The Leadership Void.

Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.” And certain of the elders of the land arose and spoke to all the assembled people, saying, “Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, and said to all the people of Judah: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts,

“‘Zion shall be plowed as a field;
    Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
    and the mountain of the house a wooded height.’

Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him to death? Did he not fear the Lord and entreat the favor of the Lord, and did not the Lord relent of the disaster that he had pronounced against them? But we are about to bring great disaster upon ourselves.”

There was another man who prophesied in the name of the Lord, Uriah the son of Shemaiah from Kiriath-jearim. He prophesied against this city and against this land in words like those of Jeremiah. And when King Jehoiakim, with all his warriors and all the officials, heard his words, the king sought to put him to death. But when Uriah heard of it, he was afraid and fled and escaped to Egypt. Then King Jehoiakim sent to Egypt certain men, Elnathan the son of Achbor and others with him, and they took Uriah from Egypt and brought him to King Jehoiakim, who struck him down with the sword and dumped his dead body into the burial place of the common people.

But the hand of Ahikam the son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah so that he was not given over to the people to be put to death. Jeremiah 26:16-24 ESV

The first thing that should jump out at us in this passage is who the two major parties turn out to be in the discussion concerning Jeremiah’s fate. You have the priests and false prophets, but then there are the officials and the people. In the earlier part of this chapter, we saw that it was the priests and prophets who instigated the riot against Jeremiah. When he had prophesied against Judah and the city of Jerusalem, they were the ones who had incited the people to mob Jeremiah.

“Kill him!” they shouted. “What right do you have to prophesy in the Lord’s name that this Temple will be destroyed like Shiloh? What do you mean, saying that Jerusalem will be destroyed and left with no inhabitants?” – Jeremiah 26:8-9 NLT

And the people had followed their lead, going along with their advice to kill the messenger of God. But when the officials of the city had heard what was going on, they rushed to the scene and assessed the situation.

The priests and prophets presented their accusations to the officials and the people. “This man should die!” they said. “You have heard with your own ears what a traitor he is, for he has prophesied against this city.” – Jeremiah 26:11 NLT

Jeremiah was given an opportunity to speak for himself, then the officials made a ruling.

Then the officials and the people said to the priests and prophets, “This man does not deserve the death sentence, for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.” – Jeremiah 26:16 NLT

Notice that the people have now sided with the officials. At one point they had been willing to go with the advice of the priests and prophets and join in their plot to kill Jeremiah. Now, after cooler heads had prevailed, they threw in their lot with the officials of the city. And some among them, who had longer memories and grayer hair, reminded the people that something like this had happened before. They told the story of Micah of Moresheth who prophesied during the reign of King Hezekiah. He had pronounced a similar fate on Judah and Jerusalem, but the king and the people of that day didn’t kill him for speaking the truth of God. They spared him. And they took his advice and “they turned from their sins and worshiped the Lord. They begged him for mercy” (Jeremiah 26:19 NLT). It was Micah who had delivered the words of God to the people of Judah clearly articulating His expectations of them:

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 NLT

Because of the words of men like Micah and Isaiah, King Hezekiah had eventually listened to their calls to repentance and had prayed to God for mercy and help.

“So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.” – 2 Kings 19:19 NLT

And God had heard his prayers and spared the people.

“Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.” – 2 Kings 19:32-34 NLT

These older, wiser men of Judah concluded that they would be making a huge mistake if they took the life of Jeremiah. Instead, they should follow the actions of Hezekiah and the people of his day, choosing to spare the prophet of God and listen to his words. Yet, even while they were speaking, “Uriah son of Shemaiah from Kiriath-jearim was also prophesying for the Lord” (Jeremiah 26:20 NLT). And his message was the same as that of Jeremiah. When King Jehoakim heard about Uriah, he sent someone to assassinate him. But Uriah escaped to Egypt, where the king had him tracked down and forcibly returned to Judah and executed. Unlike Hezekiah, King Jehoakim had decided to eliminate the threat rather than heed the warning of God. Rather than repent, he had chosen to seek revenge on the messenger of God.

But even while all of this was going on, we’re told that, “Ahikam son of Shaphan stood up for Jeremiah and persuaded the court not to turn him over to the mob to be killed” (Jeremiah 26:24 NLT). Jeremiah was spared. The officials and the people determined to let him live. But there is no indication that anyone repented or changed their minds regarding their sinful lifestyles. No one prayed to God for forgiveness or asked Him to spare them from the Babylonians. One prophet was dead. Another prophet had been spared. But the people remained unrepentant and committed to their lifestyle of sin and rebellion against God. Yet we see from this encounter how easily leadership can sway the crowds. At one moment they were ready to follow the lead of the priests and false prophets, willfully playing a part in Jeremiah’s death. Then, as if on a whim, they changed their minds and listened to the officials, choosing instead to spare Jeremiah’s life. They were like leaves floating on the water, totally dependent upon the wind and waves to carry them along. They were morally rudderless and spiritually helpless, unable to decide for themselves what they should do. Later on in this same book, God will make the sad pronouncement concerning His people:

“My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray and turned them loose in the mountains. They have lost their way and can’t remember how to get back to the sheepfold.” – Jeremiah 50:6 NLT

And generations later, when Jesus appeared on the scene in Judea, we are told that He had a similar response to what He saw.

Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. – Matthew 9:35-36 NLT

Sheep without a shepherd. Nothing could be more disturbing to God than to see His people without godly leadership. In the days of Jeremiah, godly leadership was in short supply. The king was immoral. The priests were ungodly. And the prophets were false. As a result, the people were directionless and left to fend for themselves. They were led by their own desires and prone to listen to whomever told them what they wanted to hear. As the proverb states, “Without wise leadership, a nation falls” (Proverbs 11:14 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson