Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hananiah

by John D Ramsey

Nebuchadnezzar carried the best and the brightest from Judah into captivity in Babylon and left the nation of Judah in ruins. God ordained that this would happen in response to the sin of Hezekiah and wickedness of his son, Manasseh. During the reign of Josiah, the grandson of Manasseh, God deferred his wrath for thirty-one years because Josiah honored God. Yet even though Josiah was faithful, God did not withhold his wrath against Judah. Pharaoh Necho and his army killed Josiah in battle. Josiah’s sons Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim ruled for three months and eleven years respectively. Neither followed God like their father had done.

After Johoiakim had been king for about eight years, he allied himself with Nebuchadnezzar. After three years of alliance, however, Johoiakim annulled his arrangement with the king of Babylon. During those three years, enemies of Israel swarmed over the land. When his father died, Johoiachin ruled Judah for only three months before Nebuchadnezzar invaded with his army. Johoiachin surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar and was taken prisoner to Babylon.

While Johoiakim was still king, before his alliance with Nebuchadnezzar, the prophet Jeremiah declared,

Therefore the LORD Almighty says this: “Because you have not listened to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the LORD, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.

“But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the LORD, “and will make it desolate forever.”

Jeremiah 25:8-12 (NIV)

When Nebuchadnezzar came, he carried off the best, but he did not leave the land in waste. Rather Nebuchadnezzar made Zedekiah king of Judah. Again, Jeremiah prophesied to the Zedekiah and all the surrounding kings of nations, saying,

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 (NIV)

God had Jeremiah make and wear a yoke symbolizing bondage to Babylon. Had Zedekiah and the people of Judah heeded the words of Jeremiah, their subjugation by Babylon would have been tolerable. Nevertheless, God knew the extent of Judah’s rebellion. A false prophet named Hananiah stood up before the priests and all the people and proclaimed,

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, “I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I am going to bring back to this place all the vessels of the LORD’S house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. I am also going to bring back to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the exiles of Judah who went to Babylon,” declares the LORD, ‘for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.”

Jeremiah 28:2-4 (NIV)

Jeremiah had prophesied for over 30 years of the destruction of Judah by Babylon. Many years before Jeremiah, Isaiah had prophesied the same to King Hezekiah. Much of what Isaiah and Jeremiah had prophesied had already come true. The remaining prophesies were contingent upon Judah’s response. Yet Hananiah prophesied that within two years everything that had been lost would be restored. Jeremiah appealed to the people to repent from their sin and to submit to God by serving the ruler whom God had established. Hananiah told the priests and the people that repentance and submission was necessary.

Jeremiah confronted Hananiah reiterating that the true prophets of God had prophesied calamity against nations, but those prophesying peace could only be trusted when their word came to pass. Hananiah responded by taking the yoke off Jeremiah’s neck and breaking it into pieces. Hananiah insisted, saying, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Even so will I break within two full years the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the neck of all the nations.’” Jeremiah 25:11 (NIV)

God responded to Hananiah through Jeremiah telling him that he had broken a yoke of wood and replaced it with a yoke of iron. Jeremiah told Hananiah,

Listen now, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the LORD, “Behold, I am about to remove you from the face of the earth. This year you are going to die, because you have counseled rebellion against the LORD.”

Jeremiah 28:15-16 (NIV)

Hananiah died, and Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the temple and carried nearly everyone into captivity. Nebuchadnezzar’s army destroyed Jerusalem just as Jeremiah had prophesied.

Hananiah’s message was an obvious lie, yet his was the lie that the people wanted to believe. Hananiah defied the record of the prophets and even the testimony of Solomon. When Solomon dedicated the temple, he prayed to God saying,

When they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy, who takes them captive to a land far away or near; and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captivity and say, “We have sinned, we have done wrong and acted wickedly”; and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their captivity where they were taken, and pray toward the land you gave their fathers, toward the city you have chosen and toward the temple I have built for your Name; then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their pleas, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people, who have sinned against you.

2 Chronicles 6:36-39 (NIV)

Even at the dedication of the temple, Solomon knew that Israel would rebel against God. Solomon asked God to forgive the people’s sin when they repented. Hananiah, on the other hand, taught restoration without repentance and faith in mere wishful thinking.

