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"Ye have scattered My flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them; behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 23:1-2).
It is a pitiable thing when the leaders of the people of GOD cause the simple to err; when those who are set to guide and protect the flock lead them into by-paths and expose them to danger.
Solemn will be the accounting when the Lord shall visit for these things. By referring to the 34th chapter of Ezekiel the reader will get a fuller description of the course of these evil shepherds. See especially Ezekiel 34:1-6.
Both there and here there are sweet assurances that human pastors having so wretchedly failed, the Lord Himself will gather the remnant of His flock from all countries whither He has driven them, and will bring them again to their folds, where they shall be fruitful and increase (Jeremiah 23:3).
This has no reference to a conversion of Jews to Christianity. But this promise speaks of a still future and literal return of the Jews to their land after the present dispensation has closed, and the Church is removed to heaven. When thus restored to the home of their fathers, and to their King whom they once rejected, saying:
"We have no king but Caesar", (John 19:15) He shall then "set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 23:4).
Twelve of these shepherds we know, for our Lord said to the apostles:
"Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matthew 19:28).
Judas, by transgression, forfeited his place, but Matthias was given the bishopric thus made vacant. Through the promised Messiah are these covenanted mercies of David to be fulfilled. "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and justice in the earth" (Jeremiah 23:5).
This Branch of the Lord's planting is frequently referred to in the prophets.
Isaiah tells of His beauty and glory when "the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel,. . . and the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion" (Isaiah 4:2-4). The entire passage is depicting a Millennial scene.
In Zechariah 3:8 the Lord says, "Behold, I will bring forth My servant the BRANCH," and He will then "remove the iniquity of that land in one day."
Also in Zechariah 6:12-13 of the same book, we read: "Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Behold the Man whose name is The BRANCH; and He shall grow up out of His place, and He shall build the temple of the Lord; even He shall build the temple of the Lord; and He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon His throne; and He shall be a priest upon His throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both."
When vacillating Pilate set JESUS before the multitude, and, unconsciously uttering the words of the prophet, cried, "Behold the Man!" (John 19:5) he was directing the gaze of Israel to the Branch of the Lord in whom, though they knew it not, all their hopes were centered.
"In His days. . . Israel shall dwell safely; and this is His name whereby He shall be called, [JEHOVAH TSIDKENU] - THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS" (Jeremiah 23:6). Having no title to blessing in themselves, they shall find it all in their once rejected Messiah.
Like that great pattern Jew, Saul of Tarsus (1 Timothy 1:16), they will ''be found in Him, not having their own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith" (Philippians 3:9). Unto them, as unto us now, He shall be made their wisdom: even righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30).
"Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that they shall no more say, The Lord liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; But, The LORD liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land" (Jeremiah 23:7-8).
Some would seek to make the partial return in the days of Cyrus to be the fulfilment of this promise. It is manifestly an erroneous interpretation.
- In the first place, there was no such universal restoration then, as this verse warrants us to expect; and
- In the second, Israel did not dwell in the land, but were soon scattered again, and are to-day dispersed among all nations.
Isaiah plainly tells us that "it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people,. . . and assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth" (Isaiah 11:11-12). It is to this second and final deliverance that Jeremiah refers.
We are next introduced to another of the contrasts so frequent in this book.
After having, for a brief moment, dwelt upon the glories of Messiah's reign, he gives utterance to his lamentation over the state of his people; so different from what it shall be in that day of Millennial blessing.
"My heart within me is broken," he says, "because of the prophets; all my bones shake: 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" (Jeremiah 23:9).
No unworthy jealousy of others in the prophetic office affected him thus, but his soul was deeply moved as the lying seers were but leading their disciples farther from GOD, causing them to be at peace in their wretched condition. The whole land mourned by reason of the adulteries and profaneness of the nation, and both prophet and priest were the leaders in the iniquities so commonly practiced. Therefore "their way shall be unto them as slippery ways in the darkness," and perish at the visitation of the Lord (Jeremiah 23:10-12).
Not only in Judah was this the state of things, but in Samaria, from whence the ten tribes of the northern kingdom had been carried into Assyria long before: prophets had arisen who "prophesied in Baal," and caused the remnant that were left in the land to err (Jeremiah 23:13). But it was in Jerusalem that the evil was most manifest. There the prophets themselves, licentious and untruthful, strengthened the hands of the evil doers, keeping them back from repentance, until the city had become as Sodom and Gomorrah for vileness. For this they (the prophets) should be fed with the wormwood of His wrath and be made to drink the water of gall of His judgment (Jeremiah 23:14-15).
The people are pleaded with not to hearken unto them; they were but made vain through their false prophets, speaking a vision of their own heart, having received nothing from the Lord. To those despising Him, they declared, "The Lord hath said, Ye shall have peace;" and they assured every one walking after the imagination of his own heart that no evil should come upon him (Jeremiah 23:16-17).
As a result, a whirlwind of the Lord had gone forth in fury, for He would execute the thoughts of His heart against prophet and people alike; and His counsel and word should stand. In the latter days they should consider it, and understand that they were being so dealt with in chastisement for their departure from Himself (vers. 18-20). These self-appointed prophets, unsent by GOD and with no word from Him, could not cause the people to turn from their evil ways; they but encouraged them in their sin. Alas! that they have had many successors, both in Judaism and in Christendom, must be patent to every thoughtful person. Do not such teachers and preachers abound? And the blind multitude, "having itching ears, depart from the truth" (2 Timothy 4:3-4) to follow after their self-chosen deceivers. But the eye of the Lord, who is "not a God afar off," is over all, and none can "hide in secret places from Him who fills heaven and earth" (Jeremiah 23:23-24).
He heard the lies of the prophets, who spoke out of the deceit of their own hearts, in the dark days we have been considering; and He is taking note of all the empty vapourings of to-day.
Instead of His sure and faithful Word, mere idle dreams were being given out as the Word of GOD. "The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath My word, let him speak My Word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 23:25-28).
All men's brightest thoughts and loftiest imaginings are but as worthless chaff compared with the pure, unadulterated Word of GOD. We "have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the Word of God deceitfully; but, by manifestation of the truth, commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God" (2 Corinthians 4:2), is the utterance of the true minister. How different to Satan's wretched counterfeit!
"Is not My Word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?" (Jeremiah 23:29)
There is a power in the simple truth of GOD such as no merely human fancies or philosophies can ever have. It alone can break the heart of stone.
But these prophets, giving out their dreams and speculations for the people's acceptance, were actually stealing the Lord's words from them. He was therefore against them; and they would be of no profit to the people (Jeremiah 23:29-32).
On the other hand, when either priest, prophet, or any of the people, should come to Jeremiah in perplexity and fear, asking, "What is the burden of the Lord?" he is to answer, according to their folly, "What burden? I will even forsake you, saith the Lord;" (Jeremiah 23:33) while all who shall profess to have another "burden" shall be punished, and "the burden of the Lord" shall be mentioned no more, "for every man's word shall be his burden" (Jeremiah 23:36) - that is, they shall have no word from GOD, but shall be given up to their own thoughts, because they had perverted the words of the living GOD. They must therefore bear their judgment, and know the truth of that which had been penned by Solomon, "Where there is no vision, the people perish" (Proverbs 29:18). They shall be "an everlasting reproach upon you, and a perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten" (Jeremiah 23:33-40).
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Jeremiah 23". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter