One of the most confusing stories in the Old Testament is the attempted arrest of Elijah found in 2 Kings 1. King Ahaziah had fallen through the lattice in the upper room and had injured himself. He was worried about his recovery and sent a message to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron to see if he would get better. While the messenger was on his way, he met the prophet, Elijah, who told him that the king would die. The messenger immediately returned to the king and when the king asked why he was back so soon, he told him about Elijah’s message. Immediately, the king sent a captain of fifty to arrest Elijah, but rather than come down from the top of a hill, Elijah responded that if he was a man of God, fire from heaven would fall and consume the captain and his men and that’s exactly what happened. So, what was the reaction of the king?
At this the king sent to Elijah another captain with his fifty men. The captain said to him, ‘Man of God, this is what the king says, ‘Come down at once!’
‘If I am a man of God,’ Elijah replied, ‘may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men.’ Then the fire of God fell from heaven and consumed him and his fifty men.
So the king sent a third captain with his fifty men. This third captain went up and fell on his knees before Elijah. ‘Man of God,’ he begged, ‘please have respect for my life and the lives of these fifty men, your servants!’
See, fire has fallen from heaven and consumed the first two captains and all their men. But now have respect for my life!’
The angel of the LORD said to Elijah, ‘Go down with him; do not be afraid of him. So Elijah got up and went down with him to the king.[i]
What is transpiring here? Why would God destroy those captains and their men? Why was Ahaziah so adamant in trying to arrest Elijah? Very simply, the ancients believed that if a person put a curse on another that the only way to free themselves from the curse was to kill the messenger. Elijah’s message of judgment was seen as a curse by the king. Elijah’s life was in danger and Elijah knew what the king’s intentions were. We see that God told Elijah that he need not be afraid of the third captain, because God would protect His servant and His message.
Did Ahaziah think that he could kill the prophet and thereby nullify the prophecy? (The Lord’s words in v. 15 suggest that murder was in the king’s mind.)”1
…We must not interpret these two displays of God’s wrath as evidence of irritation on the part of Elijah or injustice on the part of God. After all, weren’t the soldiers only doing their duty and obeying their commander? These two episodes of fiery judgment were dramatic messages from the Lord that the king and the nation had better repent or they would all taste the judgment of God. The people had forgotten the lessons of Mount Carmel, and these two judgments reminded them that the God of Israel was “a consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24 and 9:3; Heb. 12:29). King Ahaziah was a proud man who sacrificed two captains and one hundred men in a futile attempt to prevent his own death. These were not innocent men, the victims of their ruler’s whims, but guilty men who were willing to do what the king commanded. Had they adopted the attitude of the third captain, they too would have lived.[ii]
We are living in an hour that many people do not want to be corrected or warned. In Proverbs 1 we hear the call of wisdom to turn to her ways. However, we see that the foolish mock and refuse to listen to God’s correction with the end result bringing calamity and distress.
Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings.
But since you refuse to listen when I call and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand, since you disregard all my advice and do not accept my rebuke,
I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you; I will mock when calamity overtakes you-[iii]
God’s word not only warns and rebukes us, but it also instructs, comforts, and encourages us. But if we won’t listen to God’s words of warnings then all that is left is the consequences. The apostle Paul describes people in our time, who refuse to listen to God’s instructions and warnings.
The Spirit clearly says that in the later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.[iv]
Here in Jeremiah 26, we discover that when a culture is moving toward apostasy, it will be ultimately judged by God. One of the distinguishing signs is that they refuse to hear the truth and will not only distort it but will persecute those who advocate for it. In other words, they will endeavor to silence the truth. Even as believers we need to hear the voices of those who disagree with us. We must be careful not to shoot the messenger because sometimes they may actually be carrying God’s word to us.
As God’s children we have a responsibility to share God’s message with our world. So, how do we do that when we realize the growing level of hostility that is rising in our culture? In Jeremiah 26, we discover three specific courses of action that we must pursue despite the times we are living in.
