Jeremiah 28 – Broken Yokes and Iron Yokes
A. Hananiah and the broken yoke.
1. (1-4) Hananiah contradicts Jeremiah.
And it happened in the same year, at the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the fourth year and in the fifth month, that Hananiah the son of Azur the prophet, who was from Gibeon, spoke to me in the house of the LORD in the presence of the priests and of all the people, saying, “Thus speaks the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, saying: ‘I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two full years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the LORD’s house, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. And I will bring back to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, with all the captives of Judah who went to Babylon,’ says the LORD, ‘for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.’”
a. At the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah: Zedekiah was the puppet king put on the throne of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. In this season, Nebuchadnezzar was distracted by problems in other parts of his empire. Judah and some of the surrounding nations thought it was a smart time to rebel against what seemed to be a weakened king of Babylon. In Jeremiah 27, the prophet spoke to a gathering of representatives of those kingdoms, who came to Zedekiah to plot their strategy.
b. Hananiah: This prophet and son of a prophet didn’t like Jeremiah’s gloomy message to the gathered kings (Jeremiah 27:1-11). Jeremiah came to them wearing the yoke an animal would use, to show that they would remain subjected to Nebuchadnezzar and their dreams of successful revolt would be unfulfilled.
i. “Hananiah’s name means ‘Yahweh has been gracious.’ It was an appropriate name for a prophet who believed strongly, if mistakenly, that Judah’s fortunes would soon be restored.” (Thompson)
ii. Who was from Gibeon: Hananiah came from a place with a reputation for deception and violence. “It had a number of important historical associations. The Gibeonites had deceived the Israelites in Joshua’s day (Joshua 9:1-15). It was the scene of a contest between Saul’s men and David’s men (2 Samuel 20:12-17). Here Joab killed Amasa (2 Samuel 20:8-10).” (Thompson)
iii. “He was a native of Gibeon, the modern El-Jib, five miles northwest of Jerusalem. It was one of the priestly cities; so, like Jeremiah, Hananiah may have been a priest (cf. Joshua 21:17).” (Feinberg)
c. I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon: Hananiah spoke in the name of the LORD, contradicting the message of Jeremiah recorded in the previous chapter. Jeremiah said they would be under the yoke of the king of Babylon; Hananiah said the LORD had broken the yoke.
d. I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the LORD’s house: Hananiah’s supposed prophecy explained that because the power of Nebuchadnezzar had been broken, the vessels of the temple would be returned, King Jeconiah would return, along with all the captives of Judah who went to Babylon. All this would happen within two full years. This was a big, dramatic message – something the frightened people of Judah would love to hear.
i. “Hananiah predicted a return of the captives and the temple vessels within two years, emphasizing the time element by putting it first.” (Feinberg)
ii. “No doubt Hananiah’s message was very popular. It was bold, patriotic, and uplifting. Whose church would you rather go to?” (Ryken)
iii. “Men who follow simply their own thoughts, or are deeply dyed with the spirit of society around, are apt to prophesy smooth things to such as live selfish and worldly lives.” (Meyer)
iv. Nevertheless, this was another direct contradiction to Jeremiah’s previous prophecy. When Jeremiah prophesied exile and captivity, Hananiah prophesied return and restoration. They both spoke in the name of the LORD, and it seemed that they could not both be right.
2. (5-6) Jeremiah responds with an amen.
Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and in the presence of all the people who stood in the house of the LORD, and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! The LORD do so; the LORD perform your words which you have prophesied, to bring back the vessels of the LORD’s house and all who were carried away captive, from Babylon to this place.”
a. Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke: Jeremiah responded publicly to Hananiah. Hananiah had publicly contradicted him, essentially calling Jeremiah a false prophet; therefore, Jeremiah publicly responded.
b. Amen! The LORD do so: The words to come would make it clear that Jeremiah did not believe this, but he began by agreeing with Hananiah that it would be nice if it were true. If the vessels of the LORD’s house and the exiled captives came back, Jeremiah would be happy. He would be glad to be wrong.
i. “Jeremiah’s reply to this is an ironic ‘Yes indeed! Would that God might do so’, probably conveying his sense of doubt by his tone of voice.” (Harrison)
ii. “When someone tries to minimize the judgment of God, it is appropriate for the Christian to say, ‘I hope you’re right.’” (Ryken)
3. (7-9) Jeremiah responds by defending his prophetic ministry.
“Nevertheless hear now this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people: The prophets who have been before me and before you of old prophesied against many countries and great kingdoms—of war and disaster and pestilence. As for the prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet comes to pass, the prophet will be known as one whom the LORD has truly sent.”
a. The prophets who have been before me and before you: Jeremiah had wished Hananiah’s words were true. Then he challenged Hananiah, starting with the word nevertheless, and reminding everyone that most of the prophets before them had negative, unwelcome messages.
i. “Namely, Joel, Amos, Hosea, Micah, Zephaniah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and others; all of whom denounced similar evils against a corrupt people.” (Clarke)
ii. “These verses should not be interpreted to mean that the entire message of all the prophets before Jeremiah was one of judgment. Jeremiah’s meaning was that the usual message of the earlier prophets was one of doom, and that when he spoke of judgment he was more in the line of the predecessors than Hananiah.” (Thompson)
b. As for the prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet comes to pass: Jeremiah didn’t deny that sometimes God’s messengers bring a word of peace. He simply said that such a word should be believed when it actually comes to pass, especially when it has a time associated with the prophecy (within two full years, 28:3).
4. (10-11) The broken yoke.
