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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 23

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 3405. B.C. 599.

In this chapter we have,

(1,) Threatenings of just punishment to careless princes, or pastors of the people, Jeremiah 23:1 , Jeremiah 23:2 .

(2,) Promises of future blessings; of the return of the Jews from captivity, and of happier times under better governors and pastors; of the glorious establishment of the Messiah’s kingdom; and of the subsequent restoration of all the dispersed Israelites, to dwell once more in their own land, Jeremiah 23:3-8 .

(3,) Jeremiah testifies the horror he felt within him on contemplating the wickedness of the priests and prophets of Judah, and the vengeance which God was about to execute upon them, for the corruption which had been diffused through the whole land, by the influence of their evil doctrine and example, Jeremiah 23:9-15 .

(4,) He exhorts the people not to listen to the words of the prophets that prophesied of peace, when evil was determined, and would infallibly take place; and charges those prophets with speaking from themselves, and not from the divine commission, Jeremiah 23:16-22 .

(5,) 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 .

(6,) 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 23:33-40 .

Verse 1

Jeremiah 23:1. Wo be unto the pastors Or, as הוי is by some rendered, Alas for the pastors! or, Ho the pastors! For it may be a particle of calling, as the LXX. and Syriac represent it, and not of commination, as in our translation. The word pastors comprehends both civil and ecclesiastical governors: see note on Jeremiah 2:8. This acceptation of the word agrees with the prophet’s complaint elsewhere, that their rulers, as well as their priests and prophets, were rather corrupters than reformers of the people’s manners. And the Messiah himself, whose coming is foretold, Jeremiah 23:5, for the rectifying of these disorders, was both a king and a priest.

Verses 2-4

Jeremiah 23:2-4 . Therefore thus saith the Lord against the pastors that feed my people That undertake the care of my people, though they do not faithfully execute their trust. God calls them his people, his flock, the sheep of his pasture, with respect to the ancient covenant which he had made with their fathers. They are said to have fed this people, because it was their duty to have done so. Ye have scattered my flock Namely, by acts of violence and oppression, driving them from their places to seek more safe and quiet abodes. Or, instead of looking after them, you have suffered them to be dispersed, and through your ill example they have gone astray to idolatry, and that, with your other sins, has brought upon them their expulsion from their own land and a general dispersion. Behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings Will deal with you as your sins have deserved. They would not visit the flock in the way of duty, and therefore God will visit them in a way of vengeance. And I will gather the remnant of my flock Though there be but a remnant of my flock, a little remnant left, that has narrowly escaped destruction, I will gather that remnant; will find them out wherever they are, and will find out ways and means to bring them back out of all countries whither I have driven them. It was the justice of God for the sins of their shepherds that dispersed them, but the mercy of God shall gather them when the shepherds that betrayed them are cut off. And being brought to their former habitations, as sheep to their folds, there they shall be fruitful, and increase in numbers. And I will set up shepherds over them Who shall make it their business, not only to rule, but also to feed them, namely, with knowledge and understanding. They shall fear no more As they formerly did, when they were continually exposed to the oppressions of their rulers at home, or the invasions and assaults of their enemies from abroad; but they shall be preserved in peace and safety, and none of them shall be lacking. Though the times may have been long bad with the church, it does not follow that they will be always so. Such pastors as Zerubbabel and Nehemiah, though they did not live in such pomp as Jehoiakim and Jeconiah lived in, nor made such a figure, were as great blessings to the people as the others were plagues to them. The peace and prosperity of the church are not connected with, much less do they depend upon, the pomp of her rulers.

Verses 5-6

Jeremiah 23:5-6. I will raise unto David a righteous branch The house of David seemed to be quite sunk and ruined by the threatening pronounced against Jeconiah, (Jeremiah 22:30,) that none of his seed should ever sit upon the throne of David: but here we have a promise which effectually secures the honour of the covenant made with David, notwithstanding that threatening; for by it his house will be raised out of its ruins to a greater lustre than ever, and shine brighter than it did even in the days of Solomon. We have not so many prophecies of Christ in this book as we had in that of the Prophet Isaiah. But here we have a very illustrious one. Of him, doubtless, the prophet here speaks, and of no other person. Even the Jewish doctors, as well as Christian interpreters, understand this as a prophecy of the Messiah, who is called the branch: Isaiah 4:2; Isaiah 53:2; and the man the branch, Zechariah 3:8. And here he is termed the righteous branch, not only because he himself was righteous, but because he makes his people righteous; and a king that shall reign and prosper Not like kings that now were of the house of David, going backward in all their affairs, but one that shall set up a kingdom in the world, which shall be victorious over all opposition; one to whose hands the good pleasure of the Lord shall be committed, and under whose care and management it shall prosper; one who shall execute judgment and justice in the earth All the world over, Psalms 96:13. The present kings of David’s line were unjust and oppressive, and their affairs therefore did not prosper; but this king shall break the usurped power of Satan, institute a perfect rule of holy living, and in due time make all the world righteous. In his days That is, under his dominion, when his kingdom shall be set up and established upon earth; Judah shall be saved, &c. The people of God, typified by Judah and Israel, shall be saved with a spiritual and eternal salvation, a salvation from the guilt and power of sin, into the favour and image of God here, and into the kingdom of his glory hereafter. At which kingdom, till they arrive, God will be a special protection to them, their refuge and strength, and very present help in trouble; so that they shall dwell safely Confiding in the care of their strong helper, and preserved in perfect peace. And this is his name whereby he shall be called Namely, by his people, and by God; the name whereby he shall be known, and which shall at once be descriptive both of his person and office. THE LORD, Hebrew, JEHOVAH OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS Though of the seed of David according to the flesh, he shall indeed be JEHOVAH, God in human nature, and OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS; namely, justifying us by his merits, sanctifying us by his Spirit, and directing us in every part of our duty by his doctrine and example; the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth in him with a faith that worketh by love.

Verses 7-8

Jeremiah 23:7-8 . Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord Here the prophet proceeds to fore-tel one very important, although remote, consequence of God’s raising up the righteous branch to David, namely, the great salvation which should thereby come to the Jews in the latter days of their state, which should be so illustrious as far to outshine their deliverance out of Egypt. That they shall no more say, The Lord liveth, &c. These words we had before, Jeremiah 16:14-15, where see the note. But here the passage seems to point more plainly than it did there to the days of the Messiah, and to compare, not so much the two deliverances themselves, giving the preference to the latter, as the two states to which the church should grow after those deliverances. About four hundred and eighty years after they were come out of Egypt, Solomon’s temple was built, 1 Kings 6:1; and at that time that nation, which was so wonderfully brought out of Egypt, was gradually arrived to its height. And four hundred and ninety years (seventy weeks) after they came out of Babylon, Messiah the Prince set up the gospel temple, which was the greatest glory of that nation that was so wonderfully brought out of Babylon: see Daniel 9:24-25. Now the spiritual glory of the second period of that nation, especially as transferred to the gospel church, is much more admirable and illustrious than all the temporal glory of the first period of it, in the days of Solomon; for that was no glory, compared with the glory which excelleth. Add to this, the prophet, it seems, also foretels a second gathering of the Jews from their dispersions, namely, one that should take place after the coming of the Messiah, and the ruin of their city and country by the Romans, and therefore yet future. Now this work of God, whenever it shall be effected, including, as it undoubtedly will, their conversion to Christianity, and perhaps, also, their restoration to their own land, will assuredly appear so wonderful as greatly to outshine every former deliverance wrought for that people, and therefore may well put every other out of remembrance. St. Paul calls this restoration of them, life from the dead, (Romans 9:25,) meaning that it would be a miracle as surprising as the resurrection of a multitude of dead bodies.

