Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 23

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-8



The word "pastor," in verse 1, is actually "shepherd" - the consistent biblical symbol for kings and civil leaders. Jeremiah denounces the off-spring of Josiah who, failing to develop a true shepherd-character, failed to fulfil the shepherd function in the nation. From its first usage, in the prophetic song of Jacob, (Genesis 49:24), the figure is progressively developed until it becomes crystal-clear, in Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Zechariah, that it refers to those civil rulers who are responsible for the welfare of the nations.

Though Zedekiah is not specifically named in this passage, there can be little doubt that these words are addressed to him and to his false counsellors.

1. A "woe" is hurled at those shepherds who practice what is the exact OPPOSITE of true shepherding, (Ezekiel 13:3; Ezekiel 34:2; Zechariah 11:17); instead of gathering and providing for the needs of the flock, they scatter and destroy the sheep of Jehovah’s pasture (vs. 1; Jeremiah 10:21; Jeremiah 50:6).

2. Jehovah, the God of Israel, is, therefore, AGAINST these shepherds who misattend His people, (vs. 2, 30; Psalms 34:16; comp. Ezekiel 13:8).

a. They are responsible for the scattering.

b. Their misdeeds are responsible for the captivity of the. Lord’s flock and their displacement in an alien land.

c. Since they have not attended to the needs of His people, He will attend to the punishment the faithless shepherds so richly deserve, (vs. 2; Jeremiah 21:12; Jeremiah 44:22).

3. In a NEW EXODUS, the Lord will "gather" the remnant of His flock from all the countries whereunto they have been scattered -bringing them back to their own folds and making them fruitful, (vs. 3; Jeremiah 31:7-8; Jeremiah 32:37-38; comp. Isaiah 11:11-16).

4. After visiting judgment upon the faithless leaders, Jehovah will raise up shepherds that will faithfully attend to the needs of His flock, (vs. 4; Jeremiah 3:15; Ezekiel 34:23).

a. No longer will there be any reason for them to fear or be dismayed, (Jeremiah 30:10; Jeremiah 46:27-28; comp. Isaiah 43:5-7).

b. Nor will they suffer want, (Psalms 23:1; Psalms 34:9-10).

5. Verses 5-8 consist of a far-reaching Messianic prophecy of Hope, (comp. Jeremiah 30:8-9; Jeremiah 33:15-16; Luke 24:27).

a. "The days come" (an expression used 15 times in Jeremiah’s prophecy) when the Lord will raise unto David a RIGHTEOUS BRANCH - "shoot" or "sprout"; a rightful and honorable heir to the throne, (comp. Jeremiah 33:15; Isaiah 4:2; Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12; Isaiah 11:1).

1) As King, He will reign and prosper, (Isaiah 9:7; Isaiah 52:13; Luke 1:32-33).

2) His reign will be characterized by the exercise of judgment and justice in the earth, (Psalms 72:1-2; Isaiah 11:2-5; Isaiah 32:1).

3) In His days Judah will truly find deliverance from her enemies, and a re-united Israel will dwell in safety, (vs. 6a; Deuteronomy 33:28 -­29; comp. Zechariah 14:11).

4) In contrast to Zedekiah ("the Lord IS righteous"), His name will be called "The Lord OUR righteousness," (Jeremiah 33:16; Isaiah 45:24-25; Isaiah 54:17; 1 Corinthians 1:30)

a) No longer will the nation struggle to attain UNTO a righteousness of her own, (Romans 9:31).

b) ALL will find satisfaction in the imputed righteousness of Jehovah Himself, (Romans 3:21-22; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; comp. Philippians 3:9).

b. So great and marvelous will be the "new exodus," when the Lord again redeems His people from the hand of their enemies, that no further mention will be made of the exodus of their fathers from the land of Egypt, (vs. 7; comp. Jeremiah 16:14-15; Isaiah 43:18-19).

c. The nation will then rejoice in Jehovah Who has turned back their captivity and restored them to their own land - in peace and prosperity, (vs. 8; Isaiah 14:1).

