Chapter twenty-three does not have a specific date attached to it. Instead, it is an oracle 1 given to set God’s promised “true shepherd” against the many “false shepherds” Israel and Judah had over the years. Not only were the people of Judah going to be judged, but their leaders would be as well, because they were unfaithful in leading God’s people (Jeremiah 23:1-2). That would not be the end, however, because God reaffirmed his promise to restore Israel back to her land with good leaders “who will care for them” (Jeremiah 23:3-4; Deuteronomy 30:1-10). Over all of these will be the promised Shepherd, the anointed one, who will go by the name “Jehovah is Righteous.” 2 This restoration would be so great that the people will begin to use that in their oaths, swearing by the great power of God, rather than the deliverance from Egypt (see also Jeremiah 16:14-15).
The main portion of this chapter is a series of sayings or oracles against the false prophets. In Jeremiah 23:9-10 Jeremiah described his own attitude about them: their disgraceful use of Scripture to mislead the people and their abuse of power made him physically ill to the point of falling over. God called out the prophets and priests in both Jerusalem and Samaria for lying to the people, claiming to speak for Jehovah when really they spoke for Baal. This was so evil in God’s mind that he compared them to Sodom and Gomorrah (Jeremiah 23:11-14). He followed this with a warning to the people that they should not listen to these false prophets who had not heard from God and so could not speak for God (Jeremiah 23:15-24). In Jeremiah 23:25-32 God told anyone who would listen what his messages should sound like. Because of the people’s wickedness, God’s messages would be like a fire or a hammer, not the soft words and false hope that the charlatans were using.
The rest of the chapter (Jeremiah 23:33-40) contains a special message for Jeremiah. Inevitably, the people would approach him with questions about his pronouncements. God said that they would ask, “What burdensome message do you have from the LORD?” Whether this came with a defeated voice or a sneering tone, it showed that they still did not respect God or Jeremiah or God’s law. His response was to be, “You are the burden, and I will cast you away.” God’s message and law should not have been burdensome to them, but they were fighting against it, so it broke them. It was for this reason that they were punished and carried away into exile.
- The Hebrew word נְאֻם, ne’um, “oracle, utterance,” which always refers to some kind of divine pronouncement, occurs 175 times in Jeremiah. It occurs 18 times in chapter 23, more than any other chapter in the book. ↩
- יְהוָ֥ה צִדְקֵֽנוּ, YHVH Tsidqenu, “Jehovah is Righteous,” is one of the many names for God made from a combination of his personal name and another noun or adjective describing him. ↩