Verse 9

Jeremiah 23:9. My heart within me is broken This seems to be the beginning of a new discourse against the false prophets, with whom afterward the priests are joined. The first word of it in the Hebrew, לנבאים , is rendered by the Vulgate, Ad prophetas, To the prophets, as if it were the title of the following prophecy. In this Jeremiah describes the terror and concern which were upon him when he considered the horrible sin of these prophets in pretending a divine mission when they had received none, and in uttering as messages from God what were really their own inventions, and in direct opposition to every thing God had spoken. And he declares that, upon a view of their guilt, and of the evils they were bringing on themselves and their country, he was in trouble and agitation, like that of a man who had lost his reason through intoxication.

Verse 10

Jeremiah 23:10. For the land is full of adulterers Under this term, which properly respects those who violate the marriage-bed, persons offending by any species of uncleanness are comprehended, as also such as by fraud and falsehood circumvented others, and tempted them to join in the commission of those illicit actions which implied breach of faith and duty toward God. Because of swearing the land mourneth By swearing here, it seems, is not only meant false swearing, or perjury, but also profane and idle swearing, or taking the name of God in vain. Compare this verse with Hosea 4:2. The Hebrew word, אלה , signifies indifferently swearing or cursing. The Jewish forms of adjuration, used in their courts of justice for the discovery of the truth, had usually an imprecation joined to them; and the prophet’s words here may import, that men ventured to forswear themselves, and incur the imprecation implied in an oath, rather than discover the truth in cases wherein they were called upon to be witnesses. The land is said to mourn when it is afflicted with drought, barrenness, or any other uncommon calamity. And the swearing here spoken of is represented by the prophet as one of those crying sins for which God had visited the nation with these and other severe judgments. And the sins here mentioned, which abounded so much among the people, were in a great measure owing to the bad example and corrupt doctrine of the priests and prophets. See Jeremiah 23:11-15. The pleasant places, or the pastures, of the wilderness Or, of the plain, as the words may be properly rendered; are dried up The wrath of God is extended to all places, whether more or less inhabited. See note on Jeremiah 12:4. And their course is evil, &c. This seems to be intended of the prophets and priests, to whom this discourse is chiefly directed, (see Jeremiah 23:9-11,) and it implies that they not only erred in single acts, but that the whole course of their actions was evil, and particularly their power, rule, and government. For they both made use of ill arts to establish their authority over the people, and they employed it, not for the bettering, but rather for the corrupting of their manners.

Verses 11-12

Jeremiah 23:11-12. For both the prophet and the priest are profane The priests, by their formality and hypocrisy, profaned the ordinances of God which they were appointed to administer; and the prophets, by their lies, false doctrine, and corrupt practice, profaned the word of God, which they pretended to deliver. Yea, in my house have I found their wickedness: saith the Lord Even in my temple, where they assemble under a pretence to worship and do me honour, they say and do many things contrary to my law, and are guilty of various acts of profaneness and immorality. Such profaners of things sacred were formerly Hophni and Phinehas. Wherefore their way shall be as slippery ways In which they shall not walk with any steadiness, safety, or satisfaction: or they shall fail and miscarry in all their designs.

Verses 13-14

Jeremiah 23:13-14. I have seen Rather, I saw, namely, formerly, before I cast them out of their own land; folly Hebrew, תפלה , stupidity, infatuation. The LXX. render it, ανομηματα , iniquities, or unlawful actions, and the Vulgate, fatuitatem, sottishness; in the prophets of Samaria That is, in those that belonged to the ten tribes, whose chief city was Samaria. They prophesied in Baal Pretending they had their relations from Baal, they caused the people of that kingdom to err That is, they seduced them from the worship and service of the true God to idolatry. I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem a horrible thing Hebrew, שׁערורה , a thing to be detested, an abomination. He compares the sins of the prophets of Samaria with those of the prophets of Jerusalem, and pronounces the sins of the latter to be more enormous, because they pronounced their false prophecies 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 great dishonour upon his name and religion. Compare Jeremiah 3:11. They commit adultery See Jeremiah 29:23. And walk in lies Utter what they themselves have feigned, and call their inventions divine visions, and use all manner of deceit and fraud. They strengthen also the hands of evil-doers They confirm men in their evil ways, both by their own bad example, and by promising them peace and security, notwithstanding their wicked conduct and ungodly deeds. See Jeremiah 23:17; and Ezekiel 13:22. They are all of them unto me as Sodom See Deuteronomy 32:32; Isaiah 1:10; Ezekiel 16:46-48.

