The Yoke of Babylon
Jeremiah 27:1 Jeremiah 27:1In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah came this word to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,
American King James Version×says, “In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah…” Most commentators take “Jehoiakim” to be an ancient copyist error in the Hebrew Masoretic Text, believing it should actually say “Zedekiah,” as in some other early manuscripts. It is true that chapter 27 is clearly set in the early part of Zedekiah’s reign, his fourth year to be exact, and not Jehoiakim’s (compare verses 3, 12; Jeremiah 28:1 Jeremiah 28:1And it came to pass the same year, in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the fourth year, and in the fifth month, that Hananiah the son of Azur the prophet, which was of Gibeon, spoke to me in the house of the LORD, in the presence of the priests and of all the people, saying,
American King James Version×).
However, another explanation could be that the chapter break between Jeremiah 26 and 27 occurs in the wrong place. Jeremiah 26 is set “in the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah” (Jeremiah 26:1 Jeremiah 26:1In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah came this word from the LORD, saying,
American King James Version×). Perhaps the last verse of chapter 26 should read, “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 in the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah.” The first verse of chapter 27 would then read, “This word came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying…” While this may seem unlikely to some, we cannot rule it out as a possibility.
Moving into the substance of the chapter, we encounter a hotbed of political plotting during this fourth year of Zedekiah (594-593 B.C.). “Emissaries from Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon met in Jerusalem to plan revolution [against Babylon]. In the Jewish court, pro-Egyptian conspirators probably looked to Egypt for help, especially with the accession of the new king, Psammetichus II (594-589 b.c.e.). Jeremiah [according to God’s direction] opposed rebellion, arguing that Judah’s only hope was to remain a vassal to the Babylonians” (HarperCollins Study Bible, note on 27:1-28:17).
God here again gives Jeremiah a seemingly strange, but dramatic, task to perform. The prophet is to make and then don “bonds and yokes”—and to give these to the gathered envoys for delivery to their national leaders as part of God’s message to them that they were all to submit to Babylon. “The yoke is that used by two oxen to pull a heavy load. Normally, yokes consisted of a crossbar with leather or rope nooses or rods of wood that would be placed around the animals’ necks. Attached to the crossbar was a wooden shaft for pulling the load (see Deuteronomy 21:3 Deuteronomy 21:3And it shall be, that the city which is next to the slain man, even the elders of that city shall take an heifer, which has not been worked with, and which has not drawn in the yoke;
American King James Version×; 1 Samuel 6:7 1 Samuel 6:7Now therefore make a new cart, and take two milk cows, on which there has come no yoke, and tie the cows to the cart, and bring their calves home from them:
American King James Version×; 1 Samuel 1:5 1 Samuel 1:5But to Hannah he gave a worthy portion; for he loved Hannah: but the LORD had shut up her womb.
American King James Version×; 1 Kings 19:19 1 Kings 19:19So he departed there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth: and Elijah passed by him, and cast his mantle on him.
American King James Version×). For the yoke as a symbol of servitude [Jeremiah 27:8 Jeremiah 27:8And it shall come to pass, that the nation and kingdom which will not serve the same Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and that will not put their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation will I punish, said the LORD, with the sword, and with the famine, and with the pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand.
American King James Version×, 12], see also 1 Kings 12:1-11 1 Kings 12:1-11  And Rehoboam went to Shechem: for all Israel were come to Shechem to make him king.  And it came to pass, when Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who was yet in Egypt, heard of it, (for he was fled from the presence of king Solomon, and Jeroboam dwelled in Egypt;)  That they sent and called him. And Jeroboam and all the congregation of Israel came, and spoke to Rehoboam, saying,  Your father made our yoke grievous: now therefore make you the grievous service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put on us, lighter, and we will serve you.  And he said to them, Depart yet for three days, then come again to me. And the people departed.  And king Rehoboam consulted with the old men, that stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, and said, How do you advise that I may answer this people?  And they spoke to him, saying, If you will be a servant to this people this day, and will serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants for ever.  But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him:  And he said to them, What counsel give you that we may answer this people, who have spoken to me, saying, Make the yoke which your father did put on us lighter?  And the young men that were grown up with him spoke to him, saying, Thus shall you speak to this people that spoke to you, saying, Your father made our yoke heavy, but make you it lighter to us; thus shall you say to them, My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s loins.  And now whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father has chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.
