Usually mom and dad are the first authority figures we encounter in this short life. Our school teachers insisted on order in the classroom while they taught us our ABC's and how to find a place in life. Religion is a touchy subject is school nowadays, but my second and third grade teachers both read us from their desk Bibles every morning, In junior high school the Principal came on the loudspeaker system first thing Monday morning to lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance. Then we sang "America the Beautiful"--all standing, right hand over the heart.
One of favorite TV series was the BBC's series "Rumpole of the Bailey." (started 1975) Horace was a bit of a curmudgeon often referring to his wife as "She who Must be Obeyed." Lucille Ball certainly carried most of the weight of the Desi Arnaz show, (1951 and on) because of her exuberant personality. My First Grade Teacher, Mrs. Crandall treated us like a wonderful mother hen. My dad, the high school coach at the same school was an impressive authority figure--not because he was a good dad but because his coaching skills were outstanding. Role models and authoity figures in life are a big deal--from childhood on. Not all are positive, of course. Sports figures, folk heroes, movie stars, rock stars, you name it--the good and the bad--all influence us during our formative years.
Back in the 1930's my sister Susanne and I got up early week day mornings to listen to Alta Lee sing and yodel cowboy songs from KTFI Twin Falls, Idaho. Our parents joined us on Sunday afternoons for wonderful comedy programs: Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Amos and Andy, and the Grand Ole Opry from Nashville with Grandpa Jones, Stringbean and Cuzzin Minnie Pearl. All these gifted entertainers were role models we emulated until Hollywood morphed in.
Ominous and life changing was World War II, December 7, 1941. I was 9, my sister was 6. For the next 4 years our heroes were our President FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) and Britain's Winston Churchill. FDR's Sunday evening Fireside Chats were reassuring to everyone as that war was presented to us as good versus evil--the Allies versus the Axis. Churchill's transatlantic, crackling, short wave broadcasts were about endurance, sacrifice and fortitude, prevailing because God was our only hope.
Only after we "won" that costly war, first against Hitler and Nazi Germany (VE Day, May 8, 1945), and then against the Japanese Imperial regime (VJ Day, August 14, 1945)--did we really believe we'd ever win. It was touch and go I'm told by historians.
The troops came home, collected their back pay, bought houses, cars, refrigerators, married and had kids. Talk about God was eclipsed. They did not really need Him (whoever He was). Lots of returning servicemen met Jesus Christ while in the military, but few became well-grounded or well read in the military. Yet churches overflowed and a new kind of national folk religion emerged. A new set of authority figures arose seeking our attention and support. Obeying parents, voting, obeying the laws of the land, respecting our parents were supposed to be the norm.
Some of the new religious preachers and evangelists were authentic, most were not. Our founding fathers were mostly refugees from the authoritarian alliance of he Roman Catholic Church and the European monarchies descended from the old Roman Empire. Our forefathers were sons and daughters, of the Protestant Reformation of the 1500's. Sadly most of the younger people I meet nowadays know nothing of our nation's history, nor do they know anything about the vast revelation of the One True God given in the Bible. Eastern religion is today's default: "I am god, you are god, each us is his or her god. But we do have to get along with each other, somehow."
Our basic freedoms were very attractive to millions living abroad under tyrannies, often in poverty and despair. There was lots of land here, abundant natural resources, and freedom above all. Millions poured in to Ellis Island (New York)--at first mostly from Europe. Later we opened the immigration flood gates for Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Indians, Vietnamese... Our religious consensus ceased from being White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish.
Many of these marvelous immigrants discovered the real Jesus along the way, so the rest of us native-borns had to somehow include them in our world-view, and of course the many former African slaves we had brought here earlier. Our citizens today are quite diversified because of intermarriage and the kids growing up together in our schools. Sad to say, much racial tension has emerged once again as ugly sores on the body.
