Margins of Miraculous – Hananiah’s Folly by Shawn Blythe

We all want to hear good news.  More specifically we all want to hear good news from God.  We want that clear message that our loved ones will be healed, our families will be protected, and our problems will be resolved.  We want to be reassured of financial success, long life, and good health.  We want the equivalent of hearing Jesus tell us to wash in the pool of Siloam and our sight will be restored (John 9). We want the blessings of God to rain down on us.

On the other hand, nobody wants to hear bad news.  We don’t want to hear that illness will lead to death or that financial hardships will not pivot to fiscal stability.  News that challenging times will continue, or that the problems of today will get worse are poorly received or even rejected.  We don’t want to be told that our “wound is incurable, [our] injury beyond healing” (Jeremiah 30).  The lack of receptivity to bad news was the challenge that Jeremiah faced during the reign of Zedekiah.

Zedekiah’s reign as King of Judah came at a historically bad time for Judah.  The Babylonians had effectively conquered the land.  His nephew (King Jehoiachin) had already been taken captive to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar.  There was not much left of Jerusalem after at least two sieges by Babylon culminating in the removal of everything precious in the Temple and the exile of anybody of any value to the victors (i.e. soldiers, craftsmen, artisans, etc.)  Per II Kings 24 “only the poorest people were left”.

This is where we find King Zedekiah.  He is facing a disheartened people and had no personal relationship with God on which to base his rule.  As a result, he looks to others for guidance and receives two very different messages ‘from God’.  The first is the repeated message of doom and gloom from Jeremiah.  Jeremiah prophesied an extended punishment for the sins of Judah.  He not only confirmed the current hard times but prophesied harder times ahead if the people did not repent.  In contrast with this prophecy of judgment and prolonged servitude to the Babylonians, Hananiah (Jeremiah 28) was delivering a message of hope.   His was a message of short-term deliverance.  The exiles and King Jehoiachin would return and the riches of the temple would be restored to their rightful place.  The oppressive bondage perpetrated by the Babylonians would be broken.  This is clearly a message the people wished to receive.  It is a message that requires no repentance, little judgement and promises a short-term deliverance from the current situation.

While Jeremiah was parading around with a yoke around his neck symbolizing the prolonged subservience to Babylon, Hananiah was prophesying deliverance within two years.  At one point they both find themselves in the temple at Jerusalem.  Hananiah repeats his prophecy of deliverance while Jeremiah challenges the source (i.e., it’s only a message from God if it comes true).  Hananiah responds by removing the wooden yoke from Jeremiah’s neck and breaking it as his own symbol of the yoke of oppression being broken.  Jeremiah apparently sees no benefit to further discussion and departs.

The rulers and people listening to these two diametrically opposed messages have a choice to make.  Which news do they believe?  In our own lives we face a very similar situation.  There is a secular song lyric that I have always found interesting which challenges how we speak with God and more importantly, how we interpret His response:

“Tell me again how you can talk to God
And how he tells you what to do
And how you’re sure it’s not your own voice
Disguised as something absolute” – Birdtalker (from the song “Nothing’s Right”)

Although I may be offended by the insinuation, I think we can all agree it’s a legitimate question.  When we pray, whose response is it that we hear?  Is it the message that we want to hear?  In other words, are we taking our own wishes and desires and wrapping them up as a message from God?  After all, if it’s just ME saying something that’s one thing (particularly if it’s something I want anyway).  But if it’s a message from God, who can argue with that?

It is easy to blame Hananiah for being a false prophet and he suffers the consequences as we will see.  But it is worth considering, how many times have we prayed – and in the absence of an immediate positive response filled the silence with a response of our own liking?  We convince ourselves of the veracity of the message and are filled with relief that our prayers have been answered.  We wait in anticipation of the promise while God is likely shaking his head in disbelief at our willingness to put our words into our Creator’s mouth.

The people of Judah were likely no different.  Do they wish to believe a prophecy of hope and short-term deliverance (two years) or do they wish to believe a prophecy of continued servitude and long-term deliverance (seventy years)?  From a human standpoint, it is easy to see why people would be swayed to the first message.

But as the messenger who led the people astray, Hananiah bore personal liability for this false testimony.  Shortly after leaving Hananiah in the temple, Jeremiah returned to him with a new message from God.  God explicitly confirmed that He was not the author of Hananiah’s message and as a consequence Hananiah would die within the year.  Two months later he was dead.

I would like to believe that none of us would purposefully lead others with a false testimony.  However, I must admit it is easy to believe our own.  I am quick to believe news that is beneficial to me.  I dismiss the refinement that prolonged hardship may bring.  I cast aside the possibility that my misfortune may be the result of my own doing.  I reject the thought that God may be using a situation for His own purposes.  I pray to God and before the silence has even had a chance to settle in, I fill the void with my own wishes, desires and judgement regarding what is fair or right for me.  

I purposefully replace my faith in things hoped for, and substitute evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11) with scenarios more convenient for me.  I place my own message above words of the Almighty God.  In fact, the only difference between Hananiah and me is that I am only fooling myself. 

Why do we do this?  Scripture tells us over 70 times (depending on how you count!) to WAIT on the Lord.  We are given a long list of examples in the Hebrews’ passage above of people who listened to God rather than competing voices and were ultimately blessed for it.  I can look back at my own life with the perspective of time and see the examples of grace in those situations where I can silence my own voice long enough to hear God’s guidance.  We know the overwhelming sense of peace that comes with knowing that you have placed yourself in the arms of your Creator.  We remember how the inconveniences and cares of this world fade away as you we consider the infinite love of our God and Savior.  There is no question in my mind that God is speaking to us.  The question is are we listening?

We are cautioned not to boast of our wisdom, riches, or strength (Jeremiah 9).  But of course, this is exactly what we do when we place our own words into the mouth of God.  We exchange eternal wisdom for temporary expedience.  We ignore the ‘cloud of witnesses’ (Hebrews 11) and chart our own path with self-serving guidance.  This is the same trap to which Hananiah fell victim.  When we hear a voice whispering in our ear, we should pay careful attention to consider whose voice it is.