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He prophesieth a restoration of the scattered flock. Christ shall rule and save them. Against false prophets, and mockers of the true prophets.
Before Christ 598.
Jeremiah 23:1. Woe be unto the pastors, &c.— To the kings and officers of the princes, who abused their authority by oppressing the poor. This is a sequel to the preceding discourse, principally addressed to the princes of Judah, the sons and successors of Josiah.
Jeremiah 23:5. Behold, the days come, &c.— After having foretold the return of the Jews from captivity, the prophet here delivers a lively prediction of the Messiah, of whom the Jews themselves interpret this passage. After the captivity, when the kingdom of David failed, Zechariah (Zechariah 3:8.) taught them to look for the appearance of God's servant, the Branch. In virtue of these promises, the people still expected the coming of the Messiah, till Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, and the prophet also, declared that they were completed in the conception of Jesus Christ, when, through the tender mercies of God, the Day-spring from on high visited them, Luke 1:68; Luke 1:78. The Hebrew word by which Christ is denoted under the image of a branch, עמח tzemach, is rendered by the Greek word ανατολη in the LXX.; and, ανατολη signifying both a branch and the day-spring, is the reason why Zechariah is introduced as varying the expression, though indeed it might have been rendered branch: the Greek word anatole was applied to the Messiah, by the Greek Jews, before our Saviour's time. From them the Latin Jews called him Ories, from whom the Gentiles at Rome learned the name, without knowing the reason of it. Though this term was originally applied to Solomon, it was not exhausted in him, nor indeed in any of his successors; for, as it was renewed by Jeremiah in this chapter, and by Zechariah in the place above quoted, so the completion was still looked for by the son of Sirach in the beginning of the Greek monarchy, and believed by the Jews, at the time when our blessed Saviour raised Lazarus from the dead. The character in the latter part of the verse, He shall execute judgment, &c. is also given by the Psalmist and the prophet Isaiah to the Messiah; because his laws are the most perfect rule of righteousness, and himself the most impartial rewarder of every man according to his works. See. ch. Jeremiah 33:15, &c. Bishop Chandler's Defence, and Houbigant's note on the place.
Jeremiah 23:6. In his days Judah shall be saved— This prophesy is in part fulfilled in all true believers,—the mystical Israel, but will receive its utmost completion when the Jewish nation shall be restored; a blessing foretold by most of the ancient prophets, who generally joined Judah and Israel together, as equal sharers in the blessing, being no longer two but one kingdom: and the great Author of this restoration and peace shall be called THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS: that is, He shall be the Jehovah, or true God, in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and our righteousness, or the great and only means of our justification before God.
Jeremiah 23:7-8. Therefore, behold, &c.— See ch. Jeremiah 16:14. "One proverb shall give way to another, when the greater deliverance shall put the less out of remembrance. This wonderful work of God, in restoring the Jewish nation after their dispersion in every part of the world, will so far exceed the miracles which he wrought in their deliverance out of Egypt, that the latter will not deserve to be mentioned with the former." St. Paul calls this restoration of the Jews life from the dead, Rom 11:15 that is, it would be a miracle as surprising as if a dead body was restored again to life. See Bishop Chandler's Defence.
Jeremiah 23:9. Mine heart within me, &c.— We have here a new discourse against the false prophets, with whom afterwards the priests are joined: Jeremiah declares that, upon a view of the evils with which they are threatened, he is in trouble and agitation like that of a man who has lost his reason in wine; Jeremiah 23:9-15. The words may be read, As to, or concerning the prophets, my heart is broken within me, &c. He then exhorts the people in the name of God not to listen to the words of the prophets that prophesied of peace, when evil was determined, and would infallibly take place, as would in time appear; and charges those prophets with speaking of themselves, and not from the divine commission, Jeremiah 23:16-22. God asserts his omnipresence and omniscience; and reproves the audaciousness of the false prophets, who affected to place their own idle dreams on a level with the all-powerful and efficacious word of divine revelation; declaring himself against the several species of those impostors; Jeremiah 23:23-32. In fine, he requires all sorts of persons to desist from an indecency in common use, of styling his word a burden; and threatens severely to punish those who in defiance of this command should continue to cast such a slur upon it.
Jeremiah 23:10. For because off swearing— Houbigant renders this, Whose course is to evil, whose strength is to iniquity; therefore the land mourneth, and the pastures of the desart are dried up. See his note. Others read, Before the face of the curse the land mourneth. Full of corrupted and idolatrous men, of false prophets, who dishonour God by their lies, and people who dishonour him by their worship of false gods, the whole land is become subject to his curse, and, as it were, mourneth and lamenteth under his displeasure. Others understand the expression because of swearing, to mean perjury, or swearing by the false gods.
Jeremiah 23:12. They shall be driven on— Shall go astray, or be bewildered.
Jeremiah 23:13-14. I have seen folly— Jeremiah draws a contrast between the sins of the prophets of Samaria, and of Jerusalem, and pronounces those of the latter to be more enormous, because the former seduced the people by prophesying in the name of Baal; whereas the prophets of Israel pronounced their false prophesies in the name of the true God, and pretended that he was the author of all their impostures. The wickedness of their lives also reflected a dishonour upon God and his religion. See Calmet and Lowth.
Jeremiah 23:18.— For who hath stood in, &c.] But who hath been present, &c. These are the words of Jeremiah to the false prophets, "Who of you, O false prophets, can boast of having really entered into the secrets of the Almighty? I will shew you very much the contrary. His fury shall burst forth upon you in a terrible manner; your own destruction shall shew the falsehood of your prophesy, Jer 23:19 then shall you comprehend the secrets, and enter into the designs of the Lord. In the latter days ye shall understand my counsel perfectly," Jeremiah 23:20.
Jeremiah 23:23. Am I a God at hand, &c.— This verse is well explained by the next: "Do you think that I regard heavenly things only, and not those of the earth?—on the contrary, I fill both heaven and earth; each of them alike subject to my providence and care."
Jeremiah 23:26. How long, &c.— How long shall there be among my people prophets who prophesy false things, and proclaim the deceits of their own heart?
Jeremiah 23:28. The prophet that hath a dream— "Let him propose his dream to those who are truly inspired, that they may judge whether the dream is from God, and that they may not give out simple dreams and vain imaginations for true prophesies, mixing the chaff with the wheat, and confounding true revelation with the errors of a misguided spirit, Jeremiah 23:29. Is not my word like as a fire, quick and powerful, capable of trying metals, as in a furnace, and ready to burn up that which will not bear the trial? And as a hammer breaketh the hardest rock in pieces, so is this word able to break down the confidence of the most hardened sinner." See Calmet.
Jeremiah 23:30. That steal my words, &c.— Who hide my word, every one, &c. Houbigant; who also renders the latter part of the next verse, Who make their tongues soft, and utter smooth words. See Psalms 50:16.
Jeremiah 23:33. What is the burden— See Isaiah 13:1; Isaiah 13:22. As the scoffers and infidels make a derision of this term, they are forbidden to mention it any more as ambiguous; and, instead of inquiring, What is the burden of the Lord? they are commanded to say, What hath the Lord answered? &c. See Jer 23:35 and Newton on the Prophesies, vol. 1: p. 357. Instead of, I will even forsake you, we may read, I will disburden myself of you.
Jeremiah 23:36. Every man's word shall be his burden— "Every one of you shall feel the weight of my vengeance, for the insolent discourse which you have pronounced. Your discourse shall be your burden, and the cause of your chastisements." Houbigant understands these verses somewhat differently; he renders the 35th verse thus: Nor shall a man any more say to his neighbour, or to his brother, What hath the Lord answered, or what is his word? Jeremiah 23:36. Nor shall ye mention any more the burden of the Lord; since every man's word shall be his burden: nor shall ye any more prevent the words of the living God, &c.
Jeremiah 23:39. I, even I, will utterly forget you— I, even I, will bear you away like a burden, and I will throw out of my sight both you and the city which I gave to you and to your fathers. Houbigant.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The prophet's message is a roll full of woes against a wicked nation, utterly corrupt both in its head and members.
1. He pronounces a woe on the pastors of Israel, their rulers in church and state, whose duty it was to have fed and protected the flock of God committed to their charge, but who had not only neglected to visit and take care of the sheep, but had scattered and destroyed them by oppression and covetousness; by their bad examples leading them into sin, and thereby bringing ruin upon them; for these evils God would visit them with righteous judgment. Note; They who have the rule over men's persons, and especially those who have the care of men's souls entrusted to them, should remember the awful charge, and what a solemn account they must one day give.
2. Jehovah promises to take care of the flock which they neglected.
[1.] He will bring the scattered captives to their own land again, under the conduct of the shepherds Zerubbabel, Nehemiah, and others, raised up by his providence, men faithful in their office, under whose government they should increase in numbers, build again the waste places of Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, enjoy peace and prosperity, and no spoiler be permitted to devour them. Some suppose that this refers to gospel-times, when those who would receive the glad tidings of salvation should be gathered into the Christian church; when, under the ministry of the apostles and preacher, all true believers should be fed with the richest doctrines of grace, and filled with that divine faith and love which casteth out fear.