True religion with content and depth has been largely lost in America in the past hundred years! Our authority figures now are corrupt politicians, fake seminary and university professors, and business tycoons with lots of money to throw around. Hypocrisy reigns among many church-goers.
Surveys once showed that one-third of Americans were "Christians." To not say you were a Protestant, a Catholic or a Jew implied that you were a heathen--or worse, possibly a queer. A year ago I concluded the believing remnant in American probably was less than 10 percent.
We don't even pretend to be "one nation under God" any longer.
The trouble is, we are mere house guests in a universe designed, built and managed by a very real very powerful Supreme Being. Everyone is "religious" and when confronted, it's not kosher to say you're an atheist. "Agnostic" used to be an acceptable label, but now it can means you haven't done your homework.
My catalog of professing, nominal believers is here: The Church Papers. There appear to be real believers in each group.
Israel has been around since Abraham! He discovered, more than four thousand years ago, that there was one true God. The world then was as polytheistic as all get-out, usually with secular verniers overloaded to hide the root idolatry.
Looking into all this is worthwhile any even be lifesaving if you meet Jesus on your journey.
God is available. You won't be disappointed.
But I digress! This article is supposed to be about Jeremiah Chapter 23.
My articles are long and rambling--no one reads them. I seem to be laying up treasures on earth mostly.
You are welcome to email me with your hard questions. So far I am staying current on my emails. I have neither staff nor secretary.
In our day we have seen great abuse of power in government and in the "church." When the Covid lockdown began, John MacArthur noted that a lot of pastors were out of work, and not many would be rehired (probably because of their incompetence)? Therefore Jeremiah 23 is Right On, I think. The true church being built by Jesus is unaffected.
1 Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. 2 Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. 3 Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.
5 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
7 Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt’,
8 but ‘As the Lord lives who brought out and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them.’ Then they shall live in their own land.
My heart is crushed within me,
all my bones shake;
I have become like a drunkard,
like one overcome by wine,
because of the Lord
and because of his holy words.
10 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 has been evil,
and their might is not right.
11 Both prophet and priest are ungodly;
even in my house I have found their wickedness, says the Lord.
12 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, says the Lord.
13 In the prophets of Samaria
I saw a disgusting thing:
they prophesied by Baal
and led my people Israel astray.
14 But in the prophets of Jerusalem
I have seen a more shocking thing:
they commit adultery and walk in lies;
they strengthen the hands of evildoers,
so that no one turns from wickedness;
all of them have become like Sodom to me,
and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.
15 Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets:
‘I am going to make them eat wormwood,
and give them poisoned water to drink;
for from the prophets of Jerusalem
ungodliness has spread throughout the land.’
16 Thus says the Lord of hosts: Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you; they are deluding you. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. 17 They keep saying to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to all who stubbornly follow their own stubborn hearts, they say, ‘No calamity shall come upon you.’
so as to see and to hear his word?
Who has given heed to his word so as to proclaim it?
19 Look, the storm of the Lord!
Wrath has gone forth,
a whirling tempest;
it will burst upon the head of the wicked.
20 The anger of the Lord will not turn back
until he has executed and accomplished
the intents of his mind.
In the latter days you will understand it clearly.
21 I did not send the prophets,
yet they ran;
I did not speak to them,
yet they prophesied.
22 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 doings.
23 Am I a God near by, says the Lord, and not a God far off? 24 Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord. 25 I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ 26How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back—those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart? 27 They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal. 28 Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the Lord. 29 Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? 30 See, therefore, I am against the prophets, says the Lord, who steal my words from one another. 31 See, I am against the prophets, says the Lord, who use their own tongues and say, ‘Says the Lord.’ 32 See, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, says the Lord, and who tell them, and who lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or appoint them; so they do not profit this people at all, says the Lord.
