JEREMIAH CHAPTER 23.
Of the Messiah, the True Shepherd.
THE RESTORATION OF THE SCATTERED FLOCK. — V. 1. Woe be unto the pastors, the rulers, the spiritual leaders of the people in particular, that destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture! saith the Lord, Israel and Judah, specifically the congregation of the Lord in the midst of the people, are called the flock of Jehovah's pasturage because He attends them with His particular care. All the more reason, therefore, to denounce the leaders who were so willfully forgetful of their duties. V. 2. Therefore thus saith the Lord God of Israel against the pastors that feed My people, to whom this sacred duty was entrusted, Ye have scattered My flock and driven them away, instead of holding them together in a compact flock, and have not visited them, this being the most reprehensible form of neglect. Behold, I will visit upon you, in a visitation of His avenging wrath, the evil of your doings, saith the Lord. V. 3. And I will gather the remnant of My flock, the true spiritual Israel, out of all countries whither I have driven them, for although the people themselves had permitted themselves to be corrupted by their false leaders, yet the burden of the guilt lay on the rulers, this phase of the matter being emphasized in this instance, and will bring them again to their folds, as congregations of believers; and they shall be fruitful and increase, according to the blessings of the Gospel-promise. V. 4. And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them, teach them in full agreement with the will of Jehovah; and they shall fear no more nor be dismayed, terrified by the coming of the enemies; neither shall they be lacking, saith the Lord, they will not be missed, that is, they would no more be lost from the flock, since the Lord's shepherds would take the best care of them. The Messianic import of this passage is unmistakable, but this factor is brought out even more strongly in the next paragraph. V. 5. Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, success attending His wise and prudent dealing, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. V. 6. In His days Judah shall be saved and Israel shall dwell safely. And this is His name whereby He shall be called, THE LORD OUR, RIGHTEOUSNESS. Here the Messiah is spoken of by a name, in a figure, which is used also by Isaiah and Zechariah. To David, namely, as a descendant of Judah, as a member of his family, Jehovah will cause to arise a righteous Branch, a shoot characterized by, and distinguished for, righteousness. This Branch will at the same time be a King, who would have royal power and would make use of that power and authority in taking care of the affairs of His kingdom in a prudent manner. The excellency of His rule would be brought out particularly by the fact that He would perform judgment and execute righteousness according to unquestioned standards, although unusual in the eyes of men. For He would show these traits in bringing salvation to Judah and in letting Israel dwell in safety, both expressions referring to the true spiritual Israel, the Church of Christ. No wonder, then, that His name would be called "Jehovah Our Righteousness," since, by virtue of His perfect atonement, all men may become partakers of the righteousness earned by Him for them. V. 7. Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that they shall no more say, in the form of oath prevalent at that time. The Lord liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; v. 8. but, The Lord liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel, the stock of the new people of Jehovah, out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them, since the Lord had scattered them throughout the countries pertaining to the Babylonian Empire; and they shall dwell in their own land. Cp. chap. 16,14.15. "Jehovah Our Righteousness" is the one Hope of all mankind; for by faith in His redemption men become partakers of the righteousness earned by Him, which makes them just in the sight of God.
AGAINST THE FALSE PROPHETS. — V. 9. Mine heart within me is broken because of the prophets, the inscription of this entire section being "Concerning the Prophets," all my bones shake, in deep agitation and horror; I am like a drunken man and like a man whom wine hath overcome, because of the Lord and because of the words of His holiness, namely, because he feels in advance the terrors of the judgment which would come upon his countrymen on account of the wickedness of the false prophets. V. 10. For the land is full of adulterers, this crime being unusually prevalent at that time, as a natural consequence of the shameless rites introduced in connection with the idolatry practiced by the false prophets; for because of swearing the land mourneth, that is, on account of the curse following such a grave transgression the land was fading away like a wilting flower, the pleasant places of the wilderness are dried up, the very pastures of the steppes no longer yielding sufficient food for the herds of cattle which usually dotted their slopes; and their course, that of both prophets and people, in practicing adultery, is evil, their thought and endeavor in general, their entire behavior, being wicked and guilty, and their force is not right, they excel in wrong and wickedness. V. 11. For both prophet and priest are profane, void of all true consecration; yea, in My house have I found their wickedness, saith the Lord, most likely in their shameless idolatry, which they did not hesitate to practice in the very courts of the Lord's Temple. V. 12. Wherefore their way shall be unto them as slippery ways in the darkness, their false doctrine and their sinful life proving their downfall; they shall be driven on and fall therein, that is, they would be pushed and thus brought to fall in their own transgressions; for I will bring evil upon them, even the year of their visitation, saith the Lord, so that His calamity would strike them at the appointed time, at the time of Jehovah's punishment. In order to emphasize the wickedness of the prophets, they are now compared with the prophets of Samaria, the religion of which was a strange mixture of Jehovah cult and heathen abominations. V. 13. And I have seen folly in the prophets of Samaria, perversity and absurdity, the teaching of insipid doctrines; they prophesied in Baal, insisting that they were inspired by this idol, and caused My people Israel to err. Cp. 1 Kings 18, 19 ff. But the behavior of the prophets of Judah is still more terrible. V. 14. I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem an horrible thing, an abomination which filled him with loathing: they commit adultery and walk in lies, in an utterly immoral and hypocritical life; they strengthen also the hands of evil-doers, instead of reproving and converting them, that none doth return from his wickedness; they are all of them unto Me as Sodom and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah, the essence of all putrid wickedness. V. 16. Therefore, thus saith the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets, the leaders in wickedness, the seducers of the people, Behold, I will feed them with wormwood and make them drink the water of gall, poison water, cp. chap. 9, 14; for from the prophets of Jerusalem is profaneness gone forth into all the land, so that profligacy was practiced everywhere; the Holy Land was desecrated and the Word of the Lord blasphemed, even as it is today in consequence of similar behavior on the part of men who call themselves ministers of the Word. V. 16. Thus saith the Lord of hosts, in warning the true believers against the deception of the false prophets. Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you; they make you vain, deceiving them, seducing them to the vanity of idolatry; they speak a vision of their own heart, revelations of their own imagination, and not out of the mouth of the Lord, their so-called messages to the people being made without authorization of Jehovah. V. 17. They say still unto them that despise Me, to the outspoken enemies of the Lord, The Lord hath said, Ye shall have peace, be safe from harm; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, in the stubbornness of a willful disobedience to the Lord's will. No evil shall come upon you, thus proclaiming a security which the Lord had expressly denied them. V. 18. For who hath stood in the counsel of the Lord, when He made His plans concerning the punishment of the wicked, and hath perceived and heard His Word? The answer implied is an emphatic no, so far as the false prophets are concerned. Who hath marked His Word and heard it? The prophet again denies that any of these false, self-appointed prophets can be mouthpieces of Jehovah. Jeremiah, on the contrary, now proclaims a word of the Lord which is entirely different in content from the inventions of the false prophets. V. 19. Behold, a whirlwind of the Lord is gone forth in fury, even a grievous whirlwind! or, "Behold a storm from Jehovah! Fury goes forth and a whirling storm"; it shall fall grievously upon the head of the wicked, falling upon the ungodly, hurled upon them to their utter destruction. V. 20. The anger of the Lord shall not return, not cease from carrying out His judgment, until He have executed and till He have performed the thoughts of His heart, everything that He had planned with regard to the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem. In the latter days, at the time when His judgment would strike the people, ye shall consider it perfectly, becoming fully aware of the truth of His threats. At the same time the Lord denies that He has in any way authorized the deceivers of His people. V. 21. I have not sent these prophets, they had not been commissioned as His messengers, yet they ran, unnaturally eager to carry out their self-imposed task; I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied, insisting that they possessed the prophetic spirit of the true God. V. 22. But if they had stood in My counsel and had caused My people to hear My words, proclaiming them as they were truly revealed, then they should have turned them from their evil way and from the evil of their doings, in other words, they would preach repentance from idolatry instead of confirming the people in their false security, which has ever been a trick of such as falsely proclaimed themselves messengers of the Lord. To give weight to these reproofs, the Lord now shows why it is that He is familiar with the hypocritical conduct of the false prophets. V. 23. Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, one whose power is limited to a small circle, and not a God afar off? whose power and understanding is unlimited. V. 24. Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. It was a foolish idea to think that the all-knowing God would not know his whereabouts. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord, nothing being hidden from His omniscient gaze, from His omnipresence. With these attributes at His disposal, the Lord is naturally familiar with the acts and thoughts of all men everywhere. V. 25. I have heard what the prophets said that prophesy lies in My name saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed, offering the dross of their own imagination instead of the gold of God's Word. V. 26. How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? Yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart, with which they lead men astray, v. 27. which think to cause My people to forget My name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbor, since they substituted them for the truth revealed in the Word of the Lord, as their fathers have forgotten My name for Baal. Cp. Judg.3,7; 8,33.34. The Lord now sets forth the principle which is to guide those who claim for themselves the authority of His messengers. V.28. The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream, frankly relating it as such, without indulging in extravagant assertions; and he that hath My Word, being entrusted with its proclamation, let him speak My Word faithfully, in sincerity and truth. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord. The dreams of the false prophets are chaff, empty straw; God's Word. alone is the grain, the real substance. And still more the Lord asserts in characterizing His Word, the only message that has the right to be proclaimed as the eternal truth. V. 29. Is not My Word like as a fire? saith the Lord, devouring and destroying all the philosophy of men which will not stand the test of His eternal truth, and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces? its power overcoming even the hardest and the strongest fabric of men's imagination. Cp. Heb. 4, 12. V. 30. Therefore, because the false prophets were practicing deceit and seducing the people, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the Lord, that steal My words, every one from his neighbor. They appropriated the inspired sayings of the true prophets in order to give their own oracles a show of right. V. 31. Behold, I am against the prophets, saith the Lord, that use their tongues and say, He saith, literally, "that take their own tongues and utter a divine oracle," asserting that they were proclaiming messages from the true God, when they were setting forth nothing but their own inventions. V. 32. Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, saith the Lord, insisting that the fabric of their own thoughts was to be accepted as God's revelation, and do tell them, and cause My people, as the Lord still calls them for the sake of the true believers in their midst, to err by their lies and by their lightness, by their boastful and wanton inventions; yet I sent them not nor commanded them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the Lord, a most emphatic statement that their activity would result in nothing but injury to the people. V. 33. And when this people or the prophet or a priest, either the common people or one of their spiritual leaders, shall ask thee, saying, What is the burden of the Lord? according to a custom by which the prophet was asked concerning some probable new revelations, which they purposely designated as an unpleasant burden, thou shalt then say unto them, What burden? or, "Thou shalt tell them what the burden of Jehovah is," namely, I will even forsake you, saith the Lord, an unloading of the burden, a rejecting of the people. V. 34. And as for the prophet and the priest and the people that shall say, The burden of the Lord, in blasphemous mockery of His solemn announcement, I will even punish that man and his house, all the members of a man's family who are guilty with him. V. 35. Thus shall ye say, every one to his neighbor and every one to his brother, What hath the Lord answered? and, What hath the Lord spoken? thus showing the proper respect for the prophecy of Jehovah. V. 36. And the burden of the Lord shall ye mention no more, no more toss this expression about in mockery; for every man's word shall be his burden, that is, this expression, if used in such a jeering sense, would become a burden to such a scorner, heavy enough to bear him down to the ground; for ye have perverted the words of the living God, of the Lord of hosts, our God, whose majesty is here emphatically declared, to give added weight to His proclamation. V. 37. Thus shalt thou say to the prophet, What hath the Lord answered thee? and, What hath the Lord spoken? That alone was the proper way of speaking to Jehovah's messenger. V. 38. But since ye say, The burden of the Lord, persisting in their meanness in spite of the Lord's express command, therefore, thus saith the Lord, Because ye say this word, The burden of the Lord, and I have sent unto you, saying, Ye shall not say, The burden of the Lord, v. 39. therefore, behold, I, even I, spoken with great solemnity and impressiveness, will utterly forget you, rather, "I will altogether lift you up and burden you," and I will forsake you, thrusting them with great force, and the city that I gave you and your fathers, and cast you out of My presence; v. 40. and I will bring an everlasting reproach upon you and a perpetual shame, namely, on the part of all her enemies and all the witnesses of her downfall, which shall not be forgotten. A similar fate awaits those who in our days purposely follow the lead of the false prophets and join them in jeering and mocking those who confess the truth of God's Word.