Proper 15 August 18, 2019 Jeremiah 23:23-29 “Lying Prophets”

Proper 15 August 18, 2019 Jeremiah 23:23-29 “Lying Prophets” July 29, 2019

The passage for today is so prescient for the time in which we are living that I could imagine it was written yesterday, hot off the press of some religious publishing house. Yet, we know that it was included as a part of the complex writings attributed to Jeremiah, and his followers, living in the mid to late 7th century BCE, well over 2600 years ago. It remains to me nearly incomprehensible just how relevant our quite ancient Bible continues to be century after century. If proof of the actions of the Holy Spirit is still needed, certainly a passage like this one strongly suggests that the hand of God aided its composition.

Jer.23:23-32 (there is no reason to stop the reading at vs.29 that I can see) stands in the middle of a quite lengthy rebuke of the many false prophets that apparently plied a lucrative trade among the Judeans of Jeremiah’s era. Earlier in the chapter, some would- be, so-called YHWH prophets are singled out as “ungodly” (Jer.23:11), speaking on behalf of YHWH’s sworn enemy, Baal (Jer.23:13), “committing adultery, walking in lies, strengthening the hands of evildoers” (Jer.23:14), thereby becoming nothing less than Sodom and Gomorrah, the very personification of evil in the world (Jer.23:14). Therefore YHWH vows to force foul wormwood down their throats and to give them poisoned water to drink in order to stop their dangerous nonsense from polluting the whole land (Jer.23:15).

YHWH through the mouth of Jeremiah makes it clear that these “prophets” are in fact no prophets at all, and should not be listened to. This is so because YHWH “did not send them, yet they ran (anyway), nor did (YHWH) speak to them, yet they claimed prophetic speech anyway. If they had really listened in on YHWH’s counsel, they would have done what prophets are called to do, namely to “turn people from their evil actions and their wicked ways” (Jer.23:22). These “prophets” are in effect no prophets at all.

But how can one tell true prophets from false? That is always the conundrum, and it was no less a problem in Jeremiah’s day than it is in ours. These “prophets” claim to speak in YHWH’s name, but they begin their words with the exclamation, “I have dreamed; I have dreamed” (Jer.23:25)! They “prophecy the deceit of their own heart” (Jer.23:26). As a result, “they plan to make my people forget my name with their dreams that they mouth to one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal” (Jer.23:27). True prophets, says Jeremiah, do not rely on their own dreams as the basis of their claims; they do not search into their own hearts (that is, their own minds and wills) to determine what they will say to the people. The God they announce as the source of their words is not a God merely “near by,” readily accessible by any mountebank who grabs the cloak of prophecy. Quite the contrary! “God is a God far off,” who “hides in secret places so as not to be seen” (Jer.23:24). These seers imagine that God may be easily and quickly understood and used to say whatever it is they decide that God should say. God, warns, Jeremiah, is not to be so readily coopted to be the divine seal of approval for what these prophets want the people to hear.

Surely, we face a gaggle of such “prophets” in our own time, men and women whose use and abuse of God for their own gain and notoriety are obvious and obviously disgusting. How many are they, each sucking up to the politically powerful the better to feather their own ministries and swell their own bank accounts? President Trump controls any number of these people, swirling around his person, propping him up as “God’s special choice.” Among others there are Paula White, Robert Jeffress (pictured right), Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr. Each in his/her own way speak what they say is God’s word about a man who, by any reckoning, is perhaps the least likely character that such ministers would be expected to prefer as an agent of the Almighty. Trump has been proven to be a serial liar, a user of women, even having paid off prostitutes, a manipulator of people great and small, having been married three times, his current wife a provocative model, many of whose camera poses would shock even the most jaded among us. Yet, it is this man whom these supposed prophets laud and boost and support unreservedly and unashamedly. I admit that I find such support incomprehensible. Not in my wildest nightmares would I ever have imagined that a host of the most well known evangelical leaders in the country would hook their stars to such a publically disgraceful human being, whose racism, sexism, and willful ignorance grab headlines day after day. It remains to me unspeakable that overt Christians would claim that Donald Trump is God’s man. If that is so, then traditional morality, once loudly espoused by these same evangelical Christians, has no place in their current enumeration of Christian virtues.

Yet, they continue to claim the mantle of prophecy, flinging the name of God about as a supposed anchor of their ridiculous ideas about the call of Trump to the presidency. There is little doubt in my mind that they are the lying prophets of Jeremiah’s Judah. I readily admit that I am hardly a supporter of the current occupant of the White House, but the Christianity I follow at least would consistently question the actions, beliefs, and practices of Donald Trump as a person in the light of what Christians have long held sacred. I can only conclude that the name of Baal has been substituted for the hallowed name of YHWH by these men and women of God as they compromise themselves for the sake of momentary power and prestige. Do they not know the history of those who have followed this man in the past? He has used people and then discarded them when they no longer serve his purpose, when they no longer toe the Trump line. The revolving door in the White House and the cabinet room announces loudly that one serves Trump at one’s peril.

I do not now propose to call down divine anathema on these prophets; it is hardly my place to do so, since I too stand in the glaring light of the living God and consistently fall short of what that God calls me to do and be. But lying prophets are among us now, and like Jeremiah I wish to say that the living and loving God of the universe will not forever abide the lies and bigotry that so permeate our air since this odious man has become the president of the USA. Shame on those of us who remain quiet in the face of such offensive and repulsive behavior and words, and shame on those who publically and actively support and defend such behavior and words in the name of the God who has always been seen as a God who rejects lies and bigotry as anathema to the divine will and way. “I am against those who prophecy lying dreams, and who tell them, and who lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or appoint them; they do not profit this people at all, says YHWH” (Jer.23:32)!

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