THE FIRST COURSE OF ACTION WE NEED TO PURSUE IS TO CONTINUE TO SHARE GOD’S MESSAGE WITH OTHERS
We have a responsibility as God’s people to communicate God’s message to those around us, but we need to remember that we are not responsible for their response. The great temptation in an evil hour is to be silent. However, if we do, then things will only continue to deteriorate as people pursue a sinful course that will lead to terrible consequences.
Early in the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, this word came from the LORD:
‘This is what the LORD says: Stand in the courtyard of the LORD’S house and speak to all the people of the towns of Judah who come to worship in the house of the LORD. Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word.
Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from their evil ways. Then I will relent and not inflict on them the disaster I was planning because of the evil they have done.[v]
When we read a text like this we immediately think, that this is strictly Jeremiah’s responsibility or at the very most those who God calls to preach the word. Yet, let’s look at exactly what God is calling all of us to do as His people. We are all responsible to be engaged in the great commission. We are all responsible to ‘go’ and to ‘make disciples.’
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,[vi]
Paul writing to the Colossians explains the kind of lifestyle we need to lead in order to create the context of sharing our faith.
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.[vii]
Peter even addresses the challenges that occur as we share our faith.
But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats, do not be frightened.
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.[viii]
A. Warning of impending judgment.
How should we respond to God’s warnings and how should we act upon them?
Say to them, ‘This is what the LORD says: If you do not listen to me and follow my law, which I have set before you, and if you do not listen to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I have sent to you again and again (though you have not listened), then I will make this house like Shiloh and this city a curse among all the nations of the earth.[ix]
John Thompson gives an explanation to what happened at Shiloh.
Shiloh was evidently destroyed about 1050 B.C. by the Philistine incursion into the land referred to in 1 Samuel 4. There is archeological evidence to support this (cf. Ps. 78:60,61). Shiloh may have been rebuilt later but was again destroyed. It was in ruins in Jeremiah’s day and constituted a vivid picture of the destruction that was intended for Jerusalem and the temple.[x]
Philip Ryken relates the significance of Shiloh as God’s presence now departed.
Shiloh represents the departure of God’s living Spirit. A Shiloh is anyplace where God once lived but lives no longer. Many church buildings have become Shilohs. I saw some of them when I was living in England. Just a short walk down the Cowley Road in Oxford was an enormous Methodist church that used to host revival meetings. People used to go there to get saved. Now people go there to get lucky: The hall has become a full-time bingo parlor.[xi]
What a tragic story of spiritual decline. God will warn us if we are drifting off course. He’ll give us opportunities to respond to Him. Yet, like Shiloh of old, many turn away from God with hardened hearts because of the deceitfulness of sin. How does that happen in our lives? We just stop listening and what happens next is always tragic.
But they put God to the test and rebelled against the Most High; they did not keep his statutes.
Like their ancestors they were disloyal and faithless, as unreliable as a faulty bow.
They angered him with their high places; they aroused his jealousy with their idols.
When God heard them, he was furious; he rejected Israel completely.
He abandoned the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent he had set up among humans.[xii]
What we discover is this continual pattern of God’s offers of mercy rejected. Rather than a repentant response, we find an angry, retaliatory action on the part of the crowd at the temple. There are only two responses to truth: acceptance which will call for a repentant heart, or rejection which is usually manifested by anger and a desire to be rid not only of the message but also the messenger.
The priests, the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speak these words in the house of the LORD.
But as soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the LORD had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, ‘You must die!
Why do you prophesy in the LORD’S name that this house will be like Shiloh and this city will be desolate and deserted?’ And all the people crowded around Jeremiah in the house of the LORD.[xiii]
Here we find mob mentality taking place, where Jeremiah is being threatened both verbally and on the verge of losing his life. What should we do when people are threatening us?
