Week 23 – Book of Jeremiah
Read: Jeremiah Chapter 23
False prophets, sometimes called false teachers, tell lies and partial truths, and they offer false assurance. In our lesson this week, Jeremiah gives God’s message to the prophets, the priests, and the people who believe them. These people are in opposition to God’s true prophets, such as Jeremiah. Jeremiah exposes the false prophets and their message which “is rooted in a historical backdrop of moral compromise.”
Historically, this is a time of military defeat and political corruption. The religious leaders are teaching and living a lifestyle that does not represent the One True God. The Northern Kingdom falls to the Assyrian army which then loses its power as the Babylonians army rises to become the new military power. The spiritual revival Judah sees with king Josiah fades as Egypt and Babylon battle. All this time, false prophets tell the people what they want to hear, that all will be fine, and Judah cannot fall. Just ignore Jeremiah.
Interesting, the Old Testament provides guidance for the people to help them identify a true prophet. The references are Deuteronomy 18:15-22, 13:1-9. Here are the “5 tests for a true prophet: 1) must be an Israelite (Dt. 18:18), 2) speak in the name of Yahweh (Dt. 18:20), 3) predict the near as well as the distant future (Dt. 18:21-22), 4) perform signs and wonders with the prophecy (Dt. 13:1-3), 5) has to conform to the previously revealed word of Yahweh (Dt. 13:6-9). The false leaders do not hold to these standards.
“The sins of these false prophets are a special abomination in God’s sight.” Their self-serving teachings either indicate a lack of knowledge of God or simple a choice to ignore the truth. Their messages of peace and hope are without merit. “These prophets do not serve the truth, and they do not serve Yahweh.” The integrity of the true prophets is undermined by these who bring an untrue message.
Jeremiah starts this chapter with “woe” which is a word to suggest calamity, and he addresses the “shepherds” who are destroying “the sheep of My pasture”. The leaders are addressed in Chapter 23, leaders who being held accountable and will be punished by God leading the people astray. The prophets and priests are confronted. The first ‘Behold’ of this chapter comes before the end of verse 2. This interjection means look and look now! What are we to see? God is promising that in time He will “gather the remnant of My flock our of all countries where I have driven them” and return them to Jerusalem. He will appoint new leaders, faithful, godly leaders, such as Zerubbabel, Joshua the High Priest, Ezra, and Nehemiah. This is hope. God’s message reveals His plan to bring them back, build them into a nation. This is a promise of transformation.
Again, we have ‘Behold’ (v 5), and this is even more important. We see a promise when God will “raise to David a Branch of Righteousness”. This ‘branch’ is a term for Messiah. What will this Messiah do? He will ‘execute judgment and righteousness”, and “Judah will be saved”. The people now have another promise that Israel will dwell in safety. Who is this leader? “He will be called The LORD Our Righteousness.” This is a picture of restoration.
“Yahweh our Righteousness” and the “Righteous Branch” refer to Jesus Christ. “No matter how dark the day may be, God sends the light of hope through His promise.” This is a foretelling of the Promised Messiah. In verses 5-8, “the days are coming” is part of the messianic prophecy, an encouragement to the godly remnant of Judah. This hope sustains them. The remnant comes from “all countries, all the displacement that occurs between the conquering of the Northern Kingdom (931 BC) and Southern Kingdom (586 BC), a group to come back together as one people. “Remnant is used 19 times in Jeremiah. A remnant did return to Judah after captivity, rebuild the temple, and restore national life.” This name Jehovah Tsidkenu, the LORD our Righteousness, is an “exalted name only applied to Jesus Christ.”
The message to the false prophets (false leaders) continues, and Jeremiah is troubled and disappointed with the religious leaders. “My heart within me is broken.” He grieves the sins that God reveals. True prophets have taken vows and have responsibilities to their calling, but the false prophets live just like the sinners. There is a comparison to the prophets of Samaria, who participate in pagan worship; however, the prophets of Judah are worse because they pretend to worship God but tell lies, claim to speak for God. God says He did not call them. They speak their on version of truth from their own hearts. “Their lives and teaching lessons are no moral guide by which to live or act.”
God’s righteous anger promises destruction. The false leaders give false messages of false assurance. God has not given them any authority to speak for Him. In verse 24 we see God’s holiness, His omnipresence and omniscience, His being all places and knowing all things. These false prophets teach popular theology, say what the people want to hear. Finding their own inspiration, the messages are misleading and weak, full of false dreams. It is clear, God is against these false prophets (v 31).
The ending comes with questions and the word “oracles” is used. The better translation of this is, “What is the burden of the LORD?” Clearly, the messages and lifestyles of these false prophets and priests and people who follow is the burden of the LORD. “You have perverted the words of the living God.”(v 36) God says, “I will cast you our of My presence.”(v39) This is the beginning of a spiritual restoration.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you shall know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. 1 John 4:1-3 ESV
Scofield’s commentary on this Scripture suggests two marks of false teachers: “(a) Erroneous doctrine concerning Christ’s Person and (b) Erroneous attitude toward the world." To assume that everything we hear or read about God is “true” can open our hearts and minds to false teaching. Those who have a world viewpoint use this as their reference and may have many followers. Some who speak the name of Jesus can lead others down the wrong path. Scripture tells us to discern the Spirit of Truth from a spirit of untruth by comparing the truths of God’s Word against the words we hear. The world will tell you there are “no absolute truths” and unfortunately, you can even hear that in some churches. "What's true for you is true!" is not compatible with the Word of God.
What absolute truths do Christians believe? One truth is found in 1 John 4:7-21. God is love. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God but that He loves us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. . . We love because He first loved us. Christ’s deity is an absolute truth, just as His humanity, miracles of healing, ministry of love and forgiveness, experiences of betrayal, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. Listen carefully to the rhetoric of others; read prayerfully the words in books. Study and know God’s Word. Listen for the Spirit of Truth.
Robert Laha says about this conflict between the false prophets and their messages and God’s messages of truth: This conflicted raise one of the most perplexing problems of any age: How do we distinguish what is of God’s mind and what is simply the wishes or our own minds.
- What do you do to help you distinguish between God’s purpose and plan and your own personal desires?
Warren Wiersbe says this: Whenever a nation needs healing, it’s usually because God’s people aren’t obeying and serving Him as they should. We like to blame dishonest politicians and various purveyors of pleasure for a nation’s decline in morality, but God blames His own people.
- How do you think our nation is doing? Are we each willing to take individual ownership for the healing of America?
 False Prophets in Jeremiah, The Message of the False Prophets in Jeremiah; Jones, Matt
 Walking the Ancient Paths, A Commentary on Jeremiah; Kaiser, Walter C, p283
 Interpretation Bible Studies, Jeremiah, Laha, Robert, p60
 Ibid, p 61
 Wiersbe Study Bible, Jeremiah Chapter 23
 Be Decisive, Jeremiah; Wiersbe, Warren, p 105
 Walking the Ancient Paths, A Commentary on Jeremiah; Kaiser, Walter C, p283
 Scofield Study Bible notes on false teachers
 Interpretation Bible Studies, Jeremiah; Laha, Robert, p61
 Be Decisive, Jeremiah; Wiersbe, Warren; p106