Here is a long lesson for the false prophets. As none were more bitter and spiteful against God’s true prophets than they, so there were none on whom the true prophets were more severe, and justly. The prophet had complained to God of those false prophets (Jer. 14:13), and had often foretold that they should be involved in the common ruin; but here they have woes of their own.
I. He expresses the deep concern that he was under upon this account, and what a trouble it was to him to see men who pretended to a divine commission and inspiration ruining themselves, and the people among whom they dwelt, by their falsehood and treachery (Jer. 23:9): My heart within me is broken; I am like a drunken man. His head was in confusion with wonder and astonishment; his heart was under oppression with grief and vexation. Jeremiah was a man that laid things much to heart, and what was any way threatening to his country made a deep impression upon his spirits. He is here in trouble, 1. Because of the prophets and their sin, the false doctrine they preached, the wicked lives they lived; especially it filled him with horror to hear them making use of God’s name and pretending to have their instruction from him. Never was the Lord so abused, and the words of his holiness, as by these men. Note, The dishonour done to God’s name, and the profanation of his holy word, are the greatest grief imaginable to a gracious soul. 2. “Because of the Lord, and his judgments, which by this means are brought in upon us like a deluge.” He trembled to think of the ruin and desolation which were coming from the face of the Lord (so the word is) and from the face of the word of his holiness, which will be inflicted by the power of God’s wrath, according to the threatenings of his word, confirmed by his holiness. Note, Even those that have God for them cannot but tremble to think of the misery of those that have God against them.
II. He laments the abounding abominable wickedness of the land and the present tokens of God’s displeasure they were under for it (Jer. 23:10): The land is full of adulterers; it is full both of spiritual and corporal whoredom. They go a whoring from God, and, having cast off the fear of him, no marvel that they abandon themselves to all manner of lewdness; and, having dishonoured themselves and their own bodies, they dishonour God and his name by rash and false swearing, because of which the land mourns. Both perjury and common swearing are sins for which a land must mourn in true repentance or it will be made to mourn under the judgments of God. Their land mourned now under the judgment of famine; the pleasant places, or rather the pastures, or (as some read it) the habitations of the wilderness, are dried up for want of rain, and yet we see no signs of repentance. They answer not the end of the correction. The tenour and tendency of men’s conversations are sinful, their course continues evil, as bad as ever, and they will not be diverted from it. They have a great deal of resolution, but it is turned the wrong way; they are zealously affected, but not in a good thing: Their force is not right; their heart is fully set in them to do evil, and they are not valiant for the truth, have not courage enough to break off their evil courses, though they see God thus contending with them.
III. He charges it all upon the prophets and priests, especially the prophets. They are both profane (Jer. 23:11); the priests profane the ordinances of God they pretend to administer; the prophets profane the word of God they pretend to deliver; their converse and all their conversation are profane, and then it is not strange that the people are so debauched. They both play the hypocrite (so some read it); under sacred pretensions they carry on the vilest designs; yea, not only in their own houses, and the bad houses they frequent, but in my house have I found their wickedness; in the temple, where the priests ministered, where the prophets prophesied, there were they guilty both of idolatry and immorality. See a woeful instance in Hophni and Phinehas, 1 Sam. 2:22. God searches his house, and what wickedness is there he will find it out; and the nearer it is to him the more offensive it is. Two things are charged upon them:—1. That they taught people to sin by their examples. He compares them with the prophets of Samaria, the head city of the kingdom of the ten tribes, which had been long since laid waste. It was the folly of the prophets of Samaria that they prophesied in Baal, in Baal’s name; so Ahab’s prophets did, and so they caused my people Israel to err, to forsake the service of the true God and to worship Baal, Jer. 23:13. Now the prophets of Jerusalem did not do so; they prophesied in the name of the true God, and valued themselves upon that, that they were not like the prophets of Samaria, who prophesied in Baal; but what the better, when they debauched the nation as much by their immoralities as the other had done by their idolatries? It is a horrible thing in the prophets of Jerusalem that they make use of the name of the holy God, and yet wallow in all manner of impurity; they make nothing of committing adultery. They make use of the name of the God of truth, and yet walk in lies; they not only prophesy lies, but in their common conversation one cannot believe a word they say. It is all either jest and banter or fraud and design. Thus they encourage sinners to go on in their wicked ways; for every one will say, “Surely we may do as the prophets do; who can expect that we should be better than our teachers?” By this means it is that none returns from his wickedness; but they all say that they shall have peace, though they go on, for their prophets tell them so. By this means Judah and Jerusalem have become as Sodom and Gomorrah, that were wicked, and sinners before the Lord exceedingly; and God looked upon them accordingly as fit for nothing but to be destroyed, as they were, with fire and brimstone. 