Verse 15

Jeremiah 23:15. Therefore thus saith the Lord concerning the prophets The priests also, and all ecclesiastical guides, are included. Behold, I will feed them with wormwood Will afflict them with most bitter calamities. For from the prophets of Jerusalem is profaneness gone forth Or, hypocrisy, which seems rather to be the meaning of חנפה , the word here used. Certain it is, that this was a vice they were generally addicted to. These false prophets affected to be looked upon as pious, while they indulged themselves in various acts of wickedness; and as this could not be totally concealed, the people took example from them, and indulged themselves in vice, while they put on the garb of piety. The Jewish nation continued much in this habit even to the times of Christ, as is sufficiently evident from what is said of the Pharisees in the New Testament.

Verses 16-17

Jeremiah 23:16-17. Thus saith the Lord, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets People are under no religious obligation to hear what is contrary to the revealed will of God, or to obey those who enjoin things which that does not require. They make you vain Or rather, they deceive you, as the words may be properly rendered: or they make you trust to and undertake vain things. The inhabitants of Jerusalem were fed by these false prophets with the vain hopes of being able to drive the Babylonians from their walls, and raise the siege of the city; yea, and of shaking off the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar entirely, and being quite free for the future. They speak a vision of their own heart A pretended vision which they have framed themselves. They say still That is, they persist to say; unto them that despise me That are destitute even of my fear, and therefore slight my authority, and violate my commands; The Lord hath said, Ye shall have peace Whereas, in truth, I have said the contrary, and have assured them, There is no peace to the wicked Thus they both make me to patronise sin, and to contradict myself.

Verse 18

Jeremiah 23:18. For who hath stood in the counsel of the Lord? These are either the words of God expressing that none of these pretended prophets knew any thing of his designs, as he had not revealed them unto them, and they could not otherwise know them; or else they are to be understood as the words of these false prophets, who, among other things, told the people, that God’s counsels were not to be absolutely known; and that therefore neither Jeremiah, nor the rest of the prophets, who foretold the destruction of Jerusalem, were informed more than others of what God intended to do.

Verses 19-20

Jeremiah 23:19-20. Behold, a whirlwind of the Lord is gone forth with fury A severe judgment of God, that shall resemble a whirlwind for the sudden and utter destruction that it shall bring. The same word, סערה , is elsewhere translated a storm. It is called a whirlwind of the Lord, both to denote the greatness of it, and to signify that it should come forth from God, and be of his sending. It shall fall grievously upon the head of the wicked Whatever these flattering teachers may assert to the contrary. Blaney translates the verse, Behold, the whirlwind of Jehovah! it goeth forth hot, even a settling whirlwind; (so he translates מתחולל , which we render, grievous,) upon the head of the wicked it shall settle. And he observes, “The hot, scorching wind, blowing from the south, (see note on Jeremiah 4:11-12,) is evidently here alluded to, that blows, not with a transient blast, but exerts a continued force upon the head of the unfortunate traveller till it has effectually destroyed him:” an emblem this of the consuming and insupportable wrath of God. The anger of the Lord shall not return The prophet speaks of the judgment as of a messenger, which should not return till it had done its errand, and executed what God had resolved it should effect. In the latter days ye shall consider, &c. Though you will not now believe it, but flatter yourselves with vain hopes, yet hereafter, when it shall be too late, you shall consider it perfectly, that is, when this judgment hath over-taken you, you shall fully believe and understand that God did indeed bring it upon you, for the punishment of your sins.

