Jeremiah 23
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the LORD.
1. the shepherds] See on Jeremiah 2:8, Jeremiah 22:22, and for the figure of sheep cp. Psalm 74:1; Psalm 95:7; Psalm 100:3; Ezekiel 34:31.

Jeremiah 23:1-8. See introd. summary to section. We should have expected, as the natural sequel to the three preceding passages, a direct reference to the reign of Zedekiah. Probably we may attribute the absence of it to Jeremiah’s unwillingness to attack one whom he recognised as merely a weak tool in the hands of the princes, the “shepherds” of Jeremiah 23:1. But see further on Jeremiah 23:5-8.

Du. and Erbt make the whole passage to be late, while individual parts have been disputed, e.g. 7, 8 by Gi. and with some hesitation by Co. Others than Du. reject the most striking vv., viz. 5, 6, but Co. (so Gi.) emphatically maintains their genuineness. See notes below.

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.
2. feed] Heb. shepherd. Cp. Jeremiah 3:15.

scattered] by exile, voluntary or forced, in Egypt or Babylon.

driven them away] the opposite of that which is an Eastern shepherd’s duty, viz. to go before his flock, leading them to pasture or fold (Isaiah 40:11; John 10:3 f.).

visited … visit upon] The twofold sense of the Hebrew word is kept up in the English. Because the shepherds have not visited their flock for good, they shall themselves be visited with punishment.

3, 4 are considered by Co., but quite needlessly, to reflect a position of affairs which was later than Jeremiah’s date. The same critic, however, retains, though somewhat doubtfully, 7, 8, against which he might have brought the same objection. Moreover, the words “be fruitful and multiply” (see on Jeremiah 3:16) are not decisive against the genuineness of the v. here.

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.
3. folds] rather, “homestead,” as Dr. Cp. Jeremiah 10:25, Jeremiah 25:30.

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.
4. shepherds] The picture is probably that of righteous rulers, such as princes and judges, placed in authority under the ideal king. Cp. Isaiah 1:26; Isaiah 32:1.

lacking] missing, like sheep which in the absence of the shepherd have become the prey of wild beasts.

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.
5. the days come] The phrase (first occurring in Amos 4:2), according to Jeremiah’s employment of it (cp. Jeremiah 23:7, Jeremiah 30:3, Jeremiah 31:27; Jeremiah 31:31; Jeremiah 31:38, Jeremiah 33:14), implies a special call to note the announcement thus introduced. In spite of the troubles which are now gathering round them there are none the less surely days of deliverance coming.

Branch] mg. Or, Shoot Or, Bud. While the word designating the Messiah in Isaiah 11:1 is rightly translated Branch, the Heb. substantive here (Ṣemach) can only mean shoot, that which springs immediately out of the ground. In Isaiah 4:2 the word is used in a more general sense, not as here of the individual Messianic Ruler, but of the produce of the soil in the blissful age of the Messiah. See further in Dr. p. 364 and on Isaiah 4:2 (Skinner) in C.B.

deal wisely] For mg. prosper see on Jeremiah 20:11.

execute judgement and justice] Cp. the same expression as used of David, the ancestor of the Messiah, in 2 Samuel 8:15.

5–8. Du. and others reject these vv., which are also viewed with suspicion by Co. The use of the term “the Shoot” for the Messiah by Zechariah (Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12) shews that in his time it was an established expression, and therefore might naturally be employed as early as pre-exilic times in connexion with Messianic expectations which were even then current. Moreover, there can be little doubt that “our righteousness” (Heb. Ṣidḳenu) is an appellation chosen by the prophet as hinting (see on Jeremiah 23:1-8) at the name of the reigning king, Zedekiah (Heb. Ṣidḳiyahu). “What Zedekiah’s name, received at his accession, set forth as an ideal, would be a realized fact in the time of the Messianic King” (Peake). Contrast the Messianic picture in Psalms 2 (specially Jeremiah 23:9) with that (so much more consonant with Jeremiah’s character) given here of a wise and just ruler over a nation united and at peace. We have a prophecy less plainly Messianic in Jeremiah 30:9, where see 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.
6. Israel shall dwell safely] Cp. Deuteronomy 33:28. The Northern Tribes as well as Judah shall be restored, and form one kingdom.

he shall be called] The Messiah’s work shall be indicated by the name that He is to bear.

