“Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD concerning Shemaiah of Nehelam: Because Shemaiah had prophesied to you when I did not send him, and has made you trust in a lie, therefore thus says the LORD: Behold, I will punish Shemaiah of Nehelam and his descendants’” (Jeremiah 29:31-32a).
After the Babylonians had taken a wave of captives away from Judah, God told Jeremiah to send them a letter concerning their captivity. Several false prophets were promising the people that their exile would not last long. Within a short time, they assured the people, they would all return to Judah and not have to worry about the Babylonians anymore. God, however, had other ideas. Jeremiah’s letter explained that the people would have to endure seventy years of captivity. For seventy years, they would live in exile in Babylon, not to return home until that time had been completed. This meant that many of the older people would never see their homeland again. They would live out the rest of their days in Babylon and die there. Jeremiah’s letter encouraged the people to seek out the welfare of Babylon, to settle down and make it their home. They would be there for a while; they might as well make it easier on themselves.
The false prophets didn’t much care for this message. One in particular was Shemaiah of Nehelam. He was indignant over Jeremiah’s letter, and he demanded to know why the priest hadn’t rebuked Jeremiah for it. When Jeremiah heard of Shemaiah’s anger, it would have been reasonable for him to be afraid. People had tried before to kill him because of his words, and there was nothing to stop this scenario from going down the same dark path. But instead of giving in to fear, Jeremiah spoke the words God gave him. He pronounced coming destruction on Shemaiah, warning him that his lies and false prophecies would result in his own death.
This is the same man who, at the beginning of his ministry, begged God to send someone else because he didn’t know how to speak. Jeremiah was a timid young man, afraid to open his mouth against anyone. And now he was proclaiming disconcerting messages against powerful people. He had learned to trust God, simply speaking the words God put into his mouth. He didn’t try to fight against his enemies on his own; he let God fight for him. He spoke what God told him to speak, regardless of the potential consequences to himself. He had grown so much from where he was when God called him. And it was all because of his willingness to just do what God said.
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