Let me take you back to 620 BC. Judah, the Southern Kingdom, had been in decline for almost a century, with only a brief revival under King Josiah. His sons proved to be ungodly leaders who abandoned the God of Israel. God, in his mercy, sent prophets to urge both the leaders and the people to repent. If they refused, Jeremiah, Habakkuk and others warned of a coming invasion and devastating defeat, followed by a bitter exile.
But other prophets contradicted these warnings with comforting words that only stirred false hopes. Jeremiah 23 reads:
Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” (v.16-17)
These false prophets spoke lies, “the deceit of their own hearts”(v.26). They offered up their own dreams as a word from the Lord saying, “I have dreamed! I have dreamed!”(v.25). They would hear an impressive-sounding prophesy from one of their own, and then plagiarize the message and preach it as if it was their own (v.30).
God sarcastically prods the false prophets to keep what they’re doing in order to make the contrast crystal clear.
“Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord”(v.28)
The contrast between the false words of the lying prophets and the words of the living God is sharpened even further. “Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”(v.29).
What can we say that will really make any difference in people’s lives? How can we help those consumed by anger? What can we say that would deliver people from jealousy or greed? Do we actually think that our words could free people from their enslaving habits? Our words are such weak things compared with the powerful temptations that our people wrestle. Our people need a word from God that is full of power…that brings life…that consumes the dross in their lives. We, as teachers and preachers of God’s Word, simply don’t have that capacity within ourselves. Only God and his Word have the transformative power that can change people at the core of their being.
In Jeremiah’s day, the faithful proclamation of God’s Word would have brought repentance and mercy.
But if they had stood in my council,
then they would have proclaimed my words to my people,
and they would have turned them from their evil way,
and from the evil of their deeds.(v.22)
This is why biblical engagement matters today. Only God’s Word empowered by God’s Spirit can bring the salvation, the deliverance, and the freedom that our people need.