Sunday, November 27, 2022

“Under the Yoke” [Matt's Messages]

“Under the Yoke”
Uprooted - The Words of Jeremiah
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
November 27, 2022 :: Jeremiah 27:1-28:17

Last week, we read about a time when Jeremiah almost died. He was almost executed for prophesying the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. His colleague the Prophet Uriah did die for doing that. But Jeremiah was spared that day and walked out of court free to prophesy another day.

And chapter 27 is another day. This is actually about 16 years later than chapter 26. But Jeremiah is still going strong with the exact same message as he was preaching 16 years previously. Jeremiah was a broken record about the broken covenant and the judgment that was inevitably going to break upon Judah.

His message is basically the same in these two chapters, though there is a new twist and a new prophetic prop. Look at verses 1 and 2 to see what it is. 

“Early in the reign of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the LORD: This is what the LORD said to me: ‘Make a yoke out of straps and crossbars and put it on your neck.” 


Over the last few months, we’ve been wondering together what it must have been like to be a faithful prophet in the days of Jeremiah.

Last week, we said that it was clearly dangerous. Jeremiah almost lost his life. Uriah surely did.

In previous weeks, we said that it must have been miserable. Because the faithful prophet was often the odd-man-out. He stood alone. He had to go against the flow. 

He often had a painful message to deliver that seemingly nobody wanted to hear. And he often had to do weird things. Like this one. Make a yoke and wear it around town.

Sounds uncomfortable to me. How about you?

Everybody here knows what is a yoke is, right? Like for a team of oxen? A Hebrew yoke in this time period was two wooden crossbars to go over and under the necks of the two oxen and then leather straps to bind them together. And Jeremiah was supposed to make one of those and then put it on himself.

And, apparently, wear it around town like had that linen belt. And we don’t know for how long he was supposed to do it. Sounds uncomfortable to me. Especially because he wasn’t married so he didn’t have someone on the other end of the yoke.

Why did he have to do this? Well, this is around 593 or 594 BC. It’s early in the reign of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah. We know (even though they didn’t) that that’s the last king of Judah to reign in Jerusalem before the exile.

So the judgment that Jeremiah has been predicting has already begun. The king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, is the most powerful man in the world at this point, and he has already taken King Jehoichin and a bunch of other leaders to Babylon into exile. And Nebuchadnezzar was the one who placed King Zedekiah on the throne.

But Zedekiah, I think, is considering a rebellion. He’s got it into his mind that maybe Nebuchadnezzar is stretched a little too thin and his kingodm is weakening. So maybe if Zedekiah puts his head together with some neighboring nations and gets some strategic alliances going, he might be able to break free.

So Zedekiah hosts a summit in Jerusalem. A little confab of kings or their ambassadors. But the LORD does not want Zedekiah to break free from Nebuchadnezzar. Instead, he wants Zedekiah and his neighbors to surrender and to submit to Nebuchadnezzar. He wants them to bow their necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon. That’s why Jeremiah has to wear this yoke.

[I so badly wanted to name this sermon, “The Yoke’s On You!” But I didn’t. I refrained. I was good. And it’s really not funny.]
Everywhere that Jeremiah went, he would get stares and pointed fingers and tilted heads and question marks.

Uncomfortable. That’s what it must have been like to be a faithful prophet in that day.

Verse 3 might indicate that Jeremiah was actually supposed to make 6 of these yokes and send 5 of them away in gift bags. Look at verse 3.

After you make and wear this yoke...“Then send word to the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre and Sidon through the envoys who have come to Jerusalem to Zedekiah king of Judah. Give them a message for their masters and say, 'This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Tell this to your masters: With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please. Now I will hand all your countries over to my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; I will make even the wild animals subject to him. All nations will serve him and his son and his grandson until the time for his land comes; then many nations and great kings will subjugate him. If, however, any nation or kingdom will not serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon or bow its neck under his yoke, I will punish that nation with the sword, famine and plague, declares the LORD, until I destroy it by his hand.” (vv.3-9). 

The word in verse 3 translated “send word” could be translated “send them” meaning send each of those kings their own personal homemade yoke. Send a yoke to every king considering rebelling against Nebuchadnezzar.

Whether or not Jeremiah was supposed to do that, he was supposed to tell them all to bend their necks under the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar at this time.

Why? Was that because Nebuchadnezzar was such a good and godly man? No.

Was it because Nebuchadnezzar was so wise and compassionate? Also no.

It was just because the LORD is sovereign, and this is His plan. And He was going to use Nebuchadnezzar for His good and wise purposes. Nebuchadnezzar was the LORD’s servant. He was God’s instrument for that moment.

That didn’t make him good. But the LORD can use any instrument to achieve His sovereign purposes in the world. Do you believe that? If we believe that, it will help us to live more peaceful lives. 

I love verse 5. “With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please.”

We need to be reminded of that on a regular basis, don’t we? I know I do.

And the LORD was going to use Babylon for a time. For three generations. Nebuchadnezzar, and then two more kings to come after him.

The nations were supposed to accept that. And if they didn’t, they would be destroyed.

So, we get to verse 9 and begin to hear the main thrust of these two chapters. A phrase that’s going to be repeated over and over again. More than he talks about the yoke, he says this (v.9):

“So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your interpreters of dreams, your mediums or your sorcerers who tell you, 'You will not serve the king of Babylon.'” 

I almost titled this sermon, “Do Not Listen!”

Remember how much he said, “Listen!” in the last chapter? Listen to the LORD. Tune Him in.

Well, this is the flipside of that. “Do not listen” to those who are lying to you.

Or let me put it this way: 


That’s the big idea of these two chapters. And Jeremiah has been banging that drum for three decades. Do not listen to the people who only tell you what you want to hear.

In verse 9, it was all of the soothsayers of the foreign nations. The diviners, the mediums, the spiritists, the horoscope people, the sorcerers. We could add the bad counselors, the positivity experts, the politicians, the pundits, the smiling televangelists, the quack doctors, the bad friends–anyone who only tells us what we want to hear. 

“You will not serve the king of Babylon.”

Jeremiah was sent with a yoke around his neck to say, “That is a lie.” Look at verse 10. “They prophesy lies to you that will only serve to remove you far from your lands; I will banish you and you will perish. But if any nation will bow its neck under the yoke [there’s our sermon title! “Under the yoke”] of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will let that nation remain in its own land to till it and to live there, declares the LORD.’”

You don’t have to be uprooted.  You don’t have to be removed. You could remain. If you submit to the yoke of the king of Babylon.

Most of the time, submission is not fun. We saw that a year ago as we were reading in 1 Peter about how we should live as foreigners and exiles in this world today. We need to submit ourselves to others, often in uncomfortable ways. To the governing authorities, for example. Even the ones we didn’t vote for! Man, who wants to be told that? Submission is not popular. It doesn’t get “likes and shares.” Especially from Americans.

We like it when people tell us that we can do whatever we want to do. Freedom!

But do not listen to the people who only tell you what you want to hear.

Maybe this message was just for the other nations? Maybe this surrender and submission was just for Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon, but not Judah? Look at verse 12. 

“I gave the same message to Zedekiah king of Judah. I said, ‘Bow your neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon; serve him and his people, and you will live. Why will you and your people die by the sword, famine and plague with which the LORD has threatened any nation that will not serve the king of Babylon? [No, it’s for you, too.] Do not listen to the words of the prophets who say to you, 'You will not serve the king of Babylon,' for they are prophesying lies to you. ‘I have not sent them,' declares the LORD. 'They are prophesying lies in my name. Therefore, I will banish you and you will perish, both you and the prophets who prophesy to you.'” 

I don’t know if Jeremiah got to deliver this message in person, but I imagine him standing there in the throne room, actually offering for Zedekiah to join him in the yoke. In the other side of the yoke.

“Here. Join me. We need to put ourselves under the control of Nebuchadnezzar.”

That must have felt treasonous to the people of Judah. It must have felt “pro-Babylon” instead of “pro-Judah.” It was what they needed to hear, but it was not what they wanted to hear. \

What they wanted to hear was that their ordeal would soon be over and everything was going to go back to the way it was. Look at verse 16.

“Then I said to the priests and all these people, ‘This is what the LORD says: Do not listen to the prophets who say, 'Very soon now the articles from the LORD's house will be brought back from Babylon.' They are prophesying lies to you. Do not listen to them. Serve the king of Babylon, and you will live. Why should this city become a ruin? If they are prophets and have the word of the LORD, let them plead with the LORD Almighty that the furnishings remaining in the house of the LORD and in the palace of the king of Judah and in Jerusalem not be taken to Babylon. For this is what the LORD Almighty says about the pillars, the Sea, the movable stands and the other furnishings that are left in this city, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon did not take away when he carried Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, along with all the nobles of Judah and Jerusalem–yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says about the things that are left in the house of the LORD and in the palace of the king of Judah and in Jerusalem: 'They will be taken to Babylon and there they will remain until the day I come for them,' declares the LORD. 'Then I will bring them back and restore them to this place.'” (vv.16-22).

Now, there is good news there at the end, isn’t there? There is hope in verse 22. There is restoration. There is re-planting what was uprooted. Even many of the articles from the temple will return to the land. It happened! The Book of Ezra recounts the return of more than 5,400 articles for the rebuilt temple (1:7-11)! 

There is hope there. But it comes in God’s way and in God’s timing. And, in God’s timing, it comes after they go under the yoke.

First, they get carted off, then they get restored.

Do not listen to anyone who tells you that you can just skip over the hard part.

