God exposes the sins of the false prophets (Jer. 23:9–40)
What God said, as recorded in Jeremiah 14:14, summarizes this entire section: ―The prophets prophesy lies in My name. I have not sent them, commanded them, nor spoken to them; they prophesy to you a false vision, divination, a worthless thing, and the deceit of their heart‖ (NKJV). Jeremiah focused on three areas in their lives that were especially abhorrent.
Their disgraceful conduct (vv. 9–15). True prophets know how serious it is to be called by God to
declare His Word, and they accept the responsibility with fear and trembling. When they see self-styled prophets living like sinners, it grieves them. No wonder Jeremiah had a broken heart and trembled like a drunken man! He realized what the false prophets were doing to the people and the land, and it made him 7sick. ―Horror [indignation] hath taken hold upon me because of the wicked that forsake Thy Law‖ (Ps. 119:53).
The false prophets were committing adultery and thronging the houses of prostitution ( Jer. 5:7). Then they would go to the temple and pretend to worship Jehovah (23:11), turning God’s house into a den of thieves (7:9–11). But the word ―adultery‖ also includes their worship of idols, turning from the true God (to whom Israel was ―married‖ ) and being unfaithful to their covenant promises.
The false prophets had led the Northern Kingdom of Israel astray (23:13), and now they were leading the Southern Kingdom of Judah astray (v. 14). Baal was the Canaanite rain god to whom the Jews were
18), and his worship included ―sacred prostitution.‖ prone to turn for help in times of drought (1 Kings 17–
Jerusalem was becoming like Sodom and Gomorrah—cities so wicked God had to destroy them ( Jer.
20:16; Gen. 18–19).
The land was suffering a severe drought ( Jer. 23:10; see chap. 14) because the false prophets led the people to violate the terms of their covenant with God. The Lord promised to send the early and latter rains if they obeyed Him (Deut. 11:10–15; 28:12), but He also warned them that He would make the
heavens brass and the earth iron if they disobeyed Him (11:16–17; 28:23–24). ―Because of the curse the
land lies parched‖ ( Jer. 23:10, NIV). But the sinners refused to escape, even though God had promised to judge them in due time (vv. 12, 15).
Whenever a nation needs healing, it’s usually because God’s people aren’t obeying and serving Him as they should. We like to blame dishonest politicians and various purveyors of pleasure for a nation’s decline in morality, but God blames His own people. ―If My people, which are called by My name, shall
humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land‖ (2 Chron. 7:14).
Their dishonest message (vv. 16–32). To begin with, the false prophets offered the people a false hope
( Jer. 23:16–20). ―The Lord says: You will have peace....No harm will come to you‖ (v. 17, NIV; see 6:13–15; 8:10–12). Of course, this was a popular message, and the frightened people grabbed it and held on to it. But the false prophets hadn’t heard that message in God’s council; they made it up out of their own hearts. Instead of peace, a storm was brewing from the Lord (23:20). God was about to vent His holy anger on His sinful people, and when they finally understood His purposes, it would be too late to stop the whirlwind.
Not only did the false prophets give the people a false hope, but they also ministered under a false
authority (23:21–24). God hadn’t spoken to them, yet they prophesied. God hadn’t called them, yet they ran with their message. If they were truly prophets from God, they would have lived godly lives and encouraged the people to turn from their wickedness. Instead, they taught a popular ―theology‖ that made
it convenient for people to be religious and still live in sin.
Jehovah wasn’t a local deity like the pagan idols, but a transcendent God who reigns above all things and fills heaven and earth (vv. 23–24). Nor was He blind like the idols (Ps. 115:5), unable to see the sins of the people. ―Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him?‖ ( Jer. 23:24) Because they listened to the false prophets, the people believed lies about God, and what we believe about God determines how we live.
Finally, the false prophets were speaking under a false inspiration (vv. 25–32). They depended on
dreams and delusions of the mind, and they even plagiarized messages from one another! Compared to the nourishing wheat of the Word, their messages were only straw; you couldn’t eat it, build with it, or
even be warmed by it.
The message of the true prophet is like a hammer that can tear down and build up (see 1:10) and even break the hardest rocks (23:29). The Word is like fire that consumes waste and purifies whatever it touches. Jeremiah had the Word burning in his heart (20:9; see Luke 24:32) and on his lips ( Jer. 5:14). He was God’s assayer, using the fire of the Word to test the lives of the people (6:27).
There are false prophets and teachers in our world today (2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1–6), people who claim
to know God’s will because of their dreams, their study of astrology, or their special ―spiritual‖ gifts. Some of them have invaded the church ( Jude 3–4). Whatever anyone says who claims to be speaking for
the Lord must be tested by the Word of God. ―To the Law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them‖ (Isa. 8:20).
Their disrespectful attitude (vv. 33–40). The key Hebrew word in this section is massa, which means ―a
burden.‖ Jeremiah used it to refer to bearing burdens on the Sabbath ( Jer. 17:21–27), but in this context it
means the burden of the message that the Lord places on His prophets (Nahum 1:1; Hab. 1:1; Mal. 1:1). For this reason, some scholars translate it ―oracle,‖ but ―burden‖ is perfectly acceptable (see the NIV and NASB, both of which put ―burden‖ in the margin).
God cautioned Jeremiah not to encourage the careless attitude of the priests, people, and false prophets when they asked him, ―What is the burden of the Lord?‖ The phrase ―burden of the Lord‖ was almost a cliche; it was used to poke fun at God’s true prophet. (The phrase ―born again‖ often gets the same kind of treatment.)
Why should the false prophets ask for an oracle from the Lord when Jeremiah had already told them
what God wanted them to hear? If they hadn’t obeyed what God already commanded, why should He tell
them more? Their attitude toward God’s message was careless and disrespectful; they weren’t taking seriously God’s message or God’s messenger. The false prophets had distorted the truth to make it mean what they wanted it to mean, and yet they called their messages the ―oracles of the Lord.‖
Jeremiah was to reply, ―You are the burden!‖ (v. 33, NIV margin) The Living Bible catches the spirit of
When one of the people or one of their ―prophets‖ or priests asks you, ―Well, Jeremiah, what is the sad news from the Lord today?‖ you shall reply, ―What sad news? You are the sad news, for the Lord has cast you away!‖ ( Jer. 23:33)
A worldly church puts an emphasis on ―fun‖ and ―entertainment‖ and forgets about tears. We now have
―Christian comedians‖ who generate laughter for thirty minutes and then tack on the Gospel and give an invitation. While there’s a proper place for humor in the Christian life, the church today needs to hear the words of James: ―Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up‖ ( James 4:9–10, NKJV). The
church isn’t taking God’s Word seriously at an hour when the world is in serious trouble.