Verses 9-15


Having denounced the heads of state, Jehovah now turns to rebuke those leaders who dealt falsely in the religious life of the nation. It was the responsibility of the true prophet to speak out with courage, boldness and confidence, against the perversion of justice and righteousness on the part of the shepherds of Israel. But this is not what he saw happening among the professional prophets.

1. Jeremiah’s mind is boggled by the outright wickedness of the professional prophets in Judah, (vs. 9).

a. Their careless, unbelieving and mocking attitude toward the threatenings of divine judgment upon the nation is shocking!

b. So deep is his agitation that he pictures himself as trembling, staggering and swaying like a drunken man.

2. The corruption of prophet and priest is reflected in the utter corruption of the covenant people

a. Their immorality and idolatry had even found its way into the rituals being practiced in Jehovah’s own temple in Jerusalem, (vs. 11; 2 Kings 21:5; Ezekiel 8:16-18).

b. Worse than their counterparts in the northern kingdom had been, both prophets and priests, in Judah, approved and encouraged the heathenish, orgiastic rites of Baal - practicing adultery and walking in lies, while professing to serve Jehovah.

c. Small wonder, therefore, that Judah did not turn from her wickedness; and that God regarded her as Sodom and Gomorrah! (vs. 14b-c).

3. Jeremiah flatly charges the religious leaders with the responsibility of the immorality of the nation; nor shall they escape the judgment of the Lord! (vs. 12,15).

a. In darkness, they are following a slippery, perilous path to destruction.

b. The Lord will feed them with wormwood (bitterness) and give them poisoned water to drink (vs. 15a).

c. The REASON: "for from the prophets of Jerusalem is profaneness gone forth into all the land!" (vs. 15b).

Verses 16-22


1. The messages proclaimed by the professional prophets were NOT from the Lord (Jeremiah 9:12; Jeremiah 9:14), but from self-induced visions, out of their own minds, (Matthew 7:15; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; Galatians 1:8-9); thus, Judah was warned not to trust them, (vs. 16; Jeremiah 14:14; Jeremiah 27:9-10; Jeremiah 27:14-17; 1 John 4:1; comp. Matthew 24:5; Matthew 24:11).

2. Their words offered false hope - promising peace to those who despised Jehovah, and assuring those who followed the stubbornness of their own hearts that no harm would befall them, (vs. 18; Jeremiah 8:11; Jeremiah 5:12-13; Amos 9:10; Micah 3:11; contr. Jeremiah 13:10; Jeremiah 18:12).

3. Because these prophets had not received the Lord’s counsel their words turned no one away from his sins, (vs. 18).

a. There was, within their words, no rebuke for sin.

b. Rather, they actually encouraged continuation in wickedness.

4. God’s wrath will fall, like a swirling tornado, upon such false prophets and upon all those who trust in their lying words, (vs. 19-20; Jeremiah 30:23-24).

5. Though God did not send them, they went forth with lying words - all the time claiming that they proclaimed the word of Jehovah, (vs. 21-22; Jeremiah 27:15).

a. Had they stood in the Lord’s counsel, they would have heard and proclaimed His word, (Jeremiah 35:12; Zechariah 1:4; comp. 1 Thessalonians 1:9 -­10).

b. They would, then, have been concerned to turn Judah from her wickedness, rather than encourage her toward ever-increasing rebellion against the word of the Lord!

Verses 23-32


1. Can these wretched hirelings imagine that their wickedness is hidden from the eyes of Him who is the God of the whole earth? (vs. 23­-24; Jeremiah 49:10; Isaiah 29:15-16).

a. Filling heaven and earth (1 Kings 8:27; Psalms 139; Isaiah 66:1), He is no localized deity, with limited power.

b. Nor can He be deceived - though men may consider Him "far off," (Psalms 113:4-9; 1 Corinthians 4:5).

2. He hears the lies of those who claim to speak on the basis of revelatory visions and dreams, (vs. 25, 28, 32; comp. Jeremiah 8:6-7; Jeremiah 14:14; Jeremiah 29:8­-9).

NOTE: There were times when God DID employ visions and dreams to convey His word, (Hebrews 1:1; Genesis 38:5-10; Numbers 12:6; 1 Samuel 28:6; Joel 2:28; Matthew 1:20; etc.); those being related by THESE Prophets are condemned because they are contrary to the word of Jehovah!

3. Though the hearers of these false prophets might have been impressed by their mysticism, it was but a delusion - a message of lying deceit, out of the prophets’ own hearts, (vs. 26; comp. 1 Timothy 4:1­2). .

4. The Lord says that these prophets meant to cause His people to forget His name (attributes, character and authority) - as their fathers had forgotten it through their lusting after Baal, (vs. 27; Deuteronomy 13:1-3; comp. Jeremiah 29:8-9; Judges 3:7-8; Judges 8:33-35).

5. The prophets were free to tell their dreams, if they wished, but those who speak in the name of the Lord must be faithful to HIS word, (vs. 28-29).

a. There is as much difference between the dreams of a prophet and the word of God as between straw and grain, (comp. 1 Corinthians 3:12-13); in the grain one may find true nourishment, but not in the straw.

b. God’s word is also likened unto a devouring "fire" (Jeremiah 5:14; comp. tech. Jeremiah 1:4-6); and to a hammer that is able to crush hearts that have been hardened through repeated rebellion, (vs. 29; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Hebrews 4:12).

6. The Lord is against those prophets who allow themselves to be agents of the real enemy - stealing the words of Jeremiah (the true prophet) from their brethren, lest they hear and submit themselves to God’s plan (vs. 30; comp. Matthew 13:19).

7. The Lord is against those lying prophets who boastfully. proclaim their vain dreams as the word of Jehovah - thus, causing

God’s people to err, (vs. 31-32).

a. The Lord has not sent them, nor commanded them to speak in His name.

b. Nor do they profit His people IN ANY WAY!

Verses 33-40


1. Throughout this passage there is a play on the Hebrew word "massa" which is used in the two-fold sense of "utterance" and "burden" - often carrying the implication of impending judgment, (comp. Isaiah 13:1; Isaiah 15:1; Ezekiel 12:10; Habakkuk 1:1; Nahum 1:1; etc.).

2. People, prophets and priests appear to have mocked Jeremiah as "a man with a burden" - always carrying a message of heaviness!

3. Thus, God told him that if they came to him again inquiring, "What is the burden of the Lord?" he should reply: "What Burden?" (vs. 33).

a. The rendering of this passage in the Septuagint is a little more to the point; it sets forth Jeremiah’s reply as: "YOU are the burden!’

b. Because they have persistently refused to accept their covenant-responsibilities, Jehovah is about to toss them aside as a burden too heavy to bear any longer! (vs. 39; Jeremiah 12:7).

4. Furthermore, the false prophets are, henceforth, forbidden to speak of "the burden of the Lord," (vs. 34, 36).

a. Each man’s word is his burden.

b. They have perverted the word of the Living God, the Lord of hosts, (La 2:14; Ezekiel 22:25-28; comp. Zechariah 13:3; 2 Peter 3:16).

5. If inquiry is to be made of the prophet, there must be a new formula: "What hath the Lord answered thee? and, What hath the Lord spoken?" (vs. 35, 37; comp. Jeremiah 33:3; Jeremiah 42:4-6).

6. Because of their refusal to heed the word of the Lord in this matter, He lays a heavy burden upon them, (vs. 39-40).

a. He will forget and forsake them - along with the city (Jerusalem) that He gave to their fathers.

b. He will cast them out of His presence, (Jeremiah 7:14-15; Jeremiah 12:7; Ezekiel 8:18).

c. And, He will bring down upon them such everlasting shame and reproach as will never be forgotten, (vs. 40; Jeremiah 20:11; Jeremiah 42:18; Ezekiel 5:14-15).

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Jeremiah 23". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. 1985.