After addressing the failures of the kings of Judah (Jeremiah 22), Jeremiah was tasked with confronting the failure of the pastors. In the broadest use, the “pastors” were both the religious and civic leaders of Jerusalem and Judah.
Jeremiah 23:1-2 – A Denouncement of Unfaithful Pastors
“Woe be unto the pastors [shepherd; leader; religious and civic leaders] that destroy [lead astray] and scatter [drive away] the sheep of my pasture” (23:1; note, Ezekiel 34:1-10).
Like the shepherd whose work is to lead, protect, and feed his sheep, so is the calling of a “pastor” to lead His people to better places spiritually. Judah, however, had been plagued with derelict pastors (23:1). Rather than gathering and guiding the nation to the LORD, the pastors had destroyed, abused and scattered the people. The LORD admonished the pastors, “Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited [inspected; nurtured] them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the Lord” (23:2).
Jeremiah 23:3-8 – The Messiah King and the Millennial Kingdom
Remembering His covenant with Israel, the LORD would not leave His people without hope. He had scattered Israel in His wrath, and determined the same would befall Judah, yet, He had not forgotten His promises. The LORD declared there would be a day when “the remnant of my flock” (Israel and Judah) would be gathered “out of all countries whither I have driven them” (23:3). In that day, the LORD promised to appoint spiritual “shepherds…which [would] feed [His people]: and they [would] fear no more…neither [would] they be lacking” (23:4).
Leaving no doubt who will be King in the Messianic Kingdom, we read, “I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. 6 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” (23:5-6; Ezekiel 34:23-24; 37:24; Zechariah 3:8; 6:12).
Who was this “righteous branch” of David’s lineage? (23:5) Only one man could fulfill that prophecy, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten, virgin-born, Son of God (Isaiah 9:6-7; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 3:21-5:11).
Jeremiah 23:9-32 – False Prophets and Their Error
Jeremiah, realizing the judgment Judah would suffer, wrote, “Mine heart within me is broken because of the prophets” (23:9). False prophets had become the curse of Judah. In a searing indictment of their sins, Jeremiah identified the ungodly character of the false prophets and their effect on the people. Jeremiah prophesied, “The land is full of adulterers” (23:10) and prophet and priest were “profane” (godless, wicked, polluted, and corrupt, 23:11, 23:13).
The sins of Judah had become so egregious, the LORD likened them to “Sodom, and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah” (23:14). Gripped by their sins, and lacking spiritual discernment, the people believed the assurances of false prophets who said, “No evil shall come upon you” (23:17). The LORD declared, “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied” (23:21).
Jeremiah 23:33-36 – Judah’s Contempt for the LORD’s Message and Messenger
Having embraced the lies of false priests and prophets, the people ridiculed Jeremiah. When Jeremiah was asked, “What is the burden of the LORD?” (23:33), he was instructed to say, the “burden of the LORD” was that He had forsaken them (23:33b).
Jeremiah 23 concluded with a stern warning against the false prophets, saying: “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: 40 And I will bring an everlasting reproach upon you, and a perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten” (23:39b-40).
Closing thought – The work of the pastor is a great calling, as is the privilege of teaching and preaching God’s Word. Yet, such a burden is not to be taken lightly. All who aspire to teach the Word of the LORD must remember they will face the greater judgment.
James 3:1 – “My brethren, be not many masters [teachers; instructors], knowing that we shall receive the greater [larger; greatest] condemnation [judgment; punishment; i.e. sentence].”
Illustrating the imminent judgment of God, Jeremiah told a parable concerning “two baskets of figs” (24:1). The parable was spoken at the time Jeconiah, the second to the last king of Judah, was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (24:1). The two baskets of figs represented the people of Judah. One basket of figs was described as “good figs” that could be eaten, and the other “very evil, that cannot be eaten” (24:3).
Interpretation – The LORD promised the “good figs” would be carried away by Babylon, but would one day be restored to their land (24:4-7). The bad or “evil figs” represented king Zedekiah, and the officers of his court (24:8). Zedekiah was a wicked king, and the last king of Judah before Jerusalem was destroyed and the people were taken captive (24:9).
Closing thought –The “pastors” of Judah (the king, his officials, and religious leaders) had denied the LORD, and failed the people. Therefore, God had determined His judgment against Judah, and foretold He would scatter that nation among the “kingdoms of the earth” (24:9). God’s people would be afflicted, and the heathen would taunt and curse them (24:9b). Sword, famine, and pestilence would be their lot, until there were no more of the people left in the land (24:10).
The Jewish people have known the highest privilege as God’s chosen people; however, they have rejected the LORD, and their eyes are blind. Perhaps as none other, they have been hated as a people. Yet, the LORD has not forgotten His people and will one day all the earth will know, “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” reigns in Israel (23:5-6).
Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith
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