Jeremiah 23
Barnes' Notes
Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the LORD.
The pastors - shepherds, i. e., civil rulers Jeremiah 2:8.

The sheep of My pasture - literally, of My pasturing, the sheep of whom I am shepherd. The people do not belong to the rulers but to God.

Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; 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.
They had scattered them first spiritually by leading them into idolatry; and secondly, many had literally been taken to Egypt with Jehoahaz, many in Jehoiakim's time had fled there, while others fell away to the Chaldaeans: and finally the best of the land had been carried to Babylon with Jeconiah.

Driven away - i. e., made them outcasts. In the East, shepherds never drive their flocks, but go ahead of them John 10:4-5.

Have not visited them - i. e., have not concerned yourselves about their conduct.

And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase.
While there is no promise of restoration for the kings, there is for the people (see Jeremiah 4:27), because they had been led astray by their rulers.

Have driven them - The evil shepherds drove the people into exile by leading them into sin: and God by inflicting punishment.

Their folds - Or, their pastures.

And I will 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.
Shepherds - Men like Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Maccabees, raised up especially by God. It is a revocation of the promise made to David 2 Samuel 7:12-16 so far as the earthly throne was concerned.

They shall fear no more ... - The effect of good government will be general security.

Neither shall they be lacking - Not one sheep shall be missing or lost.

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.
Even with the temporal kingship abolished, David's mercies are still sure.

A righteous Branch - Or, sprout, germ (see Isaiah 4:2 note). The sprout is that in which the root springs up and grows, and which, if it be destroyed, makes the root perish also.

And a king shall reign ... - Rather, and he shall reign as king. David's family is to be dethroned (temporally), that it may reign gloriously (spiritually). But compare Jeremiah 33:17, note; Jeremiah 33:25, note.

In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
This is his name whereby he shall be called - From remote antiquity the person here spoken of has been understood to be "the righteous germ," and this alone is in accordance with the grammar and the sense. Nevertheless, because Jeremiah Jer 33:15-16 applies the name also to Jerusalem, some understand it of Israel.

the Lord OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS - Messiah is here called:

(1) Yahweh, and

(2) our righteousness, because He justifies us by His merits.

Some render, He by whom Yahweh works righteousness. Righteousness is in that case personal holiness, which is the work of the Spirit after justification.

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.
Mine heart within me is broken 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.
Because of the prophets - Rather, concerning "the prophets." These words should come first, as being the title of this portion of the prophecy Jeremiah 23:9-40.

For the land is full of adulterers; for because of swearing the land mourneth; the pleasant places of the wilderness are dried up, and their course is evil, and their force is not right.
Because of swearing - Rather, because of the curse denounced against sin Jeremiah 11:3. The mourning probably refers to the drought Jeremiah 12:4.

The pleasant places - "Pastures."

Their course - Their mode of life.

Their force is not right - "Their heroism," that on which they pride themselves as mighty men, "is not right," is wrong (see Jeremiah 8:6 note).

For both prophet and priest are profane; yea, in my house have I found their wickedness, saith the LORD.
For both prophet and priest are profane - While by their office they are consecrated to God, they have made themselves common and unholy by their sins. See Jeremiah 3:9 note.

Yea, in my house - This may refer to sins such as those of the sons of Eli 1 Samuel 2:22, or that they had defiled the temple by idolatrous rites.

Wherefore their way shall be unto them as slippery ways in the darkness: they shall be driven on, and fall therein: for I will bring evil upon them, even the year of their visitation, saith the LORD.
Every word denotes the certainty of their fall. "Their path is like slippery places in darkness:" and on this path "they are pushed with violence." External circumstances assist in urging on to ruin those who choose the path of vice.

And I have seen folly in the prophets of Samaria; they prophesied in Baal, and caused my people Israel to err.
And I have seen folly ... - Rather, "Also I have seen." The prophet contrasts the prophets of Samaria with those of Jerusalem. In the conduct of the former God saw folly (literally that which is insipid, as being unsalted). It was stupidity to prophesy by Baal, an idol.

In Baal - i. e., in the name of Baal.

I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem an horrible thing: they commit adultery, and walk in lies: they strengthen also the hands of evildoers, that none doth return from his wickedness: they are all of them unto me as Sodom, and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah.
Rather, "But in the prophets of Jerusalem" etc. Their conduct is more strongly condemned than that of the Baal-priests.

They strengthen ... - First by neglecting to warn and rebuke sinners: secondly by the direct influence of their bad example.

They are all of them - They have become, "all of them," i. e., the people of Jerusalem, and not the prophets only.

Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts concerning the prophets; Behold, I will feed them with wormwood, and make them drink the water of gall: for from the prophets of Jerusalem is profaneness gone forth into all the land.
Profaneness - Desecration.

Thus saith the LORD of hosts, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the LORD.
How were the people to know the false prophets from the true? The former bring a message that fills with vain hopes, or "speak a vision" out of their own invention.

They say still unto them that despise me, The LORD hath said, Ye shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you.
Still - "Continually." This verse gives the chief test by which the false prophet is to be detected, namely, that his predictions violate the laws of morality.