Do not listen to the people who only tell you what you want to hear.

Like the prophet Hananiah.

Do you know this guy? Chapter 28. Like the Prophet Uriah from last week, this is the only place the prophet Hananiah shows up in the whole Bible.

Hananiah seems like a pretty nice guy. But he’s the just the kind of person that Jeremiah has been warning everybody about all along. And here the two of them have a confrontation. It’s the same year. 593 or 594 BC. Zedekiah is king. Verse 1.

“In the fifth month of that same year, the fourth year, early in the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, the prophet Hananiah son of Azzur, who was from Gibeon, said to me [Jeremiah] in the house of the LORD in the presence of the priests and all the people: ‘This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: 'I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the articles of the LORD's house that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon removed from here and took to Babylon. I will also bring back to this place Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah and all the other exiles from Judah who went to Babylon,' declares the LORD, 'for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.'” (vv.1-4).

Whoop! That sounds good, doesn’t it? A prophet speaking with such confidence?  And what an encouraging word! He sounds just like Jeremiah, except I like what he says! Hananiah says two years and this whole thing is over. Two years! Not 70 like Jeremiah said. According to Jeremiah, we’ve got like 55 more years to go until this thing is over. Maybe more. This generation! Not two more generations from now. And King Jehoiachin will come home? Jeremiah said that he would die in exile (22:27). This sounds so much better. We keep the temple. We keep Jerusalem. We don’t have more exile. The LORD is going to break the yoke of the king of Babylon. #BreakTheYoke! All over social media.

What do you say if you’re Jeremiah at this moment?

You just heard Hananiah contradict everything you’ve been saying for thirtysome years, in the name of the LORD. But what he says is what you would rather happen. What do you say? Here’s what Jeremiah says. Verse 5.

“Then the prophet Jeremiah replied to the prophet Hananiah before the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the LORD. He said, ‘Amen! May the LORD do so! May the LORD fulfill the words you have prophesied by bringing the articles of the LORD's house and all the exiles back to this place from Babylon. [I wish that were true. I wish that was the plan. Amen. But it’s not the plan. And we all know it. Verse 7.] Nevertheless, listen to what I have to say in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people: From early times the prophets who preceded you and me have prophesied war, disaster and plague against many countries and great kingdoms. But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the LORD only if his prediction comes true.’ [And I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen here.]”

Jeremiah would love for Hananiah to be right.

He has cried rivers of tears over what he knows is going to happen in about 7 years time. He will cry more rivers of tears and probably write a whole book called “Lamentations” over what is going to happen.

But he would love for Hananiah to be right.

He knows that he isn’t right. But he would love it if his people could be spared.

Hananiah doesn’t take no for an answer. And he decides it’s time for a little prophetic symbolism of his own. Look at verse 10!

“Then the prophet Hananiah took the yoke off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah and broke it, and he said before all the people, ‘This is what the LORD says: 'In the same way will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon off the neck of all the nations within two years.' At this, the prophet Jeremiah went on his way” (vv.10-12). What a dramatic moment!

I can hardly believe that Jeremiah was still wearing that yoke. How long did he have to wear that thing? And Hananiah comes up to him and dramatically grabs it off of his neck. What was that like?! And smashes it. Like the pottery? He “broke” it. Tore it apart? Cut it two? What did “breaking” it mean?

And he prophesied that the LORD would break the yoke of the king of Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar defeated. What a day that will be!

Except it’s not a day that will be. Not in two years. Hananiah was all wrong.

It’s very possible that he believed it. That he got this idea into his head and thought it was from the LORD. He might have been well-meaning. But he was only telling them what they wanted to hear.

Do not listen to the people who only tell you what you want to hear.

Several times in the last few months, I’ve asked you the application question, “What lies do you want to believe?” Don’t just say what lies other people around you are tempted to believe, but what lies are you tempted to believe because they would make your life easier? Or more pleasurable? Or soothe your worries? Or confirm your prior assumptions?

One of the big problems with social media is that when you like or share something, the social media algorithms give you more of the same. Did you ever notice that? So pretty soon, if we aren’t careful, it just feeds you more of what you already think and feel and believe. Including about how evil and bad those other people are out there who think differently than you do. No need to listen to them or treat them with respect as fellow bearers of the image of God.

It’s easy to surround ourselves with “yes-men” who tell us what our “itching ears” want to hear.

What do you want to hear, that isn’t necessarily true? And who is feeding you those lies?
Do not listen to the people who only tell you what you want to hear.


Did you see how Jeremiah just walked away in verse 11? I’ll bet that Hananiah thought that he had just won the “Great Israeli Prophet-Off” against Jeremiah. 

“I showed him!” 

