says this: “Because you have not listened to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar,” declares the Lord, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the Lord, “and will make it desolate forever. I will bring on that land all the things I have spoken against it, all that are written in this book and prophesied by Jeremiah against all the nations. They themselves will be enslaved by many nations and great kings; I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.” (Jeremiah 25:1,8-14)

So, all of Judah, except for Jerusalem, Jeremiah prophesied, would be exiled during Jehoiakim’s time. That happened. For the first time, Jeremiah sent to the exiles a message of hope which he would later repeat often: after 70 years of exile in Babylon, the Babylonians themselves would be enslaved by other nations (which would happen with the armies of the Assyrians and Medes, led by King Cyrus, a man Isaish had prophesied about by name 200 years prior). After that, the Jews would then be free to return to their homeland of Judah. Unlike his compatriots, Jehoiakim’s’ end would not be so wonderful!

Therefore, this is what the Lord says about Jehoiakim: “They will not mourn for him: ‘Alas, my brother! Alas, my sister!’ They will not mourn for him: ‘Alas, my master! Alas, his splendor!’ He will have the burial of a donkey— dragged away and thrown outside the gates of Jerusalem.” (Jeremiah 22:18,19)

Jeremiah had that message put onto a scroll by his assistant Baruch who bravely went to King Jehoiakim and read the prophecy to him. Jehoiakim was enraged and he seized the scroll, cut it into pieces, and burned it. Jeremiah went into hiding but his prophecy would brutally become reality in 598 B.C., when the Babylonian army had brutally besieged Jerusalem, and the people of Jerusalem were very afraid.

The High Priests dragged Jehoiakim outside and threw him to the Babylonians who killed him and made his son Jehoiachin the new King of Judah.

As prophesied, Jehoiakim was given a burial akin to what a donkey might have had. The High Priests had hoped that their actions in giving up Jehoiakim might earn them some good will with the Babylonians. They were wrong. The siege continued.

  1. King Jehoiachin (Coniah) ruled for only 3 months in 597 B.C.

God was not pleased with Jehoiachin, either. Jeremiah said to him,

“As surely as I live,” declares the Lord, “even if you, Jehoiachin, were a signet ring on my right hand, I would still pull you off. I will deliver you into the hands of those who want to kill you, those you fear—Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. I will hurl you and the mother who gave you birth into another country, where neither of you was born, and there you both will die. You will never come back to the land you long to return to…Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his lifetime, for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule anymore in Judah.” (Jer 22:24-27,30)

King Jehoiachin ended up surrendering the capital to the Babylonians on March 16th, 597 B.C. and he was taken as an exile to Babylon with many of his Jewish subjects. He lived the rest of his days there.

  1. King Zedekiah (Mattaniah), a middle son of good King Josiah, replaced his nephew Jehoiachin and became the final king of Judah. He ruled from 597-586 B.C. When Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon by refusing to pay the vassal tax, the Babylonians, led by King Nebuchadnezzar, attacked, and flattened Jerusalem. The Babylonians killed Zedekiah’s sons in his presence, then gouged out his eyes before taking him captive to Babylon.

At first, Zedekiah had been an obedient vassal king to the Babylonians, sending to them all the taxes and tributes they wanted. But, after 11 years, a group convinced him to throw off the shackles of being a vassal state to Babylon. That didn’t end well for him as King Nebuchadnezzar himself led his Babylonian troops to Jerusalem to destroy it. It is interesting, though, that during the early days of Zedekiah’s reign, God gave Jeremiah this hopeful message.

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a Righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Saviour. (Jeremiah 23:6,7)

That “Righteous Branch” king would not be Zedekiah. He was anything but righteous. That “Righteous Branch” would come centuries later, and he would be Jesus, the only one who could be called, “The Lord Our Righteous Savior”. God gave the Jews hope with that prophecy.

The word came to Jeremiah from the Lord when Zedekiah sent to him Pashhur and the priest Zephaniah. They said: “Inquire now of the LORD for us because Nebuchadnezzar is attacking us. Perhaps the Lord will perform wonders for us as in times past so that he will withdraw from us.” But Jeremiah answered them, “Tell Zedekiah, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I am about to turn against you the weapons of war that are in your hands, which you are using to fight the king of Babylon and the Babylonians who are outside the wall besieging you. And I will gather them inside this city.’ Furthermore, tell the people, ‘This is what the Lord says: See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death. Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague. But whoever goes out and surrenders to the Babylonians who are besieging you will live; they will escape with their lives. I have determined to do this city harm and not good, declares the Lord. It will be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will destroy it with fire.’ (Jeremiah 21:1-4,8-10)

Jeremiah told the people, “See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death” and reminded Zedekiah of the words He had spoken decades before to his father, the “Good” King Josiah: “This is what the Lord says to you: Administer justice every morning; rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done.” (Jeremiah 21:12). Zedekiah didn’t listen. He was a selfish, evil king whose sole goal was to reign as he wanted to, and so historians tell us that he was very enticed when some emissaries from Egypt arrived in Jerusalem in 594 B.C. with a plan of drumming up support from Zedekiah for the Jews to rebel against Babylon and side with Egypt. God responded in a vision to Jeremiah:

