By GARY ALLEY
Jerusalem’s name is only proclaimed once in the Bible in double use—when Jesus repeated the great city’s name with pregnant emotion—“Jerusalem, Jerusalem!” His double use marked the gravity of the moment—like an exasperated parent chiding a child or a weary teacher pleading with a pupil.
It took God speaking a young boy’s name twice, “Samuel, Samuel!” for him to finally answer—“Speak, for your servant is listening.” “Moses, Moses!” arrested the attention of a lost shepherd and induced the labor pains of the Hebrew nation’s birth. A young man was saved from slaughter when his father responded to the shout of his name, “Abraham, Abraham!”
What urgent message was Jesus trying to convey to Jerusalem’s inhabitants?
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem…You who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you…”
Why were the prophets killed, and why were those sent by God stoned? Prophets were God’s messengers bringing His word to the people and, especially, to rulers, like kings and priests. Often, we find that these messages from God were rebukes against the abuse of power, political corruption, or syncretistic idolatry in the land. A prophet’s job was to swim upstream against the currents of the religious elite and the royal throne, bringing God’s warning against wrong practices.
Obviously, prophets were not popular. They were often perceived as annoying, agitating, and socially stigmatizing. There have always been people in the world who are troublemakers—those who irritate us and make us feel uncomfortable; but how do we differentiate between those who are opinionated loudmouths, and those who speak a word from the Lord? The foundation for a prophetic word is the truth.
Jesus said, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” “What is truth?” retorted Pilate (John 18:37-38).
What is the truth about truth? This is the great debate. “Truth” can be different for those on one side of power than for those on the other side. As they say, there are two sides to every story. Yet, who decides what is wrong and what is right, what is sin and what is righteous? Even in the Bible, that debate raged.
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,
who put darkness for light and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter (Isa 5:20).
Blurring the lines between good and evil is an ancient fraud that has conned humanity since the Garden of Eden. Power and privilege were never sanctioned in the Bible as arbitrators of piety. Instead, since the time of Samuel, the prophetic voice was empowered as an ethical check and balance towards Israel’s monarchy. When a king went astray, these autonomous prophets were to speak God’s correction to help realign the nation’s priorities. Yet, over time, some of these prophets got on the payrolls of the kings. This conflict of interest compromised their prophetic office and muted God’s voice. And so, as time went on, we see that this professional class of prophets stopped challenging the monarchy when called upon by God. Instead, their petrified prophetic positions began modelling the perversion that spread throughout the nation.
And among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen something horrible:
They commit adultery and live a lie. They strengthen the hands of evildoers,
so that not one of them turns from their wickedness (Jer 23:14).
A false prophet’s results were a continuation of sin’s status quo, while a prophet of the Lord sought real repentance—did the people turn from their wicked ways and did their lives change for good?
I did not send these prophets, yet they have run with their message;
I did not speak to them, yet they have prophesied.
But if they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed my words to my people
and would have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds (Jer 23:21-22).
The prophet Jeremiah spoke against smug spiritual complacency as Babylonian forces slowly constricted around Jerusalem and its temple.
“‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you?
“‘Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel. While you were doing all these things, declares the Lord, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer. Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in…”
…as soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the Lord had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, “You must die! Why do you prophesy in the Lord’s name that this house will be like Shiloh and this city will be desolate and deserted?” (Jer 7:9-14; 26:8-9)
As Jeremiah pointed out, Shiloh, the place where the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant had been stationed for many years prior to Jerusalem, had been destroyed. Jerusalem would be no different than Shiloh. Just a few years later, in 587 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar would raze Jerusalem and its temple.
More than 600 years later, Jesus resurrected Jeremiah’s prophecy, challenging a new generation of Jerusalem residents and their temple rulers trying to placate another foreign empire, the Romans. Weeping over Jerusalem, Jesus said
“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”
Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. (Luke 19:42-47)
Like Jeremiah, Jesus’ prophetic voice would be silenced by those in power. And both times when God’s prophetic words were ignored by those in charge, the city where God put His name, Jerusalem, would be ruined and its holy temple desolated.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you,
how often I have longed to gather your children together,
as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.
Look, your house is left to you desolate” (Luke 13:34-35).
In a world fraught with disagreement and divisiveness, it is easy to point the finger and blame others. Self-righteousness is not just a religious malady; its a human condition. A prophet of the Lord, on the other hand, cries for repentance and shines light into the darkness of all hearts. To find the truth, each of us must open our hearts to prophetic examination and allow soul-searching scrutiny. While isolating ourselves from scriptural critique will appease our flesh, it will also harden our hearts. God’s truth is found in sackcloth and ashes.