Any Lunatic Who Pretends to be a Prophet

So I’m preparing GD lesson 42 for tomorrow, which is the second lesson on Jeremiah. Chapter 29 begins with a transcription of a letter that Jeremiah sent to the exiles in Babylon, basically advising them to settle in for the long haul, build houses, marry, have children, and so forth (things the LORD specifically commanded Jeremiah back in Judah not to do), because the Exile would not be over quickly, despite the prophecies of a quick return being circulated by the (false) prophets among the exiles.

Then starting in v. 25 there is a letter from Shemaiah, writing from Babylon back to the land of Judah to a priest named Zephaniah, instructing him that he was now in charge of the temple in the absence of the priest Jehoida. He further instructs (in v. 26) that “ye should be officers in the house of the LORD, for every man that is mad, and maketh himself a prophet, that thou shouldest put him in prison, and in the stocks.”

As usual, the KJV is a little bit obscure. For me, the passage was far clearer and more vivid in the rendering of the NET:

The Lord has made you priest in place of Jehoiada. He has put you in charge in the Lord’s temple of controlling any lunatic who pretends to be a prophet. And it is your duty to put any such person in the stocks with an iron collar around his neck. [Emphasis added]

Shemaiah then goes on to ask why Zephaniah had not yet reproved Jeremiah of Anathoth who makes himself a prophet there. This letter is then read to Jeremiah, who in turn pronounces a devastating curse on Shemaiah.

For the key language in this verse, the NRSV has “any madman who plays the prophet,” the NIV “any maniac who acts like a prophet,” the Complete Jewish Bible “any crazy person who makes himself out to be a prophet,” and the Orthodox Jewish Bible ” every ish (man) that is meshuggah (mad, insane), and maketh himself a navi (prophet),”

I thought this passage provided compelling background to the experience of Lehi in Jerusalem from just a little before this time as recounted at the end of 1 Nephi 1. The Exile hasn’t quite happened yet, but those who prophesy of it understandably are not appreciated. After his spiritual experiences he begins to prophesy in ways that echo what Jeremiah had been saying. In verse 19 of that chapter the Jews begin to mock him, but then in verse 20 they become angry at him and seek his life. This is the situation that leads to Lehi taking his family and fleeing into the wilderness. The religious environment that prevailed around that time led to Lehi being perceived as just another lunatic who pretends to be a prophet, and therefore deserving of severe punishment.


  1. In contrast to Jeremiah and Lehi, Jeremiah chapter 23 lays out Yahweh’s charges against the false Israelite prophets: they committed adultery, they stole from the poor, the colluded with corrupt politicians and they were the chief idolaters. Being a real messenger from the Lord would have seemed very odd an irritating to this upside-down world about to be conquered and subjugated.

  2. Thanks for this perspective and insight.

  3. Very nice, Kevin. Thanks.

  4. Nice!

  5. Very nice exposition, Kevin!

  6. really enjoyed this and gained some valuable insight — thank you!