Jeremiah 23:23
Am I a God at hand, saith the LORD, and not a God afar off?
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(23) Am I a God at hand . . .?—This and the two questions that follow are essentially the same in thought. The false prophets acted as if God were far away out of their sight (Psalm 10:11; Psalm 73:11; Psalm 94:7), not knowing or caring what men did, as if their affairs, as it has been epigrammatically said, came under a “colonial department.” The true prophet feels that He is equally near, equally God, in all places alike. Familiar as the word omnipresence is to us—so familiar as almost to have lost its power—the fact, when we realise it, is as awful now as it was when it presented itself to the souls of Patriarch, Psalmist, or Prophet. (Genesis 16:13; Psalm 32:6-7; Psalm 73:23-26; Psalm 139:7-12; Amos 9:2-4; Job 11:8-9.

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.

23:23-32 Men cannot be hidden from God's all-seeing eye. Will they never see what judgments they prepare for themselves? Let them consider what a vast difference there is between these prophecies and those delivered by the true prophets of the Lord. Let them not call their foolish dreams Divine oracles. The promises of peace these prophets make are no more to be compared to God's promises than chaff to wheat. The unhumbled heart of man is like a rock; if not melted by the word of God as a fire, it will be broken to pieces by it as a hammer. How can they be long safe, or at all easy, who have a God of almighty power against them? The word of God is no smooth, lulling, deceitful message. And by its faithfulness it may certainly be distinguished from false doctrines.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. 23. Let not the false prophets fancy that their devices (Jer 23:25) are unknown to Me. Are ye so ignorant as to suppose that I can only see things near Me, namely, things in heaven, and not earthly things as being too remote? Atheism is generally the foundation of ill life. Men say God sees them not, the Almighty doth not regard. them. By a God at hand many understand heaven: Do you think that my eyes are limited like yours, that I cannot see their practices, though far off from me; that is, from the place of my 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, whose majesty and omniscience you ought to have taken notice of?

Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord,.... Or "near" (f); that is, in heaven; and only sees, and hears, and observes persons and things there, being near unto him:

and not a God afar off? that sees, and hears, and takes notice of persons and things at a distance, even on earth. The meaning is, that he certainly was; and that persons and things on earth were as much under his cognizance and notice, as persons and things in heaven; which was quite contrary to the notions of these atheistical prophets and people; who, like Heathens, thought that God did not concern himself about persons and things on earth. The Septuagint and Arabic versions render it, without the interrogative, "I am a God near, saith the Lord, and not afar off". The meaning is, that God is alike near in one place as in another; which is a very great truth; and a very comfortable one it is to the people of God, to whom he is near in all places, and at all times; he is a present help in time of trouble; he is near them, to hear their cries, and grant their requests; he is near to give them assistance in a time of need, and to deliver them out of all their troubles; to afford them his gracious presence, and to indulge them with communion with himself; to communicate all good things to them; to speak comfortably to them; to take them by the hand, and lead them in the way everlasting: he is at their right hand to uphold them with his, and to strengthen them with strength in their souls; to advise and counsel, and direct them; to rebuke their enemies, and save them from them that condemn them; and indeed there are no people like them, who have God so nigh unto them, in all things they call upon him for, Deuteronomy 4:7; and though he may seem at times to be afar off, and stand at a distance from them; when he hides his face; withdraws his gracious influences; does not appear at once for their relief in distress; but suffers them to he afflicted in one way or another; yet in reality he is not; but is nigh unto them when they call upon him: and this truth is as uncomfortable and dreadful to wicked men, who cannot go from his spirit, or flee from his presence; which is everywhere, in heaven and hell, in the earth and seas, even in the uttermost parts of them; there his eye is upon them, and his right hand can reach them: he is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. The Targum is,

"I God have created the world from the beginning, saith the Lord; and I God will renew the world for the righteous;''

see 2 Peter 3:13; and some interpret the words of time, as well as of place; as if the sense was this, am I a God of late date, as the gods of the Heathens are? no, I am not: am I not a God from eternity who was before the world was, and the Creator of it, which they are not? verily I:am: but the former sense is best, and most agreeable with the context, and what follows.

(f) "e propinquo", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator; "vel propinquus", Schmidt.

Am I a God at hand, saith the LORD, and not a God {s} afar off?

(s) Do I not see your falsehood, however you cloak it, and wherever you commit it?

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.

Verses 23-32. - Jehovah has observed and will punish the false pretensions of the prophets. Verses 23, 24. - Am I a God at hand, etc.? ("At hand" equivalent to "near.") Eliphaz may again assist us with an illustration. "And thou sayest " - he is expostulating with Job - "What doth God know? can he judge through the dark cloud? thick clouds are a covering to him, that he seeth not; yea, he walketh upon the vault of heaven" (Job 22:13, 14). It might seem, from the preponderance of the false prophets ever the true, as if Jehovah were unaware of the mischief. Not so; Jehovah is omnipresent. Jeremiah 23:23Jeremiah 23:23-32, in continuation, an intimation that God knows and will punish the lying practices of these prophets. - Jeremiah 23:23. "Am I then a God near at hand, saith Jahveh, and not a God afar off? Jeremiah 23:24. Or can any hide himself in secret, that I cannot see him? saith Jahveh. Do not I will the heaven and the earth? saith Jahveh. Jeremiah 23:25. I have heard what the prophets say, that prophesy falsehood in my name, saying: I have dreamed, I have dreamed. Jeremiah 23:26. How long? Have they it in their mind, the prophets of the deceit of their heart, Jeremiah 23:27. Do they think to make my people forget my name by their dreams which they tell one to the other, as their fathers forgot my name by Baal? Jeremiah 23:28. The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word in truth. What is the straw to the corn? saith Jahveh. Jeremiah 23:29. Is not thus my word - as fire, saith Jahveh, and as a hammer that dasheth the rock in pieces? Jeremiah 23:30. Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets that steal my words one from the other. Jeremiah 23:31. Behold, I am against the prophets, saith Jahveh, that take their tongues and say: God's word. Jeremiah 23:32. Behold, I am against the prophets that prophesy lying dreams, saith Jahve, and tell them, and lead my people astray with their lies and their boasting, whom yet I have not sent nor commanded them, and they bring no good to this people, saith Jahveh."