[2.] God bids them expect with confidence the coming of the promised Messiah. Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, swiftly advancing, and surely approaching, that I will raise unto David a righteous branch, by which name the Messiah is prefigured, Isaiah 4:2.Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 3:8. A branch, because of his mean appearance; a righteous branch, perfectly so himself, and the author of all righteousness to others; and raised unto David, unto whom God had promised that from him the Messiah should descend; and a king shall reign and prosper; for mean as his appearance was, his throne was higher than the kings of the earth, established from eternity, continuing to eternity. The kingdom he came to erect among men is an everlasting kingdom; victory and prosperity marked all his steps, the powers of sin and Satan were broken, and peace, love, and joy diffused in the hearts of all his believing people; and he shall execute judgment and justice in the earth, governing his people in righteousness, and executing judgment on their enemies. In his days Judah shall be saved with a glorious salvation; and Israel, the spiritual Israel, shall dwell safely; delivered from the power of Satan, the fears of guilt, the prevalence of corruption, enjoying the present favour of a pardoning and sanctifying God, and expecting a rest eternal in the heavens: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, The Lord, Jehovah, our Righteousness: by his obedience unto death, even the death of the cross, he hath brought in an everlasting righteousness, and all who by faith apprehend him, are now made partakers of it; and, perseveringly cleaving to him, shall obtain everlasting righteousness, holiness, and glory, in the realms of eternal bliss.
3. The greatness of this salvation would so far obscure the former deliverances which God had wrought for his people, even their wondrous redemption from Egypt, that they should no more be mentioned. And this must refer, not merely to their return from Babylon, but to their conversion under the preaching of the Gospel, when multitudes were turned to the Lord; and may have yet a farther respect to the latter days, when, the fulness of the Gentiles being come in, all Israel shall be called into the fold of Christ, and literally be gathered, as many learned men believe, to dwell in their own land.
2nd, When God comes to visit, none will suffer severer vengeance than those whose duty it was to have stood in the gap against the growing evils; but who basely joined in the general defection, and hardened and encouraged sinners by their smooth prophesies and ill examples. Against these the prophet is sent to denounce God's wrath.
1. He appears deeply affected with what he saw, and the fearful message that he was about to deliver. Mine heart within me is broken with grief, because of the wickedness that he beheld, and the ruin ready to ensue; all my bones shake with horror; I am like a drunken man, at a loss what to say or do; so confounded was he with the abominations that he saw, because of the Lord, whose name was so dishonoured, and because of the words of his holiness, profanely abused by those who pretended to inspiration from him; or because of the dire judgments which in righteous wrath he was sent to denounce against them. Note; A true prophet grieves for the dishonour cast on God by men's wickedness, while he trembles at their approaching doom.
2. He declares the dreadful state of the whole land. Full of adulterers, corporally and spiritually; full of swearers, perjured or profane, who, having cast off the fear of God, made no conscience of an oath. For these things God had begun to visit them; the land mourned already with drought; the pastures failed, and famine devoured them; and yet, hardened in sin, their course is evil, they attend not to these warnings of God, but run to the same excess of evil, and will not be restrained; and their force is not right; their power and influence were exerted, not to suppress, but to encourage iniquity; or their violence is not right, full of rapine and injustice, as well as adultery and profaneness. No marvel that such a people are devoted to ruin.
3. They who should have restrained them, are the ring-leaders in sin. For both prophet and priest are profane in their conversation and their lives; or play the hypocrite, pretending zeal for religion, and with the cloak of piety covering the foulest abominations: yea, in my house, where most peculiarly God required purity, have I found their wickedness, saith the Lord, defiling the sacred place with their false doctrines, their flagrant immoralities, or idolatry, 1 Samuel 2:22. The prophets of Israel had been bad, very bad; God had seen their wickedness and folly; prophesying in the name of Baal, and causing the people to err by their words, and debauching them by their ill examples: but, bad as the prophets of Samaria had been, the prophets of Jerusalem have equalled, yea, exceeded them in their abominations. Horrible to tell! even in the face of God's temple they commit adultery, and walk in lies, reporting lying visions, making false pretences to prophesy, and turning the people from God to idols; hardening sinners in iniquity, crying Peace! to lull their consciences asleep in fatal security, profaning God's name to vouch for their lies, and by their wicked deeds encouraging and emboldening others to sin. Note; (1.) No guilt so aggravated as theirs, who have not only their own blood, but the blood of lost souls lying upon them. (2.) Nothing so emboldens and hardens sinners, as when their teachers give them an occasion of offence by their ungodly conversation.
