When I try to imagine the showdown between prophets that’s described in this morning’s Old Testament reading, the scene I picture looks a little like a pro wrestling match. Certainly Jeremiah is dressed for spectacle, wearing the wooden yoke – that’s the thing that goes over an animal’s neck so it can pull a cart or a plow – because God told him to wear a yoke to symbolize God’s command to submit to the conquerors from Babylon.
And now entering the ring, Jeremiah’s opponent, the prophet Hananiah!
And if the name Hananiah isn’t familiar to you, don’t worry – you’re not alone. Hananiah’s entire story takes up one short chapter in the book of Jeremiah – just 17 verses – and the chapter heading in my Bible is Hananiah Opposes Jeremiah and Dies. He stood before the king and the people and told them what they wanted to hear – but he was wrong, and that was the end of him.
And I want to talk about this story because – as short as it is – I think it raises some important questions for us. How do we recognize the false prophets of our time? How do we decide what to believe when we hear conflicting messages from people who all claim to be speaking truth? Those are important questions, but before we consider them in the light of this reading, we need to go back and take a closer look at the story of Jeremiah and Hananiah, because the five verses we just heard read aren’t nearly enough to understand what’s going on here.