A rival prophet called Hananiah confronts Jeremiah in public debate (28:1). He tells Jeremiah that God is going to break the yoke of Babylon, and return King Jehoiachin (Jeconiah) and the other exiles to Jerusalem (28:2–4).
Jeremiah welcomes Hananiah’s prophecy—if it is true. But the only way to know if a prophecy is true is to wait and see if it is fulfilled (28:5–9)! Hananiah is so angry at this sarcasm that he seizes the yoke from Jeremiah’s neck and breaks it (28:10). This, he says, is God’s sign that the yoke of Babylon will be broken within two years (28:11).
Later, Jeremiah visits Hananiah (28:12). He tells him that his prediction of a successful rebellion is not from God. Hananiah is guilty of preaching a lie (28:13–15). Jeremiah declares God’s judgment on Hananiah; within two months, the false prophet is dead (28:16–17).
The year 594/3, in which there was plotting of a revolt, must be assigned to both chapters 27 and 28, if one takes “of that same year” (28:1) seriously. Hananiah, whose name means “the Lord is gracious,” hailed from Gibeon, a town five miles northwest of Jerusalem (28:1–11). He is repeatedly called “prophet” (vv. 1, 5, 10, 12, 15, 17). Both Jeremiah and Hananiah speak in the name of the Lord Almighty. Hananiah’s announcement, however, directly contradicts Jeremiah’s (27:16–22). While both predict the return of temple furnishings (27:22; 28:3), it is the time of their return that is at issue: two years (so Hananiah) or seventy years (so Jeremiah—25:12; 29:10). Hananiah also announces Jehoiachin’s return. The people now hear conflicting interpretations of the yoke sign act; the onus for a decision about the true prophet is on the people.
Jeremiah proposes two tests for the accuracy of a prophecy. Former prophets, given similar societal conditions, prophesied disaster. Examples would be Amos (2:4), Hosea (4:6), and Isaiah (3:13–15). The first test then is one of consistency with tradition. A second test has to do with the fulfillment of a prediction. Hananiah meets Jeremiah’s symbolic action with one of his own: he breaks the yoke. In so doing he endorses the proposed revolt against Nebuchadnezzar.
Jeremiah Confronts the False Prophets (27:1–29:32). Early in Zedekiah’s reign Jeremiah warned the people not to believe the false prophets’ messages of hope and peace. In accordance with the Lord’s instructions, Jeremiah made a yoke and placed it on his neck. He then sent messages to the kings of the surrounding nations, informing them that Nebuchadnezzar would subjugate their lands. They were not to believe their lying prophets and diviners who were advocating resistance and predicting deliverance. Resistance would only bring disaster and exile. They should submit to Nebuchadnezzar’s authority (symbolized by the yoke) so that they might remain in their lands. The message was the same for Zedekiah. He should reject the messages of hope delivered by the false prophets, who were even promising that the temple articles already carried away to Babylon would be returned. Zedekiah should submit to Nebuchadnezzar’s yoke in order to spare the city and the temple further suffering and humiliation.
In that same year Hananiah, one of the false prophets, confronted Jeremiah in the temple (28:1). He declared that within two years the Lord would deliver Judah from the Babylonians, restore the temple articles, and return Jehoiachin and the other exiles. After expressing his personal desire that Judah might experience such blessings, Jeremiah reminded Hananiah that historically the Lord’s prophets had been messengers of judgment. Prophets of peace could only be authenticated when their predictions came true. In response Hananiah removed the wooden yoke from Jeremiah’s neck, broke it, and once again declared that the Lord would deliver Judah and the surrounding nations from Nebuchadnezzar’s yoke. Not to be denied, Jeremiah announced that the Lord would place an unbreakable iron yoke upon Judah and the nations. He then announced that Hananiah would die before the year ended, a prophecy that was fulfilled two months later.
During Zedekiah’s reign Jeremiah sent a letter to those who had already been taken to Babylon (29:1). He encouraged them to settle down there, marry and have children, and pray for the prosperity of their new home. In seventy years the Lord would restore them to the promised land. They were not to believe the deceiving prophets among them who were giving them false hopes of a quick return. Even greater calamity was about to fall on sinful Judah, and those still living in the promised land would be driven among the nations.