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Yahweh announced coming judgment on the leaders of Judah, kings, and other leaders, who were harming His people, rather than tending them like good shepherds who cared for their sheep (cf. John 10:11-13). "Shepherd" was a common metaphor for "king" in the ancient Near East and in the Old Testament, and it is possible that Jeremiah had in mind the last four kings of Judah particularly. The model of God’s people being the sheep of His pasture is also common in the Old Testament (cf. Psalms 74:1; Psalms 79:13; Psalms 95:7; Psalms 100:3). Judah’s shepherds had not attended (Heb. paqad) to the flock, so God would attend (Heb. paqad) to punishing them.
Promises about the future of the Davidic line and the people 23:1-8
"After the oracles against wicked kings, there is a promise of a righteous one, the Shoot of David." [Note: Graybill, p. 673.]
Jeremiah just announced that none of Coniah’s descendants would ever rule as kings. Now he went on to clarify that a Davidic King would rule in the future. God was not cutting off the Davidic line (cf. 2 Samuel 7:14). This section consists of three separate, though related, prophecies (Jeremiah 23:1-8).
After this judgment the Lord Himself would, as a good shepherd, re-gather the remnant of His people that were left from all the countries where He had driven them into exile (cf. Jeremiah 3:16; Jeremiah 24; Jeremiah 31:10; Jeremiah 40-44; Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 37:4; Micah 2:12; Micah 4:7; Micah 5:4; Micah 7:14; Micah 7:18). The Lord was the final cause of the exile, but the shepherds of Judah were the instrumental cause (Jeremiah 23:2). He would bring them back into the Promised Land and cause them to be fruitful and multiply (cf. Genesis 1:22; Genesis 1:28; Genesis 9:1; Genesis 12:1-3; Exodus 1:7). There is a double contrast in this verse between the Lord and the false shepherds and between their respective works.
The reference to the many countries to which the Lord had driven them suggests an eschatological return to the land that exceeded the return from Babylonian exile. [Note: See Feinberg, pp. 517-18.]
"History has shown that restoration [from Babylon] to be a temporary flicker of light, for by the time of Malachi (the last of the prophets, ca. 400 B.C.), Israel had degenerated again to a people with stony hearts." [Note: Jensen, p. 70.]
The Lord also promised to raise up shepherds (leaders) for His people, in the great future restoration, who would care for them properly (cf. Jeremiah 3:15). The Israelites would finally no longer feel fearful or terrified, and none of them would be missing from the land.
"Behold, the days are coming," introduces a message of hope for the future 16 times in Jeremiah. [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 119.] Yahweh also promised to raise up another Davidic King in the future (cf. Psalms 2; Psalms 44; Psalms 72; Psalms 89-110). He would be as a branch or sprout (Heb. semah) that springs up from an apparently dead stump, namely, the Davidic line of kings (cf. Jeremiah 33:15; 2 Samuel 23:5; Psalms 132:17; Isaiah 4:2; Isaiah 11:1; Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12). His characteristic virtues would be wisdom, justice, and righteousness, traits notably absent from the last of Judah’s kings (cf. Jeremiah 22:3). He would be a true shoot (Heb. semah saddiq), a "legitimate scion," of David’s line. [Note: See J. Swetnam, "Some Observations on the Background of saddiq in Jeremiah 23:5a," Biblica 46:1 (1965):29-40.] He would rule as a true King, not as a puppet like the last four kings of Judah. This is one of the few direct messianic references in Jeremiah (cf. Jeremiah 3:15-18; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Jeremiah 33:15-16).
During His reign, Judah and Israel would experience salvation and security. People would refer to Him as "Yahweh our righteousness." This strongly indicates that this King would be Yahweh Himself ruling in righteousness (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21). His name appears to be a play on the name Zedekiah, which probably means, "Yahweh is my righteousness." If so, this prophecy probably dates from Zedekiah’s reign. Ironically, Zedekiah was anything but righteous.
