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Jeremiah 22:24-23:32


23:6 | Through this branch, Judah and Israel will be saved, since His name will be ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’  This is an early mention of the doctrine of substitutional atonement (if I know my theology correctly — by no means a certainty).  Jesus is our righteousness in that we cannot present ourselves before God for eternal communion with Him while we are covered in our own sins.  Only Jesus can step in and say, ‘Let so-and-so in because his righteousness is my righteousness, because I have been blameless for him and died to remove from him the penalty of his sins.’  This is not a concept usually associated with the Old Testament, but here it is in Jeremiah.

Incidentally, ‘The Lord is our righteousness’ is a play on words in Hebrew for Zedekiah, the next and final king of Judah.  I’m not sure if Zedekiah heard this and changed his public name to set himself up as the fulfillment of the prophecy, or whether this is a not-so-subtle dig by God (through Jeremiah) at the obvious inadequacy and wickedness of the reigning kings.  If this latter is true, God is essentially saying, ‘I will give you a king who will really be your righteousness, unlike this fool.’  (Okay, that last part is more me than God, but you get the idea.)

23:9-32 | Jeremiah next launches into a topic to be covered many more times in the Bible: false prophets.  On the face of it, it’s very bold for Jeremiah to say, ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophecy to you,’ because, lest we forget, Jeremiah is himself a prophet.  He puts his credibility on the line to single out the lying and false prophets with whom he competes.

This raises a sticky issue when dealing with God’s word as related through humans.  If my buddy Oliver claims to speak on behalf of God, I’m led to ask a number of important questions:

  • Does Oliver really hear God?
  • If not, is he lying or does he think he hears God?
  • Is Oliver faithfully relating what he hears to me?
  • Is Oliver capable of relating God’s word to me given the incomplete nature of human language and Oliver’s frankly shoddy grasp of grammar and limited vocabulary?

This is the issue with private or privileged communication between God and one person.  This is why many reject out of hand the idea of faith because it requires accepting the words of many throughout history who have claimed to speak for God.  In the minds of these people, it doesn’t make sense for God to limit himself to fallen people as his mouthpieces when he could sky-write, audibly declare to everyone from the heavens, or otherwise unmistakably declare His existence and will.

Why He doesn’t do this is ultimately a question that will have to wait for eternity to be answered.  I suspect it’s a mixture of two reasons.  First, God has made unmistakable displays of his power and existence before to the Israelites, and even that wasn’t enough for them.  We assume it would be enough for us, but He knows better.  Second, leaving an element of faith preserves that dignity of free will as well as gives us some sense of ownership and responsibility over our faith.  In that way, perhaps it’s like the parents of a teenager who make the kid get a job and earn money to buy their own car instead of giving one to them on their 16th birthday: it means more to those who work for it, and they will be more diligent and faithful in maintaining it.  God wants us invested in our faith.

The guidance we have in discerning whether Oliver (or Jeremiah, for that matter) really speaks for God is to compare the ideas with other, authenticated sources of revelation.

  • As I have mentioned before, I think, if I have spent time in prayer and made a habit out of communicating with God, I’m much more attuned to recognize His voice, whether it’s in my own thoughts or in Oliver’s words.  We thus use prayer to authenticate revelation.
  • Scripture acts as a rubric against which we can check any new revelation.  This was true in Jeremiah’s day as well as ours.  Since God does not change, test the new words against the God described in the Bible and see if they are consistent.  If Oliver tells me that God wants me to cheat and steal to earn money I can then use for missions, it’s likely not to be an authentic revelation since that’s not consistent with God’s character as He’s shown us in the Bible.
  • Other, more subjective, checks can also be made against God as observed in tradition or nature.

The ultimate point is, as Chesterton argues in Orthodoxy, a variety of proofs is more convincing than many of the same kind.  If Oliver’s message (this time not about lying and stealing) is consistent with the God of the Bible, with the voice I recognize in my prayers, with the tradition of received wisdom from our predecessors, with the order of the natural world as observed through science, with the inner voice of my conscience, that’s going to be more convincing than just one source of verification.

I think that got a little muddled, but hopefully the main idea still stands.  There are many who distort or fabricate God’s message, but there are also times when God communicates through people.  Only by building a relationship with Him and learning to find Him in all aspects of our lives can we come to a place where we can confidently discern between the two.


* UPDATE:  I’m not.  Turns out this is just another name for Jehoiachin.  Let this be Exhibit A as to why I make no claims to authority on this blog.

From → [constant], [cs/gk]

  1. I think these guidelines are extremely consistent with Biblical teaching and very useful for approaching anyone who claims to be speaking on behalf of God. Do you think, though, that these guidelines make the assumption that God is presenting the same message to everyone? Obviously, it would be dangerous to respond to any claim by saying, “Who knows… maybe God is telling Oliver some secret that He has not shared with anyone else?” But on the other side, aren’t we also making a statement more about God than about us when we demand that His “messages” be consistent with what we have heard and has been recorded in the past? Again, I agree completely with you about the application (the guidelines) but I wonder, too, if I agree with it because I am in some way limiting Him.

    • I take your point about forcing God into a narrow sense of consistency. However, I do think that God is constant. Absolute truth is absolute because it does not change relative to time, place, etc. Since God is absolute truth, He therefore cannot change. He can “change His mind” in that He will say one thing to me today and another tomorrow (i.e., abstain from sex while unmarried, but have at it once married). This doesn’t mean He changed. He was not a being that was against sex before and then somehow came around to be in favor of it. His terms on the issue remained consistent, but my position relative to those terms changed, and so I heard a different message.

      This is how I understand passages about God “repenting” or “relenting” when challenged by Abraham or Moses. God’s will, His essence, has always been to engage Abraham or Moses into a discussion on faith or obedience or holiness or whatnot, but His end decision was always known to Him. God didn’t change, but Abraham’s or Moses’ understanding of the issue did.

      So, in specific reference to your question, I think it’s possible that Oliver may hear one thing and me another. But I think that it comes from God having different plans for each of us. God may want Oliver to move to Africa and give all his money to World Vision, and He may convey this to Oliver by giving him a strong moral sense or intuition that this is what God means by sacrifice and service and holiness. He may want me instead to grow my money and put it toward building and maintaining an inner-city mission in my hometown. In Oliver’s sense, He inspired him to see money as a hindrance to holiness, whereas He inspired me to see money as a resource to be stewarded and used strategically for God’s glory. Does this mean that God’s view of the proper role of money in our lives has changed? No; He just has reasons for revealing distinct aspects of His nature to each of us for the sake of His will.

      In that sense, I think that we check the scripture and other, more established and verifiable, forms of revelation, not to fit God into a box of consistency, but to make sure that the perceived revelations are consistent with a unitary/constant divine nature. They can vary but not conflict. The new revelation does not have to mirror a previously accepted one, but it does have to seem to come from the same mind, the same character.

      I don’t know if this is persuasive or not, but it’s how I try to see it.

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