The force of the question: Am I a God at hand, not afar off? is seen from what follows. Far and near are here in their local, not their temporal signification. A god near at hand is one whose domain and whose knowledge do not extend far; a God afar off, one who sees and works into the far distance. The question, which has an affirmative force, is explained by the statement of Jeremiah 23:24 : I fill heaven and earth. Hitz. insists on understanding "near at hand" of temporal nearness, after Deuteronomy 32:17 : a God who is not far hence, a newly appeared God; and he supposes that, since in the east, from of old, knowledge is that which is known by experience, therefore the greatness of one's knowledge depends on one's advancement in years (Job 15:7, Job 15:10; Job 12:12, etc.); and God, he says, is the Ancient of days, Daniel 7:9. But this line of thought is wholly foreign to the present passage. It is not wealth of knowledge as the result of long life or old age that God claims for Himself in Jeremiah 23:24, but the power of seeing into that which is hidden so that none can conceal himself from Him, or omniscience. The design with which God here dwells on His omniscience and omnipresence too (cf. 1 Kings 8:27; Isaiah 66:1) is shown in Jeremiah 23:25. The false prophets went so far with their lying predictions, that it might appear as if God did not hear or see their words and deeds. The Lord exposes this delusion by calling His omniscience to mind in the words: I have heard how they prophesy falsehood in my name and say, I have dreamed, i.e., a dream sent by God, have had a revelation in dreams, whereas according to Jeremiah 23:26 the dream was the deceit of their heart - "spun out of their own heart" (Hitz.). Jeremiah 23:26 is variously interpreted. Hitz. supposes that the interrogative ה (in הישׁ) is made subordinate in the clause, and that the question is expressed with a double interrogative. He translates: How long still is there anything left in the heart of the prophets? as much as to say: how long have they materials for this? But there is a total want of illustrations in point for this subordination and doubling of the interrogative; and the force given to the ישׁ is quite arbitrary, since we should have had some intimation of what it was that was present in their hearts. Even the repetition of the interrogative particles is unexplained, and the connecting of ישׁ with a participle, instead of with the infinitive with ל, cannot be defended by means of passages where החל is joined with an adjective and the idea "to be" has to be supplied. L. de Dieu, followed by Seb. Schmidt, Chr. B. Mich., Ros., Maur., Umbr., Graf, was right in taking "How long" by itself as an aposiopesis: how long, sc. shall this go on? and in beginning a new question with הישׁ, a question continued and completed by the further question: "Do they think," etc., Jeremiah 23:27. Is it in the heart of the prophets, i.e., have the prophets a mind to prophesy falsehood? do they mean to make men forget my name? Against holding Jeremiah 23:27 as a resumption of the question there is no well-founded objection. Ng. affirms that after החשׁבים we must in that case have here הם as recapitulation of the subject; but that is rendered unnecessary by the subject's being contained in the immediately preceding words. The conjecture propounded by Ng., to change הישׁ into האשׁ: how long still is the fire in the heart of the prophets? needs no refutation. To make to forget the name of the Lord is: so to banish the Lord, as seen in His government and works, from the people's heart, that He is no longer feared and honoured. By their dreams which they relate one to the other, i.e., not one prophet to the other, but the prophet to his fellow-man amongst the people. בּבּעל, because of the Baal, whom their fathers made their god, cf. Judges 3:7; 1 Samuel 12:9. - These lies the prophets ought to cease. Jeremiah 23:28. Each is to speak what he has, what is given him. He that has a dream is to tell the dream, and he that has God's word should tell it. Dream as opposed to word of the Lord is an ordinary dream, the fiction of one's own heart; not a dream-revelation given by God, which the pseudo-prophets represented their dreams to be. These dreams are as different from God's word as straw is from corn. This clause is supported, Jeremiah 23:29, by a statement of the nature of God's word. It is thus (כּה), namely, as fire and as a hammer that smashes the rocks. The sense of these words is not this: the word of God is strong enough by itself, needs no human addition, or: it will burn as fire the straw of the man's word mixed with it. There is here no question of the mixing of God's word with man's word. The false prophets did not mingle the two, but gave out their man's word for God's. Nor, by laying stress on the indwelling power of the word of God, does Jeremiah merely give his hearers a characteristic by which they may distinguish genuine prophecy; he seeks besides to make them know that the word of the Lord which he proclaims will make an end of the lying prophets' work. Thus understood, Jeremiah 23:29 forms a stepping-stone to the threatenings uttered in Jeremiah 23:30-32 against the lying prophets. The comparison to fire does not refer to the reflex influence which the word exerts on the speaker, so as that we should with Rashi and Ros. cf. Jeremiah 20:9; the fire comes before us as that which consumes all man's work that will not stand the test; cf. 1 Corinthians 3:12. The comparison to a hammer which smashes the rock shows the power of God, which overcomes all that is earthly, even what is firmest and hardest; cf. Hebrews 4:12. Its effect and accomplishment nothing can hinder.

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