I’m currently preaching through Jeremiah, and reading the minor prophets for my devotions. Although they were sometimes separated in time by hundreds of years, the message they brought was uniform. They identified the same sins, and brought they same counsel as the solution to those sins – repentance, exclusive love, faith and trust in God, and obedience to his commands. Their society was self-exulting and satisfied with itself and it did not want to hear a message from God’s prophets that they were actually idolatrous, apostate, wicked, and not far from destruction. The people of their time preferred smooth words, and as a result their land was filled with false prophets who told the people what they wanted to hear (Jer. 5:31, 8:6-12). The themes of the false prophets were all too familiar: prosperity, patriotism, progress, tolerance, and that God was NOT angry with them – rather He loved them just the way they were.
The interesting thing to me is that I’m sure that those contemporary prophets were almost certainly producing their own scrolls and letters that conveyed their positive report on the nations stability, the righteousness of their religious progress and the wisdom of their leaders. These scrolls were probably enormously popular in their time and no doubt had a much wider readership. They have not survived though, while the massively unpopular scrolls of the “repent or perish” prophets have. This is because in order to survive, they would have had to have been copied, preserved, and passed down. But the generations of Jews that followed saw them for what they were – self-serving lies that didn’t pan out. They were abandoned on the ash-heap of history while the more uncomfortable truths were preserved because while they were unpopular at the time, history made clear that Jeremiah and his ilk were telling the truth. Their prophecies came to pass, while the prophecies of the smooth liars did not.
Their own generation should have been able to see that simply by comparing the words of men like Shemaiah the Nehelamite (Jer. 29:31) with the words of true men of God in the past like Moses. Shemaiah preached God’s approval of the same practices that He had previously condemned (idolatry, adultery, formalism, etc.) and which had never brought God’s blessing and defense in the past. In fact, it should have been easy to see that the false prophets were saying that God was going to BLESS the very behaviours he had condemned and punished in the past. They were like spoiled children dreaming of parents who would approve of their terrible behavior and give them everything they wanted, never stopping to consider that such a parent wouldn’t be good and that such behavior would ultimately destroy them or that the parent who loves is the one who chastens and corrects bad behavior (Heb. 12:6-10).
This should be an encouragement to those of you who continue to proclaim a very unpopular message of God still being angry with the sins He has always condemned, and people still needing His forgiveness and mercy if they are to be delivered from His wrath. Polls might indicate that this message is dreadfully unpopular even in the church today, but it is this message that will stand the test of time. The Christian books that have continued to be passed down, read and reprinted through the centuries, are not the smooth but popular lies of the time, they are books like Augustine’s Confessions and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, books that proclaim man’s sinfulness and God’s salvation through faith in His promised Redeemer, Jesus.
Lies may be popular for a time, but eventually they are exposed for what they are: empty, deceitful words. The sinful behaviors that become popular are eventually exposed as things that kill the body, warp the mind, corrupt the soul, and destroy the nation. While lies and sins might be extremely popular for a time, the passing of time eventually makes it clear that they were a sign of God’s judgment and not His blessing (Romans 1:18-32).
Few of the prophets of old were eager to see their prophecies of judgment come to pass – Jeremiah for instance was called “the weeping prophet” and was full of sorrow at what his people were doing to themselves. We should be equally distressed at what is happening in our own time. I tell you the truth when I say that when I preach the impending judgment of God, I never want to be able to say “I told you so” to anyone who refused to listen. Let us hope our own generation learns this lesson by means of reflection, repentance, and renewed faith, rather than via their own downfall.