Text: Jeremiah 26-29
Observe: The prophet Jeremiah continues to speak the message that God gives him, which is as unpopular as ever to the people of Judah. In fact, the temple priests, the other prophets and the people all clamor for his death, to which Jeremiah responds that if they kill him, they will be adding the shedding of innocent blood, namely his, to all their other offences. It’s only when the cooler heads of some of the elders prevail that Jeremiah is spared. They remembered a quote from the prophet Micah who prophesied approximately 100 years earlier that “Zion will be ploughed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.” (Micah 3:11-12.) They seemed to recognize that they were bringing disaster down on their own heads. Unfortunately, other prophets like Uriah, who also prophesied the same message as Jeremiah, were not spared death because of the blunt truth of the message from God.
As Jeremiah continues to prophesy for the Lord, he tells the people of Judah that not only will they be taken to Babylon as captives of King Nebuchadnezzar as part of their punishment, but that all the other nations in the region will also be under the Babylonian yoke as a sign that God is the Almighty God and everyone is subject to His will. If these nations submit to Babylon, the Lord will allow them to remain in their own land, but if any nation refuses to submit to Babylon, or if anyone says that they won’t have to submit to them, they will be destroyed because they are prophesying lies in His name. As a symbol of that captivity, God tells Jeremiah to wear an actual yoke as he continues his work on behalf of the Lord.
As time passes, false prophets do rise up against Jeremiah, among them, Hananiah. He promised to break the yoke of the Babylonians and bring the people back from their exile and he physically took the yoke from Jeremiah’s shoulders. In response to Hananiah’s falsehoods, God told Jeremiah that He would replace the wooden yoke with an iron yoke, meaning an even greater oppression of Judah by the conquerors. And for his lies to the people, Jeremiah prophesied from the Lord that Hananiah would die within a short time, and he did.
Once they were taken captive, Jeremiah writes a letter to the Israelites in their exile telling them to make the best of their situation. The Lord wants them to prosper in the land and be model citizens. They are to settle down, marry, have children, live good lives, pray to the Lord for His blessings and reject the lies of the false prophets. If they do all this, God promises to return them to their own land again after 70 years.
Finally, God sends Jeremiah to prophesy against Shemaiah, who falsely told the priest Zephaniah that God wanted all the other prophets, such as Jeremiah, to be treated like maniacs and thrown into prison. For this falsehood, God punished him by removing all his descendants from seeing the good things God had in store for His people.
Interpret: Submission to the will of the Lord is at the heart of the reason for the Israelites exile in Babylon. Generation after generation, the people of Israel, led by their kings, priests and prophets continued to rebel against their God, who had brought them out bondage into the land He had promised to give to the descendants of Abraham. They had continually disobeyed God and His commandments, particularly about not worshipping any other gods but Him, as well as every other one of His laws. Jeremiah steadfastly preached submission, not so much to Nebuchadnezzar as to God, who had sent the invaders as punishment for their unrepentant sins. This lesson was a difficult one to learn, and the people hated the teacher. Hananiah, a prophet opposed to Jeremiah, made a fierce attack on the prophet and his teaching, and prophesied a false word that in two years, the Babylonian oppression would end, and all the people could go back to their olds ways in their old homes. Jeremiah answered quietly, saying, ‘I hope to God that it may be true, but events will show the truth.’ Then Hananiah, encouraged by his meekness, resorted to violence and tore the yoke off Jeremiahs, who then quietly went home.
But of course, no one can prophesy a lie against the Lord without consequences. Soon afterward, God spoke a much sharper word to Jeremiah. God declared the clear truth that a tiny kingdom like Judah rising up in the face of a world-conquering power like Babylon, would only bring greater oppression from the conqueror. Then He declared that Hananiah, for his lies and incitement to rebellion, not against Babylon, but against God, the true King of Israel, would be taken from the earth, and he died a short time later.
Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles shows that by submitting to God’s will, we can still prosper amid the challenges and difficulties of life no matter our circumstances. The key, is to submit to His will, accept His directives and discipline, and not be deceived by the lies of the world.
Application: The choice for us is to decide which yoke we would rather carry. The yoke of the law or the iron yoke of lawlessness; the yoke of virtue or the iron yoke of vice; the yoke of Jesus Christ or the iron yoke of godlessness. We might not appreciate the symbolism of the yoke very much, but we all must conform to something, whether human laws, social convention, or divine directives. If we throw off legitimate authority, such as God’s will for us, we automatically conform to the other, lesser but heavier behaviour drivers, which Paul calls the desires of the flesh. In Galatians 5:17-21, he says, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Jesus said in Matthew 11:29-30 “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” The reason the yoke of Christ is easy for us to bear is because He gives us the power to bear it when we proclaim that He is the Lord of our lives.
Questions: How often have we listened to people who simply told us what wanted to hear, even if we knew in our heart it was wrong? How often have we stayed quiet when someone was speaking the truth that no one else wanted to hear? Do we accept the yoke of love and obedience that Jesus helps us carry?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for Your unfailing patience and mercy when we are tempted away from You. Give us hearts to seek and accept Your will for our lives. Give us wisdom to discern which is Your voice and which is the voice of the world. Give us courage to do the right thing and follow Christ alone. In the mighty and merciful name of Jesus, Amen.
Song: I Will Follow : Chris Tomlin
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.