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The False Shepherds
The LORD addresses the word to the false shepherds, the thieves and wolves who kill the sheep of His pasture and scatter them everywhere (Jer 23:1). These are not just the four wicked kings from the previous chapters, but all the leaders of Judah. The job of a shepherd is to feed and protect sheep and keep the flock together (Jn 10:11-13). He, “the LORD God of Israel”, condemns these shepherds for what they do to His people (Jer 23:2). He will repay their evil deeds to them.
It affects Him deeply that these shepherds scatter His people in this way. He compares His people to a flock of sheep grazing in His pasture, the land of Israel (Psa 74:1b; Psa 79:13; Psa 95:7; Psa 100:3). Sheep need each other and a shepherd. A sheep alone and without a shepherd is hopelessly lost. Instead of keeping the sheep together, these shepherds scatter them. Because of the unfaithfulness of the shepherds, the sheep were scattered by the Assyrians. Instead of providing safety for the sheep they drive them away. Instead of caring for the sheep they do not look after them. They are worthless shepherds (Eze 34:1-10).
The LORD Himself will take care of His sheep (Jer 23:3). He will gather them out of all the countries of the scattering where they have gone. He will do this by His righteous Branch or Sprout (Jer 23:5-8). We see a small foreshadowing of the return to the land in the return of a remnant from Babylon under Joshua and Zerubbabel.
It is noteworthy that first of the shepherds is said that they scatter and drive out the sheep, but that here the LORD says that He has driven them out. Both are true. The behavior and condition of the leaders of the people left the LORD no choice but to scatter the sheep. But He places the responsibility for this on these leaders.
He is also powerful to bring the sheep back to their pastures or sheepfolds. Sheepfolds are places of safety and care. Through His care they will be fruitful and become numerous. We can apply the gathering in sheepfolds to the gathering of scattered children of God in local churches, to be fruitful and become numerous there. That is what the Lord wants to do even today.
He will put His care for them in the hands of faithful shepherds (Jer 23:4). They will be the under-shepherds of the true Shepherd whom God will appoint over His people (Eze 34:23-24). The sheep will lie down peacefully, not fearing what may happen or being dismayed by an enemy that appears. No power will be able to rob one. No one can snatch one out of the hand of the Father and the Son (Jn 10:28-29).
The Righteous Branch
The days to come (Jer 23:5) are the days of the reign of the Lord Jesus in the realm of peace. In those days, the promise of the LORD in the previous verses will be fulfilled. He will do that Himself by “raising up for David a righteous Branch [literally Sprout]”. He is working that a descendant of David, the Lord Jesus, the great Son of David, will sit on the throne of David. Then the government will be in the hands of an infallible King, Who rules justly and acts wisely. This righteous Sprout is the Messiah.
The name Sprout appears in various compositions and each time shows us a different glory of the Lord Jesus that we can connect with the four Gospels. He is called:
1. “The Branch [or Sprout] of the LORD” (Isa 4:2). This is the Name that brings to mind the Gospel according to John. This Name speaks of His Deity Who is brilliantly described by John in his Gospel.
2. “A righteous Branch [or Sprout]” (Jer 23:5; Jer 33:15). This is in connection with Him as the righteous King. This is how we see Him in the Gospel according to Matthew.
3. “My Servant the Branch [or Sprout]” (Zec 3:8). In the Gospel according to Mark we see Him as Servant.
4. “A man whose name is Branch [or Sprout]” (Zec 6:12). This brings us to the Gospel according to Luke, for in it He is presented as Man.
There will be no more injustice, for He will “do justice and righteousness in the land”, as His father David did (2Sam 8:15). As the true Son of David, the true Solomon, He will judge His people “with righteousness and … with justice” (Psa 72:2). This will be a relief after a long period when unrighteousness and injustice have prevailed, when oppression and misery have been the portion of the faithful.
