“And the Lord hath sent unto you all his servants the prophets, rising early and sending them; but ye have not hearkened, nor inclined your ear to hear. They said, Turn ye again now every one from his evil way, and from the evil of your doings, and dwell in the land that the Lord hath given unto you and to your fathers for ever and ever” (Jeremiah 24:4-5).
In the latter days of Judah (600 B.C.), Israel was filled with idolatry. The people had been more illicit than their pagan neighbors – in their false beliefs and disgusting behavior. All this in spite of continual warnings from the Lord.
Who fed this apostasy? The very people who should have known better: Prophets and priests. Where did the false prophets and priests get their message? Not from the Lord God.
“But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings” (Jeremiah 23:22).
Now, the problem was not just false worship. It was not just the pleasant words that let them sin with impunity. That alone would not impress the people. So the religious leaders also got into the business of predicting future events, albeit incorrectly. Their reassuring babble led everyone down the path of iniquity, yet feeling safer than ever from the inevitable judgment which God’s true prophets had spoken.
“They say still unto them that despise me, The Lord hath said, Ye shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you” (Jeremiah 23:17).
Where did their lies come from?
“How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea,they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart; which think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbour, as their fathers have forgotten my name for Baal” (Jeremiah 23:26-27).
One easy method of identifying such purveyors of falsehood is their propensity for copying each other. No originals here. One quotes another. Then someone quotes him. One comes up with a dream, a vision, an agenda. The rest repeat, ad infinitum.
“Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the Lord, that steal my words every one from his neighbour. Behold, I am against the prophets, saith the Lord, that use their tongues, and say, He saith. Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, saith the Lord, and do tell them, and cause my people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:30-32).
You see, it’s all in there. The Bible explains it all. Jeremiah recounted the time shortly before the first destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of God’s people to Babylon. We’re there now. The Lord has His loyal followers and His true under-shepherds who preach, teach and learn in sincerity.
But then there are also be the others. To the church in Philippi, Paul laid bare a similar, challenging, distressful situation as it impacted his ministry. And he tells how he dealt with the hardship it caused him:
“Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: the one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: but the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice” (Philippians 1:15-18).
Apparently, those showmen were preaching the truth, and Paul was grateful for that. We would all prefer to worship amongst our own kind, people with whom we are united in hope, in doctrine, and in practice. We strive to understand how turmoil so easily takes root and overshadows our best efforts to live for Him. “Why, Lord?” we cry.
Paul has an answer for that, too. Not surprisingly, it’s found in his letter to those notorious Corinthians:
“For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Corinthians 11:18-19).
Who is manifesting what? Do the messages you love to hear and repeat truly come from God’s Word or are they the imaginations of popular showmen who take their doctrine from each other?
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2;15).