Sunday, March 20, 2011

Words that Counsel Rebellion

Eight years of teaching in the classroom, presenting face-to-face lectures and holding one-on-one student/teacher conferences didn't require me to choose my words half as carefully as now when I teach solely online.

As one whose classroom is located not within any four literal walls but in the unconfined realm of cyberspace, it's ironic that I now must more carefully counsel my students in how to revise their essays. In any grade dispute, a classroom teacher might get into a he-said/she-said debate and be protected because of lack of evidence; yet, in my line of work, there is evidence enough to slay a small forest of trees.

On the other side of the screen, without my facial expressions to guide them and without my presence to pepper with immediate questions, students (and their parents paying the college tuition) will pick apart each critical word that flows from my fingers...and they'll be able to read and reread those words blackened in Times New Roman, maybe forever.

Teaching others, counseling others in truth--it's a dangerous business.

The prophet Jeremiah may have lived in a time before Twitter, email, and Face book etched "truth" in tiny pixels of light, but the consequences of bad counsel were severe...perhaps even more so than today.

Way back in Moses' time, God had warned that a false prophet must be "put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the LORD your God" (Deut 13:5, my italics).

Jeremiah uses those same Hebrew words, "counseled rebellion" in reference to two so-called prophets of his day.

The first time he uses this phrase is after the prophet Hananiah speaks a peace and prosperity gospel to Jeremiah "in the house of the LORD in the presence of the priests and all the people, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, 'I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I am going to bring back to this place all the vessels of the LORD'S house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. I am also going to bring back to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the exiles of Judah who went to Babylon,' declares the LORD, 'for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon'" (Jer 28:1-4).

Jeremiah welcomes the good news, but cautions Hananiah and those being counseled by him that most prosperity prophets of old were false.

Maybe Hananiah didn't like the implication that he was a liar and felt the need to reinforce his words with an on-the-spot visual aid because in the next verse, he walks up to Jeremiah and breaks the literal yoke of wood from around his neck, then repeats the same prophecy, just in different words.

Later, Jeremiah receives a word from the Lord and reveals Hananiah for the false prophet he is: "Therefore thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I am about to remove you [Hananiah] from the face of the earth. This year you are going to die, because you have counseled rebellion against the LORD" (Jer. 28:16, my italics).

His crime? Counseling rebellion against God. His punishment? Death.

In the next chapter, Jeremiah deals with yet another false prophet, this one living in Babylon with the exiles. He writes a letter to the exiles, "saying, 'Thus says the LORD concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite, 'Because Shemaiah has prophesied to you, although I did not send him, and he has made you trust in a lie,' therefore thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I am about to punish Shemaiah the Nehelamite and his descendants; he will not have anyone living among this people, and he will not see the good that I am about to do to My people," declares the LORD, "because he has preached rebellion against the LORD’" (Jer. 29:31-32, my italics).

Translated here as "preached," it's the same Hebrew word translated "counseled" in the other two places. And again--the punishment is death.

Strong's defines counseled as “to speak” or “to promise” while rebellion translates as “a departing, withdrawing; hence… departure from Jehovah”*

Using these definitions, the prophets' counsel was a spoken promise to the people. And by making them believe a lie, they were inciting the people to depart from God, His truth, and His plan for them during their 70 years of punishment/exile in Babylon.

To counsel rebellion against God is serious business and it's not something just done thousands of years ago. Warnings against false prophets and warnings for teachers to be careful permeate the New Testament (2 Peter 2:1-3).

According to the Hebrew definition, anyone who teaches the Word of God is "counseling." And what most people don't realize is teachers, pastors, conference speakers, and deacons aren't the only ones who fit into the role of "teacher."

Perhaps the extent of your teaching God's Word is in the role of witnessing to a colleague, friend, or your own child. Yet, even in those small instances, you are still teaching, counseling in God's Word.

Therein lies the danger of teaching "rebellion," something so easy to do.

Perhaps rebellion comes in the form of teaching a half gospel or promoting certain sins as OK because they're not the "big ones" anyway. Perhaps rebellion comes in the form of calling a "sin" a "lifestyle" because it's politically incorrect to do otherwise. Perhaps rebellion comes through a personal belief you teach your children even though it explicitly contradicts the Word of God.

Knowing that I am a teacher of God's word is frightening enough. The thought that one day God could say I was a false prophet because I counseled others to depart from God's truth in favor of an easier to swallow lie--that is beyond words.

*Definition from Strong's Concordance. htttp://

No comments:

Post a Comment