Truth-Tellers Vs Ear-Ticklers

Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets
    who lead my people astray,
who cry “Peace”
    when they have something to eat,
but declare war against him
    who puts nothing into their mouths.
Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision,
    and darkness to you, without divination.
The sun shall go down on the prophets,
    and the day shall be black over them;
the seers shall be disgraced,
    and the diviners put to shame;
they shall all cover their lips,
    for there is no answer from God.
But as for me, I am filled with power,
    with the Spirit of the Lord,
    and with justice and might,
to declare to Jacob his transgression
    and to Israel his sin. – Micah 3:5-8 ESV

In these verses, you can almost sense Micah’s anger as he addresses his adversaries – those individuals who had chosen to deliver a different message to the people of Judah. Micah’s job was hard enough without having to deal with the constant presence of those who contradicted his words by offering the people false promises of hope. These men were responsible for the attitude of arrogant pride that pervaded the nation of Judah. They were willing to tell the people what they wanted to hear– in return for personal gain and popularity. But their attempts to paint a rosy picture of the future was in direct conflict with the message God had given Micah, Isaiah, and the other prophets.

And while their message that all would be well in Judah won them plenty of friends and made Micah persona non grata in the community, they were not speaking for God.

Your prophets have said
    so many foolish things, false to the core.
They did not save you from exile
    by pointing out your sins.
Instead, they painted false pictures,
    filling you with false hope. – Lamentations 2:14 NLT

“From the least to the greatest,
    their lives are ruled by greed.
From prophets to priests,
    they are all frauds.
14 They offer superficial treatments
    for my people’s mortal wound.
They give assurances of peace
    when there is no peace. – Jeremiah 6:13-14 NLT

These men were using their perceived position as prophets of God for personal gain. Micah accuses them of telling people what they wanted to hear as long as they got something in return.

You promise peace for those who give you food,
    but you declare war on those who refuse to feed you. – Micah 3:5 NLT

They didn’t care about the well-being of the people and they didn’t speak for God. They were fabricating tales designed to make people feel good. Rather than calling the people to repentance, they were encouraging them to continue doing the very things that God had promised to judge. And the people were drawn to these false prophets with their pleasant-sounding, ear-tickling lies disguised as messages from God.

The apostle Paul warned Timothy to expect this same kind of behavior in his day. Wherever and whenever the people of God gather, they will attract charlatans and frauds posing as pastors, teachers, and prophets of God.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. – 2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT

And the primary danger of these posers and fakers is that their message is always designed to appeal to the sinful nature of men. Rather than convict of sin, they will encourage compromise with the world. Instead of calling God’s people to repentance, they will lead them into further sin, by promoting and condoning behavior that is not in keeping with God’s will.

But while these false prophets will always find a ready and willing audience, they will also discover that God stands opposed to all that they do. Deeming themselves to be shepherds of God’s sheep, the Great Shepherd was going to repay them for the damage they had done to His flock.

“What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people—the shepherds of my sheep—for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for,” says the LORD.

Therefore, this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to these shepherds: “Instead of caring for my flock and leading them to safety, you have deserted them and driven them to destruction. Now I will pour out judgment on you for the evil you have done to them.” – Jeremiah 23:1-12 NLT

Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey. – Ezekiel 34:9-10 NLT

Micah has strong words for those who were misleading the sheep of Judah. And, addressing their claim to be speaking on behalf of God, he warns that their days of prophecy and divination were coming to an end. Micah knew that he was speaking for God and that all the judgments he had been warning about were going to take place. When they did, these false prophets would themselves plunged into the darkness of ignorance, unable to explain away the suffering and sorrow taking place all around them.

When the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem finally came, these false prophets would be exposed for what they really were: Liars. Their 15-minutes of fame would come to an abrupt and painful end. It will be difficult to sell a message of “peace” and “all will be well” when the Babylonians are destroying your city and taking your friends and neighbors captive.

Anyone can claim to speak for God but, ultimately, they will have to answer to Him for all that they have said on His behalf and in His name. No matter how attractive their message may have been and despite the number of people it may have fooled, God will be the one who repays them for the lies they have spread in His name.

The sun will set for you prophets,
    and your day will come to an end.
Then you seers will be put to shame,
    and you fortune-tellers will be disgraced.
And you will cover your faces
    because there is no answer from God. – Micah 3:6-7 NLT

But Micah boldly proclaims his confidence in who he is and in all that he has said.

But as for me, I am filled with power—
    with the Spirit of the Lord.
I am filled with justice and strength
    to boldly declare Israel’s sin and rebellion. – Micah 3:8 NLT

As a messenger of God, Micah had the full backing and support of the Spirit God. His message, while unappealing and unpopular, was true. When Micah spoke, he did so with God’s blessing. His message was just and right because it came from the lips of God Himself. He could speak confidently and powerfully, boldly declaring the sins of the people of Judah, even when they rejected his words and resisted his efforts.

They didn’t have to listen to him, but it would be in their best interest if they did. They could continue to pay the false prophets to tell them what they wanted to hear, but it would prove to be a poor investment. They could deny the warnings of Micah and refuse to believe that judgment was coming, but it wouldn’t change a thing. The truth of God is not always easy to hear. His condemnation of our sin and His call to repentance is intended to bring about conviction and to promote confession. But our sin natures inflate our pride by encouraging a belief in our own self-righteousness. We refuse to believe we’re as bad as God says we are. And so, we seek out teachers, preachers, authors, and speakers who will promote and encourage our sense of self-worth and assuage any feelings of guilt or conviction we may be feeling.

But self-deceit and false teaching will never produce fruit in keeping with true repentance (Matthew 3:8). Trying to convince yourself that you’re inherently good and surrounding yourself with those who will support that conclusion will only lead to disappointment. That’s why the people of God need to seek out those who will speak the truth of God boldly and unapologetically – men and women who share the conviction of Micah and who stand side-by-side with the apostle Paul in his conviction to preach the gospel faithfully, regardless of the cost.

Yet our God gave us the courage to declare his Good News to you boldly, in spite of great opposition. So you can see we were not preaching with any deceit or impure motives or trickery.

For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else. – 1 Thessalonians 2:2-6 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

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Do your best to come to me soon. 10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. 12 Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. 14 Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. 15 Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. 2 Timothy 4:9-15 ESV

When reading the letters of Paul, it can be easy to assume that he was a spiritual loner who, by virtue of his job, traveled from place to place, and never put down any roots. He can come across as a kind of spiritual soldier of fortune, making his way from one city to the next, staying just as long as it takes to make enough converts to start a local church. His work done, Paul would pack his parchments and scant belongings and head to yet another town where he would start the whole process over again.

This image of Paul as a type-A personality with an over-zealous constitution and a somewhat legalistic, doctrinally-driven mindset is inaccurate and unfair. Even a cursory reading of his many letters will reveal a man who had a deep love and concern for others. Yes, he was driven. He was a man on a mission. And he would not allow himself to be distracted by the cares of this world. But that does not mean he was callous, cold, or uncaring. As a leader, Paul had an unwavering commitment to preach the gospel with boldness, in the face of intense opposition from some and the stubborn obstinance of others. Yet, he had a pastor’s heart that beat fast for each and every person who came to faith in Christ through his ministry.

You can sense Paul’s love and concern in the way he addressed those under his care.

Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives. I wish I were with you right now so I could change my tone. But at this distance I don’t know how else to help you. – Galatians 4:19-20 NLT

I am not writing these things to shame you, but to warn you as my beloved children. For even if you had ten thousand others to teach you about Christ, you have only one spiritual father. For I became your father in Christ Jesus when I preached the Good News to you. – 1 Corinthians 4:14-15 NLT

…we were like a mother feeding and caring for her own children. We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too. – 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8 NLT

Like any loving parent, Paul could be demanding and doting. He could admonish and encourage. He was deeply concerned for the well-being of each and every individual who had come to Christ under his ministry. They did not view them as notches on his belt or numbers on a spreadsheet. They were his spiritual children and he cared deeply for them. Just as much as he cared for Timothy.

