Jeremiah 23

The Word Made Fresh

1The LORD says, “You had better watch out, you ‘shepherds’ who have scattered and destroyed my sheep.” 2This what the LORD, the God of Israel, has to say about the ‘shepherds’ who tend God’s people: “You scattered my flock and drove them away. You ignored their needs. So, I am going to take revenge on you for what you’ve done to them. 3I will bring together the few ‘sheep’ from all the countries to which I sent them. I will bring them back to their pasture and they will be fruitful and will increase in number. 4I will appoint ‘shepherds’ to tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or have any dread of being harmed, and none of them will be missing,” says the LORD.

5The LORD declares, “The time is coming when I will raise up a righteous man from among David’s descendants who will rule as a wise king. He will do what is just and right in the land. 6During his reign Judah will be rescued and Israel will be safe. His name will be called, ‘The LORD is Our Righteousness.’

7“The time is coming when no one will use the expression, ‘As the LORD lives who brought the Israelites from Egypt.’ 8Instead, they will say, ‘As the LORD lives who brought the descendants of the people of Israel from the north and all the other lands where they were banished so that they can live in their own land.’”

9My heart is broken and I ache for the prophets.
I stagger like a drunkard who has had too much wine,
because of the LORD’s holy words.
10And also because the country is filled with adulterers.
Yes, because of them. Their might is wrong.
Their ways are evil, so that the land has dried up,
and the grazing grounds in the fields of the wilderness are
11Prophets and priests alike are godless.
“I even find their wickedness in my temple,” says the LORD.
12That is why they will realize they are standing on a slippery slope
and will be cast out into the darkness where they will fall.
“I will bring disaster upon them when their time comes,”
says the LORD.

13I saw something that shocked me among the prophets of Samaria.
They prophesied by the god Baal,
and my people were led astray.
14I saw something terrible among the prophets of Jerusalem:
They commit adultery and tell lies.
They encourage those who do evil.
As a result, no one turns away from their wickedness.
In my sight they are no better than Sodom.
Their people are like Gomorrah.

15Therefore the LORD of the armies of heaven has this to say about the prophets:
“I’m going to give them ill-tasting food to eat
and poison to drink, for wickedness has spread
from the prophets of Jerusalem throughout the entire country.”
16The LORD says, “Don’t listen to the prophets when they speak to you.
They are deceiving you. Their visions come from within themselves
and not from the LORD.
17They keep telling those who have not listened to God’s word
that all will go well with them.
And they tell those who follow their own sinful ideas,
‘Nothing bad will come to you.’”
18But who has stood in the LORD’s council to hear God’s word?
Who has heard God’s word and announced it to the people?
19Look! An angry storm from the LORD is breaking out,
whirling around the heads of the wicked.
20The LORD’s rage will not turn back
until it results in everything God has planned.
“In the days to come you will understand.
21I did not send the prophets, but they came to you anyway.
I did not speak to them, but they have prophesied to you.
22If they had been present in my council
they would have given my words to the people,
and turned them away from their evil ways.”
23The LORD says, “Am I a God who is always near and never far
24Can people hide themselves in their secret hideouts
and think I can’t see them?
Am I not present in both heaven and earth?

25“I have heard the prophets who are proclaiming lies that they say come from me. They claim, ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’ 26How long will these misleading statements control the minds of the prophets? They are treacherous! 27They engage in schemes to make my people forget me, telling their dreams to one another. They are like their ancestors who forgot me because of Baal. 28If a prophet has a dream, let him tell about it, but let someone who knows my word proclaim it faithfully.

“What a difference there is between straw and wheat,” says the LORD.
29“Isn’t my word like fire? Isn’t it like a hammer
that shatters stones?” says the LORD.
30“I am opposed to the prophets
who steal my words from one another,” says the LORD.
31“I’m against those prophets
who spread their pronouncements carelessly,” says the LORD.
32“I am against the prophets who come up with lies
and then spread them as truth,” says the LORD,
“and lead my people astray with their reckless notions.
I didn’t send them. I didn’t authorize them,
and they are utterly useless to the people,” says the LORD.

33“When anyone asks you, ‘What is the LORD’s message to us?’ tell them, ‘What message? The LORD declares that you will be cast out.’ 34The LORD will punish anyone, whether prophet or priest, who claims to be delivering the LORD’s message. 35Ask one another this: ‘What has the LORD said? What has the LORD declared?’ 36But you are not to mention the LORD’s message any longer because everyone thinks they have received a message from the LORD. You take apart the word of the living God, the LORD of the forces of heaven. Our God! 37So, ask the prophet this: ‘What has the LORD said to you? What has the LORD declared?’ 38Then, if you insist on saying, ‘This is the LORD’s message,’ the LORD says to you, ‘Because you have claimed what you said is a message from the LORD when I clearly told you not to proclaim the LORD’s message, 39I will hoist you up and throw you away along with the city that I gave your ancestors. 40I will make of you an example of disgrace and your shame will last so that no one will ever forget.’”


1-4: The people will suffer in exile, but the leaders are to blame. Therefore, God says, the day will come when the people will be restored, and new leaders will be raised up who will have the best interests of the people at heart instead of acting in self-interest.

5-6: Jeremiah even looks to a time when a new king will arise from among the descendants of David. That is perhaps why Matthew was so careful to include David and some of his royal descendants in the lineage of Jesus.

7-8: The future return of the exiles will become the most important event in the history of God’s people, more important even than the exodus from Egypt.

9-15: God bemoans the sorry record of the prophets of Samaria and Jerusalem. The prophets of Samaria prophesied by the god Baal, but the prophets of Jerusalem are worse because they claimed to be following God but allowed the worship of other gods to corrupt the people and to taint their prophesies.

16-17: God (through the voice of Jeremiah) denounces them for pretending everything will be alright.

18-20: Any idiot ought to be able to see that God is fed up and God’s wrath will overtake them. They’ll be able to see it, of course, in hindsight.

21-22: God didn’t send these idiots. God didn’t speak to them. If they really knew God, they would shut up.

23-32: The false prophets apparently had developed dream-telling into a tool by which they could fool people into thinking they were really hearing God’s voice. God decries such practices. Do they think God’s range is limited? Do they think God can’t see what they’re doing? God denounces them as worthless prophets who lead the people astray.

33-40: This section is particularly obscure because of the play on a word in Hebrew. The word is “massa,” and it is the word for “oracle,” referring to a genuine prophetic pronouncement. It is also the word for “burden.” Jeremiah is saying that these false prophets are uttering sayings that they claim to be oracles but are instead burdens for the people because the people are being led astray by these ungodly, dream-influenced pronouncements. The situation has become so bad that God tells them not even to use the word massa anymore; the very use of the word provokes God’s wrath.


The people of Judah and Israel had gone so far astray that they could no longer see how they were being disobedient. The “voice of God” became entangled with other gods until they could no longer hear the difference. Be careful what or who you worship. Certainly, no one among us is worthy of being worshiped!