The other day, in my daily devotional reading I got caught up in reading the tale of the destruction of Israel that’s recounted in Jeremiah 52, and continued in the book of Lamentations. To tell the tale though, you really need to read the entire book of Jeremiah and hear how again and again and again Jeremiah was called to go to the kings of Israel and predict the destruction of Israel. (I had done that in the past days before this incident).
To remind you of this tragic story I’ll attempt to recap a bit what happened. After several evil kings, Zedekiah became the king of Israel and continued in his rebellion against the Lord. In his eleventh year as king, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon came against Israel and besieged it. For two years his army literally camped out outside the walls of Jerusalem, allowing no one in or out. Not surprisingly after a bit the people ran out of food. Lamentations, which is Jeremiah’s lament about all this, tells us more about this sad, hard situation and includes the detail that the ladies of the city even resorted to eating their own children! (Lamentation 2:20)
If you haven’t read it before, I’d highly suggest you read Lamentations, which is were Jeremiah literally weeps over the utter destruction of his people, and their subsequent dehumanization and humiliation. (Zed, for his part had his sons put to death in front of him, and then was blinded, and taken to Babylon where he lived as a captive for the rest of his life—see Jeremiah 52).
As I mentioned before I was absolutely gripped by this story, even though it’s not a unfamiliar story to me. And, then in the midst of this story I found the cause of the problems that Jerusalem faced very clearly spelled out:
Thy prophets have seen vain and foolish things for thee: and they have not discovered thine iniquity, to turn away thy captivity; but have seen for thee false burdens and causes of banishment. (Lamentations 2:14)
For the sins of her prophets, and the iniquities of her priests, that have shed the blood of the just in the midst of her, (Lamentations 4:13)
You see, Jeremiah wasn’t the only prophet in this time period, but instead there were a whole bunch of prophets, and these prophets, every single one of them, made false prophecies which led the people astray. Early on in Jeremiah’s ministry, for instance, he went face-to-face with false prophets, and the Lord had him do it by wearing a yoke and telling the people that they should go into captivity and that if they did they’d be safe. Hananiah, who was also a prophet came against Jeremiah and said that wasn’t true, but that the Lord was saying the people would be set free (see Jeremiah 28).
And, this leads to my point, I, when I was LDS, was taught that a prophet would never, ever lead the people astray, (See http://lds.org/manual/gospel-principles/chapter-9-prophets-of-god?lang=eng&query=prophets+leading+people+astray) and yet in Old Testament times (and in the New too I suspect) prophets did just that—they led the people astray. In fact, in the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah puts the blame for Jerusalem’s destruction, and the people’s being led into captivity squarely at the feet of the false prophets.
And, yet there were some Israelites that were wise enough to ignore the false prophets, and believe the true ones (Jeremiah). How did they know? How could they discern? I think the answer lies in the biblical truth that they knew God’s Word—in their case it was a matter of knowing the Pentateuch (or the first five books of Moses, often called the Law in the Bible). Remember Moses had admonished the people that they should put his words on their door posts, and on the wall as they went in and out of their houses, as well as teach them to their children, and more! (Deuteronomy 6) and some followed this commandment. These were the ones, I believe, who knew that what Jeremiah was saying had to be true. Because you see, what was happening in the government of the time so obviously was NOT what God wanted, that to anyone familiar with His Word, it would have been clear that they weren’t OK—not at all.
In a more contemporary example, many people were duped by Harold Camping, and spent a lot of time and money trying to convince the rest of us that what he predicted was true—that he was a true prophet, and that the world was going to end last Saturday. It didn’t of course, and those of us who knew God’s Word weren’t fooled by him. That’s because there is always, always safety in knowing what God has said—it, and it alone won’t lead us astray. Prophets on the other hand can and will, as is well documented in Zedekiah's story and several others in God's Word.
Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.(1 Cor. 10:11-12)
For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. (Romans 15:4)