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A Future and a Hope (or Dueling Prophets, Part 2) - Jeremiah 29

More bad news for false teachers everywhere, and good news about the future of God's people everywhere!

Jeremiah 20:4, 24:4-7; 29:1-32; 2 Chronicles 36:11-13; 2 Kings 25:5-7; 1 Timothy 1 Tim 1:18-20, 2:1-2; Matthew 7:21-23, 24:30-31; Leviticus 2:14; Joshua 5:11; Dt. 29:18-19; Hebrews 11:8-16; Mark 13:24-27; Revelation 18:1-4a; 2 Corinthians 5:1

Apr 28, 2013 12:00 PM

MP3 audio icon A-Future-and-a-Hope_04-28-2013.mp3 — MP3 audio, 22447 kB (22985993 bytes)


Once again, we turn our attention to the book of Jeremiah and to the plague of false teachers and false teaching among the people of God.  Just as an introduction, and to illustrate some of the detrimental effects bad teaching and bad theology can have on a person, and for the sake of trying to be relevant for those who demand it, I’d like to read to you this brief news item:

“Romanian lawyer Madelin Ciculescu, 34, said earlier this month that the next stop for his lawsuit is the European Court of Human Rights after two Romanian courts turned down his claims against Orthodox bishops who failed  to exorcize the demons that were causing his flatulence.  He sued the archdiocese because at least two exorcisms (one in his office, one at home) proved useless, thus harming his business as well as rendering his home life unpleasant.  An archdiocese spokesman said the exorcisms were done properly, by the book.”

That is a quite humorous example of how far afield one can go as a result of bad teaching and bad theology.  But false teachers are nothing to laugh about.   At all.

Jeremiah 29:1-3

(See 24:1 and the vision of the good and bad figs. See also 29:17 which makes reference to the "bad figs".)

It is reiterated here in verse 1 that the first exiles to Babylon from Jerusalem consisted of no less than the king, his mother, his eunuchs, governing officials, craftsmen and metalworkers, as well as the surviving elders, priests, prophets (so-called), and all the people (i.e. everyone else).  But first in this list of exiles are the surviving elders.  Now they are the men of greatest influence over the masses in Babylon.  So Jeremiah addresses them first in this letter.

King Zedekiah sends Jeremiah’s letter to King Nebuchadnezzar by his own envoy, Elasah.  This does not seem to be consistent with Zedekiah's typical lack of interest in Jeremiah's prophecies.  Back in chapter 27:12ff Jeremiah spoke directly to King Zedekiah concerning his need to submit to Nebuchadnezzar.  But what do we know of Zedekiah from 2 Chronicles 36 . . .

11 Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. 12 He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord his God. He did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke from the mouth of the Lord. 13 He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God. He stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the Lord, the God of Israel. (2 Chronicles 36:11-13)

But because of the content of this particular prophecy, it may actually serve Zedekiah's best interests to have Nebuchadnezzar read it himself.  The letter is telling the exiles to accept their lot in life and not rebel against their new king.  That must have surely sounded good to Nebuchadnezzar.  But Zedekiah himself revolts in days to come, and Nebuchadnezzar puts him in his place:

5 But the army of the Chaldeans pursued the king and overtook him in the plains of Jericho, and all his army was scattered from him. 6 Then they captured the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah, and they passed sentence on him. 7 They slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah and bound him in chains and took him to Babylon. (2 Kings 25:5-7)

Jeremiah 29:4

Here begins the introduction of this letter by Jeremiah to the exiles.  God is speaking and the first thing He does is identify Himself (the God of Israel).  Then He identifies His audience (to all the exiles).  Thirdly He explains how they became exiles (the exiles whom I sent from Jerusalem to Babylon).

This is important particularly in light of the rest of the letter.  Nebuchadnezzar is responsible for their exile.  He will eventually be responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem.  But ultimately, God takes upon Himself the responsibility for sending the exiles to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar's hand.  He has sent them there because of their sin.  That is the bigger picture.  All of this is the plan of God and they must submit to it for that reason.  They must understand that it is God who has them in Babylon at this time.  Therefore . . .

Jeremiah 29:5-7

Settle in.  There is no escape.  Resistance is futile.  There will be no return to Jerusalem.  Yet.  Live your lives and plan to spend the rest of your days in Babylon. Get married, plant your gardens, build your homes, have children and grandchildren.  Lots of them.

DO NOT RESENT BABYLON.  Do not consider the people of Babylon to be your enemies.  Do not consider King Nebuchadnezzar your enemy.  Pray for them, for you will find your own peace within their peace.  In other words, "Pray for the peace of Babylon" because the people of God live there and will remain there for the next 70 years.  We should pray for the peace of America and for those who are over us as well:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2 ESV)

There are times when we find ourselves in circumstances, sometimes of our own making, which we do not like.  So what do we do?  We cry out to God for deliverance: Lord, rescue me from this bad marriage!  Lord, have mercy and deliver me from this bad job!  Rescue me from this awful disease!  Get me out of this miserable debt!  Save me from my incorrigible children!  Lord, deliver us from our incompetent leaders!  From evil leaders!

And sometimes (even though we don’t hear God speak through a prophet) God’s answer is, “Stop asking to be delivered.  Accept this.  Settle in.  You’re gonna be here for a while.  And pray for those over you.  But . . . I have plans for you.  And they are good.  So just trust Me.  I am not going to deliver you FROM this.  I will be with you IN this.  And I will take you THROUGH this.  Do not resent it.  Look forward, take courage, hope in Me.”  For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

God’s people always have a bright future and a sure hope, even when present circumstances would indicate otherwise. That is God’s plan for us and He will keep His promises to us.  What kind of promises has God made to His people?  We’ll talk about that in a few minutes

Jeremiah 29:8-9

It is necessary for the LORD to tell the exiles they will be in Babylon for the rest of their lives because their false prophets are telling them exactly the opposite.  Who are they to believe?  What are they to believe?  If they are wise, they may want to pay attention to the one prophet who told them they were going to Babylon in the first place.  Jeremiah 20:4.

For thus says the Lord: Behold, I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends. They shall fall by the sword of their enemies while you look on.  And I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon. He shall carry them captive to Babylon, and shall strike them down with the sword.

And where does Jeremiah send this letter? To Babylon.  Why?  Because a bunch of people who used to live in Jerusalem, INCLUDING THE KING, are there!  And Jeremiah is the only prophet who predicted this.  Maybe they should pay attention to what he says now.

Jeremiah 29:9

The false prophets in Babylon are among those whom Jesus refers to in Matthew 7:22-23 --

22 "On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name?'"

That's the whole problem.  They were lawless, adulterous, liars in sheep's clothing who ravaged the people of God by causing them to believe lies, speaking IN MY NAME.  “Thus says the LORD . . . ”

23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

God is saying one thing through Jeremiah and the people even have concrete evidence that Jeremiah has told them the truth (i.e. they are now exiles in Babylon).  Their own prophets are contradicting Jeremiah in the name of the Lord.  Once again, as it was in chapter 28 with the false prophet Hananiah -- (17 In that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died) -- so it will not go well for these false prophets either.  See vs. 21-23 & 32.

And just as a side note, not everyone who tacks “in Jesus’ name” onto the end of their prayers is known by Jesus.  Do you really and truly pray to the Father in the name of Jesus?  Is Jesus and your relationship to Him the only reason you can speak to God at all?  Or is the phrase, “in Jesus’ name” just the standard Christian way of ending a prayer?  Not everyone who says “in Jesus’ name” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 7:21)

Skip down to verses 15 through 19.

Jeremiah 29:15-19

Now the letter informs the exiles of the fate of Zedekiah and the people of Jerusalem which is also contrary to the words of their own "prophets".  They are the vile figs fit only for destruction (Rom 9:22), the exiles being the good figs which God in His mercy will preserve in Babylon (the original fig preserves!) for the next 70 years.

This is once again evidence that their prophets are lying and Jeremiah is telling them the truth.  The final proof that their prophets are false will be the manner in which they die.  See vs 20-23.

Jeremiah 29:20-23

The false prophets are called by name, two here and a third in v24.  We should do the same today.  Paul did.

18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. (1 Tim 1:18-20)

In both cases (Jeremiah and Paul), they name names for the sake of those who are listening to lies.  And in both cases, the liars are seen as men within the ranks, "one of us", sheep among the sheep.  This is why I have given you the names of various individuals within Evangelicalism who preach heresy like Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Joel Osteen, and the list goes on and on.

But the fate of Zedekiah and Ahab may serve as a picture of what awaits all those who live debauched lives and would cause God's people to trust in a lie (v31): Roasted! (v22).  Does that word mean what I think it means?  The Hebrew word used here is also used in these two passages:

“If you offer a grain offering of firstfruits to the Lord, you shall offer for the grain offering of your firstfruits fresh ears, roasted with fire, crushed new grain." (Leviticus 2:14)

And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. (Joshua 5:11)

NIV - “burned in the fire”

ASV, NASB, NKJV, HCSB - “roasted in the fire”

LXX - “fried in the fire”

a primitive root [rather identicle with <H7034> (qalah) through the idea of shrinkage by heat]; to toast, i.e. scorch partially or slowly :- dried, loathsome, parch, roast.

Nebuchadnezzar attempted to do this very thing with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3)!  The fiery furnace was a means of execution in Babylon and that is how these two fake preachers died.  This serves as a very vivid picture of the flames of hell that await false prophets and teachers speaking in the name of the Lord who lie to God’s people in the name of the LORD.

Zedekiah and Ahab were also known adulterers who claimed to be prophets.  That is a very bad combination: wanton sinfulness in men who speak for God.  We see a lot of that these days.  Jesus said we could tell who was genuine by the fruit of their lives.  These two “prophets” were adulterers:  They have committed adultery with their neighbors' wives. (v23).  The heart attitudes of such men were spoken of by Moses:

18 Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, 19 one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ (Dt. 29:18-19)

Beloved, no amount of religious activity and no kind of religious talk can keep an unrepentant sinner safe from a holy God on the day of judgment.

Jeremiah 29:24-28

Then Jeremiah is commanded of the LORD to respond to a letter from one of the false prophets in Babylon by the name of Shemaiah who has sent letters to Jerusalem.  In those letters he prophesies that Jehoiada the priest has been replaced by Zephaniah -- " . . . to have charge in the house of the Lord over every madman who prophesies, to put him in the stocks and neck irons."

Then Shemaiah expresses dismay because Zephaniah isn't doing his job -- i.e. persecuting Jeremiah.  Clearly, from Shemaiah's perspective as a self-proclaimed prophet, Jeremiah's letter to the exiles concerning a long captivity of 70 years clashes with his own words of health and wealth and a return to Jerusalem.

In other words, "Since Jehoiada isn't telling Jeremiah to shut up, God has replaced him with you, Zephaniah.  You need to drop the hammer on that false prophet Jeremiah and throw him in the stocks to teach him a lesson!  He's sending letters over here to us in Babylon saying we're never coming home.  That kind of talk must stop!"

Jeremiah 29:29-32

But instead of rebuking Jeremiah, Zephaniah reads Shemaiah's letter to him.  Zephaniah does not persecute Jeremiah, but sees what response he will give to the letter.  It is at that point that the LORD speaks up by means of Jeremiah:

Shemaiah has spoken lies in the name of the LORD.  Therefore he will die.  For he has spoken rebellion against the LORD.

All people who pretend to speak for God are guilty of rebellion and of preaching rebellion.  What did God say to Hananiah in chapter 28:

28:16 Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will remove you from the face of the earth.  This year you shall die, because you have uttered rebellion against the Lord.’”

And within two months he was dead.  Our lack of serious disgust for false teachers within the church today is cause for very great concern.  To believe lies is not merely inconvenient.  Listening to men and women who claim to speak for God and who teach as gospel truth things that are contrary to the Scriptures are exceedingly dangerous people.  Their teaching is often damning to those who believe them.  False teachers promote rebellion against God and His word.  When they contradict what God has said, and they encourage others to believe teachings that are contrary to God’s revealed word, that is open rebellion.

But there is a serious breath of fresh air in the midst of all this talk of false teachers and false prophets.  Finally we get a glimpse of what is really going on in these remarkably bad times the people of Judah and the exiles are going through.  Go back to verse 10.

Jeremiah 29:10-14

These are easily some of the most encouraging words in this entire book.  It speaks to God's eternality.  God does not live and die as men do, but He lives from generation to generation and from age to age, accomplishing His redemption of His people.  Seventy years from this writing, the majority of its readers will be dead.  God remains.  He is the great I AM who never changes.  He inhabits eternity, while the lives of men are compared to grass and flowers that fade and die.

It is clear that God will keep His promise to the nation of Israel to bring them back to Judah.  24:4-7 says . . .

4 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 5 “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. 6 I will set my eyes on them for 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 pluck them up. 7 I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.

That is the promise He has made to the people through Jeremiah. In the midst of all the false teaching and false prophets and the lies and the adulteries and their captivity in a strange land, the LORD send words of hope for the future.

In this case the saying is true: The children are our future.  The captives to whom Jeremiah speaks will not return to Jerusalem, but God is going to do a work in their children which will result in both personal and national revival.

God has plans for all of His people.  This isn't just an Old Testament Israel concept.  This is God's way of dealing with all of His children.  He has glorious plans for us individually and corporately as His Church.

This return from exile to Jerusalem is similar to Israel's return to the Promised Land from Egypt.  There is a pattern here which suggests that this is how God works.  It is a pattern that points toward the Church in exile and her eventual return home from this world to the promised world to come!

8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance.  And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants bas many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out (i.e. Babylon!), they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:8-16)

And in that world,

I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. (v14)

Does that not sound remarkably like what will happen when the Lord Jesus comes back?

30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Mt 24:30-31)

24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. (Mark 13:24-27)

After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. 2 And he called out with a mighty voice,

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.

3 For all nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.”

4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues . . . . (Rev 18:1-4a)

Q: When the exiles return to Judah, according to the Scriptures, what do the people do?

A: They build a new Jerusalem.  They erect a new Temple.

Q: When the Church goes to Heaven, what will we find there?

A: The New Jerusalem.  The Heavenly Temple.

After 400 years of exile, the children of Israel make their exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land.  After 70 years of exile, the remnant of Israel made their exodus from Babylon to go back to the Promised Land.

After a thousand years of exile in this world, the Church will make her final exodus from Babylon to the Promised Land, New Heavens, the New Earth, the Kingdom of Heaven, the New Jerusalem, and the Temple not made with hands.

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. (2 Cor. 5:1)

We who know the Lord Jesus and who are known by Him have a bright future and an absolute hope of life in eternity with God after this world ends!  The Lord Jesus has prepared that place for us Himself.  And He Himself will come to take us to be with Him where He is.  That is THE exodus that all the people of God throughout all the ages long for, and will see.  Hallelujah!  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.



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