In those coming days (cf. Jeremiah 23:5), people would no longer talk about the mighty deliverance that Yahweh gave His people when He brought them out of Egypt into the Promised Land (cf. Jeremiah 16:14-15). Instead they would talk about the greater deliverance that He gave them when He brought them out of many countries (cf. Jeremiah 23:3; Jeremiah 16:14-18) into the Promised Land (cf. Isaiah 11; Ezekiel 34; Ezekiel 37). Again, the promises are clearly eschatological. This will happen at Jesus Christ’s second coming when He subdues His earthly enemies and re-gathers the Jews to their land. [Note: See Kaiser, pp. 108-10.] Amillennialists see the fulfillment happening in the return from exile and in the first advent of Christ. [Note: Thompson, p. 492, for example, referred to 2 Kings 17:6 as evidence that the exiles went into many countries, but that verse describes cities and lands within the larger territory of Assyria and, later, Babylonia.]
The section Jeremiah 21:1 to Jeremiah 23:8 dealt primarily with oracles against kings. Now the subject becomes the false prophets in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 23:9-40).
Jeremiah had become like a drunken man, in the sense that the prophecies God had given him concerning the false prophets sent him reeling. They disturbed his mind deeply and broke his heart. This verse serves as a superscription for the entire series of prophecies about the false prophets that follows in Jeremiah 23:10-40.
Prophecies about false prophets 23:9-40
Having given a true prophecy about the future, Jeremiah proceeded to announce God’s judgment on the false prophets who were misleading His people with false prophecies (cf. Jeremiah 23:1). [Note: See Leon Wood, The Prophets . . ., ch. 7: "False Prophecy in Israel," for a good discussion of this subject, or Edward J. Young, My Servants the Prophets, ch. VII: "Prophets False and True."] This section consists of six different messages that Jeremiah delivered at various times, which the writer placed together in the text because of their common subject (Jeremiah 23:9-40).
The first pericope is a general indictment of the false prophets (Jeremiah 23:9-12).
The false prophets were unfaithful to the Lord in their attachment to pagan deities. They were off course in their direction, and they were strong only in doing wrong. The evidence of their corruption was the curse that the land was experiencing for the people’s departing from the Mosaic Covenant. Baal was supposed to produce fertility, but worshipping him had only resulted in parched and barren land for Judah.
The Lord announced that both prophets and priests were polluted with unfaithfulness. They even practiced their wickedness in the temple, where of all places they should have been faithful to the Lord (cf. 2 Kings 21:3-7; 2 Kings 23:4-7; Ezekiel 8).
Therefore the Lord would make them unstable. He would allow them to fall into perilous situations (Psalms 35:6; Psalms 73:18), and to wander off into obscurity (cf. Jeremiah 13:16). At the proper time He would bring calamity on them.
". . . they will be like men sliding on a slippery trail in the darkness, stumbling and falling on top of one another." [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 121.]
"Whenever a nation needs healing, it’s usually because God’s people aren’t obeying and serving Him as they should. We like to blame dishonest politicians and various purveyors of pleasure for a nation’s decline in morality, but God blames His own people." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 113.]
The next prophecy compares the false prophets of the Southern Kingdom to the false prophets in the then defunct Northern Kingdom (Jeremiah 23:13-15).
The prophets of Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom, had offended the Lord by prophesying in Baal’s name and by leading God’s people astray.
But the prophets of Jerusalem, the capital of the Southern Kingdom, had been even more unfaithful since they prophesied falsely in Yahweh’s name. They also committed spiritual (and physical) adultery, lived lies, and encouraged evildoers. Consequently, the Judahites had not repented of their wickedness but had become as wicked as the sinners of Sodom and Gomorrah-who espoused departure from God’s will openly (Genesis 18:22 to Genesis 19:29; Ezekiel 16). Jerusalem could expect severe judgment since the Lord had judged these pagan cities severely.
"Along with easy views of sin go rosy views of judgment . . ." [Note: Kidner, p. 91.]
Almighty Yahweh would make the false prophets experience bitterness and tragedy, as when one eats bitter food and drinks poisoned water (cf. Jeremiah 8:14; Jeremiah 9:15), because they had embittered and poisoned the people. He would pollute them because they polluted the people and the land with their sins.