By “in His days” (Jer 23:6) is meant the days of His reign, when He, Who already has all power in His hands, rules publicly over heaven and earth. In those days, His people will experience the blessing of it. Judah will be redeemed, and all the people of Israel, the twelve tribes, will live securely (Eze 37:15-28).
In the Name by which they call Him, “the LORD our righteousness”, they will acknowledge Him as their righteousness. In no other way will they seek anymore to maintain their own righteousness. This Name of the LORD contrasts with that of Zedekiah. Zedekiah means “the LORD is my righteousness”, a name that was made a lie through his life.
Immediately and inseparably linked to the messianic hope is the national restoration of Israel. What the LORD will then do for His people, the deliverance He will then work, will dwarf the deliverance from Egypt (Jer 23:7). The final deliverance of His people, the gathering of them together from all the lands to which they have been scattered, far exceeds the deliverance from Egypt (Jer 23:8). They will live in their own land and never be driven from it again.
Calamity Will Be Upon the False Prophets
With Jer 23:9, another subject begins, which nevertheless connects to the previous one. The previous section deals primarily with unfaithful kings, but ends with the announcement of the Messiah, the faithful King. Jeremiah is the faithful prophet who announces both judgment and ultimate blessing for the people. The section that follows deals with the false prophets.
Jeremiah speaks of them more than any other prophet. When he thinks about them, he feels a tremendous pain inside. It makes him sick and nauseous and he feels like a drunken man, someone who is swaying back and forth and cannot think clearly. This feeling is caused by what he perceives and sees it in the light of the LORD and “His holy words”.
The difference between the words of the false prophets and the holy words of the LORD is enormous. It is not just a factual observation, but a situation that upsets him. The transgressions of the false prophets are many and great. After the wicked kings, it is mainly the prophets who are responsible for the destruction of the nation.
Those who love the Lord and His Word will experience the same. Everything that goes against Him and His Word causes pain and sorrow. It then concerns those who presume to speak His words in the Name of the Lord. This is not bearable for the God-fearing soul. If you notice it, you are deeply affected and sometimes so upset that for some time you are unable to continue to do anything for the Lord.
The result of what false prophets speak is quite something: “The land is full of adulterers” (Jer 23:10). The first thing a lying prophet is recognized by is infidelity in marriage. Lying prophets bring a curse upon the land, withering the pastures of the wilderness and leaving no food for the sheep. These prophets do not pursue good, but evil. They do not use their power for God’s people, but for themselves. Energy that is not used properly is wasted energy.
Not only do God’s people have to suffer, even the LORD does not escape their wicked behavior. The false prophet has a partner in evil in the unfaithful priest. Both prophet and priest commit sacrilege, not sparing God’s house either (Jer 23:11). Nothing is sacred to these people. But the LORD sees it and confronts them.
They think they are on a road of prosperity and happiness, but that road will be dark, with slippery paths (Jer 23:12). It is already difficult to walk on slippery ice, let alone when it is dark. There is no turning back. They will be pushed on by their lust and will slip on those slippery paths, fall down and perish. This judgment awaits them in “the year of their punishment”. The LORD says so, so it will happen.
False Prophecy in Samaria and Jerusalem
Among the prophets of Samaria, the capital of the ten tribes realm, the LORD has seen “an offensive thing”, a thing that is not fitting for a prophet (Jer 23:13). There are prophets there who prophesy on behalf of Baal and thus deceive God’s people. The LORD still calls Israel “My people” here. Beginning with Jeroboam, the ten tribes realm strayed further and further from the LORD and gave itself over to idols, to Jeroboam’s self-conceived religion (1Kgs 12:26-33).
What Samaria has done is bad, but what Jerusalem is doing is even worse (Jer 23:14). There the LORD did not ‘merely’ see an offensive thing as in Samaria, but He has seen there “a horrible thing”. Israel openly committed idolatry, but Judah prophesied in the Name of the LORD while committing the most reprehensible sins.