American King James Version×” (note on Jeremiah 27:2 Jeremiah 27:2Thus said the LORD to me; Make you bonds and yokes, and put them on your neck,
American King James Version×).
“The task assigned to Jeremiah required great faith, as it was sure to provoke alike his own countrymen and the foreign ambassadors and their kings, by a seeming insult, at the very time that all were full of confident hopes grounded on the confederacy” (Jamieson, Fausset & Brown’s Commentary, note on verse 3).
God’s message through His prophet is intended to make it plain to the leaders of the surrounding nations that they wield power only so long as He allows it. He would promote Nebuchadnezzar and subjugate these leaders and their peoples under him. Yet in this exaltation of the Babylonian emperor, it is clear that God remains ultimately supreme. He even calls Nebuchadnezzar “My Servant” (verse 6). “With all of his military might and conquests, the king of Babylon was still a servant of the God of Israel, carrying out the Lord’s purposes—namely the judgment of Judah [and these other nations]” (Nelson Study Bible, note on verses 6-7).
In verse 8, the yoke symbol is explained to the emissaries: submit to Babylon or else, the alternative being punishment through the dreadful three-fold cycle of sword, famine and pestilence. Jeremiah then delivers to them a serious warning not to listen to prophets or various occult practitioners who were saying the opposite (verses 9-11). He then proclaims the same message to King Zedekiah, the priests and all the people he encounters as he wanders about wearing the yoke (verses 12-16).
Jeremiah then issues a challenge to the false prophets. Nebuchadnezzar had taken much of the temple furnishings in his prior invasions of Jerusalem (see Daniel 1:1-2 Daniel 1:1-2  In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to Jerusalem, and besieged it.
 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god.
American King James Version×; 2 Kings 24:11-13 2 Kings 24:11-13  And Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came against the city, and his servants did besiege it.  And Jehoiachin the king of Judah went out to the king of Babylon, he, and his mother, and his servants, and his princes, and his officers: and the king of Babylon took him in the eighth year of his reign.  And he carried out there all the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king’s house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold which Solomon king of Israel had made in the temple of the LORD, as the LORD had said.
American King James Version×). The false prophets were claiming these would soon be brought back. But Jeremiah says “the vessels which are left” in the temple would also be taken to Babylon in the coming destruction of the city (Jeremiah 27:16-22 Jeremiah 27:16-22  Also I spoke to the priests and to all this people, saying, Thus said the LORD; Listen not to the words of your prophets that prophesy to you, saying, Behold, the vessels of the LORD’s house shall now shortly be brought again from Babylon: for they prophesy a lie to you.  Listen not to them; serve the king of Babylon, and live: why should this city be laid waste?  But if they be prophets, and if the word of the LORD be with them, let them now make intercession to the LORD of hosts, that the vessels which are left in the house of the LORD, and in the house of the king of Judah, and at Jerusalem, go not to Babylon.  For thus said the LORD of hosts concerning the pillars, and concerning the sea, and concerning the bases, and concerning the residue of the vessels that remain in this city.  Which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took not, when he carried away captive Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah from Jerusalem to Babylon, and all the nobles of Judah and Jerusalem;  Yes, thus said the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning the vessels that remain in the house of the LORD, and in the house of the king of Judah and of Jerusalem;  They shall be carried to Babylon, and there shall they be until the day that I visit them, said the LORD; then will I bring them up, and restore them to this place.
American King James Version×). Jeremiah challenges the false prophets to intercede with God to try to stop his words from coming to pass and to bring to pass the things they have announced. This would prove who spoke for God.
It may not be quickly noticed but Jeremiah does offer words of hope and encouragement in the midst of this challenge and pronouncement of calamity. In verse 22, he says that Babylon would ultimately be punished and that the temple furnishings would then be brought back as part of Judah’s restoration. Surprisingly, these items were apparently well accounted for in Babylon, being returned in specific numbers when the Persians later took over (see Ezra 1:7-11 Ezra 1:7-11  Also Cyrus the king brought forth the vessels of the house of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth out of Jerusalem, and had put them in the house of his gods;
 Even those did Cyrus king of Persia bring forth by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and numbered them to Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah.
 And this is the number of them: thirty chargers of gold, a thousand chargers of silver, nine and twenty knives,
 Thirty basins of gold, silver basins of a second sort four hundred and ten, and other vessels a thousand.
