Jeremiah 23:30-32

30. Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the Lord, that steal my words every one from his neighbor.

30. Propterea ecce ego ad (vel, super) prophetas, dicit Jehova, qui furantur sermones meos, quisque a socio suo:

31. Behold, I am against the prophets, saith the Lord, that use their tongues, and say, He saith.

31. Ecce ego ad (vel, super, vel, contra) prophetas, dicit Jehova, qui mollificant (vel, tollunt) linguam suam, et dicunt, sermo (vel, dictio:)

32. 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.

32. Ecce ego super (vel, ad, vel, contra) prophetantes somnia mendacii, dicit Jehova, et narrant illis et decipiunt populum meum in mendaciis suis et levitate sua; et ego (hoc est, quanquam ego) non miserim ipsos, neque mandaverim illis, et utilitate non proderunt (proficiendo non afferent utilitatem) populo huic, dicit Jehova.


Jeremiah returns again to the false teachers, who were the authors of all the evils; for they fascinated the people with their flatteries, so that every regard for sound and heavenly doctrine was almost extinguished. But while God declares that he is an avenger against them, he does not exempt the people from punishment. We indeed know that a just reward was rendered to the reprobate, when God let loose the reins to the ministers of Satan with impunity to deceive them. But as the people acquiesced in those false allurements, while Jeremiah so severely reproved the false teachers, he reminds the people how foolishly they betook themselves under the shadow of those men, thinking themselves to be safe.

He says, first, Behold, I am, against the prophets, who steal my words every one from his neighbor. Many explain this verse as though God condemned the false prophets, who borrowed something from the true prophets, so that they might be their rivals and as it were their apes; and no doubt the ungodly teachers had ever from the beginning made some assumptions, that they might be deemed God's servants. But it seems, however, a forced view, that they stole words from the true prophets, for the words express what is different, that they stole every one from his friend. Jeremiah would not have called God's faithful servants by this name. I rather think that their secret arts are here pointed out, that they secretly and designedly conspired among themselves, and then that they spread abroad their own figments according to their usual manner. For the ungodly and the perfidious, that they might obtain credit among the simple and unwary, consulted together and devised all their measures craftily, that they might not be immediately found out; and thus one took from the other what he afterwards announced and published. And this is what Jeremiah calls stealing, because they secretly consulted, and then declared to the people what they agreed upon among themselves; and they did this as though every one had derived his oracle from heaven. I have, therefore, no doubt but that the Prophet condemns these hidden consultations when he says that every one stole from his neighhour.1

We indeed see the same thing now under the Papacy, for the monks and unprincipled men of the same character have their own false doctrines; and when they ascend the pulpit, every one speaks as though he was endued with some special gift; and yet they steal every one from his friend, for they are like the soothsayers or the magi, who concocted among themselves their own falsehoods, and only brought out what they deemed necessary to delude the common people. This, then, was one of the vices which the Prophet shews prevailed among the false teachers, -- that no one attended to the voice of God, but that every one took furtively from his friend what he afterwards openly proclaimed.

He adds, secondly, Behold, I am against the prophets, who mollify their own tongue. Almost all interpreters take hql, lekech, as signifying to render sweet or soft; and they understand that the false prophets are condemned, because they flattered the wicked for the sake of gain; for had they offended or exasperated them, they could not have attached them to themselves. They then think that to mollify their tongue means here that they used their tongue in speaking smooth and flattering things. But others give another explanation, -- that they mollified their tongue because they polished their words in imitation of God's servants, so that their speech was sweeter than honey. But as hql, lekech, means to receive and to take, and sometimes to raise on high, and sometimes to carry, I see not why it should not be taken in its proper meaning. I certainly see no reason to turn its meaning to a metaphor, when it can be taken in its plain sense of raising their tongue; they elevated themselves, and in high terms boasted that the office of teaching had been committed to them, for we know how haughtily false teachers elevate themselves. Therefore the verse may be taken thus, that God would punish those impostors who raised their tongue, that is, who proudly boasted and boldly arrogated to themselves authority, as though they were messengers from heaven.2

It afterwards follows, And they say, Man, nam, he saith. We know that it was a common thing for all the prophets to add, hwhy Man, nam Jeve, the saying of Jehovah, or the word of Jehovah, in order to shew that they said nothing but what they had received from above. And if we read this verse as connected together, we shall find true what I have said -- that the verb hql, lekech, does not mean the smoothness or adulation used, but, the lofty vaunting of the false teachers, who wished to be deemed the organs of the Holy Spirit, and assumed to themselves all the authority of God. For their elation was this, that they confidently boasted that God himself had spoken, and said that it was the word; and they did this, that whatever they prattled might appear indisputed, though it was sufficiently evident that they falsely pretended the name of God.

