Jeremiah was a prophet of God, proclaiming that judgment was coming upon Jerusalem. However, Jeremiah was opposed by the king and the priests who did not want to hear his message. In their opinion, Jeremiah’s message of surrendering to Babylon amounted to treason. False prophets, who claimed to speak for God, also contradicted Jeremiah’s message. Jeremiah proclaimed bloodshed, destruction, and judgment when Babylon conquered Jerusalem. The false prophets, on the other hand, said that the future of Jerusalem looked bright—Jerusalem could look forward to peace, not war.
The phrase peace, peace, when there is no peace is found in Jeremiah 6:14 as well as Jeremiah 8:11. It is also found in Ezekiel 13:10 and 16. In all four places, it has the same meaning in the same historical context.
Jeremiah was like a doctor delivering bad news to his patient. His diagnosis was that, unless drastic measures were taken, the patient would die. However, the false prophets gave a “second opinion.” “Don’t listen to Jeremiah,” they said; “you are going to be just fine.” Instead of radical surgery and a drastic change of lifestyle, the priests and false prophets said a light bandage was all that was needed. The following passage is found in Jeremiah 6:13–14 and repeated exactly in Jeremiah 8:10b–11:
“From the least to the greatest,
all are greedy for gain;
prophets and priests alike,
all practice deceit.
They dress the wound of my people
as though it were not serious.
‘Peace, peace,’ they say,
when there is no peace.”
When the priests and false prophets said, “Peace, peace,” they were denying that judgment was on the way. They were giving the people false assurances. The explicit assumption is that Jerusalem and Judah had not committed grievous sins and that God was not displeased with them. In fact, according to the false prophets, God was quite happy with His people and wanted to bless them. They promised “peace, peace!” Unfortunately, their promised peace would not come. The book of Jeremiah bears this out, and, in the end, Jerusalem was destroyed by Babylon, just as God had said.
The prophet Ezekiel says something similar: “Because [the false prophets] lead my people astray, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall. Rain will come in torrents, and I will send hailstones hurtling down, and violent winds will burst forth” (Ezekiel 13:10–11). In the same passage, God says, “So I will pour out my wrath against the wall and against those who covered it with whitewash. I will say to you, ‘The wall is gone and so are those who whitewashed it, those prophets of Israel who prophesied to Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for her when there was no peace, declares the Sovereign Lord”’ (verses 15–17).
There are still false prophets and religious leaders today who issue false promises of peace when there is no peace. The message of peace and prosperity “sells.” Some preachers and teachers today say that the Christian life is all about peace and prosperity, but God does not promise that. There are others who ignore or downplay the seriousness of sin and teach that God is not concerned with their behavior. Others deny that eternal judgment awaits the unrepentant sinner, even though God has promised just the opposite. These are modern examples of false prophets promising peace when there is no peace.
Paul tells Timothy to “preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:2–4). People like to hear good news, and they do not want to hear that hardship may be God’s will for them in this life or that judgment is certain after death. Christians have the job of delivering bad news because the bad news must be embraced before the good news can be effective.
God bore witness against the people to whom Isaiah was sent to minister, calling them “rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the Lord’s instruction” (Isaiah 30:9). Such people have closed their ears to the Word of the Lord, and desire to hear only “peace” even when there is no peace. They say to God’s prophets, “Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. . . . Stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!” (verses 10–11).