COUNTERFEIT SPIRITUAL SHEPHERDS SUBSTITUTE THEIR OWN PEACEFUL IMAGINATIONS FOR GOD’S AUTHENTIC REVELATION OF JUDGMENT
Jeremiah understood what was involved in faithfully proclaiming God’s Word – no matter how unpopular the message. He was willing to pay the price of being mocked and flogged and cast into prison and thrown into a deep pit of quicksand type of mud that required 30 strong men to haul him out. He refused to recant or soften his message or accommodate the demands of sinful leaders. He looked forward to the day when God would raise up a Righteous Branch from the root of David who would administer righteousness and faithfully shepherd God’s people. He denounced the destructive influence of counterfeit shepherds – calling them to account and exposing the futility of following their manmade counsel. Ultimately, God will have the last word and mock those who mock the faithful proclamation of God’s strong word of judgment.
MacArthur: Other significant chapters which condemn evil shepherds and false prophets include chaps. 14, 27, 28; Is 28; Eze 13, 34; Mic 3; Zec 11.
COUNTERFEIT SPIRITUAL SHEPHERDS SUBSTITUTE THEIR OWN PEACEFUL IMAGINATIONS FOR GOD’S AUTHENTIC REVELATION OF JUDGMENT
I. (:1-2) EVIL SHEPHERDS FACE DIVINE ACCOUNTABILITY
A. Evil Practices of Counterfeit Spiritual Shepherds
1. Injurious Shepherding
“Destroying and Scattering the sheep of My pasture”
“Scattered My flock and driven them away”
Parunak: “Destroy and scatter”: the sin for which they are judged.
1) First sin: they destroy the sheep, cause them to perish. By implication, what a shepherd should do for the sheep is protect them from outside dangers.
2) Second sin: they scatter the sheep. By contrast, a shepherd should keep the flock together, gather them into a safe fold, and if one is missing, go out and find it.
3) We will see these two features over and over in this paragraph. It’s worth noting at the outset that they correspond perfectly to the two great dangers that Paul pointed out to the elders at Ephesus in Acts 20:29-30, the dangers of wolves coming in to destroy and of false teachers scattering sheep away.
2. Inattentive Shepherding
“Concerning the shepherds who are tending My people”
“Have not attended to them”
B. Emphatic Warning Woes
1. Pronouncement of Woe
“Woe to the shepherds”
2. Promise of Impending Judgment for Evil Deeds
“Behold, I am about to attend to you for the evil of your deeds”
Feinberg: By a play on words, Jeremiah uses the double sense of the Hebrew word paqad (“to care for,” “to chastize”): the shepherds had “not bestowed care on” the flock; so God would “bestow punishment on” them in judgment (v. 2).
Jamieson: just retribution. Play upon the double sense of “visit.” “Visit upon,” namely, in wrath (Ex 32:34).
II. (:3-8) GOD’S FAITHFUL SHEPHERD (THE MESSIAH) WILL ULTIMATELY REIGN IN RIGHTEOUSNESS
A. (:3-4) Future Restoration to Fruitfulness and Security
(Both near term and eschatological fulfillment)
1. The Bringing About of Restoration – How will God accomplish it?
a. Recapturing / Gathering
“Then I myself will gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries
where I have driven them”
MacArthur: The restoration of Judah from Babylon is referred to in language which in its fullness can only refer to the final restoration of God’s people under Messiah. . . . Zerubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and others were small fulfillments compared to the consummate shepherding of the Messiah Jesus.
“bring them back to their pasture”
c. Raise Up Faithful Shepherds
“I will also raise up shepherds over them and they will tend them”
2. The Blessings of Restoration – What will God provide?
a. Feeding – pleasant grazing
“and bring them back to their pasture”
“and they will be fruitful and multiply”
“and they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified”
“nor will any be missing”
Matthew Henry: Here is a word of comfort to the neglected sheep. Though the under-shepherds take no care of them, no pains with them, but betray them, the chief Shepherd will look after them. When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord taketh me up. Though the interests of God’s church in the world are neglected by those who should take care of them, and postponed to their own private secular interests, yet they shall not therefore sink. God will perform his promise, though those he employs do not perform their duty.
B. (:5-6) Faithful Shepherding of the Righteous King (the Messiah)
1. (:5) Righteous Characterization of His Reign
“I will raise up for David a righteous Branch;
And He will reign as king and act wisely
And do justice and righteousness in the land”
Parunak: “a legitimate scion.” The point of “righteous” is not that the king is morally upright (though of course he is), but that he is legitimate, entitled to the throne. The suggestion is that the current Judean kings are not legitimate. They were set up by foreign powers, and were only puppets.
2. (:6a) Righteous Results of His Reign – Salvation and Security
“In His days Judah will be saved and Israel will dwell securely”
3. (:6b) Righteous Name
“And this is His name by which He will be called,
The Lord our righteousness.”
C. (:7-8) Favorite Testimony Switches from Historical Exodus to Eschatological Restoration —
The newer demonstration of God’s mercy and power trumps the former demonstration
1. (:7) Testimony of Historical Exodus
“’Therefore behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when they will no longer say, As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of Egypt.’”
2. (:8a) Testimony of Eschatological Restoration
“but, ‘As the Lord lives, who brought up and led back the descendants of the household of Israel from the north land and from all the countries where I had driven them.’”
3. (:8b) Territory of the Promised Land Possessed and Enjoyed
“Then they will live on their own soil.”
Parunak: Passages like these led the Christians of the first three centuries to believe in a national restoration of Israel. Not until Constantine did amillennialism become the predominant belief of the church.
III. (:9-15) EVIL SHEPHERDS DESERVE GOD’S CONDEMNATION
A. (:9-12) Corrupt Leadership Calls for Calamity – Deserving of Punishment
1. (:9) Lamenting Over Corrupt Prophets
“As for the prophets: My heart is broken within me, All my bones tremble; I have become like a drunken man, Even like a man overcome with wine, Because of the LORD And because of His holy words.”
2. (:10-11) Lamenting Over Corrupt Priests as Well
“’For the land is full of adulterers; For the land mourns because of the curse. The pastures of the wilderness have dried up. Their course also is evil, And their might is not right. For both prophet and priest are polluted; Even in My house I have found their wickedness,’ declares the LORD.”
3. (:12) Promising Their Punishment = Calamity from the Lord
“’Therefore their way will be like slippery paths to them, They will be driven away into the gloom and fall down in it; For I shall bring calamity upon them, The year of their punishment,’ declares the LORD.”
Dyer: These leaders had such a low view of God’s holy character that they would even pollute His temple with their wickedness. Because of their sin God vowed to bring disaster on them.
Jamieson: “Jerusalem” and Judah were even worse than “Samaria” and the ten tribes; the greater were the privileges of the former, the greater was their guilt. They had the temple in their midst, which the ten tribes had not; yet in the temple itself they practised idolatry.
B. (:13-15) Cancerous Idolatry Degenerates to Depravity – Deserving of Poison
1. (:13) Offensive Idolatry
“Moreover, among the prophets of Samaria I saw an offensive thing:
They prophesied by Baal and led My people Israel astray.”
2. (:14a) Horrible Spiritual Adultery
“Also among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing:
The committing of adultery and walking in falsehood;
And they strengthen the hands of evildoers,
So that no one has turned back from his wickedness.”
3. (:14b) Disgusting Depravity
“All of them have become to Me like Sodom, And her inhabitants like Gomorrah.
4. (:15) Pollution Deserving of Poison
“Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts concerning the prophets, ‘Behold, I am going to feed them wormwood And make them drink poisonous water, For from the prophets of Jerusalem pollution has gone forth into all the land.’”
IV. (:16-24) FOLLOWING EVIL SHEPHERDS LEADS ONLY TO FUTILITY
“Thus says the Lord of hosts,
‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you,
They are leading you into futility;’”
A. (:16) Because the Source of Their Message is Human Rather than Divine
“They speak a vision of their own imagination.”
B. (:17) Because the Security They Offer is False
“They keep saying to those who despise Me,
The Lord has said, ‘You will have peace’,
And as for everyone who walks in the stubbornness of his own heart,
They say, ‘Calamity will not come upon you.’”
C. (:18) Because the Stiff-Necked Nature of These Prophets is Evident
“But who has stood in the council of the Lord,
That he should see and hear His word?
Who has given heed to His word and listened?”