For who hath stood in the counsel of the LORD, and hath perceived and heard his word? who hath marked his word, and heard it?
The prophet now applies this test to the circumstances of the times. A whirlwind has already gone forth Jeremiah 23:19. Had these false prophets stood in God's secret "Council" (so in Jeremiah 23:22), they like Jeremiah would have labored to avert the danger by turning men from their evil way.

Behold, a whirlwind of the LORD is gone forth in fury, even a grievous whirlwind: it shall fall grievously upon the head of the wicked.
Rather, "Behold, the tempest of Yahweh, even hot anger hath gone forth and a whirlwind shall burst upon the head of the wicked."

The anger of the LORD shall not return, until he have executed, and till he have performed the thoughts of his heart: in the latter days ye shall consider it perfectly.
The latter days - The proper and final development of any event or series of events. Thus, the expression is used of the Christian dispensation as the full development of the Jewish Church. Here it means the destruction of Jerusalem, as the result of the sins of the Jews.

Consider - Rather, understand. When Jerusalem is destroyed, the exiles - taught by adversity - will understand that it was sin which brought ruin upon their country.

I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.
Ran - i. e., hurried to take upon them the responsibilites of the prophetic office.

But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.
They should have turned them ... - The work of the true prophet, which is to turn men from evil unto good.

Am I a God at hand, saith the LORD, and not a God afar off?
At hand - Or, near. An appeal to the omnipotence of God in demonstration of the wickedness of the prophets. His power is not limited, so that He can notice only things close to Him, but is universal.

Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD.
I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed.
In Deuteronomy 13:1 "a dreamer of dreams" is used in a bad sense, and with reason. God communicating His will by dreams was a thing too easy to counterfeit for it not to be misused.

How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart;
Some translate, "How long? Is it in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies, and prophesy the deceit of their heart - do they purpose to make My people forget My name by their dreams which they tell one to another?"

Which think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbour, as their fathers have forgotten my name for Baal.
To his neighbor - i. e., to one another, to the people about him, to anyone.

As their fathers ... - Rather, "as their fathers forgot My name through Baal." The superstition which attaches importance to dreams keeps God as entirely out of men's minds as absolute idolatry.

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.
A dream ... faithfully - Rather, as "a dream"... as truth. The dream is but a dream, and is to be told as such, but God's word is to be spoken as certain and absolute truth.

The dreams are the chaff, worthless, with nothing in them; the wheat, the pure grain after it is cleansed and winnowed is God's word. What have these two in common?

Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?
Like as a fire - God's word is the great purifier which destroys all that is false and aves, only the genuine metal. Compare Hebrews 4:12.

Like a hammer ... - God's word rouses and strengthens the conscience and crushes within the heart everything that is evil.

Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that steal my words every one from his neighbour.
Jeremiah gives in succession the main characteristics of the teaching of the false prophets. The first is that they steal God's words from one another. Having no message from God, they try to imitate the true prophets.

Behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that use their tongues, and say, He saith.
That use their tongues - literally, that take their tongues. Their second characteristic. They have no message from God, but they take their tongues, their only implement, and say, He saith, using the solemn formula by which Yahweh affirms the truth of His words. Solemn asseverations seemed to give reality to their emptiness.

Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, saith the LORD, and do tell them, and cause my people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the LORD.
The third characteristic. See Jeremiah 23:25.

Lightness - Vain, empty, talk.

And when this people, or the prophet, or a priest, shall ask thee, saying, What is the burden of the LORD? thou shalt then say unto them, What burden? I will even forsake you, saith the LORD.
Burden - Here a prophecy, either

(1) as being something weighty: or

(2) a something said aloud.

Isaiah brought the word into general use: Jeremiah never used it, though his predictions were all of impending evil. The false prophets, however, applied it in derision to Jeremiah's prophecies, playing upon its double sense, and so turning solemn realities into mockery (see Jeremiah 23:34).

What burden? - Or, according to another reading, Ye are the burden.

I will even forsake you - Rather, and I will cast you away. From the idea of a burden the thought naturally arises of refusing to bear it, and throwing it off.

And as for the prophet, and the priest, and the people, that shall say, The burden of the LORD, I will even punish that man and his house.
Thus shall ye say every one to his neighbour, and every one to his brother, What hath the LORD answered? and, What hath the LORD spoken?
The proper words for prophecy. It is to be called an answer when the people have come to inquire of Yahweh: but His word when it is sent unasked.

And the burden of the LORD shall ye mention no more: for every man's word shall be his burden; for ye have perverted the words of the living God, of the LORD of hosts our God.
Every man's word ... - Rather, every man's burden shall be his word; i. e., his mocking use of the word "burden" shall weigh him down and crush him.

Perverted - i. e., put into a ridiculous light.

Thus shalt thou say to the prophet, What hath the LORD answered thee? and, What hath the LORD spoken?
But since ye say, The burden of the LORD; therefore thus saith the LORD; Because ye say this word, The burden of the LORD, and I have sent unto you, saying, Ye shall not say, The burden of the LORD;
Since - Or, But if ye say.

Therefore, behold, I, even I, will utterly forget you, and I will forsake you, and the city that I gave you and your fathers, and cast you out of my presence:
Translate, "Therefore, behold, I will even take you up (or will burden you), and I will cast you, and the city which I gave you and your fathers, out of my presence."

And I will bring an everlasting reproach upon you, and a perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten.
Notes on the Bible by Albert Barnes [1834].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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