The first evil mentioned is again adultery, with in its wake falsehood. Those who commit adultery live in falsehood. It is a gross lie to justify sins in the Name of the LORD. This is what happens in our day when it is said that love is from God and that a homosexual relationship is ‘therefore’ in accordance with God’s will and can even be blessed in the church. Instead of calling for condemnation and repentance of evil, they are so utterly depraved that they encourage others to continue in doing evil. The result is hardening and not repentance from wickedness. The LORD cannot judge them any differently than He did Sodom and Gomorrah, because they act like Sodom and Gomorrah.
The anger of the LORD is on those prophets (Jer 23:15). In His omnipotence as “the LORD of hosts” He says what He will do to these prophets. He is going to feed them wormwood and make them drink poisonous water. They themselves have given the people bitter and poisoned food and drink. Therefore, they will now get to eat and drink it themselves. The taste will be horrible. They will have to take this because “from the prophets of Jerusalem pollution has gone forth into all the land”. Their corrupting influence has permeated the whole land with pollution, so that nothing is holy anymore. Sin has permeated everything.
This is the situation also today in professing Christianity. Nothing is holy anymore, everything that belongs to and is for God and His honor is trampled upon and that by using His Word. How great is the sacrilege committed under the cover of God’s Word! We can think [as to the Netherlands] of the annual Christ-degrading and blasphemous spectacle ‘The Passion’ of the tasteless Evangelical Broadcasting Company. In it the story of Christ’s suffering is played out in a contemporary way by ‘Dutch Celebrities’, many of whom have no relationship whatsoever with the Christ of the Scriptures.
The Words of the Lying Prophets
The LORD now issues a clear warning not to listen to those prophets (Jer 23:16). He says with great emphasis “do not listen” because the people are so very eager to listen to those prophets. Their talk is beautiful and pious, but they are air. They tell an optimistic story about the future. The people love to hear that, but at the same time it makes them blind to the impending doom.
Therefore, the hope they are given is “futility”. It is a hope that comes from the imagination of the false prophets, from the imaginations of their own heart and not from the mouth of the LORD. Such hope is quicksand; there is no firmness in it. Their imaginations lack any real authority. They cannot stand the test of God’s Word. It is preaching ‘according to man’ and not a preaching that urges self-examination, confession and repentance.
Everything we hear should be tested against God’s Word. We should not accept things because they sound credible, or are brought with great conviction. Many misleading prophets have gone forth (1Jn 4:1). The devil has many in his power.
The devil also knows that repetition is the best advertising. The false prophets “keep saying”, repeating it over and over again: “The LORD has said” (Jer 23:17). And what the LORD has said is, of course, pleasant to hear. They find a listening ear with those who despise the LORD. Of course, there is no exhortation to repent. No, they can really count on peace. They can just continue on the way of sin, for “calamity will not come upon you”. This is what the hardened heart loves to hear.
These prophets are far from the counsel of the LORD (Jer 23:18). They do not know His counsel, they have never been in it. They have not seen and heard His word, which is necessary to be a true prophet. A true prophet is involved in that word, he heeds and listens to it, that is, shows it in his life. But these prophets themselves live in the lie. How then can they pass on what the LORD has spoken!
Repeatedly calling for wickedness causes a “storm of the LORD” (Jer 23:19). Wrath emanates from Him like a whirling tempest that “will swirl down on the head of the wicked”. This judgment will come furiously upon them and the storm will not be blown out until the LORD has performed and carried out all that He has thought in His heart (Jer 23:20). We see these judgments in the book of Revelation. They come on His people Israel and also on professing Christianity and also on the world.
Jeremiah and God’s people cannot yet understand this in their time (cf. 1Pet 1:10). “In the last days”, that is in the end time, they will “clearly understand it”. We may well understand everything now, for we have the Spirit Whom God has given us. He makes it known to us (Jn 16:12-14).