The Lord is our righteousness] as indicating the ideal righteousness which is then to characterize the nation. Cp. Isaiah 1:26; Isaiah 60:21; Isaiah 61:3. Of that righteousness Jehovah is to be the source. Cp. Ezekiel 48:35 “The Lord is there,” mg. Jehovah-shammah. Cp. also Jeremiah 33:16, where the same name is given to Jerusalem. The A.V. (“The Lord our righteousness”) survives in R.V. mg. but, as we see must be the case from the passage last referred to, the prophet is not identifying the Messiah with Jehovah.

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;
7. they shall no more say] The exodus from Egypt, always hitherto quoted as the crowning manifestation of Jehovah’s favour, would be eclipsed by a yet more glorious deliverance.

7, 8. See on Jeremiah 16:14-15. The LXX’s omission of the vv. here, and insertion of them in a wholly incongruous context after Jeremiah 23:40, fall in with the supposition that, even if of Jeremiah’s authorship, they do not rightly belong to this place. See further on Jeremiah 33:14-26.

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.
9. his holy words] the words which He in the holiness of His nature had put forth concerning the wicked doings of the false prophets.

Jeremiah 23:9-40. Condemnation of the prophets

Following on the prophecies relating to successive kings of Judah, we have a section dealing with the iniquities of a class who also grievously misled the nation. The passage doubtless contains much that is genuine, but, from the diffuseness of style, especially in the latter part, it may be safely inferred that additional matter has been inserted. Commentators, however, are by no means agreed as to the amount of the latter. Du. omits all after Jeremiah 23:15, Co. nearly all after Jeremiah 23:24, Gi. Jeremiah 23:30-40, while the last-named also rejects Jeremiah 23:18-21. Jeremiah 23:9-17 and again 23–29 are in Ḳinah rhythm. Elsewhere metre is for the most part irregular or absent. The collection of utterances, so far as genuine, may have probably belonged to the last part of Zedekiah’s reign.

The section may be thus subdivided. (i) Jeremiah 23:9-15. Jeremiah is undone and nerveless because of the Lord’s message to a land whose profligacy has brought on it a curse. The Temple itself is polluted by the iniquities of prophets and priests. They shall be as men driven in the dark along slippery ways till they fall. The prophets of Samaria led the people astray by alleged prophecies of their false deity, while the prophets of Jerusalem shock Jehovah still more by immorality, lying, and the encouragement of others in permanent evil-doing. They have reached the infamy of the cities of the plain. They have infected all the land; therefore shall wormwood and gall be their food. (ii) Jeremiah 23:16-18. It is from the prophets’ own imaginations and not from Jehovah that their pleasing promises of immunity from evil come. Who is there who has visited His heavenly abode, there to learn His purposes? (iii) Jeremiah 23:19-20. Jehovah’s wrath shall break, like a storm, on the head of the wicked, and shall not be recalled till His purpose is fully achieved. (iv) Jeremiah 23:21-24. Those prophets were not commissioned nor inspired by the Lord; else they would have delivered His rebuke of the people’s sins. He is omnipresent. They cannot escape His observation. (v) Jeremiah 23:25-29. How long shall they adduce dreams, dreams forsooth, in support of their lying predictions, making the real character of Jehovah to be forgotten by the people, even as their fathers thought of Him as though He were no better than one of the Baals? Let the dream be told, and let Jehovah’s message be told as well; but let the utterances which embody the two be sharply distinguished, as stubble from wheat. Jehovah’s word is as fire, and as a hammer which breaketh the rocks. (vi) Jeremiah 23:30-32. He is against the prophets who steal their announcements from the true prophets, and with ready tongue claim that they are from Him, who lead His people astray with delusive dreams and claims to Divine authority. They have not His commission, and so are without value. (vii) Jeremiah 23:33-40. When asked, What is the Lord’s burden, Jeremiah will answer, It is ye, and He will rid Himself of you as such. All who use the word “burden” shall be punished. The message shall be expressed in the simplest language, and your use of the word “burden” shall recoil upon yourselves. If ye nevertheless persist in its use, ye shall be banished for ever in disgrace from this ancestral city and from Jehovah’s presence.

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.
10. Of the two clauses containing the words “the land,” the first is probably a corruption of the second, as accidentally repeated by a copyist, or as a gloss on a blurred text, suggested perhaps by Jeremiah 23:14. It is not found in LXX, while Gi. would further omit “the pastures … dried up.”

adulterers] either literally, or in the secondary sense of idolatry. Cp. Jeremiah 3:8 f.

swearing] better, with mg. the curse, viz. the drought described in the next clause, if this last be not (so Gi.) an insertion, suggested perhaps by Jeremiah 12:4. The LXX, however, without any change in the Heb. consonants, vocalised the word as these things.

course] lit. running.

For both prophet and priest are profane; yea, in my house have I found their wickedness, saith the LORD.
11. in my house have I found their wickedness] Cp. Jeremiah 6:13, and see 2 Kings 21:5; 2 Kings 23:12.

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.
12. The figure is of men forced onwards by a pursuing foe, while they can neither see their way nor keep their footing. Cp. Psalm 35:6.

driven on] lit. thrust. Cp. for the expression Proverbs 14:32.

And I have seen folly in the prophets of Samaria; they prophesied in Baal, and caused my people Israel to err.
13. folly] lit. that which is tasteless, insipid (cp. cognate substantive in Job 6:6 rendered “that which hath no savour”), hence moral unsavouriness, unseemliness.

prophets of Samaria] They were simply idolaters, who made no secret of their belief or practice. The prophets of Jerusalem on the other hand were thoroughly immoral besides.

Baal] See on Jeremiah 2:8.

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.
14. all of them] the prophets and their hearers alike.

thereof] of Jerusalem.

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.
15. Behold, I will.…] identical with words in Jeremiah 9:15, where see notes. Here it may be originally a marginal note by a copyist, reminiscent of that passage.

wormwood] Cp. Deuteronomy 29:18; Proverbs 5:4; Lamentations 3:15.

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.
16. teach you vanity] deceive you with vain hopes, speak peace to those who are going on still in wicked courses. Cp. next v. This is a test whereby the false may be distinguished from the true prophet.

of their own heart] imagined by themselves.

16–18. See introd. summary to section.

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.
17. that despise me, The Lord hath said, Ye] The mg. is supported by Syr., and is to be preferred, involving only a change of vowels. The MT. for “hath said” is an expression which does not elsewhere introduce the words of the Lord.

stubbornness] See Jeremiah 3:17.

No evil shall come upon you] Cp. Jeremiah 4:10, Jeremiah 6:14, Jeremiah 14:13.

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?
18. who hath stood, etc.] not meaning that Jeremiah himself had not been admitted to the council of Jehovah, but, as the context sufficiently shews, that this had been denied to the false prophets. Cp. Jeremiah 23:16. Duhm, making the whole passage (see above) to be a 2nd cent. b.c. insertion, holds the writer to be a sober-minded person of that date rebuking those who describe in their writings apocalyptic visions, as beheld by them, “giving themselves out to be as Enoch” of old. But even if that date could be upheld, no writer would then have used words condemning the accepted and the false prophets alike.

council] a conclave or gathering of His familiar friends. To this, Jeremiah says, true prophets have access. See on Amos 3:7 (Driver) in C.B.

my word] less well, his word, as suggested in mg.

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.
19, 20. See introd. summary to section. These vv. agree substantially with Jeremiah 30:23 f., and are probably introduced here from that passage. They have no apparent connexion with the preceding or following vv., and may have been inserted here as a declaration of Jehovah’s real purpose as opposed to the predictions of the false prophets.

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.
20. the latter days] a prophetic phrase denoting the final period of the history so far as the speaker’s perspective reaches; e.g. Israel’s return to God after adversity (so the parallel passage Jeremiah 30:24; cp. Deuteronomy 4:30). We find the expression again, Jeremiah 48:47, Jeremiah 49:39.

understand] mg. (less well) consider.

I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.
21–24. See introd. summary to section. Here we again take up the thought of Jeremiah 23:18.

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.
22. my council] See Jeremiah 23:18.

