Distinguishing The True Prophet: Jeremiah Versus Hananiah -- By: Norman W. Brown
CenQ 18:1 (Spring 1975) p. 10
Distinguishing The True Prophet: Jeremiah Versus Hananiah
According to Hebrews 1:1, “God ... spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,” that is, the Old Testament consisted of revelation delivered through the prophets. But how, one may justifiably ask, could a prophet and his audience be sure that the word that he spoke was actually truth revealed from God? When two prophets simultaneously declared God’s “word” in direct contradictory terms, how could the true man of God be distinguished from the imposter?
After pondering these questions, many scholars have flatly declared that the problem has never been adequately answered. “In short,” states one author, “there was no proof of the truth of a prophet’s word: the word would have to bring its own vindication.”
The Bible however, teaches differently. Instead of a pessimistic treatment of the subject, the Bible presents specific tests by which Israel might distinguish between true and false prophets. These tests, given by God Himself, indicated the true prophet as one who: (1) possessed high moral character; (2) was called of God; (3) spoke only by revelation or inspiration; (4) was confirmed by historical fulfillment of his message; (5) brought a spiritual message harmonious with previous revelation; and (6) could be discerned as true by the hearers’ inner witness.
The value of these tests in identifying the true prophet is illustrated throughout the Old Testament. Perhaps the clearest of these illustrations is found in the life of Jeremiah, whose ministry included the classic
CenQ 18:1 (Spring 1975) p. 11
confrontation with the false prophet, Hananiah, as recorded in Jeremiah 28. Before examining each of the prophetic tests—and its effectiveness in vindicating Jeremiah while exposing Hananiah—one may find value in briefly reviewing the context of Jeremiah’s conflict.
The clash between Jeremiah and Hananiah occurred in the fourth year of Zedekiah (594-3 B.C.), while the weakened remnant of Judah was brooding over the blow delivered by Nebuchadnezzar in the first deportation (597 B.C.). For some time, Jeremiah had been wearing a wooden yoke, symbolizing the necessity of submission to the Chaldeans. This offended many, especially among the popular prophets. One of them, Hananiah, met Jeremiah in the temple court and—in the presence of all the priests—challenged him by asserting in the name of Yahweh that within two full years, the vessels taken to Babylon would be restored to the temple, and King Johoichin, with all the captives, would be brought back. Following a warning by Jerem...
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