We have a rare occasion here in Jeremiah 26. No, not Jeremiah being persecuted by the people of Judah. That has become standard fare. And no, it’s not the fact that Jeremiah was preaching a sermon in temple courts – we saw that in Jeremiah 7 (and this may be an amplified narrative of that event). Here we have an exceptional occurrence where the people and princes of Judah ‘go to bat’ on behalf of God’s prophet. In Israel’s history you can say that times like this came around ‘once in a blue moon,’ i.e. very rarely. Let’s create some context and then jump into our text.
After the people, priests, and prophets heard Jeremiah’s temple sermon they were, shall we say, less-than-pleased. In fact, they were infuriated and they seized him saying, “You shall surely die” (Jer. 26:8)! It was not only an overreaction, it was a thoroughly wrong reaction. But Jeremiah words hit a national sore spot – the temple. And to compare their present-day temple to the possibility of becoming like Shiloh (vs.9) was, to them, a mix of blasphemy and treason. They apparently sought Jeremiah’s imminent death – their words certainly gave that impression, but thankfully, by God’s providence, “the princes of Judah heard these things” (vs.10a) and a judicial process ensued. And with that we have an illustration how having a government and a nation of laws trumps anarchy and the inevitable tendencies of ‘mob rule.’
Well, the prosecution, comprised of the priests and the prophets, said that Jeremiah had essentially committed a seditious act against the nation – “This man deserves to die! For He has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your ears” (vs.11). Jeremiah’s defense was a relatively simple one: he said the LORD sent him (vs.12); he called the people to repent so that God’s judgment would relent (vs.13); he vocalized his submission to the decision of the authorities over him (vs.14); and he warned them that if they put him to death, they would bring innocent blood on themselves, the city, and its inhabitants (vs.15a).
That brings us to the verdict. Verse 16 reads,
16 So the princes and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man does not deserve to die. For he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.”
The first level of their rationale had a solid Biblical basis. Jeremiah did not come preaching in the name of Baal, Ashtoreth, or some other ‘make believe god;’ he preached in the name of the LORD. He was not enticing the people away from Yahweh; he was calling them to pursue fidelity towards Yahweh. Not to mention, by Old Covenant standards, his prediction would have to be watched and tested to see if it came to pass. But as far the princes and priests were concerned, the verdict was clear: “This man does not deserve to die.”
Now, I know this is hyperbole but it seems almost inevitable that the follower of Jesus who is acquainted with the Gospel accounts would have their mind drawn to the words of Pontius Pilate: “I have found no reason for death in Him” (Lk. 23:22b). Both Jeremiah and Jesus were found to be without guilt before their accusers, but one would be set free while the other would be sent to death. Ironically, neither Jeremiah, nor us, could have ever been truly set free if Jesus had been set free.
After that opening statement of acquittal, we’re told that, “certain of the elders of the land rose up and spoke to all the assembly of the people” (vs.17). There was more to be said concerning the appropriateness of Jeremiah’s exoneration. There was, if you will, a legal precedent. They said,
18 “Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, and spoke to all the people of Judah, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts:
“Zion shall be plowed like a field,
Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins,
And the mountain of the temple
Like the bare hills of the forest.”’
19 Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah ever put him to death? Did he not fear the Lord and seek the Lord’s favor? And the Lord relented concerning the doom which He had pronounced against them. But we are doing great evil against ourselves.”
This is a history lesson that every New Testament Christian needs to hear. It could revitalize or revolutionize prayer lives. The elders wisely appealed to recent history and inspired Scripture (Mic. 3:12) – the latter illustrates the importance of knowing the Word of God does it not? Micah had essentially prophesied the same thing as Jeremiah – Jerusalem was going to be judged and destroyed because of its sin (Mic. 3:12). And when Sennacherib, the King of Assyria came to make war against Jerusalem it looked like the prophecy of Micah was going to come to pass. But what did Hezekiah do in response to Micah’s preaching? Did he become fatalistic? Did he arrest Micah? No, he sought the LORD’s favor. He brought about a great reformation and when the Assyrians sent their army, Hezekiah and Isaiah sought the LORD in prayer. In fact, in 2 Kings 19:20, after we see Hezekiah’s prayer in verses 14 through 19, the prophet Isaiah sent a message to Hezekiah saying, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Because you have prayed to Me against Sennacherib king of Assyria, I have heard.’ (2 Ki 19:20b),” and as a result, according to 2 Kings 19:35, one angel dispatched by God killed 185,000 Assyrian warriors and the fall of Jerusalem was put off until 586 B.C. The lesson that the New Testament Christian needs to see: the sovereign LORD sovereignly uses prayer to alter the course of history.
Back to the text…
Jeremiah was actually to go free, unlike Urijah, the prophet who preached according to the words of Jeremiah but was caught and executed by Jehoiakim despite attempting to flee from Egypt (Jer. 26:20-23). What you wouldn’t know unless you read through the entire chapter is the pivotal role that one man played in Jeremiah’s deliverance:
24 Nevertheless the hand of Ahikam the son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah, so that they should not give him into the hand of the people to put him to death.
Talk about an unsung hero in redemptive history – Ahikam. We are not told of his specific position in this text. We do know that, in times past, king Josiah sent he and four others to consult Huldah the prophetess in conjunction with finding the book of the Law (2 Ki. 22:12-14; 2 Chr. 34:20), and we do know that he was the father of Gedaliah, the governor of Judea after the Babylonian conquest (Jer. 40:5); but whatever position he had at this point in time he leveraged it for Jeremiah’s deliverance. He was, if you will, Jeremiah’s advocate. And while both Jesus and Jeremiah had governing officials stating that they were undeserving of death, only Jeremiah had someone like Ahikam. Jesus did not. But here’s the amazing thing about that – there is one greater than Ahikam whose hands, are not only with us, but pierced for us, so that we should not be given into the hands of divine judgment! Yes, Jeremiah had an advocate that secured his deliverance – Ahikam, the son of Shaphan. But thanks be to God that we have an Advocate that secures ours – Jesus Christ the righteous one (1 Jn. 2:1b).