33 When 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, says the Lord.’ 34 And as for the prophet, priest, or the people who say, ‘The burden of the Lord’, I will punish them and their households. 35 Thus shall you say to one another, among yourselves, ‘What has the Lord answered?’ or ‘What has the Lord spoken?’ 36 But ‘the burden of the Lord’ you shall mention no more, for the burden is everyone’s own word, and so you pervert the words of the living God, the Lord of hosts, our God. 37 Thus you shall ask the prophet, ‘What has the Lord answered you?’ or ‘What has the Lord spoken?’ 38 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’, 39 therefore, I will surely lift you up and cast you away from my presence, you and the city that I gave to you and your ancestors. 40 And I will bring upon you everlasting disgrace and perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten.
from Ray Stedman:
The heart of Jeremiah's message was that two areas of the national life were terribly wrong. Jeremiah sets these before the king in great power. The first area is summarized for us in the opening verses of chapter 23:
"Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!" says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: "You have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil doings," says the Lord (Jeremiah 23:1-2).
Who are these shepherds? They are the kings of the nation. Rulers and government leaders are the shepherds of God. All through the Old and the New Testaments this idea is behind God's concept of government. Governmental leaders are to be shepherds of the people, watching over them and taking care of them. As we listen to the message developed here by the prophet, we will find in it a recognition of the proper tasks of government. What are governors and presidents and leaders for? In one great verse the prophet sets forth the answer:
Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place (Jeremiah 22:3).
This king, and others like him, had failed to do these things. Notice that they were first to set an example of justice and righteousness themselves. Rulers, leaders, and elected officials are to be an example of righteousness and justice before the people. This is why it is so serious when politicians and elected officials do things which are wrong. Since Watergate, people have been saying, "Why make such a fuss over a little corruption in business or industry--look at the politicians in Washington! Everybody does this sort of thing, so what's the big deal?"
The answer is that every governmental leader, every politician elected or appointed to an official position in government, from the president on down in our own country, is, as Paul makes clear to us in Romans 13, a minister of God. He may not be a believer, but he himself is a minister, an agent of God, and is to represent God's standard of righteousness and judgment. Therefore, when these elected officials or leaders of the land--kings or presidents or whatever they may be--are guilty of wrongdoing, the effect of their wrongdoing is greatly intensified, is far greater than if they were just ordinary citizens. This is why the Watergate affair was such a serious matter. And Jeremiah was sent to tell this king that he had failed to correct the wrongs of the land, had failed to "deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who had been robbed," and had failed himself to be a pattern of justice and righteousness.
Then the second responsibility of government leaders is: "Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless, and the widow." These are the minority groups in any country, the weak, the helpless. You will notice that the king is told here that it is his task to see that he does no violence to them. Here is a recognition of the power of government to hurt the weak, a recognition that government finds it easy to do so in its management of events. Bureaucracy can make it easy to turn a deaf ear and to be unavailable to those who are really in trouble. Special care must be taken by any government to watch over the weak within the nation--the aliens, the foreigners, those with different cultural patterns; and the widows and orphans--those with no one to plead their cause. This is the task of government.
And the third responsibility of government leaders is to keep the courts honest and just: "Do not shed innocent blood in this place." The task of government is to see that justice is available in a courtroom, that the guilty are found out and the innocent are freed, and that innocent people are not punished wrongly by the court. This king had failed in this, and the prophet spells out the details of his failure:
"Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
and his upper rooms by injustice;
who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing,
and does not give him his wages; who says,
'I will build myself a great house with spacious upper rooms,'
and cuts out windows for it,
paneling it with cedar,
and painting it with vermilion" (Jeremiah 22:13-14).
Even in those days they had trouble with rulers embellishing their own private homes! And the amazing thing is that when this nation of Judah was bankrupt and in deep trouble, its treasures being looted from the temple and the city itself surrounded by an army, the king utilized his power and caused his subjects to build a house for him. Jeremiah says, "Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar?" "Just because you can build a bigger house than someone else, does that make you a king?" Then he refers him to the standard of his father, Josiah:
"Did not your father eat and drink
and do justice and righteousness?
Then it was well with him.
He judged the cause of the poor and needy;
then it was well.
[Then he asks this insightful question.]
Is not this to know me?
says the Lord" (vss. 15-16).
That is what it means to know God--to let your actions be changed by the knowledge you have of God who watches over the needy and the weak.
The prophet gives three bad examples of kings in Judah. In verses 11 and 12 he refers to Shallum, which is another name of Jehoahaz, who went down to Egypt: "He shall return here no more, but in the place where they have carried him captive, there shall he die, and he shall never see this land again." Another example is Jehoiakim, one of the sons of Josiah:
Therefore thus says the Lord concerning Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah: "They shall not lament for him, saying, 'Ah my brother!' or 'Ah sister!' They shall not lament for him, saying, 'Ah lord!' or 'Ah his majesty!' [Nobody is going to feel sorry when he is gone.] With the burial of an ass he shall be buried, dragged and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem" (vss. 18-19).
Then still a third is Coniah, another name for Jehoiachin, son of Jehoiakim:
"As I live, says the Lord, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, were the signet ring on my right hand, yet I would tear you off and give you into the hand of those who seek your life, into the hand of those of whom you are afraid, even into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon and into the hand of the Chaldeans" (vss. 24-25).
This man Coniah, just 23 years old, and after a reign of only three months, was deposed and carried to Babylon, and spent the rest of a long life in captivity. God says an amazing thing about him in verse 30:
Thus says the Lord:
"Write this man down as childless,
a man who shall not succeed in his days;
for none of his offspring shall succeed
in sitting on the throne of David,
and ruling again in Judah."
This is a very significant verse, for it means the end of the Solomonic line of succession. Up to this time, all the kings of Judah had been descendants of King Solomon, son of David. But with this man, that line of succession ended. No more was a man of that line allowed to rule on the throne of Judah. This affects the story of Jesus in the New Testament, for when you trace the genealogy of Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus, you discover that Joseph was the son of David through this man Coniah, or Jehoiachin, and thus had lost the right to sit on the throne of Judah. Had Jesus been his natural son, he would never have had the right to be king of Judah. But because he was the son of Mary, who was likewise a descendant of David through Nathan, a brother of Solomon, Jesus therefore had the right to the throne of David. It is amazing how God ties history together and works in marvelous ways we cannot anticipate!
Jeremiah is now given a vision of the true shepherd. For the first time in this great prophecy he does as Isaiah frequently did--he lifts up his eyes, looks down through the centuries, and sees the coming of One who would fulfill God's ideal, and on beyond that to the time when he will return again to actually carry out God's requirement for justice:
"Behold the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. [Lest we wonder who this would be, he tells us how to identify him.] And this is the name by which he will, be called: 'The Lord is our righteousness'" (Jeremiah 23:5-6 ).
That is the name applied to Jesus by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:30: ". . . Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption." He himself is our righteousness. So the prophet sees him coming as God's rightful king, and one day to come again so that "Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely."
Corruption in government was the first area of national life which was wrong. But the prophet is led now to speak of something still worse:
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 (Jeremiah 23:9-10).
What is wrong? Well, back of the king was the prophet. It is bad enough when the king goes wrong, but when the preachers who are there to correct the king go wrong, there is no hope for that land. And here were the prophets, who should have set the king right, prophesying and preaching the wrong things. So there was a fatal cancer at the heart of this nation which could not be cured. That is why judgment had to come. God says in verse 15:
Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets:
"Behold, I will feed them with wormwood,
and give them poisoned water to drink;
for from the prophets of Jerusalem
ungodliness has gone forth into all the land."
We wonder what has happened in America. We wonder where our national strength has gone, why we seem to grow weaker and weaker instead of stronger and stronger, why, when we have the greatest military might the world has ever known, we exercise less and less influence among the nations of earth. But behind the government, you see, is the church. Every land, eventually, is governed by what is going on in the church, by what is going on among the people of God. That is why Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world."
