“Therefore,” says the LORD, “I am against these prophets who steal messages from each other and claim they are from Me. I am against these smooth-tongued prophets who say, “This prophecy is from the LORD! 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. I, the LORD have spoken!” (Jeremiah 23:30-32 – italics mine for emphasis).
This was the tough message that Jeremiah had to deliver to the people, princes, priests and prophets of Judah during his time. Jeremiah, called to be a prophet of God at a young age (probably in his teens or early 20’s), prophesied against Judah under the reign of several kings. Nobody listened to him. Not the people, not the princes, not even the priests or the prophets of his day. Why? They were far too gone in sin. They had given up on God and abandoned Him for other gods (who were no gods at all) – see Jeremiah 22:8-9. In turn, God would abandon them as well.
In Jeremiah 23:30-32 (quoted above), the LORD thunders with anger and terror against the prophets in Jeremiah’s day. As highlighted above, three times in these verses the LORD says, “I am against these prophets.” This was a very dreadful thing for the LORD to say against the prophets. If the LORD is against you, who can be for you? Who can rescue you from His hands?
We need to hear such warnings today. Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is helpful on this point:
O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is proved and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell.
You hand by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.
Hebrews 10:30-31: “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
Profitless Prophets: In God’s sight, these so-called prophets were profitless because He had not sent them – so they had no message for His people. Here is a very important lesson for preachers today: Before you can speak for God, He must first speak to you. You must hear from God before you can speak for Him to His people. These prophets had not heard from God (Jeremiah 23:18). Rather, they were literally dreaming up their own messages and passing them around to each other – deceiving and misleading the people of God. As a result, God (who is sovereign and who sees everything), saw what they were doing and He was very angry at them – angry enough to kill them. He says concerning these 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” (Jeremiah 23:15).
These false prophets were not only sinning against the LORD and His people by their lips, but also by their lives. By their lips, they prophesied lies. In a time when God’s people desperately needed God’s truth, the prophets lied to them. Instead of warning the people to repent of their sins and turn to God or face His judgment, they instead preached peace when there was no peace. They told the people what they wanted to hear and not what they needed to hear – a very common problem even in our day.
By their lives, they lived sinfully. There was adultery among the prophets, the priest and the princes – and this of course spread to the rest of the population. Corruption was rampant as was compromise and all kinds of vices. The poor, orphans, widows, the homeless and strangers were being marginalized and oppressed. Injustice and unrighteousness flourished in Judah instead of justice and righteousness.
When a Prophet Becomes a Burden to the Lord
The LORD says one more thing concerning these prophets in Jeremiah 23:33ff. The prophets had become a burden to Him. He was fed up with them and was going to wipe them away. This is very interesting and instructive too. The prophets were using the phrase “the burden of the LORD” as a magical phrase or a kind of spiritual jargon to get people to listen to their lies. This is very similar to what you hear people saying today – things like: “The LORD spoke to me…,” or “The LORD has laid this on my heart…,” “I have peace about this or that, etc.” The reason people do that is so that you don’t question the validity of whatever assertions, decisions or choices they are making. The LORD has spoken to them and they don’t want to be persuaded otherwise. Sometimes they are right but often they are wrong. They think they have listened to the LORD, but in actual fact, they have only listened to themselves and are operating based on the imagination of their own minds. Sadly, the results with this sort of thing are always tragic. Well, something similar to that was happening in Jeremiah’s time except it was worse because it not only involved the prophets themselves (that would have been bad enough), but it involved the whole nation of Judah.
“I am Against These Prophets…,” says the LORD!
So, the LORD determined to bring an end to this nonsense and would eliminate the prophets. He would feed them bitter food and give them poisoned water to drink. He would literally poison them to death. The false prophets and their people would die by sword, famine or disease. Babylon would come and take over Jerusalem and take some of the people into exile. Either way (whether in exile or in Jerusalem), they would face death as God’s judgment upon them. Now, that’s quite a statement to make about the God. What kind of God would do such a thing? Poison His own people? A God of love wouldn’t do that would He? Many people in our day (including those who profess to be Christians) would protest against this kind of God and indeed they do.
But the God of the Bible has no problem with doing such things. He can form light and He can create darkness. He can make well-being and He can create calamity. He can heal and He can hurt. He can raise up a person or a nation and He can bring them down. He is the LORD and He does these things (see Isaiah 45:7 for example).
That was the bad news for the prophets of Judah. But that wasn’t all. There was also some good news to which I now turn.
The Good News
While Jeremiah had been called to prophesy doom and gloom, the LORD also had wonderful promises for His people. Verses 1-7 of Jeremiah 23 contain some of these wonderful promises. The LORD would indeed punish Judah and deal with the false prophets and send the people to exile as He had spoken. But one day, He would bring them back and set good shepherds over them under the Kingship of the Lord Jesus Christ, David’s righteous branch. He would reign as King and deal wisely with the people. He would execute justice and righteousness in the land. In His days, Judah would be saved and the people would dwell securely in their own land. He would be called, “The LORD is our righteousness.” The salvation that He would bring would be better than that of the former days (which the Jews had experienced when the LORD saved them from slavery in Egypt). Now, that’s a very wonderful promise.
God would no longer be against the people, the princes, the priests or the prophets. But having gotten rid of the bad princes, priests and prophets, He would raise up others who would serve the people under the Kingship of Jesus Christ. In Christ, the LORD would now be for them – no longer against them. Only then would the people say, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) – Praise the LORD!