Am I a God at hand, saith the LORD, and not a God afar off?
23, 24. The connexion of thought has been variously explained. (i) The LXX make Jeremiah 23:23 an affirmation, not a question. God, as universally present, can never be at a distance, and this agrees with Jeremiah 23:24. Afterwards, the v. was made interrogative to meet the difficulty connected with the later Jewish conception, viz. that God dwelt wholly apart from men. So Gi. The connexion, however, is still somewhat obscure. (ii) Jehovah is not accessible to the first person who rashly, like you, claims intimacy, but only to one known and consecrated from his birth, “a chosen vessel” (Acts 9:15). But if one is thus chosen, he must accept the office. He cannot hide himself. So Co. The contrast thus made between Jeremiah 23:23-24 is the weak point here. (iii) These false prophets cannot hide themselves. God is omnipresent and sees through their deceptive claims. We can hardly say more than that this is perhaps the least unsatisfying of the interpretations.

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.
25. I have dreamed, I have dreamed] These were the words with which they caught the ear of the crowd, and so gained a sure hearing for their pretended revelations. But another kind of test was needed (see Introd. pp. xxxii. f.), and this the false prophets failed to supply.

25–29. See introd. summary to section.

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;
26. The opening words are evidently corrupt. Co. accepts Du.’s suggestion to substitute (by a not violent change in MT.) a third “I have dreamed” (cp. Jeremiah 7:4, Jeremiah 22:29) for “How long,” and for “shall this be … prophets” to read (by a different division of words) “Will the heart of the prophets turn.”

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.
27. to forget my name] not literally, but to forget the essential character of Him who bears the name. So their fathers confused Baal with Jehovah. See on Jeremiah 2:23. The nature of the sin was the same.

every man to his neighbour] one to another, each prophet to those who will listen.

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.
28. Mere dreams and the truth of God are to be kept asunder.

What is the straw to the wheat?] God’s word contains nourishment and life. Other words are but as straw.

Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?
29. This v. supplies a further test of a genuine prophetic utterance, viz. penetration and power.

like as fire] Cp. Jeremiah 5:14 and note there. The conception is that “of the prophetic word as endowed with God’s living energy and securing its own fulfilment” (Peake).

Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that steal my words every one from his neighbour.
30. steal my words] They have themselves no revelation to impart, and therefore proclaim as their own that which has been said by the really inspired.

30–32. See introd. summary to section.

Behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that use their tongues, and say, He saith.
31. use] The tongue is all of which they can avail themselves. There is no first-hand knowledge behind it.

He saith] This phrase, borrowed from the true prophets, will, they expect, help their sayings to pass as genuine.

By the side of the Party of the Nobles “perhaps opposed to them, perhaps allied with them, in that strange combination which often brings together, for purposes of political or religious animosity, parties themselves most alien to each other, was the great body of the Sacerdotal, and even of the Prophetic order. There were those who directly lent themselves to magical rites … who recited the old prophetic phrases, often careless of what they meant.” Stanley’s J. Ch. II. 438.

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.
32. vain boasting] The Hebrew root, which is rather rare, denotes in the cognate languages impudent boldness.

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.
33. say unto them, What burden!] mg. (less well) tell them what the burden is, but mg. also suggests that we read, with LXX and Vulg., Ye are the burden. The change requires only a different division of the consonants in MT. and has general support.

33–40. See introd. summary to section. The original word means either a burden or a prophetic utterance. It would appear that those hostile to Jeremiah had taken to apply the word derisively to the prophet’s utterances as being indeed burdensome. “What new prophecy hast thou for us to hear? At any rate we will warrant it to be a wearying one.” Hence the word is to be used no longer, but expressions not open to such misuse are to take its place.

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?
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.
36. every man’s own word shall be his burden] mg. is his burden, and ye pervert, etc. Either (a) he who has jokingly enquired after the “burden of the Lord” shall find that those lightly spoken words of his are in very deed the heaviest load to bear, or (b) (rendering for “shall be” is) no alleged prophetic utterance has in fact any higher authority than the speaker himself.

ye have perverted, etc.] The LXX omit this clause; also the greater part of Jeremiah 23:37 (which is Jeremiah 23:35 repeated). The accumulation of epithets in Jeremiah 23:36 renders the clause suspicious.

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;
38. But if ye say … of the Lord] LXX omit.

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:
39. utterly forget you] The alternative in mg. lift you up, as rendering the Hebrew verb from which “burden” is derived, is clearly right, that substantive being the key-word of the passage, and the two verbs being very similar. So LXX, Syr., Vulg. The difficulty which we feel now in understanding why the punishment for the use of the word was to be so terrible doubtless did not exist when the passage was composed.

And I will bring an everlasting reproach upon you, and a perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten.
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