The following message criticizes the false prophets for delivering unauthorized prophecies as though they came from Yahweh (Jeremiah 23:16-22).
The Almighty Lord warned His people through Jeremiah not to listen to the false prophets who were leading them with empty hopes. They were claiming that their own invented prophecies came from the Lord, but they were speaking empty words; they were just windbags.
They were falsely assuring the people, who despised Yahweh and resisted His will, that nothing bad would happen to them. Peace would continue and calamity would never overtake the people, they claimed.
They had not taken counsel from Yahweh or received His prophetic messages. They had not listened to Him or obeyed Him (cf. Matthew 11:27; John 1:18; John 8:38; John 8:40). The picture of the heavenly throne-room of God is common in the Old Testament (e.g., 1 Kings 22:19-22; Job 1:1 to Job 2:7; Psalms 82; Isaiah 6; Ezekiel 1).
"It is a word of judgment and not peace that should be proclaimed by one who really knows the mind of Yahweh. But one needs to stand in Yahweh’s council, see what goes on there, hear and pay attention to Yahweh’s word and obey it, to give such a word." [Note: Thompson, p. 498.]
The judgment of God would come on the wicked like a whirlwind. He would carry out His purposes fully and not draw back in mercy. When His judgment fell, the wicked would understand it as His judgment. "In the last days" refers to the last days of Jerusalem before its total destruction; this is not an eschatological reference here. These verses occur again almost verbatim in Jeremiah 30:23-24.
The Lord had not sent the false prophets or given them messages, but they had claimed to bring prophecies from Him to the people.
"As an analogy in modern terms we could compare the speculations of journalists over some matter of government which is being decided behind closed doors, with the actual announcement entrusted to a spokesman from the conclave itself." [Note: Kidner, p. 91.]
If they had listened to the Lord, they would have tried to turn the people back from their evil ways.
"How could a prophet confuse his own word with God’s word? How could a prophet fail to speak condemnation to the sinful, covenant-breaking situation? Perhaps part of the answer was political and economic. The prophets were often part of the establishment; as such they were concerned with the maintenance of the establishment for their own security and well-being. Another part of the issue may have been purely rationalistic: Yes, some of our folks are sinful, but look at the pagans around us; they don’t even worship God, and they practice the grossest of sins; by comparison, we’re good folk and surely God will take that into account. ’Our’ sins are acceptable, but ’their’ sins are not. Besides, who wants to hear judgment preached all the time; just preach on the love of God." [Note: Drinkard, p. 345.]
The brief message that follows corrected a false view of God that the false prophets were apparently promoting (Jeremiah 23:23-24).
Evidently some of the false prophets were stressing the immanency of God but disregarding His transcendence. They were saying that He was with His people and would protect them, but they were not saying that He was also holy and must judge sin.
The people tried to hide from God in the sense that they did evil that they thought He could not see. The Lord reminded His people through Jeremiah that He is everywhere in the universe. There is no place where they could go to hide from Him (cf. Psalms 139; Amos 9:2-4).
"It is not wealth of knowledge as the result of long life or old age that God claims for Himself in Jeremiah 23:24, but the power of seeing into that which is hidden so that none can conceal himself from Him, or omniscience." [Note: Keil, 1:362.]
Jeremiah condemned the false prophets for advertising their own dreams as revelations from Yahweh (Jeremiah 23:25-32).
The Lord was aware that the prophets were falsely claiming to have had dreams in which they received messages from Him (cf. Zechariah 10:2).
Dreams were one way that Yahweh communicated His revelations to people in ancient times (cf. Genesis 28:10-17; Genesis 37:5-11; Genesis 40; Genesis 41:1-45; Numbers 12:6-8; 1 Kings 3:5-15; Daniel 2; Daniel 4:4-27; Daniel 7; Joel 2:28; Zechariah 1:7 to Zechariah 6:8). The pagans also viewed dreams as a way the gods communicated with them. Consequently it was possible to claim a revelation in a dream and to obtain an audience. The person who received a revelation from Yahweh in a dream knew it, but it was very difficult for someone else to know if the dream that a prophet claimed as divine really came from Yahweh.
How long would these prophets continue to make the people forget the Lord’s Word by continually claiming that they had received some new revelation from Him in a dream?! They were really leading the people away from Him, just as their ancestors pursued Baal and forgot the Lord.
The false prophets could relate their dreams just as the true prophets could declare the Lord’s words. But it would become clear eventually that the difference between these prophecies was as great as that between straw and grain. The one was insubstantial and worthless, while the other was nourishing.
God’s true words were as penetrating as fire and as powerful as a hammer (cf. Hebrews 4:12). Both fire and a hammer can be destructive, yet refining. [Note: Drinkard, p. 350.]
Yahweh announced His antagonism against the false prophets because they got messages from one another, or from their own minds, or from a dream, and then claimed that they were from the Lord. They were misleading God’s people and were not benefiting them in the least (cf. Jeremiah 23:1-4). In our day, many liberal preachers begin their messages with "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit," and then proceed to deliver an unbiblical sermon. They give placebos to the people rather than helpful prescriptions.
The final message in this group deals with another claim by the false prophets. In addition to receiving dreams, they professed to communicate oracles from Yahweh (Jeremiah 23:33-40).
When the people or the prophets or the priests asked Jeremiah what message he had received from the Lord, he was to reply that the Lord was going to abandon them. When they asked: "What is the burden of the Lord?" he was to respond: "You are a burden to Him and He will cast you off."
The Hebrew word massa’, "oracle," comes from the same root as the verb nasa’, meaning "to lift, bear, or carry." Usually the noun refers to an imposed burden, imposed by a deity or master. Metaphorically it refers to any heavy burden, such as the burdens of leadership or duty. In the prophets, it often suggests a judgment or catastrophe. Thus an oracle is a burden or depressing message that deals with judgment (cf. Isaiah 15:1; Isaiah 17:1; Isaiah 19:1; et al.).
"Jeremiah’s adversaries-as appears from these verses-used the word ’burden’ of his prophetic sayings by way of mockery, meaning burdensome prophecies, in order to throw ridicule on the prophet’s speeches, by them regarded as offensive." [Note: Keil, 1:365.]
Anyone who claimed to have a message from the Lord but did not would incur God’s punishment (cf. Revelation 22:18). Anyone who used the word "burden" in a sneering way would receive God’s vengeance on himself and his family.
The people would be confused about what the Lord had actually said. They would not remember the actual messages that the Lord had sent them, because they only wanted to hear messages from the Lord that pleased them. They did not respond properly to the very messages the living God-Almighty Yahweh-their God, actually sent-because they twisted them.
When someone asked a false prophet what message he had received from the Lord and the false prophet responded, "An oracle from Yahweh," he was lying. He should not claim to have an oracle from Yahweh when he did not have one. God commanded that this phrase should no longer be used because the false prophets had perverted His words (cf. Jeremiah 23:25-32).
". . . though the term ’oracle’ was used by canonical prophets (e.g., Isaiah 13:1; Nahum 1:1; Habakkuk 1:1; Zechariah 9:1; Malachi 1:1), Jeremiah never used it of his own prophecies because it had become the hallmark of the lying prophets." [Note: Feinberg, p. 526.]
Anyone who used this phrase would come under God’s judgment. Because the false prophets made this claim, the Lord promised to forget them and throw them into exile (as a burden) along with the rest of the people of Jerusalem. This was especially sad because God had given Jerusalem to them and their forefathers.
Yahweh would also curse these false prophets with the eventual reproach of the people and their consequent shame forever. People would always remember them as false prophets. This was only fitting since they had made the people forget the Lord (Jeremiah 23:27). The people might forget the Lord, but they would never forget the coming judgment.
"The whole argument comes to us as rather complex, probably because the pun is developed in such a sustained manner. The two senses of massa’, ’prophetic utterance’ and ’burden,’ and the verb nasa’ occur a number of times. The massa’ of Yahweh is that the people are a massa’." [Note: Thompson, p. 506. Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., pp. 122-23, wrote a helpful contrast between true and false prophets that is suggestive for contemporary life and ministry.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Jeremiah 23". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27