This section contains two parts. The first part consists of oracles directed against the kings who have ruled Judah in the final days of her history (21:1-23:8). The second part consists of Jeremiah's indictment against those who have illegitimately assumed the prophetic role for their own profit (23:9-40).
The events of 588 b.c. constitute the historical context of 21:1-10. (See other commentaries for details.) Zedekiah is a prime example of those who practice foxhole religion. His message to Jeremiah (v. 2) reflects his thinking that God can be manipulated with a cry for help in the time of trouble. His perception of Jeremiah is also the same. Yahweh's response to those under his judgment reveals a fundamental theological principle (vv. 8-10; see also Dt 30:15-20). Submission to God, even in the midst of strange and unfavorable circumstances, will lead to life. The Babylonians are executing the divine judgment; therefore submission to the Babylonians is submission to the will of God. This is the way of life. Resistance to the Babylonians, on the other hand, is resistance to the will of God. Death is the destiny of those who choose the path of resistance.
Yahweh's judgment is upon the royal house that he has chosen as an everlasting dynasty (21:11-14; 22:1-5; 22:6-30). The Davidic kings have failed to promote justice and righteousness and to guarantee the rights of the alien, the orphan, the widow, and the innocent. The contrast between Jehoiakim and Josiah, his father (22:15-17), includes a discussion of true religion (“what it means to know me,” v. 16). The essential quality of a leader is his hunger and thirst for justice and righteousness for all and his particular care for the poor and the needy.
Yahweh's own personal involvement in the restoration of the remnant is the theme of 23:1-4. The shepherds are under judgment because they failed to tend and care for the flock of Yahweh. Yahweh's plan is to restore and to care for the lost and the scattered of his flock. This is the duty of good and faithful shepherds. Moreover, he would place this remnant under the leadership of faithful and caring shepherds. This eschatological era of salvation (The days are coming) will be ruled by a righteous branch, a wise and just king from the house of David who will truly demonstrate the righteousness of Yahweh (vv. 5-6; see Jn 10:1-18). The precise meaning of the name “The Lord Our Righteousness” is uncertain. (Consult Clarke's commentary for a detailed discussion of this phrase.) In contrast to Zedekiah who failed to live by the symbolic meaning of his name (“My righteousness is Yahweh”), the eschatological community will put their trust in Yahweh as the source of their righteousness and salvation. The restoration of Yahweh's flock from their worldwide dispersion will be far greater in magnitude than the exodus experience from Egypt (vv. 7-8; see Isa 43:15-21). The restored community will live in the reality of this new exodus experience and personal salvation.
Jeremiah's courage as Yahweh's true spokesman is clearly evident in his outspokenness against those who have made false claims about their prophetic task and the priests who have abused their office. In 23:9-40 are five separate oracles connected by a common theme, namely, the illegitimacy of false prophets and their impending doom (vv. 9-12, 13-15, 16-22, 23-32, 33-40).
Jeremiah is outraged at the dishonor he suffers because of his faithfulness to Yahweh's word while the false prophets who are adulterers, wicked, and godless enjoy popularity throughout the land, even in the Jerusalem temple (23:9-11). These prophets have no true loyalty to Yahweh (v. 13) and no sense of right or wrong (v. 14). Their primary concern is to please their audience with words of hope, prosperity, and peace, the source of which is their own dreams and visions (vv. 16-17, 25-28). They have no divinely given authority (vv. 18, 21). They are under the severe judgment of Yahweh (vv. 12, 15, 19-21, 30-32, 39-40).
Prophets who are commissioned by Yahweh speak his words truthfully and forcefully because they listen to him when he speaks to them (23:22). The visions of the false prophets are like straw, useless and without any value. Yahweh's word has content; like grain, it has worth; like fire, it burns; like a hammer, it has power to break. In the end, only the genuinely spoken words of Yahweh have power to produce any life-transforming changes in the heart of stubborn sinners (vv. 28-29).
The emphasis of 23:23 in Hebrew seems to be on the transcendence of God, though the NIV implies both immanence and transcendence. False prophets treat him as if he is limited in power and presence. There is no escape for them in heaven or on earth from the wrath of God (v. 24).