Jeremiah points out some of the things that were wrong among these preachers, these prophets. First, verse 16: "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 were filling the people with vain hopes, telling them that things were going to be all right. They preached messages to convince them that man would work out his difficulties and everything would be fine--they could count on it. But they were vain hopes. Why? Well, secondly, he reveals, "'. . . they speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.' " That is why they are vain hopes. They are just the prophets' own ideas of what is happening in the nation, their own subjective viewpoints of what is wrong in life, their own opinions and religious ideas. And that is all they are worth. They have not sat and listened to the voice of God. Verse 18 says,
For who among them has stood in the council of the Lord
to perceive and to hear his word,
or who has given heed to his word and listened?
That is what was wrong with the prophets--they were preaching themselves, not God. And that is what has happened in America. Turn back the record forty or fifty years in this nation, to the time of the theological movement known as "German Rationalism," when preachers began to turn from the Scriptures and to preach their own messages. The amazing thing is that this movement has influenced not only what we call "liberal" churches, but many evangelicals, as well.
At seminars for pastors which we hold regularly at our church, we study the Word of God together with men from all over the nation and learn what God is saying today to the people of this land about the resources and the tremendous basis of operation that God has made available to us. At the close of the seminars the pastors are asked to give their evaluation of what has happened to them. It is always interesting to me to see how many of these men express anger at the fact that in their previous training they had learned little or nothing of how to teach the Scriptures. They shake their heads and say, "Why didn't we learn this in school? Why weren't we taught this?" They are literally angry, because as they look back on their own ministries they find that they have been giving out their own ideas, having never been taught to expound the Word of God, to stand in the council of God and to hear his Word. That is what wrecks a nation, because then there is no correction of the evils of government.
What happens next is that they give false assurances:
"They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, 'It shall be well with you'; and to every one who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, 'No evil shall come upon you'" (Jeremiah 23:17).
That is what we are hearing today, is it not? The "new morality" tells us, "Don't worry, young people. If you love each other you can do anything you want and nothing will happen. No evil will befall you." Prophets of today are saying to our generation, "You can run off with your neighbor's wife, you can cheat on your income tax, you can do all these things and you don't have to worry about it. No evil is going to fall, no harmful results will come."
And that is why a nation begins to fall apart and lose its strength.
The last charge against the prophets is that they claimed the very authority of God:
"Behold, I am against the prophets, says the Lord, who use their tongues and say, 'Says the Lord.' Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, says 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, says the Lord" (vss. 31-32).
They claimed God's authority to say things that God did not tell them to say at all. And that is what hurts a nation. When prophets or preachers tell lies in the name of the Lord, the heart of the nation is eaten away and the people fall apart morally because there is no faithful word from God.
The Right Way
Now the prophet draws the contrasts of the true ministry. The first thing a preacher should do is to stand before God:
"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 doings" (Jeremiah 23:21-22).
A man has to stand before God and hear God speak to him, first. That is the first thing. Years ago, when I was a young pastor, I found I was preaching messages I had more or less borrowed from great Bible teachers--not taking them verbatim, but leaning heavily upon the ministry of men whom I admired. Every young man does that as he starts out in the ministry. But gradually I learned that God had to say something to my heart first, that I could not borrow somebody else's fire. It had to be fire in my own soul, something God was saying to me, or it could never set fire in the hearts of other people. This is what God says is paramount--we must stand in his council and hear his words.
Then what? Verse 28: "Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully." That is the business of a preacher--to take what God has said and set it before the people without diluting it, to say faithfully what God has said, for that is what will save a nation from hurt and preserve it from harm. God goes on to show what can be accomplished through such a ministry: "Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer which breaks the rock in pieces?" (vs. 29) God's Word pounds away with honesty and realism, setting before people exactly what is happening, exactly where they are. His desire is for them to see his loving heart, urging them as a nation to turn around from what is tearing them apart. --Ray Stedman, Death of a Nation