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23. Lying Prophets

Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the Lord. 2Therefore 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. 3And 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. 4And 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.

5Behold, 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. 6In 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. 7Therefore, 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; 8But, 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.

9Mine 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. 10For 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. 11For both prophet and priest are profane; yea, in my house have I found their wickedness, saith the Lord. 12Wherefore 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. 13And I have seen folly in the prophets of Samaria; they prophesied in Baal, and caused my people Israel to err. 14I 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. 15Therefore 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. 16Thus 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. 17They 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. 18For who hath stood in the counsel of the Lord, and hath perceived and heard his word? who hath marked his word, and heard it? 19Behold, a whirlwind of the Lord is gone forth in fury, even a grievous whirlwind: it shall fall grievously upon the head of the wicked. 20The 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. 21I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. 22But 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. 23 Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? 24Can 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. 25I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed. 26How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart; 27Which 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. 28The 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. 29 Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces? 30Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the Lord, that steal my words every one from his neighbour. 31Behold, I am against the prophets, saith the Lord, that use their tongues, and say, He saith. 32Behold, 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.

33And 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. 34And 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. 35Thus 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? 36And 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. 37Thus shalt thou say to the prophet, What hath the Lord answered thee? and, What hath the Lord spoken? 38But 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; 39Therefore, 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: 40And I will bring an everlasting reproach upon you, and a perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten.

Jeremiah now assigns the reason why he was so much horrified by the insensibility which he observed in the prophets. If things were in good order, or if, at least, they were tolerable, the prophets would have more calmly addressed the Jews; for what need is there to make a great ado when men willingly follow what God commands? When, therefore, we have to do with meek and modest men, vehemence is foolish; and they who thus bestir themselves, and seek, through great ambition, to shew very fervid zeal when there is no need, are nothing but apes; but when things are in disorder and confusion, then vehemence is wanted. Jeremiah now declares that things were so extremely out of order, that the prophets could not have been silent, except they were like logs of wood.

These two things, then, ought to be connected together, — that the prophets were dumb, — and that they were dumb when there was the greatest necessity for speaking; for they saw the land filled with adulteries. Though he names adulterers, he yet condemns the crime. As then the land was polluted by adulteries and perjuries, as they all gave themselves up to do evil, it was by no means to be tolerated that the prophets should not be indignant, as though things were well ordered and peaceable.

We hence see how much God abhors sloth in the ministers of his word, in those whom he appoints as teachers in his Church, while they connive at wickedness, and heedlessly pass by adulteries, and fornications, and perjuries, and frauds, and other kinds of wrongs; for if there were even the least particle of religion in their hearts, they would certainly have been moved, and could not have been for a moment silent. For if that zeal ought to be in all God’s children, which was in the Psalmist,

“The zeal of thine house has consumed me, and the reproaches of them who reproached thee have fallen upon me,”
(Psalm 69:10,)

how inexcusable must be the indifference of prophets, when they see God’s name exposed to mockery, and when they see every kind of wickedness prevailing? We now see not only what the Prophet teaches in this passage, but also the usefulness of his doctrine and how it ought to be applied. Let us then learn, that the more liberty men take in sinning, and the more audaciously their impiety and contempt of God break out, the more sharply ought prophets and faithful teachers to reprove and condemn them; and that it is the time of fighting, when the world thus presumptuously and furiously rise up against God.