D. (:19-20) Because the Severity of God’s Judgment Will Soon Be Seen
“Behold, the storm of the Lord has gone forth in wrath,
Even a whirling tempest;
It will swirl down on the head of the wicked.
The anger of the Lord will not turn back
Until He has performed and carried out the purposes of His heart;
In the last days you will clearly understand it.”
E. (:21) Because the Sending of These Prophets Carries No Authority
“I did not send these prophets, but they ran.
I did not speak to them, but they prophesied.”
F. (:22) Because the Senselessness of These Prophets is Incredible
“But if they had stood in My council,
Then they would have announced My words to My people,
And would have turned them back from their evil way
And from the evil of their deeds.”
Thompson: Here lie two important features of the true prophet – the divine sending and the divine word. In the absence of these, prophets had no authority and no clear understanding of the purposes of God. Not having been in his council (cf. 14:14; 27:15; 29:9) they had no word to proclaim, nor could they turn the nation away from its evil course and its evil deeds. Indeed, they could not discern in their fellows the kinds of activities which were an offense to Yahweh. The task of the true prophet was to convict people of their sinfulness. To do that he himself would need to have a clear understanding of the nature of the covenant and its demands upon the people of God. The only acceptable response to their election and their high calling was in terms of holiness and righteousness and utter loyalty to Yahweh the sovereign Lord of the covenant.
G. (:23-24) Because the Sight of God Reaches to All Corners of the Universe
“’Am I a God who is near,’ declares the Lord,
‘And not a God far off?
Can a man hide himself in hiding places
So I do not see him?’ declares the Lord.
‘Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?’ declares the Lord.”
MacArthur: Let not false prophets think they can hide their devices from God, who declares Himself omnipresent and omniscient, in both an immanent and transcendent sense.
Mackay: Zion theology emphasized the indwelling of the Lord in the Temple and tended to limit God and restrict divine freedom. The Lord simply had to act on behalf of Jerusalem because he had presenced himself there. Over against such a comfortable theology with a narrow and localized conception of the divine, the question denies the possibility of restricting God to any physical locality. He is transcendent, and his lofty majesty must ever be kept in mind. His sovereign power is a function of his exalted status. His power is not limited by his transcendence as though God was removed to a distance and so rendered impotent. Divine exaltation does not impair God’s ability to see into the hearts of all people (Ps. 33:13-15) and to judge what they do (Pss. 11:4-5; 113:5-6).
V. (:25-32) GOD OPPOSES FALSE PROPHETS THAT DECEPTIVELY CLAIM DIVINE REVELATION
A. (:25-27) The Obscuring of Truth by False Prophets
1. (:25) Invalid Claims to Divine Revelation – God is not fooled
“I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy falsely in My name,
saying, ‘I had a dream, I had a dream!’”
2. (:26) Initiated in Deception and Propagating Falsehood
“How long? Is there anything in the hearts of the prophets who prophesy falsehood, even these prophets of the deception of their own heart”
3. (:27) Intended to Promote Idolatry – not a new strategy
“who intend to make My people forget My name by their dreams which they relate to one another, just as their fathers forgot My name because of Baal.”
B. (:28-29) The Omnipotent Nature of God’s Word
1. (:28) Huge Distinction Between Divine Revelation and Personal Thoughts
“’The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has My word speak My word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain?’ declares the Lord.”
2. (:29) 2 Analogies Proving the Power of God’s Word in Judgment
a. Analogy of Fire – Devours and Consumes in Judgment
“’Is not my Word like fire?’ declares the Lord”
b. Analogy of a Hammer – Smashes and Obliterates in Judgment
“’and like a hammer which shatters a rock?’”
Jamieson: As the “fire” consumes the “chaff,” [Jer 23:28], so “My word” will consume the false prophets (Mt 3:12; Heb 4:12). “My word” which is “wheat” [Jer 23:28], that is, food to the true prophet and his hearers, is a consuming “fire,” and a crushing “hammer” (Mt 21:44) to false prophets and their followers (2Co 2:16). The Word of the false prophets may be known by its promising men peace in sin. “My word,” on the contrary, burns and breaks the hard-hearted (Jer 20:9). The “hammer” symbolizes destructive power (Jer 50:23; Na 2:1, Margin).
