A Prophet Like Me

15 “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— 16 just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17 And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. 20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. – Deuteronomy 18:15-22 ESV

The preceding verses contain a God-ordained ban on “anyone who practices divination, an omen reader, a soothsayer, a sorcerer,  one who casts spells, one who conjures up spirits, a practitioner of the occult, or a necromancer” (Deuteronomy 18:10-11 NLT). There is a special significance to these particular pagan practices because they were often used as a means of discerning the future or of obtaining divine guidance.

According to the NET Bible Study Notes, divination was “a means employed to determine the future or the outcome of events by observation of various omens and signs.” An omen reader was, in essence, a fortune-teller who supposedly possessed the power to predict the future based on the reading of signs. A soothsayer was someone who had the power to divine the future. The pagans believed that anyone who possessed the ability to cast spells could control the future. They also placed high stock in those who claimed to be able to communicate with the spirit world because these people could gain insights that were inaccessible to others. The term, “practitioner of the occult” is actually one word in Hebrew and it refers to a wizard or what we might refer to as a false prophet. The word actually means “knower” and is a reference to their knowledge or insight into the unknown. Finally, a necromancer was someone who had the ability to communicate with the dead.

All of these practices were closely associated with the pursuit of supernatural guidance or assistance. Which is why Moses bans their practice among the Israelites. The people of God were to have one source of divine input, and that was to be God Almighty, and God had chosen to communicate His will through Moses. With Moses having been banned by God from entering the land of Canaan, there was a greater-than-normal risk that the people of Israel would be tempted to use pagan practices to gain divine insight. So, speaking through Moses, God assured His people that He would continue to speak to them through men whom He would appoint.

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you—from your fellow Israelites; you must listen to him.” – Deuteronomy 18:15 NLT

God would not leave them without a means of receiving His guidance and direction. And Moses reminded them that this promise of a God-appointed prophet was in keeping with the request they had made at Mount Sinai.

All the people were seeing the thundering and the lightning, and heard the sound of the horn, and saw the mountain smoking—and when the people saw it they trembled with fear and kept their distance. They said to Moses, “You speak to us and we will listen, but do not let God speak with us, lest we die.” – Exodus 20:18-19 NLT

The powerful manifestations of God’s glory had left the Israelites paralyzed by fear. So, they had demanded that Moses act as God’s mouthpiece, communicating His divine will and protecting them from God’s holiness. And God had given His divine approval of this plan, assuring Moses, “What they have said is good. I will raise up a prophet like you for them from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth and he will speak to them whatever I command” (Deuteronomy 18:17-18 NLT).

The prophet of God was required to speak on behalf of God and was not allowed to communicate anything other than the word of God. In a sense, a prophet was like a preacher, disseminating divine wisdom to the people of God. He was expected to be a truth-teller, speaking only what He had received directly from God Himself. And since the prophet was God’s primary means of communication, the people were obligated to listen to and obey all that the prophet said. And Moses warned that God would hold the people personally responsible for refusing to heed the words of His prophets.

This dire warning would become particularly pertinent centuries later, when God sent His prophets to warn of coming judgment if they did not repent. God would even warn His prophet, Jeremiah, that his words would fall on deaf ears.

“Tell them all this, but do not expect them to listen. Shout out your warnings, but do not expect them to respond.” – Jeremiah 7:27 NLT

God would promise to give Jeremiah the words to speak, but also the strength to withstand the anger of the people when they chose to reject what he had to say.

“But you, Jeremiah, get yourself ready! Go and tell these people everything I instruct you to say. Do not be terrified of them, or I will give you good reason to be terrified of them. I, the Lord, hereby promise to make you as strong as a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall. You will be able to stand up against all who live in the land, including the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and all the people of the land. They will attack you but they will not be able to overcome you, for I will be with you to rescue you.” – Jeremiah 1:17-19 NLT

The role of the prophet was a divinely-appointed one, and while anyone could claim to be speaking on behalf of God, there were serious repercussions for those who did so and proved to be lying. They were to be put to death. And the litmus test for determining the veracity of someone’s claim to be a prophet was whether what they prophesied actually happened.

“…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 18:22 NLT

So, Moses assured the people that they would have no reason to seek the pagan forms of divination as a means of knowing the future. God would continue to speak to them through prophets whom He would appoint. Their only obligation was to listen to what the prophets had to say.

And, there is a final aspect of this passage that must not be overlooked. Two separate times Moses states, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you” (Deuteronomy 18:15 ESV). The tense is in the singular. And while the context of the verses clearly indicates that there would be many prophets who would follow Moses, there is a sense in which these verses predict the coming of a particular prophet, one who would show up in the same way that Moses had. This prophet would be a deliverer, just as Moses had been. He too would be sent by God to rescue the people from captivity, but rather than deliverance from slavery in Egypt, this prophet would provide release from slavery to sin and death.

The author of Hebrews provides a comparison between Moses and this future deliverer/prophet who would be similar to, but greater than Moses.

For he has come to deserve greater glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house deserves greater honor than the house itself! For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken. But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. We are of his house, if in fact we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope we take pride in. – Hebrews 3:3-6 NLT

God promises to send “a prophet” who will speak on His behalf.

“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.” – Deuteronomy 18:18-19 ESV

The apostle John would later write of Jesus, the promised prophet of God:

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. – John 1:10-13 NLT

And John would later quote Jesus Himself as He provided clarification for what God had meant when He told the people of Israel that for all those who refused to believe His prophet, He would “require it of him.”

“God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.” – John 3:17-18 NLT

God would not leave His people without direction. He would continue to guide them and provide for them. But they were obligated to obey the words of His prophets. And the day would come when He would send His final prophet, Jesus Christ, in order to deliver the most important message ever delivered by God through the lips of man.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6 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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Where Are the Watchman?

All you beasts of the field, come to devour—
    all you beasts in the forest.
10 His watchmen are blind;
    they are all without knowledge;
they are all silent dogs;
    they cannot bark,
dreaming, lying down,
    loving to slumber.
11 The dogs have a mighty appetite;
    they never have enough.
But they are shepherds who have no understanding;
    they have all turned to their own way,
    each to his own gain, one and all.
12 “Come,” they say, “let me get wine;
    let us fill ourselves with strong drink;
and tomorrow will be like this day,
    great beyond measure.”

