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Jeremiah 28:5-9

Discerning the work of God is difficult.

Not even prophets know precisely how God will work.

Read that sentence again. If you’re a person of faith, it should catch you off guard.

“Not even prophets know precisely how God will work.”

Note that my claim is nuanced. I did not state that Prophets don’t know *that* God will work. I stated that prophets do not know *precisely* how God will work.

This is an urgent and important issue in our day today for discerning God’s will and an urgent issue in discerning how we interpret prophetic texts generally and especially this most difficult event in Jeremiah’s life as described in Jeremiah 28.

The few explicit verses used in this week’s lectionary reading are framed by an important social and historical context, narrated in the chapters that precede Jeremiah 28, and which come in the next chapter in Jeremiah 29. The historical context of Jeremiah’s audience involves civil, social, economic and international unrest concerning the nation of Judah and her capital city, Jerusalem. Babylon was the dominant empire. Babylon had already conquered many nations. As Babylon was threatening the borders and boundaries of Judah, the Judean were likely asking questions like this:

  1. Should we Judeans give-in to Babylon or should we fight

  2. Should we accept Babylonian culture and Babylonian religious views?

  3. How do we act in these complex and contentious political circumstances?

As they sought answers to their urgent questions about real life matters facing their nation’s political, economic and social future, they sought out the “best voices” for discernment. And the best voices include prophets. Yes, prophets, not just a prophet. And among prophets, there were contesting perspectives on the future. Judeans were both asking about how to respond to the Babylonian situation, and they had to determine too, which prophetic voices could best guide them. There was more than one voice in their local version of “social media” offering a perspective. Judeans must also have been asking:

  1. Who is correct about current and future political events?

  2. Which news is true news about Judah’s situation in life?

  3. Which prophet brings “fake news” concerning Judah and Babylon?

  4. Who can be trusted?

  5. Where is God?

· When more than one person speaks for God with an authoritative voice and demonstrated actions, who should we trust?

If you’ve read these questions carefully, you will discern that these same questions can be asked in any year in any country facing social, political, economic and international upheaval. The questions ultimately boil down to these: