Jeremiah Versus Hananiah

The prophet Hananiah took the yoke-bars from the neck of Jeremiah the prophet and broke them. And Hananiah spoke in the presence of all the people, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD: Even so will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon…within two years’” (vv. 10–11a).

- Jeremiah 28

Early in the reign of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, Jeremiah told the Judahites that seventy years of exile in Babylon would be the punishment for their sin (Jer. 25:1–14). God would force the people to drink the cup of His wrath to the point of drunkenness—just as an intoxicated person stumbles about when overwhelmed by his liquor, Judah would be overwhelmed by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (vv. 15–38).

Yet all was not entirely hopeless for the Judahites even in their trouble. The Lord at this time also told Jeremiah to perform a prophetic action that would tell the people how they could save their lives when Nebuchadnezzar came against Jerusalem for the last time. God instructed the prophet to place a yoke upon his neck to represent the proper response to Babylon. In the same way that a yoke places oxen into servitude, the Judahites were to submit to Nebuchadnezzar’s yoke. Judah was to serve the empire, not resist it. The Lord promised to preserve those Judahites who did just that and safeguard the lives and fortunes of all who surrendered to Babylon (27:1–8, 11–13, 17–22).

God also warned the people by this promise not to heed the false prophets who promised peace and safety for standing against Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 9–10, 14–16). Unfortunately for Judah, King Zedekiah and his counselors preferred the words of false prophets such as Hananiah, whose confrontation with Jeremiah is recorded in today’s passage. Hananiah’s message directly opposed Jeremiah’s, for he told the Judahites that God had certainly broken the power of Babylon. He even broke the yoke Jeremiah was wearing to show the people not to submit to Nebuchadnezzar (28:3–4, 10–11).

Let us not miss that Hananiah’s prediction sounded reasonable at the time. This event occurred in about 594 B.C., when Nebuchadnezzar was occupied in battle against Egypt and could pay little attention to his client-state Judah. Rumors spread that Babylon was weakening, and even Jeremiah seems to have wanted to believe Judah would be safe (v. 6). He was no sadist who wanted his fellow countrymen to suffer.

However, Jeremiah was a man of God and knew he could not judge truth by what he wanted but by the Word of God. Hananiah’s message did not stand in continuity with earlier prophets who preached the whole counsel of the Lord and prophesied disaster for the impenitent covenant people (v. 8). Therefore, it was to be rejected.

Coram Deo

Jeremiah evaluates Hananiah’s message in today’s passage according to the true prophets who had preceded him. This is essentially the practice of sola Scriptura in an old covenant context. Like Jeremiah, we are to evaluate teachers based on what God has revealed in His word, not ignoring what believers have said about doctrine throughout history but also not becoming a slave to the traditions of men. Let us judge all things by Scripture and its teachings.

Passages for Further Study

Deuteronomy 18:15–22
Ezekiel 13
2 Timothy 4:1–5
Titus 1:5–16

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