He adds, thirdly, Behold, I am against those who prophesy dreams of falsehood. It was indeed necessary to say here, that though the false teachers arrogated to themselves what alone belonged to the servants of God, they were yet mendacious. He afterwards adds, They narrate them, and cause my people to err by their falsehoods and their levity. The meaning is, that however proudly they might, have pretended the name of prophets, they were yet impostors, who deceived the people by narrating to them their false dreams. The word dream is taken here in a good sense, but the word added to it, shews that they boasted of dreams which were only their own; and this is again confirmed when Jeremiah says, that they deceived the people by their falsehoods; and he adds, by their levity,3 which some render "flattery." I doubt not but that it means their inventions, which were vain, because they proceeded only from vain presumption.

He adds, Though I sent them not nor commanded them. This negation ought especially to be noticed; for God shews how we are to form a judgment, when a question is raised respecting true and false teachers. Whatever, therefore, is without God's command is like the wind, and will of itself vanish away. There is, then, no solidity in anything but in God's command. Hence it follows, that all those who speak according to their own fancies are mendacious, and that whatever they bring forward has no weight in it; for God sets these two things in opposition the one to the other; on the one side are falsehood and levity, and on the other, his command and his call. It hence follows, that no one, except he simply obeys God and faithfully declares what he has received from him, can be of any account; for his whole weight is lighter than a feather, and all his apparent wisdom is falsehood.

At last he says, that they would not profit his people. In which words he warns the people to shun them as the plague. But we see how the world indulges itself in this respect; for they who are drowsy seek to absolve themselves on the plea of ignorance, and throw the blame on their pastors, as though they were themselves beyond the reach of danger. But the Lord here reminded the people, that the teachers whom they received were pestilent; though for another reason he testified that they were useless, and that in order that he might shake off the vain confidence of the Jews, who were wont to set up this shield against all God's threatenings, that their false teachers promised them wonderful things. It follows, --

1 Various have been the expositions of this sentence: they adopted the manner of the true prophets, as some say, and used their words, an instance of which is found in Jeremiah 28:1-4; and this is the view of Scott; others hold that the imitation in saying, "Thus saith the Lord," is what is referred to. It has also been suggested that they are intended -- who, knowing the truth, withheld it from the people; and that to withhold what they knew, is represented here as stealing. But none of these views sufficiently account for the words here used, "who steal my words every one from his neighbor." They were God's words committed to the people, and these prophets stole them, that is, by rendering them void by their falsehoods and vain dreams, as Satan is said to steal the seed sown in the heart of the way-side hearer. This is the view taken by Grotius, Venema, and Gataker. -- Ed.

2 There are those who, with Houbigant, suppose a transposition in the word, the x being put last instead of being first; and then it would mean to render smooth. But this does not suit the passage. The probable idea is what is given paraphrastically by the Sept., "who send forth the prophecies of the tongue;" they derived their prophecies from their own hearts and their own tongues, and said that they came from God. They took or used their tongues only, and at the same time professed to speak God's words. Or we may consider the taking or using the tongue as meaning only profession, as though it was said, "who profess and say, 'He saith.'"

The Syr. is, "who pervert their own tongues," which means that they used them falsely; and the Targ., "who prophesy according to the will of their own heart." -- Ed.

3 The word is rendered "errors," by the Sept.; "miracles," by the Vulg.; "lasciviousness," by the Syr.; and "rashness," by the Targ. It comes from a verb which means to swell, to overflow. As a feminine noun it is only found here, and as a participial noun in two places, Judges 9:4, and Zephaniah 30:4, in which places it evidently means licentious persons; and I once thought that as used here it means licentiousness; see Note on Zephaniah 30:4, in vol. 4 on the Minor Prophets: but I now think that the meaning most suitable here is excess or overflowing in words -- vaunting boasting. The false prophets boasted that they were prophesying in God's name; they were telling lies, and boasting that they were sent by God. In this way they succeeded in leading astray the people, Venema renders it "vain boasting."

Behold, I am against those who prophesy Lying dreams, saith Jehovah; And who declare them, that they may lead astray My people by their lies and by their vauntings.

Then follows a virtual denial of their vauntings, for God had "not sent' nor "commanded" them; and the conclusion of the verse refers to their lies, for what they said would "not profit" the people. Thus we see a perfect correspondence between what is said in this and in the following verse, and the order is according to the usual style of the Prophets, it being reversed in the latter instance; their vauntings were false, because God did not send them; and their lies were vain, for they would not profit the people. -- Ed.