Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the LORD.
I. We may view the text as simply an announcement of important truth. It stands there on the sacred page like a profound oracular utterance from the hidden shrine of truth, given forth for our enlightenment and everlasting benefit. (1) The Lord is our righteousness, inasmuch as the purpose and plan of justifying sinners originated with Him. (2) The Lord is our righteousness, inasmuch as He Himself alone has procured righteousness for us. (3) The Lord is our righteousness, inasmuch as it is through His grace and by His free donation that we receive righteousness.
II. These words may be contemplated as the utterance of personal belief and confidence. Here we present to our minds the view of a body of persons who avow and proclaim that the Lord is their righteousness; and who know, reverence, and confide in God as thus apprehended. They have no confidence in the flesh, their trust is in God alone. They look not to works of charity, or self-denial, or penance, for acceptance with God; they ask only to be accepted in the beloved. They know in whom they have believed, and therefore they do not hesitate to stand up and avow before the world that all their trust and all their hope is in that worthy name, The Lord our Righteousness. In their lips this is the language (1) of faith; (2) of hope; (3) of joy and gratitude.
III. We may contemplate the text as a directory to the inquirer. Sinners are supposed to be anxious to know the way of acceptance with God. Conscious of guilt, they feel their need of a justifying righteousness in order that they may stand without blame before the moral Governor of the universe. With them, therefore, the foremost and most pressing question is, How may I, a sinner, be righteous before God? To such the words of my text give a brief but most satisfactory answer. They are a proclamation from God Himself, that in Him is the salvation of the sinner found. They direct the inquirer away from self, away from all creature help, away from all methods of personal or sacerdotal propitiation, and carry his thoughts to God—to God in Christ, as the sole Author and Bestower of righteousness. The Lord is our righteousness, and He alone. His voice to the lost and guilty sons of men is "Look unto Me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else."
W. Lindsay Alexander, Sermons, p. 66.
I. This verse teaches us that the Son of David and the King of Israel is the source of our righteousness, the exhibition and presentation of it before our consciences and unto the Father. Christ is to us the realisation of righteousness. It is no longer an unattainable conception of an abstract idea which we find it hard to grasp or to fulfil, but in Him it becomes a concrete fact on which we can lay hold, and a thing which we can appropriate and possess. He becomes first "righteousness," and then "our righteousness"—first the visible, incarnate, and realised exhibition of righteousness, and then something of which we can claim possession and in which we can participate.
II. If this is the obverse presentation or positive statement of the truth, it has also its reverse or negative side. If the name whereby Christ is called is "The Lord our Righteousness," that fact is destructive of all other hopes, prospects, or sources of righteousness; it gives the lie to them and asserts their vanity. No, we can have no righteousness but what we find in the Lord.
S. Leathes, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiv., p. 390.
References: Jeremiah 23:6.—J. Keble, Sermons for Sundays after Trinity, Part II., p. 430; Bishop Walsham How, Plain Words, p. 292; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii., No. 395; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 31; Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. vii., p. 261; G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 152; S. Leathes, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 305; E. Blencowe, Plain Sermons to a Country Congregation, 2nd series, p. 460.
Jeremiah 23:28I. The human dream is empty, but the Divine word is substantial. Chaff is a mere husk, but wheat is all grain. So the antagonists of the Bible deal in vague speculations or empty negations, whereas the Scriptures are positive and satisfying.
II. The human dream is destitute of nourishment for man's spiritual nature, while the Divine word is strengthening and ministers to its growth. Chaff does not feed, but wheat gives nutriment. So mere speculation has in it no educating and ennobling influence. It occupies the mind without strengthening the character. The man who indulges in it makes no progress, but, instead of flowing onward with the current, he is caught in some whirling eddy, round which he is continually revolving. But the Christian believer grows. His character is ever gaining new development. He never reaches his ideal, but still "follows after."
III. The human dream has no aggressiveness in it to arrest or overcome the evils that are in the world, but the Divine word is regenerating and reforming. "Is not My word like a fire, saith the Lord, and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?"
IV. The human dream is shortlived, but the Divine word is enduring. Chaff is easily blown away, but the wheat remains. And so the "little systems" of human speculation "have their day, and cease to be;" but the word of the Lord endureth for ever. Like some impregnable fortress, in the hollows around which you may pick up specimens of the various missiles which from age to age have been hurled against it, whilst its walls remain unbroken; the Word of God has withstood for centuries the attacks of many successive armies of antagonists. There is deep truth in Beza's motto for the French Protestant Church, which surmounts the device of an anvil surrounded by blacksmiths, at whose feet are many broken hammers:
"Hammer away, ye hostile bands,
Your hammers break, God's anvil stands."
W. M. Taylor, Contrary Winds, p. 21.
References: Jeremiah 23:28.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv., No. 862. Jeremiah 23:29.—G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 202. Jeremiah 23:35.—J. Hiles Hitchens, Christian World Pulpit, vol, xvi., p. 394. Jeremiah 24:1-3.—T. G. Horton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 149. Jeremiah 24:7.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx., No. 1206. Jeremiah 26:4-6.—T. Binney, Good Words, 1861, p. 300.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For both prophet and priest are profane; yea, in my house have I found their wickedness, saith the LORD.
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.
And I have seen folly in the prophets of Samaria; they prophesied in Baal, and caused my people Israel to err.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.
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.
Am I a God at hand, saith the LORD, and not a God afar off?
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.
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;
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.
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.
Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?
Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that steal my words every one from his neighbour.
Behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that use their tongues, and say, He saith.
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.
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.
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.
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;
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:
And I will bring an everlasting reproach upon you, and a perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten.