Jeremiah 23:31
Behold, I am against the prophets, said the LORD, that use their tongues, and say, He said.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(31) That use their tongues, and say, He saith.—Literally, that take their tongues. There is no adequate evidence for the marginal rendering “that smooth their tongues.” The scornful phrase indicates the absence of a true inspiration. These false prophets plan their schemes, and take their tongue as an instrument for carrying them into effect. The formula which they used, “He saith,” was not the word for common speaking, but that which indicated that the speaker was delivering an oracle from God. (See Note on Jeremiah 23:17.) Elsewhere the word is only used of God, but the prophet, in his stern irony, uses it of the false prophets, they say oracularly. This is an oracle.

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.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. 31. use—rather, "take" their tongue: a second class (compare Jer 23:30) require, in order to bring forth a revelation, nothing more than their tongues, wherewith they say, He (Jehovah) saith: they bungle in the very formula instead of the usual "Jehovah saith," being only able to say "(He) saith." Some think the Hebrew words were more properly translated smooth their tongues: see the English Annotations. But the next words seem to assure us that the crime for which God here by the prophet reflecteth upon the false prophets, was not so much their flattering people, and speaking to them such smooth things as pleased them, as their entitling of God to their lies, saying,

He, that is, the Lord,

saith. So it may be, though the word might be translated smooth, yet it is her, better translated use. Behold, I am against the prophets, saith the Lord,.... Not another sort of prophets distinct from the former, or those that follow; but the same under another character, and against whom he was, and set his face on another occasion;

that use their tongues; at their pleasure, their lips being their own. So the Targum,

"who prophesy according to the will of their own hearts;''

talk in a haughty and insolent manner, speaking bold and daring things of the divine Being; or in a boasting bragging manner, extolling themselves, and speaking highly in their own commendations; or rather in a flattering way to the people: so some read it, by a transposition of a radical letter (r), "that smooth their tongues", as Kimchi; or speak smooth things with their tongues, to please the people:

and say, he saith; that is, "the Lord", as the Vulgate Latin and Syriac versions express it; that so they, night be the more easily believed by the people; but this was highly provoking to God, to father their lies and falsehoods upon him.

(r) "hic pro" "qui lenificant linguam suam", Pagninus, Gataker; "sumentes blandam linguan suam", Schmidt.

Behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that use their tongues, and say, {a} He saith.

(a) That is, the Lord.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
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.Verse 31. - That use their tongues; literally, that take their tongue, like a workman's tool - as if prophecy could be turned out to order. And say, He saith. The word rendered "he saith" is one which the prophets habitually used to affirm the revealed character of their teaching. It is the participle of the verb rendered "say." Adopting a Miltonic verb, we might render, and oracle oracles." The "false prophets" adopt the same forms as the true; but they are to them only forms. Jeremiah 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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