The Prophet mentions some kinds of evil, and yet does not enumerate all kinds; but under adulteries and perjuries he includes also other crimes. As to the word אלה, ale, it properly means swearing; but as cursing often accompanies it, some render it here “execration.” 8888     The early Versions and the Targum differ as to this word: the Sept., the Syr., and the Arab. have “on account of these,” that is, adulterers; the Vulg.,” on account of a curse,” that is of God; the Targ., “on account of false swearing.” Blayney says, that there is nothing here about swearing, and renders the words “because of these:” but the 14th verse (Jeremiah 23:14) decides the question, where we have “adultery” and “walking in lies,” ascribed to the same persons, the prophets. That, אלה means sometimes “false swearing,” is evident from Hosea 4:2; and in Hosea 10:4, we have the word “falsely” added to it. Their false swearing was their unfaithfulness to God’s covenant, their apostasy in worshipping idols. And the charge of being “adulterers” seems to refer to their spiritual adultery — their idolatry, and not as Calvin and others think, to that which is natural. Everything in the context favors this view; their wickedness was found in God’s house, verse 11 (Jeremiah 23:11); and a comparison is made between them and the Samaritan prophets, verse 14 (Jeremiah 23:14). The construction of this verse leads us to the same conclusion: when two כי occur in succession, as here, they may be rendered as and so, —
   As the land has been filled with adulterers, So for false swearing has the land mourned, Withered have the pastures of the wilderness; And their course has become calamitous, And their strength not firm, (that is, to run their course.)

   Houbigant and Horsley have re-arranged the whole verse, and made several transpositions. Had these learned men for a moment reflected how such delocations of words, as they suppose, could have taken place, they would have, no doubt, restrained their innovating propensities. — Ed.
But I rather think that what is meant is perjury, and that swearing here is taken in a bad sense, signifying swearing falsely in the name of God.

Mourned, he says, has the land, and dried up have the pastures of the desert Here the Prophet strikingly shews how shameful was that torpor of which he speaks, for the land itself cried out, and not only the land which was cultivated and had on it many men, but also the very mountains and their recesses. He says that the land was in mourning, because God shewed his judgments everywhere by rendering the fields barren, and by other means which he used as punishments. And it is a very striking mode of speaking, when the Prophet mentions the mourning of the land, as though it assumed the character of a mourner, when it saw God angry on account of the wickedness of men. It is, indeed, a kind of personification, though he does not introduce the land as speaking; but he describes mourning as it appeared in the sterility of the land, and also in hails and storms, in unseasonable rains, in droughts, and in other calamities.

Whenever then God raises his hand to punish men for their sins, if they themselves perceive it not, the very land, which is without sense and feeling, ought to fill them with shame for their madness; for mourning appears in the very land, as though it knew that God was displeased with it. When, therefore, men sleep in their sins, and thus disregard God’s vengeance, how monstrous must be their torpor! And if this be intolerable in the common people, what can be said of the prophets, who ought to proclaim such words as these, — “Cursed is he who has transgressed the precepts of this law” —cursed is he who has corrupted the worship of God” — or, “who hath dealt unjustly with his neighbor,” — and whatever else the law contains? (Deuteronomy 27:26; Deuteronomy 28:47, 58.) We now then perceive how emphatical are the words when the Prophet says, Mourned has the land And he amplifies the same thing by saying, Dried up have the beautiful places of the desert; as though he had said, that God’s judgments were seen in the remotest places, not only in the plains, where the greater number of men dwelt, did the land mourn; but if any one ascended the mountains, where shepherds only with their flocks were to be found, even there the wrath of God was visible; and the very mountains cried out that God was angry; and yet men still deluded themselves, who, at the same time were expounders of the law, who were the mouth of God, and to whom he had committed the office of reproving; but they were dumb! We now understand what these words contain, and what is to be learnt from them.

He adds, that their course was evil, 8989     That the word means “course,” is evident from Jeremiah 8:6, where it can have no other meaning. So it is rendered by the Sept. and the Vulg. Blayney gives it another meaning.
   Their will also hath been wickedness,
And their might without right.

   He derives it from רצה, to choose, and not from ריף, run: but the sense of the last line is hardly discernible. — Ed
and that their strength was not right By course he no doubt means their doings and all their actions, and also the aid which they proposed to themselves; for our life is called a course, because God has not created us that we may lie down in one place, but he has set before us an end for which we are to live. Therefore, by course, the Scripture means all our doings, and the very end for which we are to live. He then says, that all their strength had been perverted; that is, that they had applied all their powers to do evil. It then hence appears that, except the prophets had been perfidious, they would have thought it full time to cry out, when men provoked God with so much audacity in their wicked courses. It follows —


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