2. That they encouraged people in sin by their false prophecies. They made themselves believe that there was no harm, no danger in sin, and practiced accordingly; and then no marvel that they made others believe so too (Jer. 23:16): They speak a vision of their own heart; it is the product of their own invention, and agrees with their own inclination, but it is not out of the mouth of the Lord; he never dictated it to them, nor did it agree either with the law of Moses or with what God has spoken by other prophets. They tell sinners that it shall be well with them though they persist in their sins, Jer. 23:17. See here who those are that they encourage—those that despise God, that slight his authority, and have low and mean thoughts of his institutions, and those that walk after the imagination of their own heart, that are worshippers of idols and slaves to their own lusts; those that are devoted to their pleasures put contempt upon their God. Yet see how these prophets caressed and flattered them: they should have been still saying, There is no peace to those that go on in their evil ways—Those that despise God shall be lightly esteemed—Woe, and a thousand woes, to them; but they still said, You shall have peace; no evil shall come upon you. And, which was worst of all, they told them, God has said so, so making him to patronize sin, and to contradict himself. Note, Those that are resolved to go on in their evil ways will justly be given up to believe the strong delusions of those who tell them that they shall have peace though they go on.
IV. God disowns all that these false prophets said to sooth people up in their sins (Jer. 23:21): I have not sent these prophets; they never had any mission from God. They were not only not sent by him on this errand, but they were never sent by him on any errand; he never had employed them in any service or business for him; and, as to this matter, whereas they pretended to have instructions from him to assure this people of peace, he declares that he never gave them any such instructions. Yet they were very forward—they ran; they were very bold—they prophesied without any of that difficulty with which the true prophets sometimes struggled. They said to sinners, You shall have peace. But (Jer. 23:18): “Who hath stood in the counsel of the Lord? Who of you has, that are so confident of this? You deliver this message with a great deal of assurance; but have you consulted God about it? No; you never considered whether it be agreeable to the discoveries God has made of himself, whether it will consist with the honour of his holiness and justice, to let sinners go unpunished. You have not perceived and heard his word, nor marked that; you have not compared this with the scripture; if you had taken notice of that, and of the constant tenour of it, you would never have delivered such a message.” The prophets themselves must try the spirits by the touchstone of the law and of the testimony, as well as those to whom they prophesy; but which of those did so that prophesied of peace? That they did not stand in God’s counsel nor hear his word is proved afterwards, Jer. 23:22. If they had stood in my counsel, as they pretend, 1. They would have made the scriptures their standard: They would have caused my people to hear my words, and would have conscientiously kept closely to them. But, not speaking according to that rule, it is a plain ev 8000 idence that there is no light in them. 2. They would have made the conversion of souls their business, and would have aimed at that in all their preaching. They would have done all they could to turn people from their evil way in general and from all the particular evil of their doings. They would have encouraged and assisted the reformation of manners, would have made this their scope in all their preaching, to part between men and their sins; but it appeared that this was a thing they never aimed at, but, on the contrary, to encourage sinners in their sins. 3. They would have had some seals of their ministry. This sense our translation gives it: If they had stood in my counsel, and the words they had preached had been my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way; a divine power should have gone along with the word for the conviction of sinners. God will bless his own institutions. Yet this is no certain rule; Jeremiah himself, though God sent him, prevailed with but few to turn from their evil way.
V. God threatens to punish these prophets for their wickedness. They promised the people peace; and to show them the folly of that God tells them that they should have no peace themselves. They were very unfit to warrant the people, and pass their word to them that no evil shall come upon them, when all evil is coming upon themselves and they are not aware of it, Jer. 23:12. Because the prophets and priests are profane, therefore their ways shall be unto them as slippery ways in the darkness. Those that undertake to lead others, because they mislead them, and know they do so, shall themselves have no comfort in their way. 1. They pretend to show others the way, but they shall themselves be in the dark, or in a mist; their light or sight shall fail, so that they shall not be able to look before them, shall have no forecast for themselves. 2. They pretend to give assurances to others, but they themselves shall find no firm footing: Their ways shall be to them as slippery ways, in which they shall not go with any steadiness, safety, or satisfaction. 3. They pretend to make the people easy with their flatteries, but they shall themselves be uneasy: They shall be driven, forced forward as captives, or making their escape as those that are pursued, and they shall fall in the way by which they hoped to escape, and so fall into the enemies’ hands. 4. They pretend to prevent the evil that threatens others, but God will bring evil upon them, even the year of their visitation, the time fixed for calling them to an account; such a time is fixed concerning all that do not judge themselves, and it will be an evil time. The year of visitation is the year of recompenses. It is further threatened (Jer. 23:15), I will feed them with wormwood, or poison, with that which is not only nauseous, but noxious, and make them drink waters of gall, or (as some read it) juice of hemlock; see Jer. 9:15. Justly is the cup of trembling put into their hand first, for from the prophets of Jerusalem, who should have been patterns of piety and every thing that is praiseworthy, even from them has profaneness gone forth into all the lands. Nothing more effectually debauches a nation than the debauchery of ministers.
VI. The people are here warned not to give any credit to these false prophets; for, though they flattered them with hopes of impunity, the judgments of God would certainly break out against them, unless they repented (Jer. 23:16): “Take notice of what God says, and hearken not to the words of these prophets; for you will find, in the issue, that God’s word shall stand, and not theirs. God’s word will make you serious, but they make you vain, feed you with vain hopes, which will fail you at last. They tell you, No evil shall come upon you; but hear what God says (Jer. 23:19), Behold, a whirlwind of the Lord has gone forth in fury. They tell you, All shall be calm and serene; but God tells you, There is a storm coming, a whirlwind of the Lord, of his sending, and therefore there is no standing before it. It is a whirlwind raised by divine wrath; it has gone forth in fury, a wind that is brought forth out of the treasuries of divine vengeance; and therefore it is a grievous whirlwind, and shall light heavily, with rain and hail, upon the head of the wicked, which they cannot avoid nor find any shelter from.” It shall fall upon the wicked prophets themselves who deceived the people, and the wicked people who suffered themselves to be deceived. A horrible tempest shall be the portion of their cup, Ps. 11:6. This sentence is bound on as irreversible (Jer. 23:20): The anger of the Lord shall not return, for the decree has gone forth. God will not alter his mind, nor suffer his anger to be turned away, till he have executed the sentence and performed the thoughts of his heart. God’s whirlwind, when it comes down from heaven, returns not thither, but accomplishes that for which he sent it, Isa. 55:11. This they will not consider now; but in the latter days you shall consider it perfectly, consider it with understanding (so the word is) or with consideration. Note, Those that will not fear the threatenings shall feel the execution of them, and will then perfectly understand what they will not now admit the evidence of, what a fearful thing it is to fall into the hands of a just and jealous God. Those that will not consider in time will be made to consider when it is too late. Son, remember.
VII. Several things are here offered to the consideration of these false prophets for their conviction, that, if possible, they might be brought to recant their error and acknowledge the cheat they had put upon God’s people.
1. Let them consider that though they may impose upon men God is too wise to be imposed upon. Men cannot see through their fallacies, but God can and does. Here,
(1.) God asserts his own omnipresence and omniscience in general, Jer. 23:23, 24. When they told the people that no evil should befall them though they went on in their evil ways they went upon atheistical principles, that the Lord doth not see their sin, that he cannot judge through the dark cloud, that he will not require it; and therefore they must be taught the first principles of their religion, and confronted with the most incontestable self-evident truths. [1.] That though God’s throne is prepared in the heavens, and this earth seems to be at a distance from him, yet he is a God here in this lower world, which seems to be afar off, as well as in the upper world, which seems to be at hand, Jer. 23:23. The eye of God is the same on earth that it is in heaven. Here it runs to and fro as well as there (2 Chron. 16:9); and what is in the minds of men, whose spirits are veiled in flesh, is as clearly seen by him as what is in the mind of angels, those unveiled spirits above that surround his throne. The power of God is the same on earth among its inhabitants that it is in heaven among its armies. With us nearness and distance make a great difference both in our observations and in our operations, but it is not so with God; to him darkness and light, at hand and afar off, are both alike. [2.] That, how ingenious and industrious soever men are to disguise themselves and their own characters and counsels, they cannot possibly be concealed from God’s all-seeing eye (Jer. 23:24): “Can any hide himself in the secret places of the earth, that I shall not see him? Can any hide his projects and intentions in the secret places of the heart, that I shall not see them?” No arts of concealment can hide men from the eye of God, nor deceive his judgment of them. [3.] That he is every where present; he does not only rule heaven and earth, and uphold both by his universal providence, but he fills heaven and earth by his essential presence, Ps. 139:7, 8 No place can either include him or exclude him.
(2.) He applies this to these prophets, who had a notable art of disguising themselves (Jer. 23:25, 26): I have heard what the prophets said that prophesy lies in my name. They thought that he was so wholly taken up with the other world that he had no leisure to take cognizance of what passed in this. But God will make them know that he knows all their impostures, all the shams they have put upon the world, under colour of divine revelation. What they intended to humour the people with they pretended to have had from God in a dream, when there was no such thing. This they could not discover. If a man tell me that he dreamed so and so, I cannot contradict him; he knows I cannot. But God discovered the fraud. Perhaps the false prophets whispered what they had to say in the ears of such as were their confidants, saying, So and so I have dreamed; but God overheard them. The heart-searching eye of God traced them in all the methods they took to deceive the people, and he cries out, How long? Shall I always bear with them? Isa. it in the hearts of those prophets (so some read it) to be ever prophesying lies and prophesying the deceits of their own hearts? Will they never see what an affront they put upon God, what an abuse they put upon the people, and what judgments they are preparing for themselves?
2. Let them consider that their palming upon people counterfeit revelations, and fathering their own fancies upon divine inspiration, was the ready way to bring all religion into contempt and make men turn atheists and infidels; and this was the thing they really intended, though they frequently made mention of the name of God, and prefaced all they said with, Thus saith the Lord. Yet, says God, They think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams. They designed to draw people off from the worship of God, from all regard to God’s laws and ordinances and the true prophets, as their fathers forgot God’s name for Baal. Note, The great thing Satan aims at is to make people forget God, and all that whereby he has made himself known; and he has many subtle methods to bring them to this. Sometimes he does it by setting up false gods (bring men in love with Baal, and they soon forget the name of God), sometimes by misrepresenting the true God, as if he were altogether such a one as ourselves. Pretenses to new revelation may prove as dangerous to religion as the denying of all revelation; and false prophets in God’s name may perhaps do more mischief to the power of godliness than false prophets in Baal’s name, as being less guarded against.
3. Let them consider what a vast difference there was between their prophecies and those that were delivered by the true prophets of the Lord (Jer. 23:28): The prophet that has a dream, which was the way of inspiration that the false prophets most pretended to, if he has a dream, let him tell it as a dream; so Mr. Gataker reads it. “Let him lay no more stress upon it than men do upon their dreams, nor expect any more regard to be had to it. Let them not say that it is from God, nor call their foolish dreams divine oracles. But let the true prophet, that has my word, speak my word faithfully, speak it as a truth” (so some read it): “let him keep closely to his instructions, and you will soon perceive a vast difference between the dreams that the false prophets tell and the divine dictates which the true prophets deliver. He that pretends to have a message from God, whether by dream or voice, let him declare it, and it will easily appear which is of God and which is not. Those that have spiritual senses exercised will be able to distinguish; for what is the chaff to the wheat? The promises of peace which these prophets make to you are no more to be compared to God’s promises than chaff to wheat.” Men’s fancies are light, and vain, and worthless, as the chaff which the wind drives away. But the word of God has substance in it; it is of value, is food for the soul, the bread of life. Wheat was the staple commodity of Canaan, that valley of vision, Deut. 8:8; Ezek. 27:17. There is as much difference between the vain fancies of men and the pure word of God as between the chaff and the wheat. It follows (Jer. 23:29), Isa. not my word like a fire, saith the Lord? Isa. their word so? Has it the power and efficacy that the word of God has? No; nothing like it; there is no more comparison than between painted fire and real fire. Theirs is like an ignis fatuus—a deceiving meteor, leading men into by-paths and dangerous precipices. Note, The word of God is like fire. The law was a fiery law (Deut. 33:2), and of the gospel Christ says, I have come to send fire on the earth, Luke 12:49. Fire has different effects, according as the matter is on which it works; it hardens clay, but softens wax; it consumes the dross, but purifies the gold. So the word of God is to some a savour of life unto life, to others of death unto death. God appeals here to the consciences of those to whom the word was sent: “Isa. not my word like fire? Has it not been so to you? Zech. 1:6. Speak as you have found.” It is compared likewise to a hammer breaking the rock in pieces. The unhumbled heart of man is like a rock; if it will not be melted by the word of God as the fire, it will be broken to pieces by it as the hammer. Whatever opposition is given to the word, it will be borne down and broken to pieces.
4. Let them consider that while they went on in this course God was against them. Three times they are told this, Jer. 23:30, 31, 32. Behold, I am against the prophets. They pretended to be for God, and made use of his name, but were really against him; he looks upon them as they were really, and is against them. How can they be long safe, or at all easy, that have a God of almighty power against them? While these prophets were promising peace to the people God was proclaiming war against them. They stand indicted here, (1.) For robbery: They steal my word every one from his neighbour. Some understand it of that word of God which the good prophets preached; they stole their sermons, their expressions, and mingled them with their own, as hucksters mingle bad wares with some that are good, to make them vendible. Those that were strangers to the spirit of the true prophets mimicked their language, picked up some good sayings of theirs, and delivered them to the people as if they had been their own, but with an ill grace; they were not of a piece with the rest of their discourses. The legs of the lame are not equal, so is a parable in the mouth of fools, Prov. 26:7. Others understand it of the word of God as it was received and entertained by some of the people; they stole it out of their hearts, as the wicked one in the parable is said to steal the good seed of the word, Matt. 13:19. By their insinuations they diminished the authority, and so weakened the efficacy, of the word of God upon the minds of those that seemed to be under convictions by it. (2.) They stand indicted for counterfeiting the broad seal. Therefore God is against them (Jer. 23:31), because they use their tongues at their pleasure in their discourses to the people; they say what they themselves think fit, and then father it upon God, pretend they had it from him, and say, He saith it. Some read it, They smooth their tongues; they are very complaisant to the people, and say nothing but what is pleasing and plausible; they never reprove them nor threaten them, but their words are smoother than butter. Thus they ingratiate themselves with them, and get money by them; and they have the impudence and impiety to make God the patron of their lies; they say, “He saith so.” What greater indignity can be done to the God of truth than to lay the brats of the father of lies at his door? (3.) They stand indicted as common cheats (Jer. 23:32): I am against them, for they prophesy false dreams, pretending that to be a divine inspiration which is but an invention of their own. This is a horrid fraud; nor will it excuse them to say, Caveat emptor—Let the buyer take care of himself, and Si populus vult decipi, decipiatur—If people will be deceived, let them. No; it is the people’s fault that they err, that they take things upon trust, and do not try the spirits; but it is much more the prophets’ fault that they cause God’s people to err by their lies and by their lightness, by the flatteries of their preaching soothing them up in their sins, and by the looseness and lewdness of their conversation encouraging them to persist in them. [1.] God disowns their having any commission from him: I sent them not, nor commanded them; they are not God’s messengers, nor is what they say his message. [2.] He therefore justly denies his blessing with them: Therefore they shall not profit this people at all. All the profit they aim at is to make them easy; but they shall not so much as do that, for God’s providences will at the same time be making them uneasy. They do not profit this people (so some read it); and more is implied than is expressed; they not only do them no good, but do them a great deal of hurt. Note, Those that corrupt the word of God, while they pretend to preach it, are so far from edifying the church that they do it the greatest mischief imaginable.