This struggle between a true prophet and a false one is said here to have happened in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah, and yet in the fourth year, for the first four years of his reign might well be called the beginning, or former part, of it, because during those years he reigned under the dominion of the king of Babylon and as a tributary to him; whereas the rest of his reign, which might well be called the latter part of it, in distinction from that former part, he reigned in rebellion against the king of Babylon. In this fourth year of his reign he went in person to Babylon (as we find, Jer. 51:59), and it is probable that this gave the people some hope that his negotiation in person would put a good end to the war, in which hope the false prophets encouraged them, this Hananiah particularly, who was of Gibeon, a priests’ city, and therefore probably himself a priest, as well as Jeremiah. Now here we have,
I. The prediction which Hananiah delivered publicly, solemnly, in the house of the Lord, and in the name of the Lord, in an august assembly, in the presence of the priests and of all the people, who probably were expecting to have some message from heaven. In delivering this prophecy, he faced Jeremiah, he spoke it to him (Jer. 28:1), designing to confront and contradict him, as much as to say, “Jeremiah, thou liest.” Now this prediction is that the king of Babylon’s power, at least his power over Judah and Jerusalem, should be speedily broken, that within two full years the vessels of the temple should be brought back, and Jeremiah, and all the captives that were carried away with him, should return; whereas Jeremiah had foretold that the yoke of the king of Babylon should be bound on yet faster, and that the vessels and captives should not return for 70 years, Jer. 28:2-4. Now, upon the reading of this sham prophecy, and comparing it with the messages that God sent by the true prophets, we may observe what a vast difference there is between them. Here is nothing of the spirit and life, the majesty of style and sublimity of expression, that appear in the discourses of God’s prophets, nothing of that divine flame and flatus. But that which is especially wanting here is an air of piety; he speaks with a great deal of confidence of the return of their prosperity, but here is not a word of good counsel given them to repent, and reform, and return to God, to pray, and seek his face, that they may be prepared for the favours God had in reserve for them. He promises them temporal mercies, in God’s name, but makes no mention of those spiritual mercies which God always promised should go along with them, as Jer. 24:7; I will give them a heart to know me. By all this it appears that, whatever he pretended, he had only the spirit of the world, not the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:12), that he aimed to please, not to profit.
II. Jeremiah’s reply to this pretended prophecy. 1. He heartily wishes it might prove true. Such an affection has he for his country, and so truly desirous is he of the welfare of it, that he would be content to lie under the imputation of a false prophet, so that their ruin might be prevented. He said, Amen; the Lord do so; the Lord perform thy words, Jer. 28:5, 6. This was not the first time that Jeremiah had prayed for his people, though he had prophesied against them, and deprecated the judgments which yet he certainly knew would come; as Christ prayed, Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, when yet he knew it must not pass from him. Though, as a faithful prophet, he foresaw and foretold the destruction of Jerusalem, yet, as a faithful Israelite, he prayed earnestly for the preservation of it, in obedience to that command, Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Though the will of God’s purpose is the rule of prophecy and patience, the will of his precept is the rule of prayer and practice. God himself, though he has determined, does not desire, the death of sinners, but would have all men to be saved. Jeremiah often interceded for his people, Jer. 18:20. The false prophets thought to ingratiate themselves with the people by promising them peace; now the prophet shows that he bore them as great a good-will as their prophets did, whom they were so fond of; and, though he had no warrant from God to promise them peace, yet he earnestly desired it and prayed for it. How strangely were those besotted who caressed those who did them the greatest wrong imaginable by flattering them and persecuted him who did them the greatest service imaginable by interceding for them! See Jer. 27:18. 2. He appeals to the event, to prove it false, Jer. 28:7-9. The false prophets reflected upon Jeremiah, as Ahab upon Micaiah, because he never prophesied good concerning them, but evil. Now he pleads that this had been the purport of the prophecies that other prophets had delivered, so that it ought not to be looked upon as a strange thing, or as rendering his mission doubtful; for prophets of old prophesied against many countries and great kingdoms, so bold were they in delivering the messages which God sent by them, and so far from fearing men, or seeking to please them, as Hananiah did. They made no difficulty, any more than Jeremiah did, of threatening war, famine, and pestilence, and what they said was regarded as coming from God; why then should Jeremiah be run down as a pestilent fellow, and a sower of sedition, when he preached no otherwise than God’s prophets had always done before him? Other prophets had foretold destruction did not come, which yet did not disprove their divine mission, as in the case of Jonah; for God is gracious, and ready to turn away his wrath from those that turn away from their sins. But the prophet that prophesied of peace and prosperity, especially as Hananiah did, absolutely and unconditionally, without adding that necessary proviso, that they do not by wilful sin put a bar in their own door and stop the current of God’s favours, will be proved a true prophet only by the accomplishment of his prediction; if it come to pass, then it shall be known that the Lord has sent him, but, if not, he will appear to be a cheat and an impostor.