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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Jeremiah 23

 

 

Verse 1

THE GATHERING AGAIN OF THE FLOCK, Jeremiah 23:1-8.

1. Pastors Shepherds. The term seems sometimes to be used with reference to subordinate civil rulers, as in Jeremiah 2:8; Jeremiah 22:22, and yet, perhaps, more commonly in a generic sense, covering all leaders or persons of influence — prophets, priests, and civil rulers.

Sheep of my pasture My sheep. The flock belongs to God, who only is the true Shepherd; all others derive their authority from him.


Verse 2

2. The pastors — In the first verse the article is not in the original, and is incorrectly introduced into the Version. It is a general principle. Woe to shepherds — any and all shepherds — when they destroy and scatter the sheep; that is, when they themselves do that which they are specially set to prevent. But in this verse the article is used to identify those to whom this woe now applies.

Scattered… driven — As the wolf does. The Eastern shepherd does not drive his flock, but “goeth before them.”


Verse 3

3. I have driven — Here God appropriates to himself the very term he had just applied to the evil shepherds to their blame. So we have brought into view two aspects of the same event. So Joseph said to his brethren, “Not you sent me hither, but God,” Genesis 45:8 : a statement that seems the exact opposite of the truth, and yet was most profoundly and exactly true. The real meaning is, Not so much you as God. The event turns one of its faces toward those wicked men, Joseph’s brethren; but another, and a totally different one, toward God. So here. These shepherds, by their neglect, had scattered and destroyed the flock; on the other hand God, for the sins of this very flock, drove them into exile.


Verse 4

4. I will set up shepherds — Such men as Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah: but the higher fulfilment of this prophetic promise is reserved for Messianic times.


Verse 5

5. In the midst of this fearful gloom, most unexpectedly and refreshingly are we favoured with a vision of supernal glory. The words of this passage break upon our ears sweetly and cheeringly as the angels’ song upon the ears of the shepherds. In this extremity of despair the light of God’s blessed consolation beams with ineffable beauty. In none of the prophets, not even in Isaiah, “the evangelic prophet,” is there a brighter gleam of the “latter-day glory.”

Behold — A formal opening, indicating the importance of what is announced.

Days come — Literally, days (are) coming: pointing to some indefinite future.

Branch — See Isaiah 4:2; and, for the force of the word, Genesis 19:25; Isaiah 61:11; Ezekiel 16:7; Ezekiel 17:9; Hosea 8:7. The original in Isaiah 11:1, is a different word, and quite distinct in meaning. It is unfortunate that both are represented by the same word in the Authorized Version. The term here employed signifies a sprout or shoot sent up from the root, and is strikingly expressive of the Messiah’s relation to the Davidic dynasty. Of this line nothing was left but the vital root, and yet from this Christ came. The branches had been cut off, the stately trunk was prostrate and dead, but from the hidden root a new shoot came forth of supernal beauty and immortal vigour.

A King shall reign — Rather, that shall reign as king, the sentence resting directly on the word “branch.” Isaiah 52:13; Daniel 9:24, etc.


Verse 6

6. Judah… Israel — The prophet writes as though Israel had not been destroyed; and this was true in a sense deeper and more spiritual than that in which she had been destroyed. The passing away of her political power was a mere incident. The spiritual results of the long centuries of divine tuition and discipline were still conserved. There had been reared a temple of spiritual truth which even the shock of war could not cast down. Israel and Judah are still complementary parts of God’s indestructible Church.

Whereby he shall be called — Literally, he shall call him, or one shall call him. The subject is either Jehovah understood, or the verb is impersonal, which is the preferable view. The object “he” is clearly the Personage of the preceding verse. A few commentators, mainly because of Jeremiah 33:16, refer it to the Jewish people, but most unwarrantably.

The Lord our Righteousness — “Though the Hebrew language admitted into ordinary appellations the name of the Deity, yet this is the case solely in compound, and never in uncompounded, names. Such are either memorials of some great event, (for instance, Genesis 6:14; Genesis 22:14; Exodus 17:15; Judges 6:24, etc.,) or virtual promises of some future deliverance, as Jeremiah 33:16; Ezekiel 48:35; or names of the Deity, as in Isaiah 7:16; Isaiah 9:6.” (Dean Smith, in loc.) The import of the name is, that Jehovah will, by the Messiah, establish among his people a reign of righteousness. The phrase does not look directly to outward and technical justification, but to holiness of heart and life.


Verse 7-8

7, 8. Repetition of Jeremiah 16:14-15.


Verse 9

THE FALSE PROPHETS, Jeremiah 23:9-40.

9. This verse is tamely rendered in the Authorized Version. Its opening sentences stand: Concerning the prophets, broken is my heart within me; all my bones shake. The same radical word which is here rendered shake, is, in Genesis 1:2, “moved,” and in Deuteronomy 32:11, “fluttereth.” The sense here is, to shake in a helpless and tottering manner, and so is kindred to the following sentence: I am like a drunken man.


Verse 10

10. Adulterers — Taken literally as a specimen-aspect of the prevalent immorality.

Because of swearing — Rather, because of the curse.