So, as Paul begins to draw his letter to Timothy to a close, he mentions seven different individuals with whom he had developed relationships: Demas, Crescens, Titus, Luke, Mark, Tychicus, and Alexander. Some of these names are more familiar than others, appearing elsewhere in the New Testament. But there are a few whose exact identities and roles in Paul’s life remain a mystery. But this list of names reveals the diverse nature of Paul’s relational pool. The sheer scope of his ministry necessitated interaction with a wide range of individuals, some of whom he developed deep and lasting relationships. Others remained relatively unknown to Paul, but their anonymity did not diminish his care for them.

Seemingly convinced that his conviction and death at the hands of the Romans was drawing near, Paul appealed to Timothy to come to visit him in Rome. You can almost feel Paul’s sense of loneliness as he pleads with his young friend to make the arduous trip from Ephesus to Rome. Paul has just finished urging Timothy to be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill his ministry (2 Timothy 4:5). And yet, now he expresses his desire for Timothy to drop everything and come to Rome so that he can see him one last time. 

And Paul’s explanation for this impromptu visit was that Demas had deserted him. It seems clear that Demas was a ministry associate of Paul’s and had been working alongside him during his imprisonment in Rome. But Paul accuses Demas of jumping ship, having fallen “in love with this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10 ESV). As a minister of the gospel, Paul had the extreme joy of leading many people to Christ and of training others for ministry. But he also had the unenviable task of watching some stray from the path of faith. Earlier in this same letter, he mentioned Hymenaeus and Philetus, who had “swerved from the truth” (2 Timothy 2:18 ESV). In his first letter to Timothy, Paul had called out Hymenaeus and Alexander, accusing them of having “suffered shipwreck in regard to the faith” (1 Timothy 1:19 ESV).

Paul knew what it was like to feel betrayed and abandoned by the very ones in whom he had poured his life. He had experienced the pain of watching leaders wander from the truth into false doctrine. He had witnessed countless individuals walk away from the faith because the path was more difficult than they expected. And now, he had been forced to watch Demas abandon his calling because his love for Christ had been replaced by a love for the things of this world. Demas had lived out exactly what Paul had warned Timothy about. He had become a lover of pleasure rather than a love of God (2 Timothy 3:4). Demas had failed to fulfill his ministry and this had to have caused Paul much pain and disappointment.

But not all of Paul’s ministry companions had walked away from the faith or deserted his side. Some, like Crescens and Titus, had left Paul in Rome so that they might carry the gospel to places like Galatia and Dalmatia. These men must have brought Paul great encouragement as he watched them do the work of the ministry he was no longer able to perform. But it was probably difficult for him to send these men into the world, knowing that they were going to face difficulties and trials, just as he had.

The departures of Crescens and Titus had left Paul with one remaining companion, the physician, Luke. It seems that, even while imprisoned in Rome, Paul had enjoyed regular visits from many of his friends and ministry associates. But, as the reality of his pending death grew clearer, Paul desired to reconnect with those whom he had not seen in some time. This included John Mark, another one of his former disciples and companions. Acts 13 reveals that, at one point on one of their missionary journeys, John Mark had left Paul and Barnabas and had returned to Jerusalem. No explanation is given for his departure, but Paul instructs Timothy to pick up John Mark and bring him to Rome. And Paul seems to provide Timothy with the assurance that all will be go well in Ephesus in his absence because he had sent Tychicus to serve in his place.

Paul also instructed Timothy to bring some specific items that he needed. One was a cloak Paul had evidently loaned to someone named Carpus. He also requested some books and parchments that he had likely lent to Timothy to assist in his studies. These could have included scrolls from Paul’s personal library that contained copies of the Old Testament scriptures. Even in old age and facing imminent death, Paul was still reading, learning, and studying. And as his letter to Timothy illustrates, even in prison, Paul was still teaching, training, encouraging, and pouring his life into others.

Finally, Paul warns Timothy to avoid someone he describes as Alexander the coppersmith. Paul accuses Alexander of having done him “great harm” opposing his message. No further explanation is given, but it seems clear that Timothy was familiar with Alexander and Paul wanted him to avoid this man like the plague. Once again, this warning fits in with Paul’s earlier admonition to Timothy regarding godless people.

They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! – 2 Timothy 3:5 NLT

The gospel ministry will be accompanied by all kinds of people. There will be true converts and there will be those who only appear to have saving faith but who eventually walk away when the going gets tough. There will be self-proclaimed teachers who replace the truth of God with pleasant-sounding platitudes that tickle peoples’ ears and attract fairweather followers.

For every Demas and Alexander, there would be a Crescens and Titus. But Paul was convinced that the preaching of the good news was going to attract bad apples. The crowds attracted by the gospel message would end up attracting people who saw an opportunity to personally prosper by replacing the truth with ear-tickling claims that promoted wickedness rather than godliness. So, even as he prepares to conclude his letter to Timothy, he keeps warning his young friend to stay alert and to remain faithful to his calling. Because “in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (2 Timothy 3:1 ESV).

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

Another Gospel

Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. – 2 John 1:9-11 ESV

John, as an apostle of Jesus Christ, took his role seriously. He had high regard for the teachings of Jesus and a strong sense of responsibility when it came to the wellbeing of the body of Christ. Like Paul, his fellow apostle, John was always on the lookout for those who would do harm to the church of Jesus Christ. They were both very aware that the enemy was out to destroy what Jesus had created. And Jesus, on the very night He was betrayed into the hands of the Jewish religious leaders, had made a heartfelt request of His Heavenly Father:

“I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.” – John 17:14-19 NLT

Jesus knew His followers were going to face intense opposition. Satan was going to throw all his resources against those who aligned themselves with Jesus Christ. When his attempt to thwart the redemptive plan of God by murdering the Son of God proved an abysmal failure, Satan would ramp up his efforts to stifle the Gospel by diluting and distorting it with lies and half-truths. But notice what Jesus prayed that night. He asked that His Father would keep His followers holy or set apart by the truth of His Word.

The truth of the Gospel message was going to be the key to resisting the lies of the enemy. And John warns his readers that anyone who did not remain committed to the teachings of Jesus never really knew Him. If they ended up rejecting the claims of Jesus to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world, it would be because they never truly believed in Him, to begin with. And John bluntly states that the rejection of Jesus as the incarnation of God in the flesh was to reject God Himself.

Anyone who wanders away from this teaching has no relationship with God. – 2 John 1:9 NLT

It is interesting to note that John describes these deserters of the Gospel as “running ahead.” He used the Greek word, parabainō, which conveys the idea of passing over or stepping around something. It is often translated as “transgress.” Under the influence of the false teachers, these people would choose to walk around the truths regarding Jesus and pass on to something new and seemingly better. Convinced that they were hearing new and improved information regarding Jesus, they would leave the teachings of the apostles behind. But John warns that, in doing so, they would be turning their backs on God. And John was not making this up. He was simply repeating what He had heard Jesus say.

“If I were to testify on my own behalf, my testimony would not be valid. But someone else is also testifying about me, and I assure you that everything he says about me is true. In fact, you sent investigators to listen to John the Baptist, and his testimony about me was true. Of course, I have no need of human witnesses, but I say these things so you might be saved. John was like a burning and shining lamp, and you were excited for a while about his message. But I have a greater witness than John—my teachings and my miracles. The Father gave me these works to accomplish, and they prove that he sent me. And the Father who sent me has testified about me himself. You have never heard his voice or seen him face to face, and you do not have his message in your hearts, because you do not believe me—the one he sent to you.” – John 5:31-38 NLT

The testimony of God verified the claims of Jesus. And no additional truth or new revelations from the lips of men were going to replace what God had declared about Jesus. “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him” (Luke 9:35 NLT).

John had no doubt as to Jesus’ deity and His claims of divinity. He had heard Jesus boldly claim, “I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me” (John 8:18 ESV). And John had been an eye-witness to not only the crucifixion of Jesus but also His miraculous resurrection. Everything had happened just as Jesus had said it would. He had risen from the dead, and John had seen it with his own eyes. 

So, John flatly asserts that if anyone suddenly decided that the truth as testified by God was false, they were the ones who were in error. John could well remember the extremely harsh words Jesus had spoken to the religious leaders of the Jews.

“Since you don’t know who I am, you don’t know who my Father is. If you knew me, you would also know my Father.” – John 8:19 NLT

A false understanding of Jesus and His identity will lead to a false understanding of God. If Jesus was just a man, then God is a liar. If Jesus did not resurrect from the dead, then God has provided no means by which men can be restored to a right relationship with Him. The apostle Paul pointed out the futility of faith in a Jesus who did not rise from the grave.

…if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. – 1 Corinthians 15:17-18 NLT

But Paul goes on to provide the truth regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection.

But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. – 1 Corinthians 15:19 NLT

And John fully supports Paul’s assertion when he states, “But anyone who remains in the teaching of Christ has a relationship with both the Father and the Son” (2 John 1:9 NLT). Those who remain committed to and dependent upon the promise of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone will not be disappointed. To know Jesus is to know the Father. That is why Jesus claimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” (John 14:6-7 NLT).

John wanted his audience to know that they were to have nothing to do with those who preached a different version of Jesus. If their teaching contradicted that of Jesus and the apostles, the church was to have nothing to do with them.

If anyone comes to your meeting and does not teach the truth about Christ, don’t invite that person into your home or give any kind of encouragement. – 2 John 1:10 NLT

When it came to the Gospel, there was to be no place for toleration of alternate versions or new insights into who Jesus was and what He had come to do. The apostle Paul accused the church in Corinth of happily putting up with all kinds of false messages, including “a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed” (2 Corinthians 11:4 NLT). He issued a similar condemnation to the church in Galatia.

I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News. – Galatians 1:6 NLT

This was a real problem in the early days of the church, and it remains so even today. And the warning John gave to the members of the church in Asia Minor is just as relevant for us as it was for them.

Anyone who encourages such people becomes a partner in their evil work… – 2 John 1:11 NLT

The Gospel is the Gospel. It is not to be added to, distorted in any way, clarified, or amplified. In fact, the apostle Paul warns that anyone who tampers with the Gospel message as testified by God, proclaimed by Jesus, and preached by the apostles was to be cursed.

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed. – Galatians 1:8-9 NLT

Serious and sober words because the message of the Gospel is the key to eternal life.

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

Not Up For Debate

10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party.11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. – Titus 1:10-16 ESV

Verses 5-9 give Titus the what behind his job description. He is supposed to complete any unfinished business regarding the churches on Crete, and he was to select and appoint elders to help oversee each congregation. Now, in verses 10-16, Paul provides him with the why. The gospel was spreading on Crete, and the churches were increasing in number and size. The expansion of the ministry had brought in more people, but also a range of problems. Success has a way of attracting attention, and because the number of converts to Christianity was increasing, this new religion was gaining interest among those who had less-than-godly motives.

One of the reasons behind Paul’s instructions that Titus appoint qualified men to serve as elders over the churches was the presence of some bad influences within the local congregations. Paul gives the impression that this was not a case of a few bad apples, but a whole barrel-full. And his description of these people is far from flattering. He describes them as insubordinate, empty talkers, and deceivers. Their lives were characterized by a refusal to submit to authority. The Greek word Paul used is anypotaktos, and it can literally be translated as “not subject to.” These people answered to no one but themselves. So, Titus was going to need a group of elders who could assist him in stemming the negative influence of these individuals, because they were empty talkers. Here Paul uses a Greek word that is actually a contraction of two other words: mataiologos. The first half refers to vanity or something that lacks truth or purpose. Therefore, it has no beneficial value. The second half of the word refers to speech and, when you combine the two you get the idea of useless words that have no basis in truth and no lasting benefit. In fact, Paul describes their words as deceptive. He uses the Greek word phrenapatēs, which is a contraction of two other words and literally means “mind-misleader.” 

These people were what Paul would describe as false teachers. They were men and women who had brought their own agendas into the church and were propagating ideas that were not in line with the teaching of the apostles. Their “empty talk” was likely a toxic cocktail that attempted to blend pagan ideas and their own personal perspectives with the gospel message. And Paul specifically points out “those of the circumcision party” – the Jewish converts to Christianity who were demanding that all Gentile converts submit to the rite of circumcision and agree to keep the Mosaic Law in order to be considered truly saved. 

These people were guilty of the very same thing Jesus accused the Jewish religious leaders of in His day.

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.” – Matthew 15:8-9 NLT

Paul had been forced to confront the same problem among the Colossian believers, and he warned them:

Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. – Colossians 2:8 NLT

Paul had gone on to tell the believers in Colossae that these man-made rules and requirements had no lasting value. They were simply a listing of dos and don’ts that were based on mere whim and not the word of God.

…why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. – Colossians 2:20-22 NLT

And Paul tells Titus that these kinds of people need to be silenced. Their false ideas were not to be tolerated and, most certainly, were not to be amalgamated into the doctrine of the church. That is why Paul insisted that any elder candidate must “have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong” (Titus 1:9 NLT). It is difficult to confront falsehood if you don’t know the truth. You will find it hard to correct others if you have no clue as to what they are saying or doing wrong. 

But pointing out the error behind false teaching is one of the key roles of an elder. Which is why it essential that an elder be one who is steeped in the Word of God and “who correctly explains the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 NLT). Otherwise, falsehood will spread throughout the church unrecognized and unabated. So, Paul warns Timothy: “They must be silenced, because they are turning whole families away from the truth by their false teaching” (Titus 1:11 NLT). False teaching has real consequences. It is dangerous and deadly because it leads people away from the truth of the gospel. In the case of the party of the circumcision, they were adding to the gospel, demanding that rule-keeping was a necessary part of salvation. In their minds, salvation was no longer a free gift from available through the grace of God. It was based on a set of rules determined by men. And Paul would have nothing to do with it.

And the worst part of the whole affair is that the individuals spreading these lies were not doing it for the good of the church, but for their own selfish gain. They were in it for what they could get out of it, and that most likely included power, prestige, influence, and, possibly, financial gain. These people saw themselves as on an equal plain with that of Paul and the other apostles. They deemed themselves to be spokesmen for God, but they had not been sent by God. And there were not teaching the truth of God.

Quoting a well-known Cretan poet, who described his own people as “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12 ESV), Paul seems to be saying that the people of Crete were prone to being deceived. They were buying what these false teachers were selling, which is why Paul tells Titus to “rebuke them sharply.” This was serious business, and there was no room for diplomacy or political correctness. And Titus was to concern himself with the strengthening of the faith of any who had been misled by the teaching of these individuals. He was to call them back to the truth of the gospel message as expressed by Jesus and His disciples. And by promoting the truth, Titus would help the believers in Crete to stop “devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth” (Titus 1:14 ESV).

One of the primary errors Paul and Titus were having to expose was asceticism. This was teaching that promoted the abstaining from certain foods or activities. It was a works-based mentality that equated spirituality with self-denial. But Paul wanted Titus to remember that to the pure all things are pure. In other words, a Christian’s righteousness is not based on his or her activities or abstentions from certain actions, but on the finished work of Jesus Christ. While our behavior is important, it is not what makes us right with God. As Isaiah so clearly stated, “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6 ESV).

Paul was echoing the words of Jesus, who taught His disciples, “Don’t you understand yet? Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you” (Matthew 15:16-20 NLT).

This is what Titus was to reaffirm to the believers on Crete, because the false teachers were confusing the matter. They were teaching that was made impure from outside influences. Therefore, abstinence was the key to spirituality. But Paul wanted Titus to drive home the gospel message that true spirituality begins on the inside, in the heart, as the Spirit of God takes up residence in the believer and transforms him from the inside out.

And just in case Titus has missed his point in all of this, Paul makes it painfully clear, declaring that the false teachers on Crete “profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:15 ESV). He leaves no doubt as to his opinion of these people. And he gives Titus no room for negotiation with them. They are unfit for any good work. And Titus, with the help of the elders he would eventually appoint, was expected to deal with these people quickly and effectively, for the sake of the body of Christ on Crete.

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.s

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

Smoke and Mirrors

12 These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. – Jude 1:12-13 ESV

Jude continues his unrelenting barrage against the false teachers, and he uses symbolic imagery from the realm of nature to do it. These less-than-flattering comparisons leave no doubt as to his opinion of these individuals and the negative influence they were having on local congregations.

His reference to them as hidden reefs reveals his concern that they were operating out-of-sight which made them all that more dangerous. Like a reef lying just beneath the surface of the water, unseen by the pilot of a ship, these individuals existed within the body of Christ, but somewhat hidden from view. And, for Jude, it was important that their presence be exposed so that the church could avoid spiritual shipwreck. It is often the case that those who promote false doctrines choose to remain in the background, quietly promoting their error in relative obscurity. Rather than seeking the main stage and the power of the pulpit, they wield their influence one-on-one, slowly spreading their lies like cancer.

Jude describes them as using the love feast as a platform for their propaganda. The love feast was a regularly occurring feature of the New Testament church. It was a time when the church gathered to share a common meal, centered around the celebration of the Lord’s Supper or Communion. This intimate gathering provided the perfect venue for these people to share their views in a relaxed and unassuming atmosphere of mutual love. People would have naturally let their guard down on these occasions because they were gathered together with those they loved and with whom they shared a mutual love for Christ. And these false teachers used those regular gatherings to disseminate their views with no reverence or regard for the Lord’s Table itself. For them, it was nothing more than an opportunity to make their views known. Rather than celebrating and commemorating the truth surrounding Christ’s sacrificial death, they were interested in promoting their lies.

Their interests were purely selfish. Which made their presence at the love feast all that more egregious. They were self-promoters who only cared about making their views known so they could increase their influence over the flock of Jesus Christ for their own personal gain. Which is why Jude refers to them as shepherds who feed themselves. They had no care or concern for the flock. Their actions were motivated by love of self, not love for others. This imagery of the selfish shepherd would have resonated in the agrarian culture. And it would have been very familiar to any of the Jews within the congregation because of its use in the Old Testament Scriptures. God had used this same indictment against the spiritual leaders of Israel.

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign LORD: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep?” – Ezekiel 34:2 NLT

“What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people–the shepherds of my sheep–for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for,” says the LORD. – Jeremiah 23:1 NLT

These men cared more about their views than they did for the people of God. They had a higher regard for their own personal opinions than they did for the flock of God.

Next, Jude compares them to waterless clouds. In a land where rain could be rare, the presence of a cloud was a sign of hope. It carried with it the possibility of refreshment. But the kind of cloud to which Jude is referring was one that came and went without offering a single drop of rain. They were blown by the wind and disappeared almost as quickly as they came. Their words sounded good, and their teaching seemed to offer hope but, in time, the truth would be known. They were all talk with no substance. They were like clouds that brought no rain. While they might offer temporary relief from the scorching heat of the sun, they would eventually blow over, leaving nothing but parched ground and spiritual thirst in their wake. What a hateful thing it is to offer hope, but no help. What could be crueler than teasing the spiritual thirsty with thoughts of relief, only to leave them in disappointment and despair?

God had strong words regarding all those who attempt to slake spiritual thirst through man-made means.

“For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me–the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!” – Jeremiah 2:13 NLT

The false teaching of these individuals offered false hope. Their words were like a hand-dug cistern riddled with cracks that made it incapable of offering any form of relief.

And Jude is far from done. He calls them fruitless trees. Once again, the point seems to be that they offered hope, but without delivering. A tree, barren of fruit, was of little use. And to make their uselessness obvious, Jude describes them as “doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots” (Jude 1:12 NLT). In other words, they will never bear fruit. His reference to the Autumn was intended to convey the thought that they were in the wrong season for producing fruit. It was impossible. But what made matters even worse was that these “trees” had been pulled up by the roots and were physically incapable of fruit-bearing, regardless of the time of year. The church was never going to receive any benefit because these false teachers were spiritually dead.

As far as Jude was concerned, these people were nothing more than trouble-makers. They stirred up dissension and discord like waves stir up debris and throw it onto the shore. These people were relentless in their efforts, like the repetitive nature of waves breaking on the sand. With each successive wave of their teaching, more lies get deposited into the hearts and minds of the people, with no sign of relief.

Finally, Jude refers to them as wandering stars. Unlike fixed stars that provided seaman and travelers with a constant source of guidance and direction in their journeys, these individual were like planets whose position in the sky was constantly changing. They had the appearance of stars but were unreliable as a navigational point of reference. Depending on the season, they could appear in different locations in the sky, making them completely useless for determining your location or reaching your destination.  Jude describes them as being “doomed forever to blackest darkness” (Jude 1:13 NLT). They were going nowhere. Their fate was sealed, sand the future was certain. Their lies and deceit would leave them marred in their own falsehood and deception, incapable of seeing the truth and experiencing the joy that God offered.

The danger was real, but it was subtle and sinister in its appearance. It tended to remain hidden from view, and when it did appear, it was attractive, offering what appeared to be true hope and help. But it was all smoke and mirrors. And Jude wanted his audience to recognize the false teaching of these people for what it was: A dangerous and deadly threat to the spiritual well-being of the church.

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

Ignorance Is Not Bliss

But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” 10 But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. 11 Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. – Jude 1:9-11 ESV

You don’t have to be a theological scholar to recognize that Jude has a strong dislike for the false teachers about whom he is writing. You won’t find any grace or kindness in his words regarding them. He doesn’t paint them as well-meaning, but misinformed individuals who hold a slightly different view than his. He isn”t accommodating or concilatory. He shows no interest in compromise or making concessions. The issues these individuals are addressing are not up for debate and are not subject to their own personal opinions or views.

Jude saw their intentions as anything but well-meaning. In fact, he paints them as spies, describing them as having “crept in unnoticed” with the sole into to “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (Jude 1:4 ESV).  These people were not to be trusted or tolerated. And Jude leaves no doubt as to the reason for his dislike for and disdain of them.

…these people—who claim authority from their dreams—live immoral lives, defy authority, and scoff at supernatural beings. – Jude 1:8 NLT

It seems that these individuals displayed a certain sense of super-spirituality, claiming to have received visions from God to back up their false teaching. And yet, Jude points out that their lives were marked by immorality, rebellion against authority, and a rejection of the supernatural. That last point is somewhat cryptic and difficult to understand, but Jude seems to be picking up on something that Peter dealt with in one of his letter.

He [God] is especially hard on those who follow their own twisted sexual desire, and who despise authority.

These people are proud and arrogant, daring even to scoff at supernatural beings without so much as trembling. But the angels, who are far greater in power and strength, do not dare to bring from the Lord a charge of blasphemy against those supernatural beings. – 2 Peter 2:10-11 NLT

It would appear that these false teachers were guilty of rejecting certain ideas concerning the supernatural realm, including the presence of demons or fallen angels. They scoffed at the idea, labeling it as nothing more than superstition. And yet, Peter made it clear that God took the presence of demons seriously.

For God did not spare even the angels who sinned. He threw them into hell, in gloomy pits of darkness, where they are being held until the day of judgment. – 2 Peter 2:4 NLT

And as Peter pointed out, even good angels refuse to speak a negative word regarding their fallen counterparts. As spiritual beings, they had a serious and reverent regard for the supernatural. But that was not the case for these false teachers. They thought they knew better. They saw themselves as smarter than angels.

But, to put it bluntly, the false teachers were nothing more than religious rebels, attempting to force their particular point of view on the unsuspecting believers within the local congregation. They had an open disregard for God’s point of view. And it appears that they treated the supernatural with disdain.

At this point, Jude uses what appears to be a well-known story regarding Moses, which is not recorded in the Bible. It is likely based on oral tradition and had been handed down among the Jewish community over the centuries. It was actually recorded in the apocryphal book, The Assumption of Moses. Jude’s use of this story shouldn’t necessarily be taken as proof of its authenticity. He was simply using its familiar details for the purpose of proving his point.

So that we might better understand the nature of Jude’s use of this story, William John Deane provides this commentary.

Taking into consideration the circumstances of the burial of Moses, we see that it was intended to be a secret transaction. The Lord, we are told (Deut. xxxiv.6), “buried him in a valley of the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor; but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.” Doubtless there was a good reason for this secrecy. The, proneness of the Jews to idolatry, the likelihood that the body of their great leader might become an object of adoration, even as the brazen serpent drew their hearts away in later time, the tendency to follow the creature-worship and to pay that undue reverence to relics which they had seen in Egypt, — these considerations may have led to the concealment of the body of Moses. And the devil wished to frustrate this purpose. He saw an opportunity of using the mortal remains of Moses to draw away the Israelites from true religion. He would have no mystery about the burial. The people should be shown their leader’s resting place; of the result he had no doubt whatever. And Michael, the appointed guard of the grave, as the Targum says, resisted this evil attempt of Satan, and firmly carried out the purpose of God. Using the words which God Himself had employed when the wicked spirit endeavoured to withstand His act of clothing Joshua, the high priest, in festal garments (Zech. iii.), Michael answered, “The Lord rebuke thee.” And in the unknown spot the body rested; or, at any rate, it was seen no more till it appeared to the wondering three on the Mount of Transfiguration fourteen hundred years later. – William John Deane, Pseudepigrapha

Jude is not validating the veracity of the story as much as he is using it in order to expose the sins of the false teachers. In the story, the angel Michael does not treat Satan with contempt or derision. He doesn’t speak with contempt, but simply says, “The Lord rebuke you.”

Jude is pointing out that the supernatural realm exists. And yet, “these people scoff at things they do not understand” (Jude 1:10 NLT). The Greek word translated as “scoff” is blasphēmeō, and it refers to irreverent or reviling speech. They were treating the things of God, the unseen and inexplicable things of God, with an air of arrogance and open disregard. And when they spoke, they did so in ignorance.

Jude compares the with dumb, unthinking animals who “do whatever their instincts tell them” (Jude 1:10 NLT). In other words, they were driven by their passions and controlled by their natural, fallen instincts. And Jude compares them to two notorious characters from history: Cain and Balaam. Both of these men had less-than-stellar reputations. Cain, driven by jealousy and the desire for revenge, committed the first murder, killing his own brother, Abel. Balaam, a prophet, disobeyed the expressed will of God and provided the enemies of Israel with a plan for causing their downfall. And what he did was driven by his desire for money. He sold out the people of God for personal gain. Both men were controlled by their sinful desires.

And, by comparison, so were these false teachers. And their actions were going to result in their own destruction. They were headed for a fall, because they were standing in opposition to God Himself. They were guilty of rebellion against God and, as a result, they would perish, just as Korah had. This is another reference to a well-known historic event recorded in the book of Numbers. Korah led a rebellion against Moses, claiming, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” (Numbers 16:3 ESV). Korah disrespected Moses’ God-ordained leadership role and tried to usurp his authority. But God stepped in and destroyed Korah and all who joined his rebellion.

Jude is making it quite clear that the future for these false teachers will be unpleasant. If they continue down the path they have chosen, it will not end well for them. And he wants his readers to understand the danger in following the teaching of these misguided and self-obsessed individuals. They do not represent an alternative form of leadership. Their teaching is not to be treated as an acceptable option or viewpoint. It is to be rejected at all costs. They were to be seen as a danger to the faith community and a threat to the integrity of the gospel message. And they were to be avoided at all costs.

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

Misplaced Trust

1 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. And the king of Assyria sent the Rabshakeh from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem, with a great army. And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field. And there came out to him Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder.

And the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this trust of yours? Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? In whom do you now trust, that you have rebelled against me? Behold, you are trusting in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. But if you say to me, “We trust in the Lord our God,” is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, “You shall worship before this altar”? Come now, make a wager with my master the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. How then can you repulse a single captain among the least of my master’s servants, when you trust in Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? 10 Moreover, is it without the Lord that I have come up against this land to destroy it? The Lord said to me, “Go up against this land and destroy it.”’”

11 Then Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah said to the Rabshakeh, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it. Do not speak to us in the language of Judah within the hearing of the people who are on the wall.” 12 But the Rabshakeh said, “Has my master sent me to speak these words to your master and to you, and not to the men sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and drink their own urine?”

13 Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out in a loud voice in the language of Judah: “Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria! 14 Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you. 15 Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord by saying, “The Lord will surely deliver us. This city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” 16 Do not listen to Hezekiah. For thus says the king of Assyria: Make your peace with me and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern, 17 until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards. 18 Beware lest Hezekiah mislead you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? 19 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? 20 Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’”

21 But they were silent and answered him not a word, for the king’s command was, “Do not answer him.” 22 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn, and told him the words of the Rabshakeh. – Isaiah 36:1-21 ESV

The fateful day has arrived. The Assyrians are literally knocking at the door of Jerusalem, preparing to add this city to a long list of others they had conquered in the region. Isaiah provides us with a date, the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign, which would have been 701 BC. By this date, the Assyrians had conquered 46 cities in Judah, including Lachish, which Sennacherib used as a staging area for further military actions.

The Assyrian king sent an emissary, accompanied by a massive army, to discuss surrender terms with King Hezekiah of Judah. This display of might was meant to persuade the king to surrender Jerusalem without a fight. King Hezekiah sent three of his top administrative personnel to meet with the Assyrians and, as they stood just outside the conduit of the upper pool, the people of Judah squeezed onto the walls to see what was going to happen.

It is interesting to note that, 23 years earlier, on this very same spot, Isaiah had been sent by God to confront another king of Judah facing a similar problem.

And the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-jashub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field. And say to him, ‘Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah.’” – Isaiah 7:3-4 ESV

Nearly a quarter-century earlier, Judah was facing the combined forces of Syria and Israel, two nations who had formed an alliance in order to capture Jerusalem and destroy Judah. But God had other plans. He warned King Ahaz to stay strong and not lose heart. As bad as things may have appeared, the outcome would be different than expected. He told them:

“It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass.” – Isaiah 7:7 ESV

But he also warned them:

“If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.” – Isaiah 7:9 ESV

The Syrians and Israelites never conquered Jerusalem. Their plans were easily thwarted by God. And He used the Assyrians to accomplish His will. Now, 23 years later, the Assyrians were gathered en masse outside the walls of Jerusalem. And the words that Isaiah had spoken to King Ahaz all those years earlier still applied. The people of Judah had no reason to fear if they would only trust in God. And trust is the main theme of King Sennacherib’s ultimatum delivered by his emissary.

“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident?” – Isaiah 36:4 NLT

Remember, the king of Judah had paid a large sum to the Egyptians to secure their assistance in the event that the Assyrians came against them. Their confidence, if any, was in that very expensive alliance. They had placed their hopes in the military might of the Egyptian army. But they were nowhere to be found. And King Sennacherib knew it.

“Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me? On Egypt? If you lean on Egypt, it will be like a reed that splinters beneath your weight and pierces your hand. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, is completely unreliable!” – Isaiah 36:5-6 NLT

Sennacherib knew that Egypt would prove to be an unreliable and even dangerous source of security. They could not be depended upon. But the Assyrian king’s strongest words of warning concerning Judah’s misplaced trust were aimed at Yahweh.

“But perhaps you will say to me, ‘We are trusting in the Lord our God!’ But isn’t he the one who was insulted by Hezekiah? Didn’t Hezekiah tear down his shrines and altars and make everyone in Judah and Jerusalem worship only at the altar here in Jerusalem? – Isaiah 36:7 NLT

Actually, Sennacherib has his facts wrong. When Hezekiah had begun his reign as king over Judah, he was only 25-years old. But he proved to be a different kind of king, ruling much more in line with his ancestor, King David.

He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestor David had done. He removed the pagan shrines, smashed the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke up the bronze serpent that Moses had made, because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it. The bronze serpent was called Nehushtan.

Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before or after his time. – 2 Kings 1:3-5 NLT

King Sennacherib saw Hezekiah’s removal of the pagan shrines as an affront to Judah’s god. Being a polytheist, he didn’t understand the concept of a single deity who demanded the undivided worship of His people. But it may be likely that Sennacherib was addressing the unspoken fears of the people of Judah, who were wondering if Hezekiah’s reforms had actually angered the false gods they used to worship. Had his radical efforts to rid the realm of all gods but Yahweh been the cause of all their problems? The Assyrian king seems to stir the embers of this smoldering spirit of unrest among the people. And the three royal representatives of King Hezekiah, sensing that Sennacherib’s words were having their planned impact, asked that the rest of the negotiations be conducted in Aramaic rather than Hebrew, so the people on the walls might not understand what was being said. But the Assyrian emissary refused, choosing instead to address the citizens of Judah directly.

Then the chief of staff stood and shouted in Hebrew to the people on the wall, “Listen to this message from the great king of Assyria! This is what the king says: Don’t let Hezekiah deceive you. He will never be able to rescue you. Don’t let him fool you into trusting in the Lord by saying, ‘The Lord will surely rescue us. This city will never fall into the hands of the Assyrian king!’” – Isaiah 36:13-15 NLT

Again, the primary emphasis of his message was focused on trust. He warned them not to trust Hezekiah, the Egyptians, or their own God. They couldn’t rely on their king, their allies, or their deity. Sennacherib was removing every single source of support and security. In the place of their unreliable resources, King Sennacherib offered peace and security.

“Make peace with me—open the gates and come out. Then each of you can continue eating from your own grapevine and fig tree and drinking from your own well.” – Isaiah 36:16 NLT

“I will arrange to take you to another land like this one—a land of grain and new wine, bread and vineyards.” – Isaiah 36:17 NLT

Notice what he is doing. He is offering the people of Judah what God had promised to give them. In a sense, he was setting himself up as their god, their source of peace, prosperity, sustenance, and security. And that is what the enemy always does. He appeals to our innate need for divine help, but he sets himself up as the solution to all our needs. It should not escape our notice that Sennacherib and the Assyrians were a threat to the security of Judah. They had proven themselves to be the enemy of the people of God, having already destroyed 46 other cities of Judah. And now they were camped outside the walls of Jerusalem, a massive army prepared to add this city to their long list of conquests, and determined to make its citizens its slaves.

The offers of Sennacherib were well-disguised lies. He told the people of Judah what they wanted to hear, offering them escape through surrender, and rescue through compromise. If they would only trust him, they would live. But God would have the people of Judah trust Him alone. No matter how bad things may have appeared, no matter how attractive the enemy’s lies may have sounded, only God could deliver the salvation for which they longed. Listening to the lies of the enemy would result in slavery, not salvation. Trusting in the promises of Satan always brings death, not life. So God calls out to us to remain faithful to Him, to place our trust in Him alone.

“If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.” – Isaiah 7:9 ESV

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

 

When God Gets Left Out.

1 As soon as all the kings who were beyond the Jordan in the hill country and in the lowland all along the coast of the Great Sea toward Lebanon, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, heard of this, they gathered together as one to fight against Joshua and Israel.

But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, they on their part acted with cunning and went and made ready provisions and took worn-out sacks for their donkeys, and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes. And all their provisions were dry and crumbly. And they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the men of Israel, “We have come from a distant country, so now make a covenant with us.” But the men of Israel said to the Hivites, “Perhaps you live among us; then how can we make a covenant with you?” They said to Joshua, “We are your servants.” And Joshua said to them, “Who are you? And where do you come from?” They said to him, “From a very distant country your servants have come, because of the name of the Lord your God. For we have heard a report of him, and all that he did in Egypt, 10 and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon the king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth. 11 So our elders and all the inhabitants of our country said to us, ‘Take provisions in your hand for the journey and go to meet them and say to them, “We are your servants. Come now, make a covenant with us.”’ 12 Here is our bread. It was still warm when we took it from our houses as our food for the journey on the day we set out to come to you, but now, behold, it is dry and crumbly. 13 These wineskins were new when we filled them, and behold, they have burst. And these garments and sandals of ours are worn out from the very long journey.” 14 So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord. 15 And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them. Joshua 9:1-15 ESV

Joshua and the people of Israel had successfully conquered two Canaanite cities. They had defeated and destroyed Jericho and Ai, and their reputation had already begun to spread. News of these two victories made its way to the surrounding nations, creating a sense of fear in the hearts of their people. And the Israelites had celebrated these two victories by traveling to Mount Ebal, where they erected an altar to God and recommitted themselves to the covenant God had given to Moses on that very same spot. As part of the ceremony at Mount Ebal, Joshua inscribed the law of Moses on the stones of the altar and had read the words it contained to the people of Israel. There are some who believe that Joshua had written and read the Book of Deuteronomy in its entirety. Others believe Joshua limited his writing and recitation to chapters 27 and 28. But his reading of the law would have likely included the blessings and the curses found in Deuteronomy. The law was conditional. It required obedience and failure to obey came with serious consequences. But obedience would be accompanied by blessing.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 ESV

God had promised to go with them and to cause their enemies to flee before them.

“The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways. – Deuteronomy 28:7 ESV

But God had made it clear that, if they disobeyed His law, things would not go well for them.

“The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them. And you shall be a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.” – Deuteronomy 28:25 ESV

And one of the key requirements He placed on them was a ban from making treaties or alliances with the people who lived in the land of Canaan.

30 Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land. 31 And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates, for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. 32 You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. 33 They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.” – Exodus 23:30-33 ESV

God not only required their full obedience to His law, but that they remain set apart and segregated from the nations who dwelt in the land of Canaan. He knew that any interactions they had with the various people groups that occupied the land would end up in the compromising of their convictions. They would be turned away from serving God alone. God knew that the greatest threat to His people was not the military might of the inhabitants of Canaan, but the presence of their false gods. The Israelites didn’t need to worry about succumbing to the superior strength of their foes, but of falling for their false gods. Because if that happened, they would find God to be their enemy. And He had made it very clear what would happen if they disobeyed His law or failed to remain faithful to Him as their God.

47 Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, 48 therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you. – Deuteronomy 28:47-48 ESV

And yet, in spite of all these warnings, Joshua and the people of Israel quickly found themselves in a situation where their commitment to God’s law was put to the test. Because of their growing reputation as a powerful force to be reckoned with, the people of Gibeon decided to do something to protect themselves against this growing threat. They devised a plan to deceive Israel into making an alliance with them. They were smart enough to recognize that Israel was on a search-and-destroy mission, having completely annihilated both Jericho and Ai. They weren’t simply defeating their enemies, they were eliminating them. And the people of Gibeon knew that they would be next unless they did something. That Israel would make an alliance with one of the nearby nations who occupied the land was highly unlikely, so the Gibeonites devised an elaborate ruse that allowed them to appear as if they had traveled from a distant land in search of an alliance with the Israelites.

They knew that if they could trick the Israelites into making an alliance or peace treaty with them, that it would bind them permanently – even after the truth of their deception become known. The treaty, once signed, would become an unbreakable agreement between the two nations, effectively preventing Israel from obeying God’s command to destroy all the nations of the land of Canaan. And the most revealing and regretable lines in this passage are verses 14 and 15.

14 So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord. 15 And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them. – Joshua 9:14-15 ESV

The Israelites took the bait. They bought the lie. All because they didn’t take the matter to God. They made a cardinal mistake. They listened to the lies of the enemy and didn’t seek the wisdom of God. Joshua made peace with the Gibeonites, signing a binding covenant that would eventually place the people of Israel in the awkward position of having to put their allegiance to the people of Gibeon ahead of their allegiance to God.

Joshua got taken. He got bamboozled by the enemy and fooled into making an alliance that had been expressly forbidden by God. His failure to seek God’s counsel resulted in him breaking God’s law. He listened to the lies of the enemy and heard what he wanted to hear. The alliance seemed like a good idea at the time, but would one day come back to haunt him. And it all could have been prevented had Joshua sought the counsel of God. It’s interesting to note that the people of Gibeon met Joshua at the Israelite camp at Gilgal. So, the people of God had left Mount Ebal and returned to their original location. They had left the altar and the law behind, both literally and figuratively. They had met with God at Mount Ebal, but now they were back at Gilgal and Joshua’s actions indicate that he neglected to make seeking God a permanent and pervasive part of his daily experience. Worshiping God at the altar is worthless if you’re going to abandon His influence over your life when you leave the altar.

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

Trusting A Lie.

In that same year, at the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the fifth month of the fourth year, Hananiah the son of Azzur, the prophet from Gibeon, spoke to me in the house of the Lord, in the presence of the priests and all the people, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord‘s house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. I will also bring back to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the 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 spoke to Hananiah the prophet in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord, and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord make the words that you have prophesied come true, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles. Yet hear now this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.”

Then 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 from the neck of all the nations within two years.” But Jeremiah the prophet went his way.

Sometime after the prophet Hananiah had broken the yoke-bars from off the neck of Jeremiah the prophet, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Go, tell Hananiah, ‘Thus says the Lord: You have broken wooden bars, but you have made in their place bars of iron. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have put upon the neck of all these nations an iron yoke to serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and they shall serve him, for I have given to him even the beasts of the field.’” And Jeremiah the prophet said to the prophet Hananiah, “Listen, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. 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.’”

In that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died. Jeremiah 28 ESV

Welcome to the Prophet Wars. Ali and Frazier had their Thrilla in Manilla, but this chapter chronicles the epic showdown between two prophets of God on the grounds of the temple itself. Jeremiah had just finished delivering his message from God to the ambassadors of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon, warning them that God was sending Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, to defeat and enslave them along with Judah. They were to return home and tell their respective kings to submit to God’s will by submitting to the authority of the Babylonians. If they obeyed God’s will for them, they would remain in the land and survive the Babylonian occupation. If they chose to ignore God’s will, they would be destroyed. This same warning was given by Jeremiah to King Zedekiah of Judah. If you want to live, submit to the yoke of the king of Babylon and his people” (Jeremiah 27:12 NLT). And as a visual aid, Jeremiah was commanded by God to wear a wooden yoke when he delivered his messages. Jeremiah’s words and the yoke around his neck served as a one-two punch, a potent combination that was sure to have left an impact on the people who were in the hearing of his message. And news of Jeremiah’s pronouncement spread.

Some time later, Jeremiah found himself facing off with another prophet: Hananiah the son of Azzur, the prophet from Gibeon. The text informs us that “One day in late summer of that same year—the fourth year of the reign of Zedekiah” (Jeremiah 28:1 NLT), Hananiah showed up at the temple. It seems that Jeremiah was required by God to show up at the temple wearing his yoke and delivering his message for a prolonged period of time. This had not been a one-and-done situation. Day after day, Jeremiah found himself strapping on his yoke and heading to the temple to pronounce judgment on the people of God and the surrounding nations. But on this day, he would run into competition, in the form of Hananiah. With the priests, the people and Jeremiah watching and listening, Hananiah delivered his message:

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will remove the yoke of the king of Babylon from your necks. Within two years I will bring back all the Temple treasures that King Nebuchadnezzar carried off to Babylon. And I will bring back Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the other captives that were taken to Babylon. I will surely break the yoke that the king of Babylon has put on your necks. I, the Lord, have spoken!’” – Jeremiah 28:2-4 NLT

Like a well-aimed punch, Hananiah’s words hit Jeremiah hard. They directly contradicted the message Jeremiah had been delivering. Here was another recognized prophet of God delivering a message that was dramatically and diametrically opposed to the one Jeremiah had given. Claiming to be speaking on behalf of God, Hananiah was calling Jeremiah a liar and deceiver. He struck at the very heart of Jeremiah’s message, insinuating that it was a lie and not the words of the Lord. And you can imagine the impact this had on the people. While Jeremiah had prophesied that the captivity of the people of Judah in Babylon would last 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11-12), Hananiah was countering with a prediction of a mere two years. Who do you think the people were prone to believe? Which message was more attractive to the the crowds standing in the temple courtyard that day?

But Jeremiah, while staggered by what Hanahiah had to say, was far from down and out. His counter-punch was classic:

“Amen! May your prophecies come true! I hope the Lord does everything you say. I hope he does bring back from Babylon the treasures of this Temple and all the captives.” – Jeremiah 28:6 NLT

Even he had to admit that Hananiah’s words were appealing. He even hoped they would come true. But he knew they would not. Jeremiah was convinced that he was right and Hananiah was wrong. The attractiveness of Hananiah’s message did not make it true, no matter how much the people wanted to believe it. Presenting God as totally gracious and kind, Hananiah gave the people a one-dimensional view of God that failed to recognize His holiness and hatred for sin. And Hananiah, removing the yoke from Jeremiah’s neck and breaking it, attempted to illustrate that, in his view, God was going to break the yoke of the Babylonians, even allowing the exiled King Jehoiachin to return from captivity.

But it was all a lie. Hananiah may have legitimately believed what he was saying, but that did not make it true. His incomplete understanding of God may have led him to speak what he believed to be the words of God, but he was wrong. And Jeremiah reminded Hananiah and the people of the ultimate determining factor when judging the veracity of a prophet of God.

“…a prophet who predicts peace must show he is right. Only when his predictions come true can we know that he is really from the Lord.” – Jeremiah 28:9 NLT

Hundreds of years earlier, God had given the people of Israel His word concerning those who claimed to speak in His name.

“But if any prophet presumes to speak anything in my name that I have not authorized him to speak, or speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet must die. Now if you say to yourselves, ‘How can we tell that a message is not from the Lord?’— whenever a prophet speaks in my name and the prediction is not fulfilled, then I have not spoken it; the prophet has presumed to speak it, so you need not fear him.” – Deuteronomy 18:20-22 NLT

Jeremiah and Hananiah could stand there exchanging verbal punches all day long. They both claimed to be speaking for God, but only one of them could be right. And the only way to prove who was right was to wait and see what was going to happen. Time would be the ultimate determiner of who was really the prophet of God. And in an attempt to portray himself as the winner of this battle of words, Hananiah removed the yoke from around Jeremiah’s neck, broke it and pronounced the words:

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Just as this yoke has been broken, within two years I will break the yoke of oppression from all the nations now subject to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.’” – Jeremiah 28:11 NLT

Jeremiah simply walked away. To the priests and people standing in the temple courtyard, it would have looked like a hands-down victory for Hananiah. He had won the day. Jeremiah had abandoned the ring in defeat. Or had he?