Then Hananiah the prophet took the yoke off the prophet Jeremiah’s neck and broke it. And Hananiah spoke in the presence of all the people, saying, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Even so I will break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the neck of all nations within the space of two full years.’” And the prophet Jeremiah went his way.
a. Hananiah the prophet took the yoke off the prophet Jeremiah’s neck and broke it: Jeremiah had this yoke when he spoke to King Zedekiah and the messengers from other nations (Jeremiah 27:1-3). Apparently, some days or weeks later (Jeremiah 27:1 and 28:1) he walked the temple courts still wearing the yoke, as a public illustration of his prophecy. Hananiah didn’t like the message of the yoke, so he took it from Jeremiah and broke it.
i. “A visual prophecy like the yoke made a great impression on the people. So Hananiah took the yoke from Jeremiah’s neck and smashed it, to show that Nebuchadnezzar’s power would be shattered in two years.” (Feinberg)
b. Even so I will break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar: Hananiah said this in the name of the LORD. He illustrated his message that the revolt against Nebuchadnezzar would succeed by breaking the yoke and explaining the meaning of the broken yoke, again giving a time measure for it to happen.
i. It seems plain from the words and actions of Hananiah that he really believed his prophetic word was a message from the Lord. He seemed sincere and invested in the message. Yet none of that made it true, and in fact it was not true.
c. The prophet Jeremiah went his way: By all appearances, Hananiah won this public dispute between the prophets. He seemed to overpower Jeremiah, he said the last word, and Jeremiah walked away without a response. In this case, appearances were not true and neither was Hananiah.
B. Yokes of wood, yokes of iron.
1. (12-14) A yoke of iron to replace a yoke of wood.
Now the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, after Hananiah the prophet had broken the yoke from the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “Go and tell Hananiah, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD: “You have broken the yokes of wood, but you have made in their place yokes of iron.” For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “I have put a yoke of iron on the neck of all these nations, that they may serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; and they shall serve him. I have given him the beasts of the field also.”’”
a. You have broken the yokes of wood, but you have made in their place yokes of iron: We aren’t told how Jeremiah felt when he left the confrontation with Hananiah at the temple. Yet later, God gave him a message to send to Hananiah, who could break the wood yoke Jeremiah wore as a prophetic illustration but could never break the yokes of iron God would set upon those who opposed Nebuchadnezzar.
i. Notably, Jeremiah said, you have made in their place yokes of iron. The people made their own yokes, much stronger than the yokes of wood God appointed for them. “The inference is that the people, having rejected the wooden yoke of submission laid upon them for their sins, would find the indestructible iron yoke of servitude infinitely more uncomfortable.” (Cundall)
ii. The yokes of iron can be understood as God’s stricter discipline upon His people. If we resist God’s gentler discipline – yokes of wood – we may find ourselves under much more unpleasant yokes of iron. It is far better to surrender the better yoke of Jesus Christ (Matthew 11:28-30).
iii. The yokes of iron may also be expressed in sinful habits that we allow to enslave us. Yokes are instruments of servitude. “Do you think it will be easy to serve the base-born parts of your nature, when you set them on the throne and tell them to govern you?” (Maclaren)
iv. “I will ask you a question. You have got rid of the yoke of wood: how about your shoulders now? Your Sundays, are they very pleasant? Your family, is it very happy? Your mind, is it very much at ease? Oh, no!” (Spurgeon)
v. Happily, the power of God can break even an iron yoke – if we will only turn to Him and trust Him again.
b. I have put a yoke of iron on the neck of all these nations: Their proposed rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar would fail. They would serve him, and Nebuchadnezzar’s dominion would be so complete that he would rule over the beasts of the field.
i. “A symbolic wooden yoke could be broken, but the Babylonian overlordship was certain.” (Cundall)
2. (15-17) The word to Hananiah.
Then the prophet Jeremiah said to Hananiah the prophet, “Hear now, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, but you make this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, I will cast you from the face of the earth. This year you shall die, because you have taught rebellion against the LORD.’” So Hananiah the prophet died the same year in the seventh month.
a. Hear now, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, but you make this people trust a lie: Jeremiah felt it important to directly and publicly tell Hananiah that whatever his intentions, he was a false prophet. Worse, he harmed the people of Judah, leading them to trust in a lie – a lie that they wanted to believe, because it was a much more positive message than Jeremiah’s.
i. “This was a bold speech in the presence of those priests and people who were prejudiced in favour of this false prophet, who prophesied to them smooth things. In such cases men wish to be deceived.” (Clarke)
ii. “What we might describe as wishful and unorthodox teaching, God more briefly calls a lie (Jeremiah 28:15) and rebellion (Jeremiah 28:16). He condemns it not only as offending against truth and against his authority, but as doing a fatal disservice to the hearers: you have made this people trust in a lie (Jeremiah 28:15).” (Kidner)
iii. You make this people to trust in a lie: “How much of human prophesying is covered by that word! All those philosophies which attempt to interpret life without the light of revelation — all so-called theologies, which result from speculations which invalidate the revelation; make men trust in lies, and that because they are the utterances of men not sent by Jehovah.” (Morgan)
b. This year you shall die:This was God’s message to Hananiah. He gave a time measure for his prophecy, so God gave him a time measure in return: Hananiah would die within the year, and he did.
i. He died in the seventh month, only two months after this confrontation (Jeremiah 28:1). Two months is not a long time, but it is plenty of time to repent if one has any inclination to repent.
ii. “God, in mercy, gave him about two months, in which he might prepare to meet his Judge. Here, then the true prophet was demonstrated, and the false prophet detected. The death of Hananiah, thus predicted, was God’s seal to the words of his prophet; and must have gained his other predictions great credit among the people.” (Clarke)
c. Because you have taught rebellion against the LORD: It is impossible to say what Hananiah’s intentions were, but it is not impossible to measure the effect of his lies. Whether he meant to or not, he taught rebellion against the LORD, and God would stop him from continuing to do so.