4. An awful threatening is pronounced against them. God regarded them as the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, their guilt so great, and crying to heaven for vengeance: and swift it descends; the Lord will bring evil upon them, even the year of their visitation. The time is fixed, the judgment ready to seize them, their slippery ways shall lead them into horrible darkness, they shall not be able to foresee nor avoid the ruin that approaches, but be driven on by irresistible violence, captivated by Satan and their own lusts, and fall therein from the depths of sin into the depths of misery, led into a miserable slavery, or perishing with famine and the sword. The bitterest and most poisonous cup of affliction, wormwood and gall, or the juice of hemlock, a cup of trembling, is mingled for them, to punish them for their horrid profaneness, the contagion of which had spread over the land; nothing being so dangerously infectious, and so fatally destructive, as the example of a debauched and abandoned ministry.
5. God cautions the people to pay no regard to the lying suggestions of these false prophets. They make you vain, bolster you up in false hopes, speak the fancies of their own corrupted hearts, not the visions of inspiration. They cry peace to the wicked, to whom God hath said, There is no peace; and promise them impunity when vengeance is ready to light upon them. Insulting and contradicting the prophets of the Lord, who affirmed that God's wrath was ready to be revealed, they ridiculed their pretensions to prophesy; or, boasting themselves of God's counsel, they vaunted their knowledge of his word and will; for who were so deep in his secrets as they? therefore, as the most effectual method of conviction, God will arise: Behold, a whirlwind of the Lord is gone forth in fury; the executioners of his judgments, the Chaldeans, with resistless violence are hasting to destroy; even a grievous whirlwind, it shall fall grievously upon the head of the wicked, both on the deceived and the deceivers, but especially on the wicked prophets; nor depart from them till it has answered God's decree and purpose, and extirpated them from the land; and conviction will come too late, when the sentence begins to be executed; they shall then see what they will not now believe. Or, in the latter days, may refer to the times of the Gospel, or the final conversion of the Jews, when they shall consider all their past visitations, and be convinced and turned unto the Lord, though the former sense seems preferable, as more agreeable to the context. God, by these his judgments, made it evident, that he had not sent these prophets: yet they ran without any commission from him, self-ordained, and pretending to prophesy when he had never taught them; but they palmed on the people the effusions of their corrupted hearts for his inspirations, and this was proved also from the effects of their ministry; for had they been sent of God, as they pretended, they would have made his word the standard of their preaching; and, as the blessed effects of their labours, would have beheld the conversion of men's souls turned by their preaching from the evil of their ways; the very reverse of which was evident. Note; (1.) We need be often cautioned against false prophets; they are always more numerous than the true, and by authority and numbers seek to cast on faithful ministers the brand of falsehood; but by their fruits ye shall know them. (2.) No man may take on him the office of the ministry who is not called of God, and moved by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. They who profess that they are, and yet are conscious of the falsehood of such declarations, God will not only disown, but fearfully punish. (3.) They who go forth in God's name, and pretend to labour for him, yet see no effect of their ministry, and no one soul brought to a sense of sin and the knowledge of reconciliation by them, may justly suspect that their doctrine is false, and themselves deluded.
6. God expostulates with them on their folly and wickedness. Do they think to deceive him by their lies? Can he, like man, a worm, only see the objects near him; and, because afar off in heaven, is he unable to descry what passes here below, and in the hearts of men? Vain hope! to think of imposing on omniscience, and evading his eye who filleth heaven and earth with his presence. The darkest recesses of the globe, or the darker devices of the human mind, are all naked and open to him; for there is no darkness nor shadow of death where any of the workers of wickedness can hide themselves. He heard and saw what these false prophets thought and spoke, he detected their impostures and lying dreams, which they reported as divine inspirations; and severely upbraids them with their hardened effrontery, How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? will they never have done with their lies? Or, as some read the words, How long will they go on thus? Is there any thing in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? No; their mind and conscience are defiled; yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart, deceiving and being deceived, given up to their delusions to believe their own lie; and with most malignant intentions striving to debauch the minds of God's people to atheism or idolatry, as their fathers, by Baal's prophets, had been seduced before them. Note; (1.) A sense of God's all-seeing eye is the great preservative from evil. (2.) They who would call off God's people, by pretences of new revelation, from the worship that he has prescribed, and the obedience that he has enjoined, evidently prove the falsehood of their pretensions.
