The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so…
I. IN WHAT IT CONSISTED.
1. "The prophets prophesy falsely." The prophets were not mere predicters of future events, but the utterers of God's will - those who spoke forth, as the very word "prophet" denotes, the hitherto undeclared mind of God. For this purpose they were specially selected, trained, privileged, commissioned. Hence every inducement that could possibly bear on them to lead them to be faithful to their high charge and trust was theirs: love of their country; approval of their own conscience; the fear of God; the sure, if not present, reward of their fidelity which they would receive from God. But yet they prophesied falsely. We could have understood:
(1) Their hesitation in the discharge of their duty. See how Jeremiah himself shrank from it, so stern and arduous was it. It was no light matter to be a prophet in those days.
(2) Their silence even. Fear may have rendered them dumb, or hopelessness of doing any good may have silenced them. But that they should prophesy falsely - they from whom fidelity at all costs might have been looked for - that was "a wonderful and horrible," etc. The fountains of truth were poisoned, the helm of the ship was in the hands of those who would steer her on to the rocks. The light that was in Israel was darkened, therefore how great was their darkness! What force such a fact as this lends to the urgency with which:
(a) God's prophets - his ministers today are such - should take heed to themselves and to their doctrine; and
(b) God's people should remember in fervent prayer those on whom so high and solemn a charge is laid.
2. "The priests bear rule by their means." The priests were the more familiar ministers of religion. They were a permanent order, not raised up for special occasions, and they came into contact with men continually. They were supposed "to keep knowledge." They had all the traditions of their order, all the memories of their history and of God's favor to them. They were independent of the prophets, but were much bound to the people for their sympathy and support. But whilst independent of the prophets, they were greatly assisted by them in furthering the service of God. And they also had means of knowing the truth. They were able to try the spirits, whether they were of God. Hence they might have known the falsity of the false prophets. And they ought to have exposed it. But instead they combined with them, accepted the aid of their falsehood, and bore rule by their means. For, corrupt as the people were, they would speedily have discovered the wickedness of the priests had not the prophets sided with them. Now the poison spreads. The priests, coming into contact with all the people, propagate the falsehood of the prophets, shelter themselves behind their authority, and deceive those who trusted in them. Yes, it is "a wonderful and horrible," etc. It is in the power of some to originate falsehood: this the prophets did. It is in the power of others to spread that falsehood abroad: this the priests did. Leagued together, the people who trusted them were in evil case indeed. But there was a further element of sorrow to be yet added.
3. The people loved to have it so.
(1) This showed that:
(a) conscience was dead or drugged;
(b) all perception of their true wisdom was gone;
(c) there was no remedy but the fire of the judgment of God.
(2) It is explained by probable facts that:
(a) the poison was disguised;
(b) large license was allowed.
(3) It reveals the awfully contagious nature of moral evil. The dread possibilities of national corruption, against which we are bound to watch and pray.
II. THE QUESTION IT GIVES RISE TO: "What will ye do in the end thereof?" That is, to what lengths will they go when their wickedness has full hold upon them? to what depths of degradation will they fall? to what resources will they turn when God's judgments come? The sadness of the question lies in the impossibility of satisfactorily answering it. It leads us to the brink of an abyss, at which we can only shudder and pray that none of us may fall therein. CONCLUSION.
1. Thank God that such prophets and priests are the exception to the rule.
2. That when such exceptions are met with, God has provided a remedy against them - in his infallible Word; in his Spirit, leading us into all truth.
3. Try all that human ministers say by these tests.
4. Seeing how much depends upon them, and what power for good or ill they cannot but have, pray with all importunity-that God send only faithful men into his ministry, and preserve in their fidelity those who are there already. - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?