Verses 21-22

Jeremiah 23:21-22. I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran They were always ready to bring you pleasing tidings as from me, though I had given them no commission so to do, or revealed any thing to them. But if they had stood in my counsel Been made acquainted by me with my will and pleasure; and had caused my people to hear my words And not their own conceits and inventions; then they should have turned therefrom their evil way This was the design of all God’s messages by his prophets, and therefore all true prophets made this their principal aim. And the giving encouragement to men to continue in their sinful courses, or in a state of carnal security, is often mentioned as a mark of a false prophet.

Verses 23-24

Jeremiah 23:23-24. Am I a God at hand and not a God afar off? Do these false prophets imagine that I am only a God in some particular places, and that I cannot see or know things done privately, or at a distance from the place where they suppose me to be? Do they think to impose upon me, or vent their own dreams in my name, and I not discover them? As if either distance or secrecy could place any thing out of the reach of my power and knowledge. Atheism, or ignorance of God, is generally the foundation of a wicked life. Men think God does not see, or does not regard them and their actions, and will not call them to an account for them, and therefore they go on in their trespasses. By a God at hand, some understand, in heaven: as if he had said, Do you think my eyes are limited like yours, so that I cannot see men’s practices though at a distance from the place of my peculiar and glorious residence? Others interpret the particle with respect to time; Am I a god of yesterday, like the idols? Am not I the Ancient of days? the eternal God, of whose majesty, omniscience, and omnipresence you ought to have been sensible? Can any hide himself in secret places Can any man hide his projects or intentions, his thoughts or desires, his words or works, that I shall not see them? Surely not. No arts or concealments can hide any man’s practices or even the counsels of his heart from the eye of God, nor in any respect deceive his judgment of them. Do not I fill heaven and earth, namely, by my essential presence, as well as by my universal providence? Am I not continually present, and continually active through all parts of the universe? As I am above all, so I am through all, and in all, Ephesians 4:6.

Verses 25-27

Jeremiah 23:25-27. I have heard what the prophets say, &c. I am perfectly acquainted with what these prophets have thought and said, though they think I take no notice of it, and so continue to act the same counterfeit part over again. Saying, I have dreamed I have had a divine vision, or have received information from God in a dream. This, it appears, the false prophets often pretended, when they had received nothing of the kind. How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets? How long shall I bear with them while they prophesy the deceit of their own hearts? while they utter, for prophecies, that which they have feigned or devised themselves? Will they never see what an affront they put upon me, what an abuse they put upon my people, and what judgments they are preparing for themselves? To cause my people to forget my name by their dreams, &c. They act as if they designed to draw my people off from worshipping and serving me, and from all regard to my laws and ordinances and to the true prophets. Indeed, their palming upon the people counterfeit revelations, and fathering their own fancies upon divine inspiration, was the ready way to bring all religion into contempt, and make men turn atheists and infidels.

Verses 28-29

Jeremiah 23:28-29. The prophet that hath a dream let him tell a dream Or, as some render it, let him tell it as a dream. Let him lay no more stress upon it than men do upon their dreams, nor expect any more regard to be paid to it. Or, he that pretends to have a message from God, either by dream, or vision, or voice, or otherwise, let him declare it. And he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully Let him speak it, as truth; so some read the clause; let him keep close to his instructions, and you will soon perceive a vast difference between the dreams which the false prophets tell, and the divine oracles which the true prophets deliver, and will easily discern which is of God and which is not. Those that have spiritual senses exercised will be able to distinguish. For what is the chaff to the wheat There is as much difference between my will and their dreams, as there is between the chaff and the wheat. Is not my word like fire? Quick and powerful, capable of trying men as metals are tried in a furnace, and ready to burn up that which will not bear the trial. And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces As a hammer breaks to pieces the hardest rock, so is my word, when properly applied, able to break the hardest and most obstinate heart, and to beat down the confidence of the most hardened sinner.

Verses 30-32

Jeremiah 23:30-32. Behold, I am against the prophets that steal my words, &c. “That imitate the true prophets, speaking in my name, as they do, and saying, Thus saith the Lord, (see Jeremiah 23:31,) and using their words, but applying them to their own purpose: or, it may be, adding their own inventions to them.” So Lowth. Others paraphrase the verse thus, “That conspire together what to say to deceive the people, and to steal what they say one from another.” Or, perhaps the meaning rather is, That utter, as revelations made to themselves, things which they have learned, and, as it were, stolen from others. That use their tongues, &c. That take their own tongues, as Blaney renders it, and say, He (the Lord) hath said. “The phrase of taking their own tongue,” he observes: “is, I think, very easily to be understood of those who, without any inspiration, took upon them to deliver messages to the people, and pretended that they came from God.” I am against them that prophesy false dreams False things, under the notion of revelations made to them in their sleep. And cause my people to err To wander from the right way; by their lies, and by their lightness By their groundless assertions, their folly, their rashness and inconsistency with themselves: or, by the flatteries of their preaching, soothing men up in their sins, and by the looseness and lewdness of their conversation encouraging them to persist in them. Yet I sent them not, &c. They are not my messengers, nor is what they say my message. Therefore they shall not profit this people at all All the profit they aim at communicating is to make the people easy, but they shall not be able to do even that; for my providences will be such as will fill them with painful apprehensions and distressing fears. Some read the clause, They do not profit this people, considering the words as implying more than they express, namely, that these false prophets not only did the people no good, but did them a great deal of hurt. Observe, reader, none can expect God’s blessing upon their ministry who are not called and sent of God. And those that corrupt the word of God, while they pretend to preach it, are so far from edifying the church, that they do it the greatest mischief imaginable.

Verse 33

Jeremiah 23:33. When this people, or the prophet, &c., shall ask thee, &c. “The remaining part of this chapter is directed against those who called the word of God, spoken by the true prophets, A BURDEN, by way of reproach; meaning that it always portended evil, and never good;” the word משׁא , a burden, generally signifying a calamitous prophecy. See note on Isaiah 13:1. “Ahab intended to cast the same slur on the Prophet Micaiah when he represented him as one that never prophesied good concerning him, but evil, 1 Kings 22:8.” The false prophets, who said, Peace, peace, it seems, derided the true prophets, whose predictions were full of threatenings, as if God’s messages were a burden which they were weary of hearing; and made a jest of these words, The burden of the Lord, with which God’s prophets sometimes prefaced their prophecies. Upon this account God forbade the use of that expression, as in the following verses. See Lowth.

Verse 36

Jeremiah 23:36. For every man’s word shall be his burden You shall be made severely to account for your loose and profane speeches, wherewith you deride and pervert the words and messages of God himself. Or, “Every man shall have most reason to regard his own word as hurtful and prejudicial to him. For the words of God were delivered with a salutary tendency, to warn sinners of the danger of their situation, and to call them to repentance. Those, therefore, who made a right use of them would have no cause to complain. But those who despised and rejected them perverted that which should have been for their wealth into an occasion of falling.” Blaney.

Verse 39

Jeremiah 23:39. Therefore, behold, I will utterly forget you The Vulgate renders this clause, Propterea ecce ego tolam vos portans, Therefore, behold, I will take you away removing you, (taking the verb נשׁה , nashah, in the sense of נשׂא , nasa, as words of a like sound are often of a promiscuous signification,) which makes the sense more pertinent to the foregoing verses. The LXX. interpret the clause to the same purpose, Δια τουτο ιδου εγω λαμβανω και ρασσω υμας , &c. Therefore, behold I take you, and cast you down, or, dash you, to the ground, and the city which I gave to you and to your fathers.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Jeremiah 23". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/jeremiah-23.html. 1857.
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