The false prophets were not sent by the LORD, yet they went out with a message on His behalf (Jer 23:21). Full of zeal they go around with their predictions of good fortune. The LORD has not told them anything they should say, yet they have gone around prophesying in His Name. This is a great posturing that we also see frequently in professing Christianity today, where liberal preachers dare to speak in the Name of the Lord.
The proof that these false prophets are not in the counsel of the LORD is that they have not caused anyone to turn back from their evil ways and from their evil deeds (Jer 23:22). They have not made God’s people hear God’s words or urge repentance and conversion. The fruit of their ‘prophetic service’ is only hardening.
The false prophets are in great contrast to what prophets do who are sent by God and speak what He says. Such prophets stand in God’s counsel. They know His thoughts and communicate them to His people. These words turn erring people from their evil ways and cause them to stop their evil deeds. These are the characteristics of the true prophets. It is not a question of whether their preaching is successful or not, but whether they speak what the LORD wants. Jeremiah is a true prophet of the LORD, even though his preaching was humanly speaking unsuccessful.
God’s Judgment on the Lying Prophets
The three questions of Jer 23:23-24 are practically the same questions. They are questions that at the same time give the answer. God is not a local God, but is everywhere; He is not a God Who sees only the perceptible, for nothing is hidden from Him (Psa 139:7-10; Amos 9:2-4). He fills the heavens and the earth with His holy presence, so that there is no place beyond His authority, where He is not present, where anyone could be without Him being there.
He is omnipresent and nothing escapes Him. It is a great encouragement to the believer that he may be aware of God’s presence always, everywhere and in all circumstances. It is for the unbeliever a serious call to break with his sins. We may well pray that we never lose the sense of His presence.
These false prophets emphatically state “I had a dream” and repeat it again, just to impress (Jer 23:25). It is all about their own ‘self’. They want to draw attention to themselves. What they then tell are lies in which they also use the Name of the LORD. But He has heard it!
God certainly did speak through dreams, as we know from the history of Joseph with Pharaoh and Daniel with Nebuchadnezzar (Gen 37:5-9; Gen 41:1; 28-32; Num 12:6; 1Sam 28:6; Dan 2:7; Joel 2:28). It may be about one’s own dreams or dreams of others.
How long will the dreaming false prophets continue to preach their castles in the air and how long will the people listen to them (Jer 23:26)? What these prophets tell comes from their corrupt hearts; it is lies and deception. Their goal is to make God’s people forget His Name with their dreams. They are telling each other their dreams and the people are standing there and listen to them and love it (Jer 23:27). What they are doing is the same as what their fathers did by clinging to Baal. It comes from the same depraved source and has the same consequence.
Let the false prophet tell his dream (Jer 23:28). Let him go about his business. What God wants for everyone with whom His word is, is to speak His word truthfully. The lie is always exposed by the truth. Truth and lie have nothing to do with each other, any more than the worthless straw in which there is no food has anything to do with the nutritious grain. The straw is the worthless prophecy of the lying prophets and the grain is the true proclamation of God’s Word.
In addition to food, the word of the LORD can also be compared to a fire and to a hammer (Jer 23:29). This will be experienced by all who engage in the lie, either to spread it or to embrace its preacher. The lie is always pleasant, while the word of truth consumes the lie and the lie prophets like a fire and works like a hammer which shatters a rock. Nothing remains of the lie.
The LORD is “against the prophets”. He will act with the force of the hammer just mentioned against those “who steal” His “words from each another” (Jer 23:30). They boast that they are the only ones who can explain God’s Word and they do so in a pernicious manner. In doing so, they steal from each other what the other has come up with as an explanation.
We can also apply this to passing on God’s Word today. We can read an explanation that is good. But if we pass it on to show thereby how much we know of the Word, we are stealing the words from the other person. It is not our property and does not come from our hearts, but from our heads. We can and do make grateful use of what others have said and written about God’s Word. However, it is not our property until we have thanked God for what He has shown us of the truth of His Word through that other person.
The LORD will also deal forcefully with prophets who use their tongues and then have the audacity to say that He, the LORD, is speaking (Jer 23:31). This is an abominable thing. Therefore, the LORD states for the third time that He will act with power against those prophets of false dreams (Jer 23:32).
It is remarkable how often these verses say “declares the LORD” (Jer 23:29; 30; 31; 32). We see here the exaltedness of His speaking in the face of the mendacious speaking of these lying prophets.
These people deceive His people with their lies that are nothing but drivel. Vigorously the LORD testifies of them that He did not send them, did not command them, and that they are of no use to His people. He wipes them out. What fool will then want to hear even one word from these lying prophets, let alone attach any value to them?
The issue in Jer 23:30-32 is three classes of false prophets. With each of those classes the LORD will deal.
1. The first group (Jer 23:30) commit plagiarism. They are not original; they steal the words of the true prophets and act as if they were their own.
2. The second group (Jer 23:31) uses their tongue without restraint to deceive. By introducing their words with “declares the LORD”, they act as if their words have divine authority.
3. The third group (Jer 23:32) plays on national feelings. This group addresses the whole people. They want to encourage them with their lies and not to care about the threats of the true prophet.
The Oracle [or: Burden] of the LORD
Jeremiah is told by the LORD that the possibility exists that this people or a prophet or a priest will come to him to ask him about the oracle or burden of the LORD (Jer 23:33). A burden a prophet must carry is the message the LORD has placed on his heart (cf. Isa 13:1; Isa 14:28; Nah 1:1; Hab 1:1). They want to know what the LORD wants from them, what burden He is putting on them. But it is a hypocritical question. The LORD knows their hearts, that they do not want to do His will at all.
Therefore, Jeremiah must say with indignation in his voice: “What burden?” By doing so, he lets them know that he rejects their question. Next, he must say that the LORD will abandon them. By this he indicates that they themselves are a burden to the LORD, a burden that He will cast off.
With that answer the questioners will not be satisfied. They will throw in another tack and then take up the words themselves that to them is given “a burden from the LORD” (Jer 23:34; Lam 2:14). In doing so, they claim that they have a command from Him. The LORD will turn against them and punish them.
What they should do is ask one another what the LORD has answered or spoken (Jer 23:35). Likewise, we are to ask one another what is written in God’s Word and not what brother so and so has said, although faithful brothers who have an understanding of God’s Word may be asked for their explanation of a particular verse.
What they should no longer do is think that others can tell them what the burden of the LORD is (Jer 23:36). It is about having their own relationship with Him. The liars will bear their own burden. They have their own responsibility and will receive the punishment for their perverting of “the words of the living God, the LORD of hosts, our God”. This impressive portrayal of God does show how seriously He takes what people who claim to speak on His behalf do with His Word.
It is surely one of the worst things that can happen to a person if his words are perverted. It is one of the greatest responsibilities of someone who is giving a statement of God’s Word not to distort in the slightest way the words of the living God (cf. 2Pet 3:16).
Again Jeremiah is told what to say to the false prophet to bring him into the light of God (Jer 23:37). The false prophet will fall through because of the questions of God’s prophet. Jeremiah has no desire to know what the man dreamed, but he wants to know what the LORD answered that prophet and what the LORD said to him.
So when that prophet does come up with the words “the burden of the LORD”, it is proof that he is a disobedient prophet (Jer 23:38). Indeed, the LORD has clearly given the message not to say that. Therefore, the judgment comes that He will forget them altogether (Jer 23:39). He will forsake the city that He gave to their fathers. On them He will lay an everlasting reproach and humiliation that will not be forgotten (Jer 23:40). People will always remember them as false prophets. That is the only appropriate judgment because they are out to make the people forget the LORD. That severe is the judgment on those who pervert God’s words and disobey what He says.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Jeremiah 23". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26