Mourneth — Literally, withereth.

Their force is not right — That is, their prowess is on the side of wrong.


Verse 11

11. Both prophet and priest are profane — Instead of being specially holy, they are specially wicked. Even into the very temple covetousness and impurity had come. See 2 Kings 23:12; Ezekiel 23:39; Zephaniah 3:4.


Verse 12

12. Slippery ways in the darkness — In the rough and uneven country of Palestine, full of difficult and dangerous paths, most naturally do the perils of travel contribute to its imagery. Such language in the Bible has a force and expressiveness which the modern dwellers in civilized lands, with good roads and abundant facilities for safe and expeditious travel, can but imperfectly realize. See Psalms 73:2; Psalms 73:18; Psalms 35:6; Psalms 38:17; Psalms 66:9; Psalms 121:3, etc., etc.

Driven on — Rather, thrust down.


Verse 13-14

13, 14. Prophets of Samaria — Here introduced to set off the greater folly of the prophets of Jerusalem. These last are represented as having come to the very climax of wickedness, even as Sodom and Gomorrah.


Verse 15

15. See Jeremiah 8:14; Jeremiah 9:15.


Verse 16-17

16, 17. Thus saith the Lord — Having denounced punishment against the false prophets, Jeremiah now warns the people against them. His charges against them are summed up in two: 1) They speak a vision of their own heart; 2) They say… Ye shall have peace.


Verse 18

18. His word — Should be, my word; the Masoretes having changed the person because of the apparent grammatical difficulty.


Verse 19

19. A whirlwind — So far from this vision of peace and prosperity being true, the tempest of Jehovah — even fury — goeth forth, and a whirlwind shall hurl itself upon the head of the wicked.


Verse 20

20. Anger of the Lord — This wrath of God is resistless. He will certainly perform the thoughts of his heart. And when these plans of God are actually wrought out into completion they will be understood.


Verse 21-22

21, 22. These false prophets ran as if with a message from the Almighty. They hurried with indecent levity to assume those grave responsibilities. Had they been really of God they would have turned them (the people) from their evil way. No man going on God’s errand need meet with failure or defeat. The test of “fruit,” when rightly applied, is an infallible one.


Verse 23

23. A God at hand — Am I one whose knowledge and power are hedged in by the limitations of time and space? Am I one from whom anything, even the most secret, can be hid, and hence be ignorant of the lying predictions of these prophecy-mongers?


Verse 26

26. How long, etc. — Rather, How long? Is it in the minds of the prophets that prophesy falsehood in my name — the prophets of the deceit of their heart? Impatient of their impious audacity Jeremiah cries out, “How long?” and then draws out his question more explicitly.


Verse 28

28. Let him tell a dream — That is, as “a dream,” and not as the word of God. Ordinary dreams are but as chaff, while the divine word is vital and life-sustaining as the wheat.


Verse 29

29. Fire… hammer — That which is “wheat” to the believer is but as a consuming fire to the “chaff” of false prophesyings, and a resistless “hammer” to all opposing obstructions.


Verses 30-32

30-32. Some of the leading characteristics of false prophets are here grouped together. a) They steal my words every one from his neighbour; which has been aptly described as a twofold plagiarism — one steals from another, but all from God’s true prophets. b) They say, He saith. They give out their sayings as God’s. c) They have pretended revelations — prophesy false dreams. d) Finally and fatally, they cause my people to err by their lies, and by their lightness — That is, their boastful pretensions.


Verse 33

33. Burden of the Lord — This phrase occurs many times in the titles of Isaiah’s prophecies, and in the prophecies of Nahum, Habakkuk, Zechariah, and Malachi. It is never used by Jeremiah except, as here, in quoting the language of others and replying to it. Hence the enemies of the prophet must have used it by way of derision. The import of the term has been the subject of some difference of opinion. It comes from נשׂא, (nasah,) to lift up, and either implies a saying of weighty and dread import, one that must be taken up as “a burden,” or one which was announced by lifting up the voice. These two explanations coincide to a great extent, for that which should be proclaimed with a loud voice would be a matter of grave importance. But a careful study of the passages in which this term is employed will disclose the fact that, for whatever reason, the application of the term is to prophecies of a minatory character, so that the word, as here used, contained a sneering satire on Jeremiah’s work.

What burden — An echo or repetition of their question, in order to join the answer to it with more telling effect. The Septuagint here translates, ye are the burden, a reading which requires no change of the Hebrew consonants, but only a different division of them; and many commentators have preferred to follow it in this place, but unwisely, and with strange disregard of the special untrustworthiness of the Septuagint in this book.

I will… forsake you — Literally, I will cast you off — I will disburden myself of you.


Verse 36

36. Every man’s word shall be his burden — The word “burden” shall have, to him who uses it tauntingly against my faithful prophet, a crushing fulfilment.


Verse 39

39. I…

will utterly forget you — As you have forgotten me. Another reading of this text is preferred by many, but without sufficient reason.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Jeremiah 23:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/jeremiah-23.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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