The righteous man perishes,
    and no one lays it to heart;
devout men are taken away,
    while no one understands.
For the righteous man is taken away from calamity;
   he enters into peace;
they rest in their beds
    who walk in their uprightness.
Isaiah 56:9-57:2 ESV

The opening verses of this chapter feature God calling the people of Judah to bring their behavior in line with their beliefs. They claimed to be His chosen people, but their conduct did little to support their God-ordained status. But in light of all that God has promised to do for them in the future, by way of restoration and redemption, He called them to live lives that reveal their gratitude and reflect their desire for holiness.

But now, God points His divine finger at one of the primary sources of Judah’s stubborn refusal to live as the chosen people of God. It was their so-called spiritual leaders. Using blatantly satirical language, Isaiah describes them as blind watchman.  They were responsible for the spiritual care of God’s people, but they were no better than a security guard without sight. His visual impairment would make him unsuitable for the requirement of his job.

And God used the image of the watchman repeatedly in His messages to His people. He told the prophet Ezekiel:

Son of man, give your people this message: ‘When I bring an army against a country, the people of that land choose one of their own to be a watchman. When the watchman sees the enemy coming, he sounds the alarm to warn the people. Then if those who hear the alarm refuse to take action, it is their own fault if they die. They heard the alarm but ignored it, so the responsibility is theirs. If they had listened to the warning, they could have saved their lives. – Ezekiel 33:2-5 NLT

A watchman had one job to do. He was to watch and then warn of coming danger. And this imagery of the watchman was used by God to refer to the spiritual leaders of His people. God had commissioned Ezekiel as His watchman and warned him of the dangers associated with his calling.

“Son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel. Whenever you receive a message from me, warn people immediately. If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible for their deaths. If you warn them and they refuse to repent and keep on sinning, they will die in their sins. But you will have saved yourself because you obeyed me.” – Ezekiel 3:17-19 NLT

But the watchmen of Judah were spiritually blind and, therefore, unqualified for their role. Their inability to see made them ignorant of the dangers that faced the people of Judah. They were without knowledge of the truth. And many of these men, proclaiming themselves to be spokesmen for God, were filling the ears of the people of God with lies. They were painting a rosey picture of the future and telling the people that all would be well, because they were God’s prized possession. But God had repeatedly warned His people to ignore the words of these liars.

“Do not listen to these prophets when they prophesy to you,
    filling you with futile hopes.
They are making up everything they say.
    They do not speak for the Lord!
They keep saying to those who despise my word,
    ‘Don’t worry! The Lord says you will have peace!’
And to those who stubbornly follow their own desires,
    they say, ‘No harm will come your way!’” – Jeremiah 23:16-17 NLT

Isaiah describes these men as “silent watchdogs that give no warning when danger comes. They love to lie around, sleeping and dreaming” (Isaiah 56:10 NLT). In other words, they are not only like blind security quards, they are like sleeping watchdogs, who doze through the impending danger, dreaming that all is well. They are worthless and unreliable. But, despite their inability to provide adequate security, these lazy dogs demand to be fed, exhibiting insatiable appetites that are never satisfied.

Isaiah compares them to shepherds who don’t know how to do their job. They were shepherds in name only, lacking in the basic knowledge of what it takes to care for the flock of God. And God delivered some harsh words to these men through the prophet Ezekiel.

“What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.” – Ezekiel 34:2-6 NLT

And Isaiah echoes God’s words, accusing the shepherds of Judah of  “all following their own path and intent on personal gain” (Isaiah 56:11 NLT). They could have cared less for the spiritual state of the flock under their care. They were much more concerned about their own comfort and personal pleasure.

“Come,” they say, “let’s get some wine and have a party.
    Let’s all get drunk.
Then tomorrow we’ll do it again
    and have an even bigger party!” – Isaiah 56:12 NLT

And, as a result of their lousy leadership, Isaiah declares, “The righteous man perishes” (Isaiah 57:1 NLT). This seems to be a statement regarding the diminishing number of righteous people in the land of Judah. The Hebrew word translated as “perishes” can also mean “vanishes.” The godly were decreasing in number. The quantity of the faithful was on the decline, with many of them disappearing from the land through captivity. And for those who remained in the land, they would have to endure the wrath of God because of His shepherds had refused to what God had called them to do. These blind, greedy, lazy, self-absorbed individuals were bringing the wrath of God on the people of God because they refused to do the will of God.

And yet, Isaiah provides a much-needed reminder that the truly righteous need not worry, even if their lives end in death. Because “those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die” (Isaiah 7:2 NLT). Remember the offer God made to His people in chapter 55: “Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life” (Isaiah 55:3 NLT). A pleas was made to the righteous and the wicked to return to God.

Let the wicked change their ways
    and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
    Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously. – Isaiah 55:7 NLT

While the self-proclaimed spiritual leaders of Judah were busy lining their own pockets and satisfying their own selfish desires, God was pleading with His wayward people to return to Him. He desired that the righteous remain so, even in the face of His coming judgment. But He also longed for the lost and wandering sheep of His flock to return to Him.

The sorry state of affairs in Judah was a combination of many factors that included the sins of the people, but also the silence of the shepherds. They had failed to do their job. Rather than telling the people what they needed to hear, they told them lies that conveyed what the people preferred to hear. And God takes this breach of duty seriously.

“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…” – Jeremiah 23:1 NLT

Today, as then, many of God’s people are like sheep without a shepherd. They are being led by men and women who are in it for selfish gain. They preach messages that are pleasant to hear, but that lack the authority of God. Rather than act as God’s watchmen, they prefer the role of spiritual cheerleader. And they find themselves preaching to a people who “no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching” and who “follow their own desires and … look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3 NLT). Far too many of our pulpits are filled with false prophets, who are filling the people with futile hopes (Jeremiah 23:16). .
God is looking for faithful shepherds who will stand in the gap and declare His message of salvation and call to righteousness. May it not be said of our generation what God declared against the people in Ezekiel’s day.

“I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall…but I found no one.” – Ezekiel 22:30 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

Everyone Is Godless.

The Lord has sent a word against Jacob,
    and it will fall on Israel;
and all the people will know,
    Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria,
    who say in pride and in arrogance of heart:
10 “The bricks have fallen,
    but we will build with dressed stones;
the sycamores have been cut down,
    but we will put cedars in their place.”
11 But the Lord raises the adversaries of Rezin against him,
    and stirs up his enemies.
12 The Syrians on the east and the Philistines on the west
    devour Israel with open mouth.
For all this his anger has not turned away,
    and his hand is stretched out still.

13 The people did not turn to him who struck them,
    nor inquire of the Lord of hosts.
14 So the Lord cut off from Israel head and tail,
    palm branch and reed in one day—
15 the elder and honored man is the head,
    and the prophet who teaches lies is the tail;
16 for those who guide this people have been leading them astray,
    and those who are guided by them are swallowed up.
17 Therefore the Lord does not rejoice over their young men,
    and has no compassion on their fatherless and widows;
for everyone is godless and an evildoer,
    and every mouth speaks folly.
For all this his anger has not turned away,
    and his hand is stretched out still.Isaiah 9:8-17 ESV

Isaiah has just prophesied about the light that would dawn, illuminating the lands of Naphtali and Zebulun in the northern region of Galilee, and eliminating the spiritual darkness in which they would exist. But that great day was in the far-distant future. In the meantime, the darkness would continue to increase because the people of God were refusing to honor Him. It was going to get far worse before it got better.

Isaiah makes it clear that God’s anger is against all the tribes by referring to them as Jacob, the man who 12 sons comprised the 12 tribes of Israel. But this particular warning was going to be against the ten tribes that made up the northern kingdom of Israel. It is important to remember that the nation of Israel had been split in two by God after the reign of Solomon. His unfaithfulness to God, exhibited in his erection of idols to false gods, had led God to divide his kingdom in half. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin comprised the southern kingdom of Judah, and the remaining tribes became the northern kingdom of Israel. And not long after the split, Jeroboam, the king of Israel had chosen to make his own false gods in the form of golden calves and erect them in the cities of Dan and Bethel.

Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one. – 1 Kings 12:30 ESV

The apostasy of Israel increased over time, and led to God’s eventual determination to punish them. And Isaiah warns them that they must repent or face the wrath of God.

But their greatest problem was their pride and arrogance, which had led them to create their own gods. They didn’t need Yahweh. Instead of relying on Him for help, they had made alliances with pagan nations like Syria. They were operating in their own power and according to their own wisdom. And they displayed an over-confidence in their ability to survive even the judgment of God.

“We will replace the broken bricks of our ruins with finished stone,
    and replant the felled sycamore-fig trees with cedars.”
 – Isaiah 9:10 NLT

Their prideful confidence in their own abilities would bring ever-increasing judgment from God. They would find themselves surrounded by enemies, sent by God, to punish them for their rejection of Him as their God.

The Syrians from the east and the Philistines from the west
    will bare their fangs and devour Israel.
But even then the Lord’s anger will not be satisfied.
    His fist is still poised to strike. – Isaiah 9:12 NLT

And here is the saddest part of the story. In spite of God’s fully justified punishment of them, they will refuse to repent. They will stubbornly stick to their rebellious ways, continuing to reject God, the very one who had called them and formed them into a nation to begin with.

For after all this punishment, the people will still not repent.
    They will not seek the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. – Isaiah 9:13 NLT

This incredible display of stubborn obstinance should not surprise us. It is displayed throughout the Scriptures, as mankind continually bows its back and digs its feet in the ground, arrogantly stiff-arming any offer from God of a relationship with Him. What makes this case so remarkable is that it involves the people of God, the descendants of Abraham – the very ones God had promised to bless if they would only remain faithful to Him.

But they had refused and, as a result, God was going to take His judgment to a whole new level, removing those in whom they relied for leadership.

Therefore, in a single day the Lord will destroy both the head and the tail,
    the noble palm branch and the lowly reed.
The leaders of Israel are the head,
    and the lying prophets are the tail. – Isaiah 9:14-15 NLT

Isaiah points out two distinct groups: The leaders of Israel and the prophets of Israel. The political leaders were misguiding the people by encouraging an attitude of self-reliance. Rather than calling the people to turn to God, they were modeling a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps mindset that was based on a false sense of self-confidence.

And the prophets of Israel, rather than speaking the truth of God, were telling the people what they wanted to hear. Unlike Isaiah, who was willing to deliver tough news, these men were contradicting the warnings of God, telling the people that all was well and everything would turn out okay. The apostle Paul warned Timothy of the rise of this very kind of mindset in their own day.

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. – 2 Timothy 4:3 NLT

Trusting in man rather than God is always a dangerous game to play and the Scriptures make that point very clear.

Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there. – Psalm 146:3 NLT

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in people. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. – Psalm 118:8-9 NLT

And the leaders of Israel were going to be hold accountable by God for their actions.

For the leaders of the people have misled them.
    They have led them down the path of destruction.
– Isaiah 9:16 NLT

The problem with lousy leadership is that it negatively impacts the lives of all those under its care. The misguided leader ends up dragging the innocent and the defenseless down the perilous path he has chosen to walk. The misguided leaders of Israel had actually led the people under their care to sin against God. To the point to where Isaiah was able to say: “For they are all wicked hypocrites, and they all speak foolishness” (Isaiah 9:17 NLT). Like a single cancer cell, one godless leader can infect the people of God, spreading the devastating disease of rebellion through the whole body and bringing the judgment of God to bear. And like a physician facing an aggressive form of cancer in a patient, God will do whatever He has to do to eradicate the disease from among His people.

…even then the Lord’s anger will not be satisfied.
    His fist is still poised to strike. – Isaiah 9:17 NLT

This image of an angry, wrathful God is uncomfortable to most of us. It seems to contradict our understanding of His ever-present, irrepressible love. But the reality is that God’s wrath is an expression of His love. He cannot and will not allow the deadly disease of rebellion to exist in His people. He will talk the scalpel of His divine wrath, motivated by His love, and do radical and invasive surgery to remove it.

For the LORD corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. – Proverb 3:12 NLT

For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child. – Hebrews 12:6 NLT

I know, O LORD, that your regulations are fair; you disciplined me because I needed it.
 – Psalm 119:75 NLT

Though he slay me, I will hope in him… – Job 13:15 ESV

Remember what Isaiah said just prior to this statement regarding God’s coming judgment. A light was going to shine in the darkness. A day was coming when God would illuminate the people of Israel again and eliminate the darkness in which they lived. They had chosen to live in the dark. They had rejected the love of God. And while He would be forced to judge them for their rebellion, He would one day bring to them the light of the world in the form of His Son.

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

Fake Sheep With False Motives.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.– Matthew 7:15-20 ESV

Jesus has just discussed the narrow gate and the difficult path that provides access to the kingdom of God. And the numbers of those who choose that way are going to be few. But because the kingdom way is not a literal path, but a spiritual one, it will sometimes be difficult to tell who is actually walking along beside you. So, Jesus warns that there will be fakers and posers, even dangerous charlatans, whose sole motive will be to deceive and destroy those who have been approved by God. In the gospel of John, we have recorded the words of Jesus reiterating His claim to be the door or the narrow gate. He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:7-9 ESV). Not only had there been false Messiahs before Jesus arrived, there had been deceptive religious leaders who offered up a different form of salvation. And Jesus makes it clear that all these individuals had been motivated by Satan himself. Whether they realized it or not, these people were driven by demonic desires, not divine ones. Jesus went on to say, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV). Those who preach another form of salvation or a different means of achieving a right standing with God are essentially deceivers who will end up destroying all those who listen to their lies.

And here in His sermon on the mount, Jesus warns against “false prophets” who will attempt to disguise themselves as sheep in order to infiltrate the ranks of those who have been approved by God. They will appear to be fellow sojourners on the kingdom way, but will actually be out to do harm, not good. Jesus describes them as ravenous wolves, hungry predators with one thing in mind, feeding their own insatiable desires. So, how are we supposed to spot these dangerous deceivers? If they look like us and appear to be on the same path we are traveling, how will we be able to expose them? Jesus gives us a very simple way of knowing whether our fellow travelers are legitimate or not: Their fruit. He says, “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act” (Matthew 7:16 NLT). But wait a minute! If they are out to deceive, won’t they be disguising their true motives by emulating the right kind of behavior? Won’t they be smart enough to act just like sheep? The answer is, yes. Jesus will even address that issue in the very next verses. These people will act the part, but the key will be whether their fruit is in keeping with the will of God. We must always keep in mind that God sees our hearts. He knows what motivates our behavior. But we don’t have that capacity. We aren’t able to see into the heart of another human being. So, what are we to do? How are we to discern whether someone is truly a believer? Again, Jesus would tell us to look at their fruit. What is in the heart will ultimately show up as fruit. Jesus makes that perfectly clear later on in the book of Matthew.

“For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.” – Matthew 15:19 NLT

And here, in His sermon on the mount, Jesus comapres these false prophets to thorn bushes, thistles and diseased trees. They are incapable of producing true fruit. And the fruit we should be looking for is described for us in Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control… – Galatians 5:22-23 ESV

Thorn bushes don’t produce grapes. Thistles don’t bear figs. And you don’t get healthy fruit from a diseased tree. Ultimately, their true nature will become evident. The true condition of their hearts will be exposed. And in the book of Jeremiah, we read how God describes those who would deceive His children.

“Do not listen to these prophets when they prophesy to you,
    filling you with futile hopes.
They are making up everything they say.
    They do not speak for the Lord!
They keep saying to those who despise my word,
    ‘Don’t worry! The Lord says you will have peace!’
And to those who stubbornly follow their own desires,
    they say, ‘No harm will come your way!’” – Jeremiah 23:16-17 NLT

As we walk the Kingdom path, there will always be those who appear to be with us but who will actually be against us. They will attempt to deceive and distract us. They will be the ones who question why we take things so seriously and why we worry so much about spirituality. They will claim to love the Lord as much as we do, but will display a love for the world that reveals their true nature. Their commitment to the will of God will be minimal. Their reliance upon the Word of God will be spotty at best. They will do good deeds, but for the wrong motives. And, ultimately, their influence on the church will be harmful, not helpful. In the book of Jude, we read his warnings to a local congregation regarding these false prophets or teachers who had infiltrated their fellowship.

Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people. I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. – Jude 1:3-4 NLT

Jude goes on to describe their behavior in less-than-flattering terms:

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

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, he describes their sad state and even worse outcome:

But these people scoff at things they do not understand. Like unthinking animals, they do whatever their instincts tell them, and so they bring about their own destruction. What sorrow awaits them! – Jude 1:10-11 NLT

Jesus has already told us that “the way is hard that leads to life” (Matthew 7:14 ESV). The Kingdom life is not an easy one. It will have its moments of trials and difficulties. It will have its dark valleys. Even in the famous 23rd Psalm, we read David’s words describing the life of those who are led by the Shepherd:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me. – Psalm 23:4 ESV

It will not always be green pastures and still waters. There will be moments of sadness and seasons of despair. But God will be with us, guiding and comforting us. And Jesus would have us know that there will be so-called companions on our life’s journey who will not be what they appear. So, we must be discerning. Jesus would later give His disciples some invaluable advice as He prepared to send them out on their own.

Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. – Matthew 10:16 NLT

When all is said and done, the only way we have of discerning the true nature of those who claim to be fellow followers of Christ is to look at their fruit. And that means we must judge their behavior. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to sin or refuse to evaluate the true intentions of those who claim to be on our side. The risks are too great. The dangers are real. We must always remember that the thief intends to steal, kill and destroy. The false sheep have false motives. The fake followers have sinister plans. They will attempt to lead the sheep astray. They will try to undermine the gospel. They will minimize the will of God and replace it with the will of men. So, we must constantly evaluate one another based on the fruit of the Spirit. This kind of fruit can’t be replicated. It can be mimicked, but not manufactured. It can be faked, but not fabricated. And eventually, fake fruit will be exposed as what it is: unhealthy and undesirable.

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

Falsely Appealing.

1But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. 2 Peter 2:1-3 ESV

Wherever there is truth, you will always find falsehood. They are inseparable. When the truth of God shows up, the lies of the enemy are sure to follow. It has always been that way. Even in the earliest days of man’s existence, this battle between truth and falsehood was evident, as Adam and Eve were forced to decide between the words of God and those of Satan. Disguised as a serpent, Satan lured the first couple into questioning the veracity of God’s command concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He said, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1 ESV). Notice his strategy. He begins by attempting to confuse Eve over what God had actually said. She corrects Satan’s misrepresentation of God’s words by responding, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die’” (Genesis 3:2-3 ESV). But then, Satan begins his clever and crafty deception of the two innocent creatures God had created. He flatly states, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5 ESV). First of all, he contradicts the words of God, for God had clearly said, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17 ESV).

First, he rejected the word of God. Then he accused God of attempting to keep them from being like Him. He tried to convince them that God was denying them something that was rightfully theirs. He painted God as nothing more than a divine spoil sport who wanted to prevent them from being gods themselves. And the appeal of the fruit, mixed with the false promise of the enemy, was too much for Adam and Eve.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. – Genesis 3:6 ESV

They bought into the lie of the enemy, but rather than becoming like God, they became filled with guilt, shame, and fear. With their newfound knowledge of good and evil, they became aware of the reality of sin and all the baggage that came with it. Instead of the unbroken fellowship they had enjoyed with God, they now found themselves hiding from Him. They tried to cover their sin, blaming one another and, ultimately, blaming Satan. But God held them responsible for their sin, placing a curse on the two of them for having listened to the lies of the enemy and rejecting the truth of His words.

Peter fast-forwards to the days of the Israelites, long after the exodus, when they were living in the promised land given to them by God. He provides some historical context, indicating that “false prophets also arose among the people” of that day. During the Old Testament period, God spoke through prophets, providing them with His words to deliver to the people of Israel. But each and every time a prophet of God appeared on the scene, Satan sent a false prophet, who delivered a contradictory, yet highly appealing message. And the one common denominator found in the messages each of these false prophets declared was falsehood. They claimed to speak for God. They tried to get the people to believe that they had received their message directly from God. But they were lying. Whatever the prophet of God said, they would counter with contradictory messages, declaring, “Surely, God has not said”. False prophets have to discredit the true prophets of God. For their message to be received, false prophets must first undermine the credibility of God’s prophets, by causing the people to reject their message. And one of the main ways they did this was by telling the people what they wanted to hear. When God’s prophets spoke of judgment and discipline from the hand of God, the false prophets declared just the opposite: God’s blessing and mercy.

This tactic of twisting the words of God or presenting a more palatable alternative was still going on in Peter’s day. But rather than false prophets, it was being done by false teachers. Which is why Peter warns his readers, “there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1 ESV). And notice that Peter indicates that these false teachers would come from among them. Jesus had warned against this very danger.

15 “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. 16 You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act.” – Matthew 7:15-16 NLT

In the book that bears his name, Jude provides a similar warning.

…some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. – Jude 1:4 NLT

False teachers do their best work on the inside, disguising themselves as part of the family of God and giving every appearance of having been sent by God. That is what makes them so dangerous. And Peter warns, “Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality. And because of these teachers, the way of truth will be slandered” (2 Peter 2:2 NLT). False teachers will always find an audience to listen to their lies. There will always be those who are ready to hear what they have to say, regardless of the fact that what they say is not from God. Paul warned Timothy that a day was coming when people would seek out teachers who told them exactly what they wanted to hear.

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. – 2 Timothy 4:3 NLT

But what Peter wants us to understand is that there is a deadly danger associated with listening to the false teachers. What they have to say may sound appealing. Their words may come across as godly and spiritual, but the end result of listening to their falsehood is deadly. Jude describes them in very blunt terms.

12 …they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you. They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. 13 They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds. They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness. – Jude 1:12-13 NLT

Peter warns that many of these individuals are in it for the money. “In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money” (2 Peter 2:3 NLT). They are not out for the spiritual good of the people. Their motivation is purely selfish, aimed at amassing a large following, developing a powerful reputation, and lining their own pockets. In our day and age, they sell books, hold conferences, produce TV shows, and hawk their message to any and all who will hear it. And, sadly, they usually find a ready and receptive audience within the church. But Peter warns that “God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed” (2 Peter 2:3 NLT). God will not tolerate false teachers, so neither should we. We must see them as He does, as dangerously deceptive purveyors of pious-sounding platitudes that subtly contradict the Word of God. In Peter’s day, they were denying the reality of sin. They were promoting promiscuity and immoral behavior, stating that the body and the soul were separate, so whatever you did in the body didn’t matter. There were those who denied the resurrection of Jesus, stating that it was unnecessary. Others, who were Hebrews, were teaching that salvation was incomplete unless it included circumcision and adherence to the Mosaic law. False teachers come in all shapes and sizes and promote ideas of all kinds. Yet, what they all share in common is that their messages sound appealing and convincing. But they are lies. They deny the truth of God. The reject the gospel in its God-ordained form. And they all share that very basic tactic pioneered by Satan in the garden: Casting doubt on the Word of God. When Satan asked his questions, “Did God actually say?”, he was placing a seed of doubt in the minds of Adam and Eve, causing them to question the veracity of God’s word. And doubt leads to disbelief. Disbelief results in disobedience. And disobedience brings the discipline of God. 

 

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

2 Peter 1:16-21 ESV

The Three Stooges.

To Shemaiah of Nehelam you shall say: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: You have sent letters in your name to all the people who are in Jerusalem, and to Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah the priest, and to all the priests, saying, ‘The Lord has made you priest instead of Jehoiada the priest, to have charge in the house of the Lord over every madman who prophesies, to put him in the stocks and neck irons. Now why have you not rebuked Jeremiah of Anathoth who is prophesying to you? For he has sent to us in Babylon, saying, “Your exile will be long; build houses and live in them, and plant gardens and eat their produce.”’”

Zephaniah the priest read this letter in the hearing of Jeremiah the prophet. Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Send to all the exiles, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord concerning Shemaiah of Nehelam: Because Shemaiah had prophesied to you when I did not send him, and has made you trust in a lie, therefore thus says the Lord: Behold, I will punish Shemaiah of Nehelam and his descendants. He shall not have anyone living among this people, and he shall not see the good that I will do to my people, declares the Lord, for he has spoken rebellion against the Lord.’” Jeremiah 29:24-32 ESV

There were three individuals in Babylon who were making life difficult for Jeremiah back in Judah. They were all three part of the group of Judahites who were exiled to Babylon in the first wave of captives taken by Nebuchadnezzar. Two of them, Ahab son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah son of Maaseiah, were false prophets who were telling the exiles in Babylon that their stay there would be short. And this news was getting back to the people in Judah who, when they heard it, refused to listen to the words of Jeremiah. So, God called out Ahab and Zedekiah, letting them know that they would end up in the hands of Nebuchadnezzar himself.

“Their terrible fate will become proverbial, so that the Judean exiles will curse someone by saying, ‘May the Lord make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon burned alive!’” – Jeremiah 29:22 NLT

Their made-up, make-believe good news would turn out poorly for them. Not only would the people exiled in Judah remain in Babylon 70 years, Ahab and Zedekiah would lose their lives for lying in the Lord’s name. But their sins against God also included adultery. They were claiming to speak for God while breaking the law of God. And their words were in direct opposition to Jeremiah, the prophet appointed by God. And when they contradicted his words, they were guilty of calling God a liar and causing the people to turn against Him.

But they were not alone. There was yet another stooge in Babylon who was misleading the people in exile, but also attempting to disrupt things back in Judah. His name was Shemaiah and he too was a self-appointed prophet. When he had heard the content of Jeremiah’s initial letter to the exiles, he had responded with a letter of his own, addressed “to all the people who are in Jerusalem, and to Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah the priest, and to all the priests” (Jeremiah 29:25 ESV). In his letter, Shemaiah had strong words regarding Jeremiah and what should be done to him. He also told Zephaniah the priest that he was to replace Jehoiada as the chief priest over the temple.

“The Lord has appointed you to replace Jehoiada as the priest in charge of the house of the Lord. You are responsible to put into stocks and neck irons any crazy man who claims to be a prophet. So why have you done nothing to stop Jeremiah from Anathoth, who pretends to be a prophet among you? Jeremiah sent a letter here to Babylon, predicting that our captivity will be a long one. He said, ‘Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce.’” – Jeremiah 29:26-28 NLT

Essentially, he was attempting to disrupt Jeremiah’s ministry by launching a long-distance campaign against him. This self-appointed prophet was attempting to stage a coup all the way from Babylon. He wanted Jeremiah out of the way, locked up as a madman, and the only way he could see that happening was if he could put someone else in control of the temple where Jeremiah tended to deliver his messages. His hope was that Zephaniah would display a much stronger anti-Jeremiah sentiment and do something about removing him once and for all. What possessed him to believe that this strategy would be successful in thwarting the will of God is unclear. But he evidently was convinced that what Jeremiah was prophesying was not of God. He didn’t want to believe that Jeremiah’s message was true.

But things didn’t turn out quite as Shemaiah had planned. First of all, his letter to Zephaniah ended up in the hands of Jeremiah. It seems his hand-picked replacement for Jehoiada had reservations about Shemaiah’s grand plan and decided to inform Jeremiah. As a result, God gave Jeremiah a message to send to the people of Judah in Babylon concerning Shemaiah’s fate.

“Send an open letter to all the exiles in Babylon. Tell them, ‘This is what the Lord says concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite: Since he has prophesied to you when I did not send him and has tricked you into believing his lies, I will punish him and his family. None of his descendants will see the good things I will do for my people, for he has incited you to rebel against me. I, the Lord, have spoken!’” – Jeremiah 29:21-32 NLT

Ahab, Zedekiah and Shemaiah. These three men would discover the hard way what happens to those who claim to speak for God, but who offer up lies and half-truths. They were actually encouraging rebellion against God while claiming to speak on behalf of God. Their words were not from God. In fact, they were contradicting the messenger of God. They were denying the truth of Jeremiah’s words and in doing so, calling God a liar. Their distaste for Jeremiah’s message was real, but their rejection of it did nothing to change its efficacy or outcome. We may not like what the Word of God says, but refusing to listen to and obey it does not change the truth contained in it. While the news of 70 years of captivity was not appealing, it was actually good news. It meant that God was going to spare a remnant of the people of Judah and return them to the land of promise. He was not going to abandon them completely. But for men like Ahab, Zedekiah and Shemaiah, it was easier to believe a lie and hope that they would all return in less than two years. They preferred their man-made message to the word of God. They would rather believe a lie that ended in death than the truth that would result in life.

And that is the problem with the vast majority of people living in the world today. They would prefer to believe the lies of the self-appointed prophets of hope, who claim that science, education, the sexual revolution, socialism, bigger government, small government, or no government are the answers to mankind’s problems. When God says that the hope of the world is found in His Son, the false prophets attempt to shout Him down, refusing to accept His word as truth. When God accuses mankind of sin and rebellion against Him, and encourages them to seek salvation through His Son, the false prophets simply deny the reality of sin and offer up pseudo-saviors for the ills facing mankind. Even pastors, claiming to speak on behalf of God, present a false view of God. They present Him as all-loving and refuse to accept the idea that He would condemn anyone to eternal punishment. They deny the reality of hell. They downplay the significance of sin. They preach tolerance and promote peace at all costs. They refuse to call people to repentance. They resist the divine decree that all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. They declare Jesus to be nothing more than a moral role model, not a sinless Savior who gave His life as payment for the sins of mankind. And in doing so they deceive the people and declare God to be a liar. But, like Ahab, Zedekiah and Shemaiah, they will be proven wrong. Science is not our savior. Social welfare programs, while needed, will not redeem anyone from slavery to sin and eternal judgment. Tolerating any and all lifestyles may make others feel better about themselves, but it will do nothing to change the fact that they are alienated from God. The truth can be painful. It can be difficult to accept. But replacing the truth with a lie does not change its ultimate outcome. As Jesus told His disciples, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32 NLT). The truth of God is always preferable to the lies of men, because His truth is spoken in love. He always tells us what we need to hear, even when it is difficult for us to accept what He has to say.

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

The Leadership Void.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And God had heard his prayers and spared the people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Failure To Listen.

Concerning the prophets:

My heart is broken within me;
    all my bones shake;
I am like a drunken man,
    like a man overcome by wine,
because of the Lord
    and because of his holy words.
For the land is full of adulterers;
    because of the curse the land mourns,
    and the pastures of the wilderness are dried up.
Their course is evil,
    and their might is not right.
“Both prophet and priest are ungodly;
    even in my house I have found their evil,
declares the Lord.
Therefore their way shall be to them
    like slippery paths in the darkness,
    into which they shall be driven and fall,
for I will bring disaster upon them
    in the year of their punishment,
declares the Lord.
In the prophets of Samaria
    I saw an unsavory thing:
they prophesied by Baal
    and led my people Israel astray.
But in the prophets of Jerusalem
    I have seen a horrible thing:
they commit adultery and walk in lies;
    they strengthen the hands of evildoers,
    so that no one turns from his evil;
all of them have become like Sodom to me,
    and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.”
Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets:
“Behold, I will feed them with bitter food
    and give them poisoned water to drink,
for from the prophets of Jerusalem
    ungodliness has gone out into all the land.”

Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’”

For who among them has stood in the council of the Lord
    to see and to hear his word,
    or who has paid attention to his word and listened?
Behold, the storm of the Lord!
    Wrath has gone forth,
a whirling tempest;
    it will burst upon the head of the wicked.
The anger of the Lord will not turn back
    until he has executed and accomplished
    the intents of his heart.
In the latter days you will understand it clearly.

“I did not send the prophets,
    yet they ran;
I did not speak to them,
    yet they prophesied.
But if they had stood in my council,
    then they would have proclaimed my words to my people,
and they would have turned them from their evil way,
    and from the evil of their deeds. Jeremiah 23:9-22 ESV

In this next section Jeremiah is going to deliver a series of six different messages from God to the false prophets of Judah. But he begins with a description of his own feelings as a true and faithful prophet of God. He describes himself as heartbroken over the stubbornness of his people and the knowledge of their coming judgment by God. He also feels like a drunk man, who staggers under the influence of alcohol. But Jeremiah’s stupor is the result of God’s message. He reels from the impact of God’s message of Judah’s coming destruction. It was difficult for him to accept that his fellow Judahites were going to fall by the sword or be taken captive by the Babylonians. The thought of Jerusalem falling and the temple being destroyed left him in a state of confusion, like a man who has drunk too much wine. But Jeremiah was not alone. Even the land itself was experiencing the curse of God because of the sins of the people.

For the land is full of adultery,
    and it lies under a curse.
The land itself is in mourning—
    its wilderness pastures are dried up.
For they all do evil
    and abuse what power they have. – Jeremiah 23:10 NLT

And the most shocking thing about Judah’s spiritual condition was that the priests and prophets had played a major role. God described their actions as despicable and deplorable. Their was no excuse for what they had done in leading the people astray.

“Even the priests and prophets
    are ungodly, wicked men.
I have seen their despicable acts
    right here in my own Temple,”
    says the Lord. – Jeremiah 23:12 NLT

God makes it clear that these men would suffer on account of their failure to shepherd His flock well.  They had led the way in idol worship, even setting up idols in the temple that had been dedicated by Solomon to God. When King Josiah had attempted to institute religious reforms in Judah, he had to order the priests to remove all the idols from the temple and destroy them.

The king ordered Hilkiah the high priest, the high-ranking priests, and the guards to bring out of the Lord’s temple all the items that were used in the worship of Baal, Asherah, and all the stars of the sky. – 2 King 23:4 NLT

He removed the Asherah pole from the Lord’s temple and took it outside Jerusalem to the Kidron Valley, where he burned it. He smashed it to dust and then threw the dust in the public graveyard. He tore down the quarters of the male cultic prostitutes in the Lord’s temple, where women were weaving shrines for Asherah. – 2 Kings 23:6-7 NLT

He removed from the entrance to the Lord’s temple the statues of horses that the kings of Judah had placed there in honor of the sun god. The king tore down the altars the kings of Judah had set up on the roof of Ahaz’s upper room, as well as the altars Manasseh had set up in the two courtyards of the Lord’s temple. – 2 Kings 23:12 NLT

The very temple dedicated to Yahweh had been desecrated by the very ones who were dedicated to serve Him alone: the priests. And the prophets, who claimed to speak on God’s behalf, where just as bad. In fact, God describes them as being worse than the prophets of Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, which had fallen to the Assyrians because of their sins against Him.

“I saw that the prophets of Samaria were terribly evil,
    for they prophesied in the name of Baal
    and led my people of Israel into sin.
But now I see that the prophets of Jerusalem are even worse!
    They commit adultery and love dishonesty.
They encourage those who are doing evil
    so that no one turns away from their sins.
These prophets are as wicked
    as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah once were.” – Jeremiah 23:13-14 NLT

God labeled these men as being worse than the inhabitants of the two most infamous cities in Old Testament history. They were violently destroyed by God for their rampant immorality, and God says the sins of the false prophets are even worse. And like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, the false prophets would have to face the wrath of God.

“I will feed them with bitterness
    and give them poison to drink.
For it is because of Jerusalem’s prophets
    that wickedness has filled this land.” – Jeremiah 23:15 NLT

Their failure to speak for God was going to come back to haunt them. They had chosen to give the people words of false hope, telling them that God would not destroy them. They preferred to give the people messages that were more pleasing to hear. Unlike Jeremiah, they were not willing to tell the people of Judah what they desperately needed to hear. And to a certain degree, God was going to give them a taste of their own medicine, letting them feed on the same bitterness and poison they had given to the people.

God warns the people not to listen to these men. They were not His messengers. They didn’t speak for Him. And the pleasant-sounding messages they delivered were nothing but lies, fabricated by their own depraved imaginations. They were promising those rejecting the word of God that they would have know the peace of God. To those living in unrepentant sin, they assured that no harm would come to them. They were blatantly contradicting the words of God as spoken through Jeremiah. They were denying the truth of God and, essentially, calling God a liar. And God makes it painfully clear that their sin was one of presumption and pride. Because they bore the label as being prophets of God, they wrongly believed that their words were from God. But they had left out one thing: The need for intimacy with God.

“If they had stood before me and listened to me,
    they would have spoken my words,
and they would have turned my people
    from their evil ways and deeds.” – Jeremiah 23:22 NLT

They had not sought out God or attempted to listen to what He had to say. They were speaking what they knew of God from past experience. Their relationship with Him was not up-to-date or current. Their understanding was that, as the people of God, the Jews were assured the presence and protection of God. He would not leave them or forsake them. He would always forgive them because they were His chosen people. And this was the message they had delivered to the people. But they had been wrong, because they had not sought out the will of God. False prophets always provide false hope. Pastors who spend little time alone with God will have a difficult time speaking for God. Those who claim to be God’s messengers, but who rarely stand before Him to hear what he has to say, will always end up delivering spiritual-sounding words that may inspire, but that lack the inspiration of God.

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

Payback.

Now Pashhur the priest, the son of Immer, who was chief officer in the house of the Lord, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things. Then Pashhur beat Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the Lord. The next day, when Pashhur released Jeremiah from the stocks, Jeremiah said to him, “The Lord does not call your name Pashhur, but Terror on Every Side. For thus says the Lord: Behold, I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends. They shall fall by the sword of their enemies while you look on. And I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon. He shall carry them captive to Babylon, and shall strike them down with the sword. Moreover, I will give all the wealth of the city, all its gains, all its prized belongings, and all the treasures of the kings of Judah into the hand of their enemies, who shall plunder them and seize them and carry them to Babylon. And you, Pashhur, and all who dwell in your house, shall go into captivity. To Babylon you shall go, and there you shall die, and there you shall be buried, you and all your friends, to whom you have prophesied falsely.” Jeremiah 20:1-6 ESV

Pashtur was the priest in charge of the temple of God. And when he heard Jeremiah spouting his dire warnings against the people of Judah, he couldn’t let it go unchallenged. After all, Jeremiah had been warning the priests and civic leaders of Judah that they would be suffering for their role in the moral failure of the people of Judah. So, Pashtur beat Jeremiah and placed him in stocks. Now, whether Pashtur delivered the beating himself or had someone do it for me is not clear. But he was the one behind it. He was punishing Jeremiah and sending a not-so-subtle message to the people that Jeremiah was not in charge. He was subject to the spiritual leadership of Israel, and as chief officer in the house of the Lord, Pashtur saw himself as a keeper of the spiritual status quo in Judah.

After keeping Jeremiah in stocks for a day, Pashtur had him released, probably hoping that Jeremiah had learned his lesson and would refrain from prophesying doom and gloom on Judah any longer. But Pashtur was in for a surprise. Immediately upon his release, Jeremiah let Pashtur have it. First, he gave Pashtur a new name: Magomassabib, which meant “Terror on Every Side.” In a culture where a man’s name was highly significant and held special meaning, this was a particularly offensive statement from Jeremiah. But he wanted Pashtur to know that he would not escape God’s wrath. Just because he was a priest and the chief officer in charge of God’s house, did not mean he was going to have a get-out-of-jail-free card. He stood guilty, just like all the other people. When the Babylonian invasion began, he would find himself surrounded by terror. And he would stand back and watch in horror as the magnificent temple that Solomon had built was demolished and left in rubble. His nation would be devastated. His cushy job as chief officer would be a thing of the past. No more temple. No more sacrifices. No more priests. All Pashtur would be able to do is look on as the devastation took place all around him. He could deny Jeremiah’s words and attempt to shut him up through intimidation, but God’s would ultimately be done. And there was absolutely nothing Pashtur or anyone else could do about it. And the very man Pashtur tried to shut up had a few choice words directly from the Lord – just for him:

“As for you, Pashtur, you and all your household will go as captives to Babylon. There you will die and be buried, you and all your friends to whom you prophesied that everything would be all right.” – Jeremiah 20:6 NLT

He had bound Jeremiah in stocks, but God would have Pashtur bound in chains and taken captive to Babylon, where he would end his days. All his attempts to contradict the words of Jeremiah and paint a much more rosy picture for the people of Judah would prove futile and empty. He didn’t speak for God. He hadn’t heard from God. And He would be judged by God, just all the rest of the people.

Just because you carry a title that labels you as a representative of God doesn’t mean you speak for God. A man or woman who claims to speak on behalf of God, but who contradicts His word will be exposed as what they are: A liar and a false prophet. Telling people what they want to hear may make you popular with the people, but it won’t win you favor with God. Pashtur represented the rest of the spiritual leadership of Judah who had snubbed their nose at God and determined to present their on view of things. They sounded good. Their words were encouraging and exactly what everyone wanted to hear. All would be well. God was not going to punish them. But they were wrong. Seriously and sinfully wrong. And they were going to suffer for it. God will not be mocked – by priests, pastors, religious leaders, evangelists or anyone else who claims to be His spokesperson. Jeremiah may have found himself short of friends, hated by everybody in his community, and occasionally locked in stocks, but he knew he was doing what God had called him to do. He was speaking truth – the truth of God. And no other brand of truth was going to cut it. The people needed to repent, not be told they were okay. They needed to be confronted with their sins so they could repent of them. Not be encouraged to believe that they were God’s chosen people and therefore, exempt from His displeasure.

Pashtur may have thought he was in charge, but Jeremiah would have the last laugh. He would be proven true in the long run. Like Elijah and the prophets of Baal, only one would be left standing when all was said and done. False prophets, even those who claim to represent the one true God, will not be tolerated. Their destruction will be sure. It may not happen immediately. They may appear to have the hand of God on them for a time, but eventually their sins will catch up with them.

As believers, we must always stick to the Word of God and not attempt anyone to sell us another version of His Word. We have a responsibility to take what we hear preached or taught concerning the Word of God and compare it directly with the source. Just because someone claims to have a direct line to God doesn’t mean they do. If they are manipulating Scripture in order to force on it their own interpretations or expectations, they are wrong and deadly dangerous. They must be exposed and avoided at all costs. Give it time, and God will deal with them. Don’t dismay. Don’t get discouraged. Payback is coming.

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