7. The prophet, in God's name, lays down the criterion to judge the false prophets and the true. He that hath a dream, let him tell his dream, and the event will prove whether it come from God: or this is addressed to the false prophets, warning them not to call it a vision from God, but report what they dream as a dream. And he that hath my word, a real and experimental knowledge of it, let him speak my word faithfully, without keeping back a tittle, however offensive or dangerous it may be to bear testimony to the truth. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord. As different as these are, so different is the word of truth from the vain imaginations of the false prophets; the one nutritive, substantial, weighty; the other light, vain, and delusive. Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord: its operations quick, piercing, kindling a fire of conviction in the sinner's conscience; a fire of trial, separating the precious from the vile; a fire of love in the hearts of the pious; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces? breaking the rocky heart of fallen man with deep contrition, and leading it to Christ; or stamping the hardened sinner to powder, denouncing upon him the vengeance of eternal punishment. So effectual and mighty was the word in the mouth of the true prophets; while the preaching of the false prophets neither communicated light nor heat, was accompanied with no power, nor produced the least good effects on the people.
8. God charges them with other notorious crimes. They steal my words, every one from his neighbour, either the words of the true prophets, which they introduced, the better to insinuate their falsehoods; as if, mimicking their language, they also partook of their inspiration: or they prejudiced the people against them, and prevented them from paying regard to their admonitions and warnings. They use their tongues, and say, He saith, pretending a divine commission, and taking the name of God in their mouths in vain; or they smooth their tongues, prophesy what will please and flatter men in their sins, and dare to add God's sanction to their lies. They prophesy false dreams, imposing the reveries of their own brain for inspiration, and cause the people to err by their lies and by their lightness; their false doctrines and evil examples encourage sinners in their wickedness, and for these things God threatens them with his vengeance. Behold, I am against the prophets; three times he repeats it, to shew the certainty and terribleness of the wrath which they had provoked. He disowns the least connexion with them; I sent them not, nor commanded them; they were lying boasters, who had no commission from him; therefore they shall not profit this people at all, but, the very reverse, shall bring down destruction on their heads as well as their own. Note; None do more irreparable mischief in the church of God, than they who, pretending to be preachers of the truth, advance the doctrines of error, and beguile unstable souls.
3rdly, It is evil indeed with any nation, when the most awful words of God are scoffed at, and made the object of ridicule.
1. One of the sins charged on the false prophets, priests, and people, is, their horrid profaneness. Instead of humbly inquiring concerning God's mind and will, they scoffingly repeated the prophet's words, and contemptuously inquired, What is the burden of the Lord? mocking the phrase as a cant term, because the true prophets often made use of it, and despising the judgments which this word usually imported; perverting thus the words of the living God, of the Lord of Hosts our God, contemning his power, and insulting his majesty, and though warned to desist, they persevered in their impious derision. Note; (1.) It has been the common effort of the wicked, in all ages, to make God's word the butt of their wit; and, by torturing some expression to a ludicrous meaning, to turn the warnings of his ministers into contempt. (2.) As long ago as Jeremiah, the burden of the Lord afforded matter of derision; he was one of those preachers of hell and damnation whom the men of that generation mocked at. Let such sinners then mock on, and fill up the measure of their iniquities. (3.) Wicked prophets and false preachers are usually chief in this transgression, and the great accusers and revilers of the saints of God; but that damnation which they deride slumbereth not.
2. God declares his full purpose condignly to punish such profaneness. Every man's word shall be his burden, lay on him a load of guilt, which, if unrepented of, shall sink his soul into the depths of hell. Behold I, even I, that living God against whom such wretches dare open their impious lips, will utterly forget you, and I will forsake you, and give you up to your terrible doom, without one kind remembrance to alleviate your misery. The city which God had given them and their fathers should be a prey for the Chaldean army, and they be led into a miserable captivity; nor should their shame and disgrace come to an end. For a long while the whole nation should suffer the marks of his fierce displeasure, which to this day lies upon them; and the impenitent among them be sentenced to everlasting shame and contempt in the day of final recompence and perdition of ungodly men. Note; (1.) However men may mock at God's word, it will be seen at last whose word shall stand, his or theirs. (2.) The damnation which sinners despise shall shortly and terribly come upon them, and their laugh of derision be turned into everlasting weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Jeremiah 23". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26