 All the vessels of gold and of silver were five thousand and four hundred. All these did Sheshbazzar bring up with them of the captivity that were brought up from Babylon to Jerusalem.
American King James Version×). It is likely that Daniel played a part in the care and cataloging of them.
Jeremiah 28 introduces the prophet Hananiah, who contradicts Jeremiah, falsely claiming that he speaks for God. “Hananiah had the temerity to use the same introductory formula as Jeremiah, implying a claim for inspiration similar to his. The form of the Hebrew verb sabarti (‘I will break’) in v[erse] 2 is the prophetic perfect, which emphasizes the certainty of a future event or promise. The yoke refers to the one Jeremiah had just made. Flatly contradicting Jeremiah’s God-given counsel of submission, Hananiah predicted a return of the captives and the temple vessels within two years, emphasizing the time element by putting it first (v. 3)” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, note on Jeremiah 28:3 Jeremiah 28:3Within two full years will I bring again into this place all the vessels of the LORD’s house, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place, and carried them to Babylon:
American King James Version×) This was unbelievably bold—and utterly foolish.
Jeremiah responds to Hananiah’s message of Judah’s imminent national restoration by essentially saying, “Would that it were true!” (compare verses 5-6). But, he continues, this theme of immediate peace and prosperity runs contrary to the long tradition of the messages of God’s prophets (compare verses 7-8). If a purported prophet of God comes along saying everything’s just fine and predicting “smooth sailing,” the reaction should be as Jeremiah’s: “We’ll have to see it to believe it” (compare verse 9; Deuteronomy 18:21-22 Deuteronomy 18:21-22  And if you say in your heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?
 When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken, but the prophet has spoken it presumptuously: you shall not be afraid of him.
American King James Version×).
(We experience a similar situation today, with false ministers speaking a different message from that of God’s true servants. Only those close to God can determine who His ministers are. Thankfully, most people today have access to His Word and can check what religious teachers say against the Bible—see Acts 17:11 Acts 17:11These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
American King James Version×.)
Hananiah, angry at the rebuke, breaks Jeremiah’s yoke and blasphemously makes his own “sign” out of it, issuing another false prophecy in God’s name. His announcement “reversed every statement by Jeremiah and advanced the cause of rebellion against Babylon by Judah and the surrounding nations, something King Zedekiah had desired all along” (Nelson Study Bible, note on verses 10-11). But Hananiah and those who trust in him soon learn an important lesson about pretending to represent the great Creator God. Hananiah might have broken the wooden yoke on Jeremiah’s neck, but those who embraced his message would soon suffer under a figurative yoke of “iron,” which is unbreakable (verses 13-15). Hananiah, in fact, learns that he won’t even be around long enough to have a yoke on his own neck—except the yoke of death (verse 16).
Remarkably, though Jeremiah said Hananiah would die “this year” (same verse), God doesn’t wait the whole year to fulfill the decree. Instead, the false prophet dies just two months later (compare verses 1, 17). “There was no way the people and priests of Judah, who witnessed the confrontation that took place (28:1), could avoid linking Jeremiah’s prediction with Hananiah’s demise. God shouts out His warnings” (Bible Reader’s Companion, note on verse 17). Yet the stubborn leaders and wayward populace refused to face reality—that all of Jeremiah’s other prophecies were true—and humbly repent.
The false prophets of Jeremiah’s day were powerful and influential, as we can see. Again, even today we need to be wary of false prophets—false preachers—who appear to be true servants of God (Matthew 7:15 Matthew 7:15Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
American King James Version×; 2 Corinthians 11:13 2 Corinthians 11:13For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.
American King James Version×; 1 John 4:1 1 John 4:1Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
American King James Version×). The apostle Peter warns the Church of God: “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies…and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways…. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction will not slumber” (2 Peter 2:1-3 2 Peter 2:1-3  But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privately shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.  And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.  And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingers not, and their damnation slumbers not.
American King James Version×). The Bible even foretells the rise of a great false prophet who will deceive the world at the end of the present age (see Revelation 19:20 Revelation 19:20And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that worked miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.
American King James Version×; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12  Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;  Who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sits in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.  Remember you not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?  And now you know what withholds that he might be revealed in his time.  For the mystery of iniquity does already work: only he who now lets will let, until he be taken out of the way.  And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:  Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,  And with all delusion of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.  And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:  That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
American King James Version×).