And everybody was applauding. Everybody was so glad there was a new prophet on the scene. And finally one with a good message. Positive, encouraging Hananiah. Tune in! But Jeremiah walked off because he had said everything he needed to say, and the LORD had not given him anything else to say at that time. But later He did. Look at verse 12.

“Shortly after the prophet Hananiah had broken the yoke off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: ‘Go and tell Hananiah, 'This is what the LORD says: You have broken a wooden yoke, but in its place you will get a yoke of iron. This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: I will put an iron yoke on the necks of all these nations to make them serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and they will serve him. I will even give him control over the wild animals'” (vv.12-14).

I hope that Jeremiah didn’t have to wear an iron yoke. But the point is clear.

What the LORD said would happen is what is going to happen. It doesn’t matter what Hananiah thought or said or did. The word of the LORD will come true. Including all of the hard parts that we’d all rather skip. It will happen, not because Jeremiah said it, but because Yahweh did.

And Hananiah will learn that lesson the hard way. Verse 15. “Then the prophet Jeremiah said to Hananiah the prophet, ‘Listen, Hananiah! The LORD has not sent you, yet you have persuaded this nation to trust in lies. [Ouch.] Therefore, this is what the LORD says: 'I am about to remove you from the face of the earth. This very year you are going to die, because you have preached rebellion against the LORD.' [By preaching rebellion against Babylon!] In the seventh month of that same year, Hananiah the prophet died” (vv.15-17).

In the Book of Deuteronomy, the LORD said that all false prophets in Israel should be put to death.  Some false prophets tried to lure them away to idols and foreign gods. But other false prophets might have been nice guys who prophesied in the name of the LORD and wanted good things for God’s people. But they only prophesied good things that the people wanted to hear and not the hard things that the people needed to hear. The hard things that the LORD Himself said which are surely true.

Do you know what the LORD has said? You can only listen to it and believe it and trust in it, if you know it.

This is a very somber ending. The LORD wins. Jeremiah wins. The truth wins. But it’s not a happy thing. Hananiah dies because he persuaded the nation to trust in lies. Instead of trying to persuade the nation to trust in the LORD’s truth.

I will admit that I am sorely tempted at times to only preach the things you all want to hear. Just yesterday as I was writing this message, I tried to come up with a list of things you might want not want to hear and then lay them all out. And then I chickened out. I heard the negative feedback in my mind and pulled back. I am tempted to become an Hananiah, and this is a cautionary tale for me. I want, instead, to become like Jeremiah and tell it like it like it is and like it will be, often with tears.

And even more than speaking it, I want to listen to what the LORD says because it will surely be true. His word is not wooden. It is iron. And so even if that makes us uncomfortable, we should listen in because that’s where the truth is and the life. The truth of the gospel starts with the bad news that we are sinners deserving of judgment. “The soul who sins will die.” We have to hear that, listen to that, and believe it to get to the good news.

The good news is that God so loved this exceedingly sinful world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life (cf. John 3:16). And those who put themselves in His hands, under His authority will find life and rest. Jesus Christ invites us to repent and trust and follow Him which will mean hard times. Following Jesus is hard! It’s uncomfortable. Repenting is uncomfortable. Following Jesus is uncomfortable.

But that’s where the hope actually is. And that’s where the rest actually lies. On the other side of the painful is the peace. Because Jesus Christ said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take i upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Listen to Him.


Previous Messages in This Series:

01. "The Word of the LORD Came to Me" - Jeremiah 1:1-19
02. "I Bring Charges Against You" - Jeremiah 2:1-3:5
03. "Return to Me" - Jeremiah 3:6-4:4
04. “Oh My Anguish, My Anguish!” - Jeremiah 4:6-5:31
05. "Ask for the Ancient Paths" - Jeremiah 6:1-30
06. “This Is the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD!” - Jeremiah 7:1-8:3
07. "Is There No Balm in Gilead?" - Jeremiah 8:4-9:22
08. "Boast About This" - Jeremiah 9:23-24
09. "Like a Scarecrow in a Melon Patch" - Jeremiah 9:25-10:25
10. "Conspiracy" - Jeremiah 11:1-12:17
11. “My People For My Renown” - Jeremiah 13:1-27
12. "I Can No Longer Show Compassion" - Jeremiah 14:1-15:21
13. "I Have Withdrawn My Blessing, My Love and My Pity" - Jeremiah 16:1-21
14. "I the LORD Search the Heart" - Jeremiah 17:1-27
15. "Go Down to the Potter's House" - Jeremiah 18:1-19:15
16. “Insult and Reproach All Day Long” - Jeremiah 20:1-18
17. "Woe to the Shepherds" - Jeremiah 21:1-23:8
18. "I Did Not Send These Prophets" - Jeremiah 23:9-40
19. "“My Eyes Will Watch Over Them For Their Good” - Jeremiah 24:1-25:38
20. "This Man Should Be Sentenced to Death" - Jeremiah 26:1-24