The Lord made it known to me and I knew;
then you showed me their deeds.
But I was like a gentle lamb
led to the slaughter.
I did not know it was against me
they devised schemes, saying,
“Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
that his name be remembered no more.”
But, O Lord of hosts, who judges righteously,
who tests the heart and the mind,
let me see your vengeance upon them,
for to you have I committed my cause.
Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the men of Anathoth, who seek your life, and say, “Do not prophesy in the name of the Lord, or you will die by our hand”—therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: “Behold, I will punish them. The young men shall die by the sword, their sons and their daughters shall die by famine, and none of them shall be left. For I will bring disaster upon the men of Anathoth, the year of their punishment.” – Jeremiah 11:18-23 ESV
Jeremiah’s job was dangerous. Had there been such a thing as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) during his day, they would have likely leveled fines against Jeremiah’s employer for the life-threatening conditions under which the prophet was forced to work. Jeremiah’s life was in danger, because what he had to say was not what the people wanted to hear. And like all of God’s prophets, Jeremiah was under constant death threats. In this case, he had received news of a threat from the people of the city of Anathoth. They had determined to get rid of Jeremiah.
“Let’s destroy this man and all his words,” they said. “Let’s cut him down, so his name will be forgotten forever.” – Jeremiah 11:19 NLT
They wanted to kill messenger. That would have been like ripping out the smoke alarm in your home because you’re tired of hearing of hearing it wail. Getting rid of Jeremiah wasn’t going to change the outcome. But the people of Anathoth were sick of hearing Jeremiah drone on and on about their sins and God’s coming judgment. And it’s interesting to note that the city of Anathoth was the home of the priestly house of Abiathar, who had served King David. This is important because the descendants of Abiathar would have had a bone to pick with God over their treatment. At one time, Abiathar had been a leading figure in the administration of King David. But when David’s son, Adonijah had determined to state a coupe and take the throne from his father, Abiathar sided with him.
He conferred with Joab the son of Zeruiah and with Abiathar the priest. And they followed Adonijah and helped him. But Zadok the priest and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada and Nathan the prophet and Shimei and Rei and David’s mighty men were not with Adonijah.– 1 Kings 1:7-8 ESV
Zadok was another priest serving in the court of David. He remained faithful to the King and did not take part in Adonijah’s rebellion or follow Abiathar’s lead in taking part in the coupe. As a result of all this, David was forced to have Solomon anointed king of Israel sooner than he had planned.
King David said, “Call to me Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada.” So they came before the king. And the king said to them, “Take with you the servants of your lord and have Solomon my son ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon. And let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet there anoint him king over Israel. Then blow the trumpet and say, ‘Long live King Solomon!’” – 1 Kings 1:32-34 ESV
Solomon was crowned the next king of Israel. And the coupe was stopped dead in its tracks. Adonijah was eventually put to death by Solomon and Abiathar was exiled to Anathoth, never to serve as a priest again.
And to Abiathar the priest the king said, “Go to Anathoth, to your estate, for you deserve death. But I will not at this time put you to death, because you carried the ark of the Lord God before David my father, and because you shared in all my father’s affliction.” So Solomon expelled Abiathar from being priest to the Lord, thus fulfilling the word of the Lord that he had spoken concerning the house of Eli in Shiloh. – 1 Kings 1:26-27 ESV
What is that reference to the word of the Lord and Eli mean? At one time, Eli had been a priest serving in Shiloh. He had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas. They too were priests, but they were wicked, and Eli did nothing to correct their immoral behavior. The book of 1 Samuel tells us, “the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt” (1 Samuel 2:17 ESV). As a result, God told Eli, “‘I promised that your house and the house of your father should go in and out before me forever,” but now the Lord declares: “Far be it from me, for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed. Behold, the days are coming when I will cut off your strength and the strength of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house” (1 Samuel 2:30-31 ESV). And God went on to tell Eli that his house would be replaced as the priests of God.
“And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever.” – 2 Samuel 2:35 ESV
Zadok would be that faithful priest. His very name meant “one who’s proved righteous.” He remained faithfully by David’s side. He represents those who remain faithful to God. But Abiathar represents another kind of priesthood, one that is immoral and unfaithful, like Hophni and Phinehas. One of the things Jeremiah had to constantly fight was the presence of false prophets and ungodly priests, who were actually leading the people away from God. They rejected the warnings of God spoken through the mouth of Jeremiah. In fact, they planned to kill the messenger in a futile attempt to rid themselves of the threat. These evil men had told Jeremiah, ““We will kill you if you do not stop prophesying in the Lord’s name” (Jeremiah 11:21 NLT). But God had other plans.
“I will punish them! Their young men will die in battle, and their boys and girls will starve to death. Not one of these plotters from Anathoth will survive, for I will bring disaster upon them when their time of punishment comes.” – Jeremiah 11:22-23 NLT
There will always be spiritual leaders like Abiathar, Hophni and Phinehas – men who claim to speak on behalf of God, but who are really unfaithful and unworthy to be called priests of God. They will twist the words of God and present their version of the facts, claiming to be speaking for God. They will lead people astray. They will lie and call it truth. They will attack others who speak the truth. But they will not escape the wrath of God. The men of Anathoth had a bone to pick. They were still upset with all that had happened to their forefather, Abiathar. They had been removed from significance by Solomon and replaced by the house of Zadok. But they still viewed themselves as priests and still attempted to lead the people. But they led them in the wrong direction. And their threat to kill the prophet of God would backfire on them. They could not stop the will of God. They could not replace the plans of God with their own. They would fail. Like Hophni, Phinehas and Abiathar, they would suffer the fate that God had in store for them. Their sins would be exposed and their judgment would be just. They would get just what they deserved.
Jeremiah was caught in the cross fire. He was in a dangerous place, attempting to warn the people of Judah and calling them back to God. But there were those who were not only rejecting his words, but were calling him a liar. They were undermining his ministry and even threatening his life. They stood opposed to God and His messenger. And they would do everything in their power to keep God’s will from taking place. But they would fail. Jeremiah was in a dangerous place, but it would prove to be the safest place for him to be – within the will of God, obediently obeying His will and proclaiming His Word.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.