Jeremiah 28 Hananiah’s Falsehood And Doom.
Prophets, unlike the other offices of priest and king, did not automatically get passed down to the next generation, so that their descendants just took over from the ministry of a parent. Prophets were those who were entrusted with receiving and then giving the very words of God. They were chosen and called directly by the LORD, men and women. In this story about Hananiah, we see that he is not referred to initially as a prophet, but rather as “the son of Azur the prophet” (v. 1). For anyone familiar with the above, hearing that he was the son of a prophet would raise the question – “So what?” Being the son of a prophet meant nothing as far as their own calling or lack thereof. Nevertheless, he was not afraid to speak to Jeremiah, one who was a true prophet, in the presence of the priests and all the people, as though he were a prophet. He no doubt knew the right words to speak, and so he said, “Thus speaks the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel,” and in so doing bears false witness from the very beginning (v. 2a).
Hananiah spoke a message that the nation’s leaders and people wanted to hear, that the LORD had “broken the yoke of the king of Babylon” (v. 2b). This speech took place in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, among those who had not yet followed the others into exile, for the exile occurred in stages. So the people could not verify that the yoke had in fact been broken as they couldn’t check their smart phones or turn on a TV. Had they been able to do so, they might have seen the beginnings of the collapse of the king’s reign. Hananiah knew that when it came to predicting the future, the sine qua non of a true prophet was that everything they uttered must come to pass. To this end he stated what he said were the very words of the LORD that “within two full years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the LORD’s house” (v. 3). In so doing he was feeding the belief that they had in the viability of the temple itself, as though somehow the LORD of hosts was bound to it. This was a lie which Jeremiah had earlier exposed (Ch. 7).*
Not only did Hananiah say that the LORD said he would restore the temple ministry, but he also said that the LORD would restore Judah’s monarchy (v. 4). Now that Hananiah had spoken as one claiming to be a prophet, he would be referred to as such, and be made subject to the tests that any true prophet must pass. Hence also Jeremiah’s sarcastic ‘Amen!’ The fact was that Jeremiah himself would have loved nothing better than to see Hananiah’s words fulfilled, but as one who stood in the LORD’s council, and who had actually received his words from the LORD, he knew that Hananiah was speaking lies (vv. 5-6). To this end Jeremiah reminds the people of the prophetic and canonical test, that a prophet’s prediction must come to pass (vv. 7-9 Cf. Dt. 18:22). It is important that one also not miss the word ‘sent’, for a true prophet was one who was sent out from the council presence of the LORD. We should also not forget that all this time Jeremiah was walking around with a yoke on his neck, to symbolize the exile, as the LORD commanded (27:2).
To add his own drama to the occasion, Hananiah took the yoke off Jeremiah’s back and broke it, symbolizing his false message that the King of Babylon’s yoke on them would be as well (vv. 10-11a). “And the prophet Jeremiah went his way” (v. 11b). It was time for another word from the LORD to Jeremiah, a word to Hananiah himself. That word was that the yoke of wood would be replaced by a yoke of iron, that such would be the rule of Nebuchadnezzar over all the nations, including Judah (vv. 12-14). Jeremiah had been sent by the LORD once again, and he called Hananiah out as one who had not been sent, and instead he sought to “make this people trust in a lie” (v. 15). Therefore, the LORD would not wait for the false two years of Hananiah, during which time the people would perish in believing the lie, but instead the LORD would take his life that very year, for his lie was also teaching rebellion against the LORD of hosts (v. 16). “So Hananiah the prophet died the same year in the seventh month.” (v. 17)
*“Since just over four years had already passed (v. 1), Hananiah predicts they will be gone no more than seven years. Contrast Jeremiah’s seventy years (25:11, 12).” (NGSB. 1197) Seven being a biblical number for perfection or fulfillment, also makes Hananiah’s death in the seventh month ironic.