“Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord. I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal? Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another. Behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who use their tongues and declare, ‘declares the Lord.’ Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, declares the Lord, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them. So they do not profit this people at all, declares the Lord.
“When one of this people, or a prophet or a priest asks you, ‘What is the burden of the Lord?’ you shall say to them, ‘You are the burden, and I will cast you off, declares the Lord.’ And as for the prophet, priest, or one of the people who says, ‘The burden of the Lord,’ I will punish that man and his household. Thus shall you say, every one to his neighbor and every one to his brother, ‘What has the Lord answered?’ or ‘What has the Lord spoken?’ But ‘the burden of the Lord’ you shall mention no more, for the burden is every man’s own word, and you pervert the words of the living God, the Lord of hosts, our God. Thus you shall say to the prophet, ‘What has the Lord answered you?’ or ‘What has the Lord spoken?’ But if you say, ‘The burden of the Lord,’ thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have said these words, “The burden of the Lord,” when I sent to you, saying, “You shall not say, ‘The burden of the Lord,’” therefore, behold, I will surely lift you up and cast you away from my presence, you and the city that I gave to you and your fathers. And I will bring upon you everlasting reproach and perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten.’”– Jeremiah 23:23-40 ESV
These verses contain God’s continuing indictment of the false prophets of Judah. One of the things He exposes is their misunderstanding of His nature. Evidently, they saw God as limited in His power. He was not all-knowing or all-seeing. Therefore, He was not always cognizant of their sinful activities. He could be deceived and tricked into believing the people were more spiritual than they really were. Perhaps this is linked to their concept that God occupied the Holy of Holies within the Temple. It could be that they saw God as somewhat restricted in nature and unable to be everywhere at the same time. On top of that, the very fact that they had to confess their sins to God could have left them with the false impression that He was unaware of their sinful activity until they told Him. But God let’s them know that their views of Him are false.
“Am I a God who is only close at hand?” says the Lord.
“No, I am far away at the same time.” – Jeremiah 23:23 NLT
This has to do with the transcendence and immanence of God. These false prophets had a one-dimensional view of God. They saw Him as near and dear. He had always been with them and had always taken care of them. He was their God and they were His people. And while this was true, they had left out the fact that God is transcendent. He is the God of the universe who is unhindered by time and space. He is omnipresent – able to be everywhere at the same time. He is omniscient – all knowing and fully aware of all that is going on at all times and in all places, including within the hearts of men. And He is omnipotent – all powerful and unlimited in His ability to accomplish whatever He sets out to do. They had a truncated view of God. He had become small and relatively impotent in their minds. For generations, they had gotten away with their sinful activities with no apparent repercussions. But God warned them:
“Can anyone hide from me in a secret place?
Am I not everywhere in all the heavens and earth?” – Jeremiah 23:24 NLT
He had not been fooled. He knew of each and every thing they had done in defiance of Him and He was fully capable of dealing with their sin by handing out the justice they deserved.
These men had been claiming to speak for God. They had supposedly experienced dreams in which they had received revelations from God. Whether they had actually had dreams or simply claimed so is unclear. It was common for God to speak to His prophets through dreams and visions. But the dreams these men had were false because they had not come from God. The content of their dreams painted a false view of God. In their minds, God was not going to judge the people of Judah, but bless them. He wasn’t going to send the Babylonians to defeat them. He was going to miraculously deliver them from their enemies, just as He had done so many times before. But the thing they were overlooking was the sinful state of the people. They were minimizing the seriousness of their spiritual condition. And in doing so, they were painting a false view of God as an all-loving, always tolerant God who either was oblivious to their sins or unable to do anything about them. Their false prophecies concerning God were causing the people to continue to turn their backs on God.
“By telling these false dreams, they are trying to get my people to forget me…” – Jeremiah 23:27 NLT
Their words, compared to those of Jeremiah, were like straw versus grain. One had no nutritional value. It provided no lasting benefit, except for dumb animals. The truth which Jeremiah proclaimed, while difficult to accept, would prove to be beneficial in the long-run. He was calling the people to repentance. He was warning them of God’s pending judgment. He was telling them the truth, not only about the future, but about God. He was holy, powerful, righteous, all-knowing, all-seeing, and obligated by His very nature to deal with the sins of His people.
And just in case the false prophets don’t get it, God makes His view of them quite apparent. “I am against these false prophets. Their imaginary dreams are flagrant lies that lead my people into sin. I did not send or appoint them, and they have no message at all for my people” (Jeremiah 23:32 NLT). They have made themselves His enemies. By speaking falsehood in His name and leading His people to sin against Him, they have turned God against them.
In the closing section of this chapter, God declares that these false prophets had become a burden to Him. While they saw the messages of Jeremiah as burdensome and hard to accept, God lets them know that they are the real problem. They saw the covenant of God as too difficult to keep. They viewed God’s commands as onerous and burdensome. They declared Jeremiah’s messages as objectionable and so they simply tossed them aside. But God told them, “You are the burden, and I will cast you away” (Jeremiah 23:33 NET). They had become a burden to God, something God had stated through the prophet Isaiah:
“Do not bring any more meaningless offerings;
I consider your incense detestable!
You observe new moon festivals, Sabbaths, and convocations,
but I cannot tolerate sin-stained celebrations!
I hate your new moon festivals and assemblies;
they are a burden
that I am tired of carrying.” – Isaiah 1:13-14 NLT
Even earlier in the book of Jeremiah, God had declared, “I, the Lord, say: ‘You people have deserted me! You keep turning your back on me.’ So I have unleashed my power against you and have begun to destroy you. I have grown tired of feeling sorry for you!” (Jeremiah 15:6 NLT).
God was fed up. While they found His laws burdensome and too difficult to keep, He had become weary of putting up with their incessant rebellion against Him. And He had had His fill of people speaking on His behalf whom He had not sent. He had some sobering words for these people: “If any prophet, priest, or anyone else says, ‘I have a prophecy from the Lord,’ I will punish that person along with his entire family” (Jeremiah 23:34 NLT). God told the people that they should be concerned about what He was saying. They should want to know what God has said to them. “You should keep asking each other, ‘What is the Lord’s answer?’ or ‘What is the Lord saying?’” (Jeremiah 23:35 NLT). But they needed to listen to God’s word as spoken by God’s prophet. Jeremiah had spoken on behalf of God and had been confirmed by God as having been sent by Him. Anyone who contradicted the words of Jeremiah was contradicting the words of God, and they were to be ignored at all costs.
Today, we have those who are claiming to speak on behalf of God, but their words contradict the very words of God as found in Scripture. They deny the reality of hell, even though it is clearly taught in the Word of God. They deny the deity of Christ, while still claiming to be Christians. They debunk the resurrection of Christ, while promoting themselves as believers in Christ. These individuals are false prophets. They offer themselves up as representatives of God and present their words as having come from God. But they are liars and deceivers. Their words are false because they do not agree with the truth of God as found in the Word of God. And the same warning God gave to the false prophets of Judah applies to them:
“I will make you an object of ridicule, and your name will be infamous throughout the ages.” – Jeremiah 23:40 NLT
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.