After Jehoiachin and the officials, the skilled workers and the artisans of Judah were carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, the LORD showed me two baskets of figs placed in front of the temple of the Lord. One basket had very good figs, like those that ripen early; the other basket had very bad figs, so bad they could not be eaten. Then the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” “Figs,” I answered. “The good ones are very good, but the bad ones are so bad they cannot be eaten.” Then the word of the Lord came to me: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians. My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them. I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart. But like the bad figs, which are so bad they cannot be eaten,’ says the Lord, ‘so will I deal with Zedekiah, his officials and the survivors from Jerusalem, whether they remain in this land or live in Egypt. I will make them abhorrent and an offense to all the kingdoms of the earth, a reproach and a byword, a curse and an object of ridicule, wherever I banish them. I will send the sword, famine and plague against them until they are destroyed from the land I gave to them and their ancestors.’” (Jeremiah 24:1-10)

The Jews, God would bring back from exile in Babylon after a 70-year period there. They were the “good figs” of that prophecy. Zedekiah, his officials, and his supporters in Judah and in Egypt who supported him rebelling against Babylon, they were the “bad figs” and their end would not go well. When Zedekiah and his supporters rebelled against Babylon, Jeremiah then wrote a letter to the exiles in Babylonia, advising them to not expect an immediate return to their homeland, and to ignore the words of the false prophets. Instead, they were to settle peaceably in their place of exile and seek the welfare of their captors. We will read through that letter on August 6th. Then, in a dramatic object lesson, God told Jeremiah to put a yoke upon his neck and go around proclaiming that all the nations in the Ancient Near East should submit to the yoke of Babylon. That angered the false prophet Hananiah. He dared to object. Here was that exchange:

Early in the reign of Zedekiah, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: This is what the Lord said to me: “Make a yoke out of straps and crossbars and put it on your neck…Now I will give all your countries into the hands of my servant Nebuchadnezzar; I will make even the wild animals subject to him. All nations will serve him and his son and his grandson until the time for his land comes; then many nations and great kings will subjugate him.” (Jeremiah 27:1,2,6,7)

This message of their nation being under the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon was for all the kings and countries in the Ancient Near East, but it was not for them only but for Judah, also. Jeremiah says,

I gave the same message to Zedekiah. I said, “Bow your neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon; serve him and his people, and you will live. Why will you and your people die by the sword, famine and plague with which the Lord has threatened any nation that will not serve the king of Babylon? Do not listen to the words of the prophets who say to you, ‘You will not serve the king of Babylon,’ for they are prophesying lies to you. ‘I have not sent them,’ declares the Lord. ‘They are prophesying lies in my name. Therefore, I will banish you and you will perish, both you and the prophets who prophesy to you.’”…Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says about the things that are left in the house of the Lord and in the palace of the king of Judah and in Jerusalem: ‘They will be taken to Babylon and there they will remain until the day I come for them,’ declares the Lord. ‘Then I will bring them back and restore them to this place.’” (Jeremiah 27:12-15,21,22)

How do we know the difference between a true and false prophet? The false ones always try to censor the true one. Their difference is often not proven until in the future, but we need to know in the present.

In the fifth month of that same year, the fourth year, early in the reign of Zedekiah, the prophet Hananiah, said to me in the house of the Lord in the presence of the priests and all the people: “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the articles of the Lord’s house that Nebuchadnezzar removed from here and took to Babylon. I will also bring back to this place Jehoiachin 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.’” 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. 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. Nevertheless, listen to what I have to say in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people: 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.” Then the prophet Hananiah took the yoke off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah and broke it, and he said before all the people, “This is what the Lord says: ‘In the same way I will break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar off the neck of all the nations within two years.’”…After the prophet Hananiah had broken the yoke off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “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.’” 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. 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.’” In the seventh month of that same year, Hananiah the prophet died. (Jeremiah 28:1-11a,12,13,15-17)

Listen, the very first link in the chain of God’s prophets, Samuel, had warned the people during the time of their first king, Saul, “If you do wickedly, you will be swept away, both you and your king” (1 Samuel 12:25). That happened. Samuel was a true prophet. For nearly 500 years, true prophets from the very first one, Samuel, to the last one, Jeremiah, warned the people and all their kings, from their very first king, Saul, through to the final five kings, Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, ending with the very last king of Judah, Zedekiah, but the people and the kings – other than Josiah – largely chose to ignore God’s messages of warning given through his spokesmen, the prophets. Their prophecies always featured the three things already mentioned: commands to forsake evil and follow God in righteousness; warnings of coming judgements and promises of hope.

Today, we hear a lot of words from modern-day Hananiah’s, false prophets in our land, the mainstream media and certain politicians, I would say. Let us ignore them and heed the words of the true prophets today. In our recent adult Sunday School class, two true prophets in Canada who were identified by the participants in that class were Jordan Peterson and Rex Murphy. We should listen to them! But, in the end, only God’s “Righteous Branch”, Jesus, can save us. We must turn to him, “The Lord Our Righteous Saviour”. Jeremiah’s words of hope came true in the 70 years of captivity followed by freedom and in the coming of the Messiah, “The Lord Our Righteous Saviour”. Let us thank God for this true prophet, Jeremiah, and let us live accordingly, in faithfulness to God and in subjugation to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus. Amen.

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