Solomon’s prophetic dedication of the temple made restoration contingent upon repentance. Isaiah and Jeremiah’s prophecies were consistent with Solomon’s prophetic prayer. Their prophecies were grounded in their knowledge of God and his righteous judgment. Their prophecies were faithful to the testimony of God given by Moses in Deuteronomy 28. Yet Hananiah prophesied in the name of the Lord to invalidate the word of the Lord. By so doing, he disobeyed the Third Commandment, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” Exodus 20:7 (NIV)

Many of today’s evangelical leaders are just like Hananiah. From pulpits in their churches, they deny the Word of God by preaching salvation without repentance. Salvation comes, they say, by a ritual repeat-after-me prayer or by baptism or through church membership. Some deny God’s wrath entirely. They teach that God has changed his mind and will punish no one for his rebellion. Others equate salvation with doing your best or becoming your best.

These modern Hananiahs talk about faith, but they undermine the foundation of true Christian faith, which is the Holy Scriptures. The object of their faith is not God and His Word, but rather a reflexive faith or faith in faith. Jeremiah told Hananiah, “You have persuaded this nation to trust in lies.” Had the nation of Judah believed Jeremiah, they might have repented of their sin and survived more easily the judgment that God had pronounced against them. Yet Hananiah persuaded the people of Judah to believe what they wanted to believe. Jeremiah told Hananiah, “This year you are going to die, because you have counseled rebellion against the LORD.” There is no benefit to believing for believing’s sake. Such faith is not Christianity; it is Disneyland. False faith is not a positive quality that is merely misdirected. There is no such thing as being almost faithful. False faith is rebellion against God!

Saving faith is faith in Jesus Christ. Christ is not a name; it is a title. It means “Anointed One.” With the title of Christ comes all the testimony of Scripture regarding the Christ. According to John Chapter 1, the Christ was the Word who was equal to God, and face to face with God. The Word created all things. The Word became a man. Jesus, the Christ, the Word died for the sins of the world. John writes,

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

1 John 4:9-10 (NIV)

After dying for the sins of the world, Jesus, the Christ, rose from the dead. Because of his resurrection and victory over death, we have the hope of eternal life by faith in Him. When we believe this, when we receive this by faith, it changes us. James tells us that merely believing is not faith. In James 2, he reveals that saving faith will result in righteous deeds.

This was not a new concept. When the Pharisees came to John the Baptist to be baptized, John ridiculed them saying, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Mark 3:7-8 (NIV) John's baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin required repentance first. The water baptism produced nothing unless the man's heart was broken before his God. Paul told the Philippians, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Philippians 2:12 (NIV) Yet in our modern churches we are told to feel good about our chances. Pastors provide their congregations little touchstones of encouragement or reasons to believe that they have obtained salvation. Paul told the Romans, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.” Romans 8:16 (NIV) Assurance of salvation cannot come by any external standard; rather, it is by the fellowship of the Spirit of God that we know to whom we belong.

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?”

Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)

The night before Jesus was nailed to the cross, he prayed to the Father saying,

Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

John 17:1-3 (NIV)

Hananiah encouraged Judah to trust in their false hopes. He ridiculed the prophet, Jeremiah, who preached that restoration would come only by repentance. Hananiah ignored the testimony of Scripture and attributed his lies to God. Modern Christianity is full of Hananiahs. Their Christianity often emphasizes the individual’s relationship to the church rather than his relationship Christ. Yet the church cannot save you. Paul wrote to Titus saying, “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men.” Titus 2:5-6 (NIV)

Paul asked the Corinthians to be sure of their salvation; he said, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you — unless, of course, you fail the test?” 2 Corinthians 13:5 (NIV)

In what or in whom do you place your faith? Does the Holy Spirit testify with your Spirit that you are a child of God? If you do not have such an assurance, then trust in Jesus, the Anointed One, today. Surrender yourself to the Christ, submit yourself to His will, and ask Jesus Christ to transform you. Do not make the mistake of trusting a Hananiah. Trust Jesus. He alone can save you.

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