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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.

Here the Prophet promises the restoration of the Church; but he reminds hypocrites that there was no reason for them on that account to flatter themselves, especially the king, his councillors, and the priests. Then this prophecy is a mixture of promises and threatenings, for God promises that he would be propitious to the miserable Jews, after having chastised them, so that the seed of Abraham might not be entirely cut off: he yet deprives hypocrites of vain confidence, so that they might not falsely apply to themselves the hope of salvation, from which they had excluded themselves by their impiety. And this is what ought to be noticed, for as soon as God’s mercy is offered, hypocrites apply to themselves whatever God promises, and become more and more insolent, as though they held him bound to them; for impunity leads them to take more liberty to sin. Hence it is that they boast that they are safe, for they consider themselves to be the people of God. The Prophet, therefore, teaches here that whatever God promises belongs to his elect, that it does not appertain indiscriminately to all, nor ought to be extended to hypocrites who falsely pretend his name, but that it peculiarly belongs to the elect, though they may be small in number, and though they may be despised.

He says first, Wo to the pastors who destroy, 7373     It is an exclamation in the Sept. and Syr.; “Oh! the Pastors,” etc., but a denunciation in the Vulg. and the Targ., “Wo to the Pastors,” etc. The original may be rendered in either way; the latter is the most suitable here. — Ed. etc. Here are contrary things — a pastor and a destroyer! But he concedes to them the name which was honorable; and yet he derides their false boasting, for they thought that they could hide their crimes under this shade, falsely claimed. Though then he calls them pastors, he yet removes the mask, and thus shews that they in vain boasted while they assumed the name of pastors. “Ye are pastors,” he says, ““and ye are destroyers! who dissipate or scatter the flock of my pastures.” 7474     The word is singular in Hebrew, “pasture,” or feeding. — Ed

Here God shews the reason why he was so grievously displeased with these pastors; for by exercising tyranny over the people, they not only injured men, but also injured and dishonored God, who had received under his own protection his chosen people. It is indeed true that they deserved such a scattering; for we have already seen in many places, that the people could by no means be excused when they were deceived by wicked and unfaithful leaders; for in this way was rendered to them all their past reward for having provoked God’s wrath against themselves, from the least to the greatest. But the impiety of wicked pastors was not on this account excusable; for they ought to have considered for what purpose this burden was laid on them, and also by whom they had been appointed. God then intimates that great injury was done to him, when the people were thus so ignominiously scattered. He was himself the chief pastor; he had put as it were in his own place the king and his counsellors and also the priests. Justly then does he now condemn them, because they had destroyed the flock of God, according to what is said in another place,

“That they had destroyed his vineyard.”
(Jeremiah 12:10; Isaiah 5:3)

In short, when God calls the Jews the flock of his pastures, he does not regard what they deserved, or what they were, but he, on the contrary, sets forth the favor bestowed on the seed of Abraham. He has respect then here to his gratuitous adoption, though the Jews had rendered themselves unworthy of such a benefit.

He afterwards adds, Thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, to the pastors who feed my people In the same sense he calls them now his people, as he had called them before the flock of his pastures. They had alienated themselves from God, and he had already by his own decree repudiated them; and God might in one respect have deemed them aliens; and yet in respect of the covenant he acknowledged them as his own; and hence he calls them his people He now then confirms what we have already noticed, that these pastors were not only thieves and robbers, but also sacrilegious; for they not only had exercised cruelty towards the flock, but as far as they could injured and dishonored God himself, who had undertaken the care of that people.

But there is here a twofold concession, he calls them pastors, and they are said to feed the people. He had said before that they destroyed and scattered the flock, and now he says that they fed them; but in what sense we well know, for by this kind of irony he meant to reprove them; they boasted that they were pastors, and they thought that their crimes would by such a covering be buried in the sight of God, as in the sight of men. In a similar manner when we speak in the present day of the Pope and his mitred bishops and filthy clergy, we use expressions which are commonly employed. But Antichrist is everything but a father, and we know how far they are from being really bishops who assume the title; and as to the clergy, the name is sacred, but they are very far from being God’s heritage. We indeed make no account of these empty titles. But it is a great aggravation of their guilt, that they being devils, should assume angelic names, that they being wolves and robbers, and sacrilegious, should falsely pretend God’s name, and recommend themselves by spurious titles, as though they were pastors, bishops, abbots, and prelates, and what not.

So then our Prophet calls those whom he condemns, by way of taunt, pastors, and says that they fed, that is, were called for this end, to do this work. But he afterwards adds, My flock have ye scattered, and driven away, and not visited 7575     The meaning seems to be that they had caused the flock to be scattered and driven away through their bad conduct, because they did not take care of them, as the last verb means. The two first verbs are indeed in Hiphil, and may be rendered causatively thus, —
   Ye have caused my sheep to be scattered, And have caused them to be driven away; And ye have not cared for them.

   The last verb is not in Hiphil, and states the reason why the sheep had been dispersed. It means to oversee, to take care of, to attend to. The dispersion was owing to the neglect of the pastors in taking care of the sheep. The scattering or dispersion was their exile; which God states in the third verse was his act as a punishment for their wickedness, but the cause of dispersion was the conduct of the pastors.

   We see here an instance of the order in which ideas are often stated by the Prophets. Scattering, though mentioned first, is the last act, the most ostensible; the driving out of the land was the previous act, and the first in order, though the last stated, was the neglect of the pastors in taking an oversight of them. It is to begin with the effect and to go back to the cause. “You have caused them to be scattered to all lands, you have made them to be driven out of their own land, and you have neglected to take care of them.” These are the three points of accusation, but stated in an inverted order. There are constant instances of this kind of arrangement. — Ed.
Surely it was not to feed, to have no care for the sheep. To visit is to be extended here to every part of the duty of overseeing, as though he had said, that the flock had been by them neglected, betrayed, and deserted. We hence see that they had wholly neglected their pastoral office. But the other two things are still worse, for they had scattered and driven away the flock. Their sloth in neglecting the flock was not to be tolerated; but it was still more intolerable when they exercised so much cruelty as to scatter the flock as though they were deadly enemies; and yet these are the things for which Jeremiah condemns them. We hence see that there was an implied taunt, when he conceded to them the office of feeding.

He then denounces judgment on them, I will visit upon you the wickedness of your doings Here God declares that he would punish the pastors, to whom was justly ascribed the scattering of the people. For though no one was exempt from blame, as it has been before stated; yet the main fault belonged to these pastors. This then is the reason why God declares that he would take vengeance; for he would not have his flock scattered with impunity.


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