THE SECOND COURSE OF ACTION WE NEED TO PURSUE IS BEING FAITHFUL TO GOD IN OUR CALLING
How do we handle the pressures of being God’s witnesses in a hostile environment? Are we allowing the societal pressure to silence us? Will we trust that God is still in control and is trying to reach those who are antagonistic to the message through our life’s witness? Frederick Huey reminds us:
Jeremiah’s messages would result in threats against his life. Therefore it would have been tempting for him to modify the messages in order to receive a favorable hearing from his audiences or to escape harm to himself. He did not fall to this temptation and courageously proclaimed God’s word in the midst of conflict. The same dilemma confronts those today who have been entrusted with a message from the Lord that will not be favorably received but who at the same time want to be popular. Believers today must follow the example of Jeremiah’s courage and faithfulness.[xiv]
When the officials of Judah heard about these things, they went up from the royal palace to the house of the LORD and took their places at the entrance of the New Gate of the LORD’S house.
Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and all the people, ‘This man should be sentenced to death because he has prophesied against this city. You have heard it with your own ears!’[xv]
This now began a legal case with charges being brought before judicial leaders. We know that court sessions were heard in the gates of cities. This is where legal transactions were accomplished. The priests of the temple and those prophets who had been promoting ‘peace and prosperity’ were bringing the accusation that Jeremiah had spoken against the temple and that his words were treasonous and blasphemous. They could not conjure in their minds that God would ever destroy the Temple. Jeremiah’s defense was simply that he had spoken God’s message and that if they sentenced him to death, they would be killing an innocent person.
Then Jeremiah said to all the officials and all the people: ‘The LORD sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the things you have heard.
Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the LORD your God. Then the LORD will relent and not bring the disaster he has pronounced against you.
As for me, I am in your hands; do with me whatever you think is good and right.
Be assured, however, that if you put me to death, you will bring the guilt of innocent blood on yourselves and on this city and on those who live in it, for in truth the LORD has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.’[xvi]
When we destroy that which is innocent, what we are actually doing is bringing judgment upon ourselves. We see that with Jesus’ death. The outcome a generation later was the total destruction of the city of Jerusalem. The violation of the innocent is always a sentence of destruction in the lives of the perpetrators. The only recourse is the message of repentance and turning to God for mercy.
THE FINAL COURSE OF ACTION WE NEED TO PURSUE IS TO TRUST GOD WITH THE OUTCOMES OF OUR LIVES
Whether God spares us or delivers us, we entrust ourselves to His will and purposes for our lives. As we are about to see, Jeremiah is spared but a fellow prophet is executed for the same message. This reveals how dangerous and serious this situation was for Jeremiah. However, God had revealed to Jeremiah that he would protect him and that’s exactly what God did.
A. Speaking up in defense of God’s correction.
The issue was not what Jeremiah had said, but if Jeremiah was speaking on behalf of the LORD.
Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, ‘This man should not be sentenced to death! He has spoken to us in the name of the LORD our God.’[xvii]
Some of the leaders stepped up in defense of Jeremiah and pointed out that correction should not be punished, but rather heeded. They make an argument from historical precedent to solidify their case. During the ascendency of the Assyrian Empire 150 years earlier; Judah was able to resist because they humbled themselves before the LORD and God delivered them.
Some of the elders of the land stepped forward and said to the entire assembly of people, ‘Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah. He told all the people of Judah, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.’
‘Did Hezekiah king of Judah or anyone else in Judah put him to death? Did not Hezekiah fear the LORD and seek his favor? And did not the LORD relent, so that he did not bring the disaster he pronounced against them? We are about to bring a terrible disaster on ourselves.[xviii]
What they were seeing in their geopolitical world was being interpreted through a theological lens. One of the problems in our current culture is that we tend to negate God’s involvement in the affairs of men and see things only in geopolitical realities, when all nations are under the Sovereignty of God. When nations like individuals trust God, God’s mercies can be experienced rather than His judgments for sins. Today, people who challenge our world view because we are coming from a theological position will try and marginalized us and, at worst, silence us. They not only attack the message, but also the messenger.
B. The dangerous nature of telling the truth.
While Jeremiah is spared the rash actions of his opponents, we see the grave jeopardy he is in when another prophet is killed.
(Now Uriah son of Shemaiah from Kiriath Jearim was another man who prophesied in the name of the LORD; he prophesied the same things against the city and this land as Jeremiah did.
When King Jehoiakim and all his officers and officials heard his words, the king was determined to put him to death. But Uriah heard of it and fled in fear to Egypt.
King Jehoiakim however, sent Elnathan son of Akbor to Egypt, along with some other men.
They brought Uriah out of Egypt and took him to King Jehoiakim, who had him struck down with a sword and his body thrown into the burial place of the common people.)[xix]
Though many commentators see Uriah as an example of the dangerous nature of speaking the truth in Jeremiah’s hour, Philip Ryken shares another idea that warrants merit.
But the proper literary term for Uriah is that he serves as Jeremiah’s foil. He shows up in Jeremiah 26 for contrast. Uriah’s cowardice reveals Jeremiah’s courage. Jeremiah is the good example to follow. He obeyed the commission he received when God first called him into the ministry: “Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them” (1:17). Jeremiah was willing to seem like a traitor to his people as long as he did not commit treason against God. The tragic irony is that in the end Uriah failed to deliver himself from death. …Jehoiakim had Uriah extradited and executed. Then he was given an ignominious burial. Thus Uriah illustrates the paradox uttered by Jesus Christ: ‘Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it’ (Matthew 10:39).[xx]
However in spite of this tremendous opposition, we find that Jeremiah is spared. God raises up support through another key leader in the royal family.
Furthermore, Ahikam son of Shaphan supported Jeremiah, and so he was not handed over to the people to be put to death.[xxi]
God will make a way to fulfill what He promises. He had promised Jeremiah to stand against the people because of the nature of his message, and God would stand with him.
Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land – against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land.
They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,’ declares the LORD.[xxii]
In this hour the gospel message is often compromised to suit people’s appetites, but in that process loses its power to transform lives. We must explain that sin still brings bondage, destruction and alienation with God and others. We must look to Christ in order to be forgiven and receive the gift of eternal life. The message preached by all in the Scriptures was a message of repentance, a turning away from sin and the idols we trust in, in order to walk with God in a new lifestyle. It is a life of obedience to God. People today are intolerant. Not only do they refuse to listen, but often try to shoot the messenger. However, we need to be faithful to God and His assignment for each of us. We need to model and communicate the gospel of Jesus to the world around us. We need to be faithful to our Lord in an hour of unfaithfulness. We need to live courageous lives in spite of the growing hostility against our Lord and those who follow Him. We need to trust God with the outcomes of our lives, even as Jeremiah did.
[i] 2 Kings 1:11-15, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.
[ii] Warren Wiersbe, Be Distinct, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books,) 9-10.
[iii] Proverbs 1:23-26.
[iv] 1 Timothy 4:1.
[v] Jeremiah 26:1-3.
[vi] Matthew 28:19.
[vii] Colossians 4:5-6.
[viii] 1 Peter 3:14-16.
[ix] Jeremiah 26:4-6.
[x] John Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980), 525.
[xi] Philip Ryken, Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope (Wheaton, Il: Crossway Books, 2016), 379.
[xii] Psalm 78:56-60.
[xiii] Jeremiah 26:7-9.
[xiv] F. B. Huey, F. B. Jeremiah, Lamentations, Vol. 16, (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 235.
[xv] Jeremiah 26:10-11.
[xvi] Jeremiah 26:12-15.
[xvii] Jeremiah 26:16.
[xviii] Jeremiah 26:17-19.
[xix] Jeremiah 26:20-23.
[xx] Philip Ryken, Jeremiah and Lamentations, 382-383.
[xxi] Jeremiah 26:24.
[xxii] Jeremiah 1:18-19.