Longman: God’s word is like fire and a hammer, two images that suggest devastating judgment. We may presume that the false message of the lying prophets concerned peace and not judgment.
C. (:30-32) The Opposition of God to False Prophets – Characterizes their Counterfeit Ministry:
1. (:30) Copy Cat Plagiarism (instead of divine revelation)
“’Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,’ declares the Lord, ‘who steal My words from each other.’”
2. (:31) Outright Lying
“’Behold, I am against the prophets,’ declares the Lord, ‘who use their tongues and declare, The Lord declares.’”
3. (:32a) Deceptive and Reckless
“’Behold, I am against those who have prophesied false dreams,’ declares the Lord, ‘and related them and led My people astray by their falsehoods and reckless boasting.’”
4. (:32b) No Divine Authorization or Spiritual Benefit
“’yet I did not send them or command them, nor do they furnish this people the slightest benefit,’ declares the Lord.”
Feinberg: Jeremiah describes three classes of false prophets. Three times he declares that the Lord is against the false prophets; each verse begins with a statement of the opposition of God to the godless seers. The first group of lying prophets are those who misappropriate the prophecies of the true prophets, giving them out as their own (v. 30). To their lies they add plagiarism; their words were not original but stolen from others. Here was spiritual bankruptcy indeed! A second group are accused of using their tongues as the main weapon in their deceptions. They use their tongues too freely (v. 31). They “wag” them to introduce their lies by the formula of the true prophets “The Lord declares.” They did this to give their words a ring of authenticity. They merely pretended divine authorization. The last group included those with whom national interests were paramount (v. 2). Their words – true or not – must, they felt, lift national morale. No wonder the prophet refers to their speech as empty talk.
VI. (:33-40) GOD WILL HAVE THE LAST WORD –
GOD SARCASTICALLY MOCKS THOSE WHO MOCKINGLY REJECT THE HARSH TRUTH OF GOD’S LEGITIMATE REVELATION OF COMING JUDGMENT
Read this section in The Living Bible for impact of sarcasm:
When one of the people or one of their “prophets” or priests asks you, “Well, Jeremiah, what is the sad news from the Lord today?” You shall reply, “What sad news? You are the sad news, for the Lord has cast you away!” (23:33)
A. (:33-38) Four Responses to Those Mocking Faithful Preaching
1. (:33) First Response: The Lord will Abandon you
“Now when this people or the prophet or a priest asks you saying, What is the oracle of the Lord? then you shall say to them, What oracle? The Lord declares, I will abandon you.”
2. (:34) Second Response: The Lord will Punish you
“Then as for the prophet or the priest or the people who say, The oracle of the Lord, I will bring punishment upon that man and his household.”
3. (:35-36) Third Response: You have Perverted the Truth
“Thus will each of you say to his neighbor and to his brother, What has the Lord answered? Or, What has the Lord spoken? For you will no longer remember the oracle of the Lord, because every man’s own word will become the oracle, and you have perverted the words of the living God, the Lord of hosts, our God.”
4. (:37-38) Fourth Response: Stop Mocking God’s Revelation
“Thus you will say to that prophet, What has the Lord answered you? And what has the Lord spoken? For if you say, The oracle of the Lord! Surely thus says the Lord, Because you said this word, The oracle of the Lord! I have also sent to you, saying, You shall not say, The oracle of the Lord!”
Wiersbe: Their attitude toward God’s message was careless and disrespectful: they weren’t taking seriously God’s message or God’s messenger. The false prophets had distorted the truth to make it mean what they wanted it to mean, and yet they called their messages the “oracles of God.”
Dyer: God said He would punish those who claimed any other oracle. The people were misusing the term so much in claiming divine authority for their own words that God told them not to mention the word again. Its misuse had caused the people to distort the true words of the living God. Those who continued to claim divine oracles would be judged. God vowed to cast them out of His presence along with the rest of Jerusalem. These false prophets faced the threat of unending disgrace and shame for their wicked words.
B. (:39-40) Four Promises of Final Condemnation
1. Abandoning You
“Therefore behold, I will surely forget you”
2. Rejecting You
“and cast you away from My presence; along with the city which I gave you and your fathers”
3. Shaming You
“I will put an everlasting reproach on you”
4. Humiliating You
“and an everlasting humiliation which will not be forgotten”