Concerning the prophets:
My heart is broken within me;
all my bones shake;
I am like a drunken man,
like a man overcome by wine,
because of the Lord
and because of his holy words.
For the land is full of adulterers;
because of the curse the land mourns,
and the pastures of the wilderness are dried up.
Their course is evil,
and their might is not right.
“Both prophet and priest are ungodly;
even in my house I have found their evil,
declares the Lord.
Therefore their way shall be to them
like slippery paths in the darkness,
into which they shall be driven and fall,
for I will bring disaster upon them
in the year of their punishment,
declares the Lord.
In the prophets of Samaria
I saw an unsavory thing:
they prophesied by Baal
and led my people Israel astray.
But in the prophets of Jerusalem
I have seen a horrible thing:
they commit adultery and walk in lies;
they strengthen the hands of evildoers,
so that no one turns from his evil;
all of them have become like Sodom to me,
and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.”
Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets:
“Behold, I will feed them with bitter food
and give them poisoned water to drink,
for from the prophets of Jerusalem
ungodliness has gone out into all the land.”
Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’”
For who among them has stood in the council of the Lord
to see and to hear his word,
or who has paid attention to his word and listened?
Behold, the storm of the Lord!
Wrath has gone forth,
a whirling tempest;
it will burst upon the head of the wicked.
The anger of the Lord will not turn back
until he has executed and accomplished
the intents of his heart.
In the latter days you will understand it clearly.
“I did not send the prophets,
yet they ran;
I did not speak to them,
yet they prophesied.
But if they had stood in my council,
then they would have proclaimed my words to my people,
and they would have turned them from their evil way,
and from the evil of their deeds. – Jeremiah 23:9-22 ESV
In this next section Jeremiah is going to deliver a series of six different messages from God to the false prophets of Judah. But he begins with a description of his own feelings as a true and faithful prophet of God. He describes himself as heartbroken over the stubbornness of his people and the knowledge of their coming judgment by God. He also feels like a drunk man, who staggers under the influence of alcohol. But Jeremiah’s stupor is the result of God’s message. He reels from the impact of God’s message of Judah’s coming destruction. It was difficult for him to accept that his fellow Judahites were going to fall by the sword or be taken captive by the Babylonians. The thought of Jerusalem falling and the temple being destroyed left him in a state of confusion, like a man who has drunk too much wine. But Jeremiah was not alone. Even the land itself was experiencing the curse of God because of the sins of the people.
For the land is full of adultery,
and it lies under a curse.
The land itself is in mourning—
its wilderness pastures are dried up.
For they all do evil
and abuse what power they have. – Jeremiah 23:10 NLT
And the most shocking thing about Judah’s spiritual condition was that the priests and prophets had played a major role. God described their actions as despicable and deplorable. Their was no excuse for what they had done in leading the people astray.
“Even the priests and prophets
are ungodly, wicked men.
I have seen their despicable acts
right here in my own Temple,”
says the Lord. – Jeremiah 23:12 NLT
God makes it clear that these men would suffer on account of their failure to shepherd His flock well. They had led the way in idol worship, even setting up idols in the temple that had been dedicated by Solomon to God. When King Josiah had attempted to institute religious reforms in Judah, he had to order the priests to remove all the idols from the temple and destroy them.
The king ordered Hilkiah the high priest, the high-ranking priests, and the guards to bring out of the Lord’s temple all the items that were used in the worship of Baal, Asherah, and all the stars of the sky. – 2 King 23:4 NLT
He removed the Asherah pole from the Lord’s temple and took it outside Jerusalem to the Kidron Valley, where he burned it. He smashed it to dust and then threw the dust in the public graveyard. He tore down the quarters of the male cultic prostitutes in the Lord’s temple, where women were weaving shrines for Asherah. – 2 Kings 23:6-7 NLT
He removed from the entrance to the Lord’s temple the statues of horses that the kings of Judah had placed there in honor of the sun god. The king tore down the altars the kings of Judah had set up on the roof of Ahaz’s upper room, as well as the altars Manasseh had set up in the two courtyards of the Lord’s temple. – 2 Kings 23:12 NLT
The very temple dedicated to Yahweh had been desecrated by the very ones who were dedicated to serve Him alone: the priests. And the prophets, who claimed to speak on God’s behalf, where just as bad. In fact, God describes them as being worse than the prophets of Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, which had fallen to the Assyrians because of their sins against Him.
“I saw that the prophets of Samaria were terribly evil,
for they prophesied in the name of Baal
and led my people of Israel into sin.
But now I see that the prophets of Jerusalem are even worse!
They commit adultery and love dishonesty.
They encourage those who are doing evil
so that no one turns away from their sins.
These prophets are as wicked
as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah once were.” – Jeremiah 23:13-14 NLT
God labeled these men as being worse than the inhabitants of the two most infamous cities in Old Testament history. They were violently destroyed by God for their rampant immorality, and God says the sins of the false prophets are even worse. And like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, the false prophets would have to face the wrath of God.
“I will feed them with bitterness
and give them poison to drink.
For it is because of Jerusalem’s prophets
that wickedness has filled this land.” – Jeremiah 23:15 NLT
Their failure to speak for God was going to come back to haunt them. They had chosen to give the people words of false hope, telling them that God would not destroy them. They preferred to give the people messages that were more pleasing to hear. Unlike Jeremiah, they were not willing to tell the people of Judah what they desperately needed to hear. And to a certain degree, God was going to give them a taste of their own medicine, letting them feed on the same bitterness and poison they had given to the people.
God warns the people not to listen to these men. They were not His messengers. They didn’t speak for Him. And the pleasant-sounding messages they delivered were nothing but lies, fabricated by their own depraved imaginations. They were promising those rejecting the word of God that they would have know the peace of God. To those living in unrepentant sin, they assured that no harm would come to them. They were blatantly contradicting the words of God as spoken through Jeremiah. They were denying the truth of God and, essentially, calling God a liar. And God makes it painfully clear that their sin was one of presumption and pride. Because they bore the label as being prophets of God, they wrongly believed that their words were from God. But they had left out one thing: The need for intimacy with God.
“If they had stood before me and listened to me,
they would have spoken my words,
and they would have turned my people
from their evil ways and deeds.” – Jeremiah 23:22 NLT
They had not sought out God or attempted to listen to what He had to say. They were speaking what they knew of God from past experience. Their relationship with Him was not up-to-date or current. Their understanding was that, as the people of God, the Jews were assured the presence and protection of God. He would not leave them or forsake them. He would always forgive them because they were His chosen people. And this was the message they had delivered to the people. But they had been wrong, because they had not sought out the will of God. False prophets always provide false hope. Pastors who spend little time alone with God will have a difficult time speaking for God. Those who claim to be God’s messengers, but who rarely stand before Him to hear what he has to say, will always end up delivering spiritual-sounding words that may inspire, but that lack the inspiration of God.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.