Soon after this confrontation with Hananiah, the Lord gave this message to Jeremiah: “Go and tell Hananiah, ‘This is what the Lord says: You have broken a wooden yoke, but you have replaced it with a yoke of iron. The Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: I have put a yoke of iron on the necks of all these nations, forcing them into slavery under King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. I have put everything, even the wild animals, under his control.’” – Jeremiah 28:12-14 NLT

Hananiah may have won the battle, but he was going to lose the war. His bold claim had only made matters worse. He had broken Jeremiah’s wooden yoke, but he had done nothing to change the will of God concerning Judah. Hananiah could deny and contradict the word of God, but it would not change the outcome. In fact, Jeremiah would be the prophet to have the last word:

“Listen, Hananiah! The Lord has not sent you, but the people believe your lies. Therefore, this is what the Lord says: ‘You must die. Your life will end this very year because you have rebelled against the Lord.’” – Jeremiah 28:15-16 NLT

And the chapter ends with the sobering words: “ In that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died” (Jeremiah 28:17 ESV). Less than two months later, the false prophet was dead. And two years later, his predictions of the return of King Jehoiachin and the fall of Babylon would be proven false. His pleasant-sounding prophecies of God’s grace and mercy without repentance would be exposed as what they were: Lies. And God would hold Hananiah personally responsible for causing the people to trust a lie. Those who claim to speak for God must understand that He will hold them accountable. Saying what you hope are the words of God does not make them so. Uttering what you prefer to be God’s will does not obligate God to bring it about. It is better to remain silent than to speak on behalf of God when you haven’t really heard from Him.

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

You Are A Burden.

“Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord. I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal? Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another. Behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who use their tongues and declare, ‘declares the Lord.’ Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, declares the Lord, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them. So they do not profit this people at all, declares the Lord.

“When one of this people, or a prophet or a priest asks you, ‘What is the burden of the Lord?’ you shall say to them, ‘You are the burden, and I will cast you off, declares the Lord.’ And as for the prophet, priest, or one of the people who says, ‘The burden of the Lord,’ I will punish that man and his household. Thus shall you say, every one to his neighbor and every one to his brother, ‘What has the Lord answered?’ or ‘What has the Lord spoken?’ But ‘the burden of the Lord’ you shall mention no more, for the burden is every man’s own word, and you pervert the words of the living God, the Lord of hosts, our God. Thus you shall say to the prophet, ‘What has the Lord answered you?’ or ‘What has the Lord spoken?’ But if you say, ‘The burden of the Lord,’ thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have said these words, “The burden of the Lord,” when I sent to you, saying, “You shall not say, ‘The burden of the Lord,’” therefore, behold, I will surely lift you up and cast you away from my presence, you and the city that I gave to you and your fathers. And I will bring upon you everlasting reproach and perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten.’”– Jeremiah 23:23-40 ESV

These verses contain God’s continuing indictment of the false prophets of Judah. One of the things He exposes is their misunderstanding of His nature. Evidently, they saw God as limited in His power. He was not all-knowing or all-seeing. Therefore, He was not always cognizant of their sinful activities. He could be deceived and tricked into believing the people were more spiritual than they really were. Perhaps this is linked to their concept that God occupied the Holy of Holies within the Temple. It could be that they saw God as somewhat restricted in nature and unable to be everywhere at the same time. On top of that, the very fact that they had to confess their sins to God could have left them with the false impression that He was unaware of their sinful activity until they told Him. But God let’s them know that their views of Him are false.

“Am I a God who is only close at hand?” says the Lord.
    “No, I am far away at the same time.” – Jeremiah 23:23 NLT

This has to do with the transcendence and immanence of God. These false prophets had a one-dimensional view of God. They saw Him as near and dear. He had always been with them and had always taken care of them. He was their God and they were His people. And while this was true, they had left out the fact that God is transcendent. He is the God of the universe who is unhindered by time and space. He is omnipresent – able to be everywhere at the same time. He is omniscient – all knowing and fully aware of all that is going on at all times and in all places, including within the hearts of men. And He is omnipotent – all powerful and unlimited in His ability to accomplish whatever He sets out to do. They had a truncated view of God. He had become small and relatively impotent in their minds. For generations, they had gotten away with their sinful activities with no apparent repercussions. But God warned them:

“Can anyone hide from me in a secret place?
    Am I not everywhere in all the heavens and earth?” – Jeremiah 23:24 NLT

He had not been fooled. He knew of each and every thing they had done in defiance of Him and He was fully capable of dealing with their sin by handing out the justice they deserved.

These men had been claiming to speak for God. They had supposedly experienced dreams in which they had received revelations from God. Whether they had actually had dreams or simply claimed so is unclear. It was common for God to speak to His prophets through dreams and visions. But the dreams these men had were false because they had not come from God. The content of their dreams painted a false view of God. In their minds, God was not going to judge the people of Judah, but bless them. He wasn’t going to send the Babylonians to defeat them. He was going to miraculously deliver them from their enemies, just as He had done so many times before. But the thing they were overlooking was the sinful state of the people. They were minimizing the seriousness of their spiritual condition. And in doing so, they were painting a false view of God as an all-loving, always tolerant God who either was oblivious to their sins or unable to do anything about them. Their false prophecies concerning God were causing the people to continue to turn their backs on God.

By telling these false dreams, they are trying to get my people to forget me…” – Jeremiah 23:27 NLT

Their words, compared to those of Jeremiah, were like straw versus grain. One had no nutritional value. It provided no lasting benefit, except for dumb animals. The truth which Jeremiah proclaimed, while difficult to accept, would prove to be beneficial in the long-run.  He was calling the people to repentance. He was warning them of God’s pending judgment. He was telling them the truth, not only about the future, but about God. He was holy, powerful, righteous, all-knowing, all-seeing, and obligated by His very nature to deal with the sins of His people.

And just in case the false prophets don’t get it, God makes His view of them quite apparent. “I am against these false prophets. Their imaginary dreams are flagrant lies that lead my people into sin. I did not send or appoint them, and they have no message at all for my people” (Jeremiah 23:32 NLT). They have made themselves His enemies. By speaking falsehood in His name and leading His people to sin against Him, they have turned God against them.

In the closing section of this chapter, God declares that these false prophets had become a burden to Him. While they saw the messages of Jeremiah as burdensome and hard to accept, God lets them know that they are the real problem. They saw the covenant of God as too difficult to keep. They viewed God’s commands as onerous and burdensome. They declared Jeremiah’s messages as objectionable and so they simply tossed them aside. But God told them, You are the burden, and I will cast you away” (Jeremiah 23:33 NET). They had become a burden to God, something God had stated through the prophet Isaiah:

“Do not bring any more meaningless offerings;
I consider your incense detestable!
You observe new moon festivals, Sabbaths, and convocations,
but I cannot tolerate sin-stained celebrations!
I hate your new moon festivals and assemblies;
they are a burden
that I am tired of carrying.” – Isaiah 1:13-14 NLT

Even earlier in the book of Jeremiah, God had declared, “I, the Lord, say: ‘You people have deserted me! You keep turning your back on me.’ So I have unleashed my power against you and have begun to destroy you. I have grown tired of feeling sorry for you!” (Jeremiah 15:6 NLT).

God was fed up. While they found His laws burdensome and too difficult to keep, He had become weary of putting up with their incessant rebellion against Him. And He had had His fill of people speaking on His behalf whom He had not sent. He had some sobering words for these people: “If any prophet, priest, or anyone else says, ‘I have a prophecy from the Lord,’ I will punish that person along with his entire family” (Jeremiah 23:34 NLT). God told the people that they should be concerned about what He was saying. They should want to know what God has said to them. “You should keep asking each other, ‘What is the Lord’s answer?’ or ‘What is the Lord saying?’” (Jeremiah 23:35 NLT). But they needed to listen to God’s word as spoken by God’s prophet. Jeremiah had spoken on behalf of God and had been confirmed by God as having been sent by Him. Anyone who contradicted the words of Jeremiah was contradicting the words of God, and they were to be ignored at all costs.

Today, we have those who are claiming to speak on behalf of God, but their words contradict the very words of God as found in Scripture. They deny the reality of hell, even though it is clearly taught in the Word of God. They deny the deity of Christ, while still claiming to be Christians. They debunk the resurrection of Christ, while promoting themselves as believers in Christ. These individuals are false prophets. They offer themselves up as representatives of God and present their words as having come from God. But they are liars and deceivers. Their words are false because they do not agree with the truth of God as found in the Word of God. And the same warning God gave to the false prophets of Judah applies to them:

“I will make you an object of ridicule, and your name will be infamous throughout the ages.” – Jeremiah 23:40 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