Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Encouraging Prophet vs. Discouraging Prophet

After the invasion, the Babylonians carried many Israelites away from their homes and families, along with the precious and valuable articles in God’s holy temple that they brought into the land of Babylon. In the midst of this chaos, two voices came up in Judah – one that’s encouraging and cheerful, and one that sounds discouraging and dispiriting.

The encouraging and cheerful one was spoken by the prophet Hananiah:
“This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the articles of the LORD's house that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon removed from here and took to Babylon. I will also bring back to this place Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah and all the other exiles from Judah who went to Babylon,’ declares the LORD, ‘for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.’” - Jeremiah 28:2-4

The discouraging and dispiriting one was spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“...This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Tell this to your masters: With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please. Now I will hand all your countries over to my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; I will make even the wild animals subject to him. All nations will serve him and his son and his grandson until the time for his land comes; then many nations and great kings will subjugate him.’

‘If, however, any nation or kingdom will not serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon or bow its neck under his yoke, I will punish that nation with the sword, famine and plague,’ declares the LORD, ‘until I destroy it by his hand....’” – Jeremiah 27:4-8

Both prophets claimed to be the spokesperson of God, but the prophecies delivered two totally contrary messages. In the midst of a war, what the king, the army and the people need is encouragement, so the prophet Hananiah’s message gotta be from God, isn’t it? However, the history proves Jeremiah the true prophet from God, as for Hananiah – he was cursed by God for his wickedness, and died within few months.

So what is wrong with Hananiah’s encouraging, inspiring and cheerful message?

First, it is false. In the Old Testament prophetic books, God again and again warned Israel to beware of the false prophets. The false prophets prophesied only what the king and the people loved to hear, as in Isaiah 30:10, “They say to the seers, ‘See no more visions!’ and to the prophets, ‘Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusion. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!’” In another word, Israel refused the true prophets because Israel wanted to do things her own way, and she wanted nothing to do with God’s way. This, therefore, leads to my second point.

Second, it leads to destruction. When God spoke harshly through the real prophets, He was actually offering Israel the chances to repent. Through the forthtelling of horrifying disasters, God warned Israel her consequences of continuing in her idolatrous, adulterous, unjust and prideful way. However, the instant relief which the false prophecies offered numbed the king and the people, and it eventually led the nation into exile.

Do the true and false prophets still exist in today’s world? I think so, although I have never encountered any of them myself. Nevertheless, in our everyday life, we are probably our own false prophets and corrupted kings. Sometimes when we want something to work our ways so badly, we can almost see things happening as we wished. We tell ourselves and we let people tell us the words and thoughts that sound encouraging, inspiring and stimulating, but we ought to ask ourselves – are they truthful? Or are they sugar coated lies?

Most importantly, do we trust God enough to believe that He is in control? Even when it was Israel’s wickedness that enraged God, still God said to Israel before the exile, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:1-2)

Wouldn’t God’s grace be all the more with us the justified new covenant people? And shouldn’t we be all the more brave when facing trials, and all the more courageous when doing what is right in God’s eye? What seem discouraging and dispiriting at the moment may very well be exactly God’s path that leads to abundant life.

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