Jeremiah 23 Commentary: The content of Jeremiah 23 is a continuation from all the way back in Jeremiah 21.
Jeremiah 23 Commentary: Chapter 21
In Jeremiah 21, Zedekiah – the last king of Judah – in his last days as king, asks Jeremiah for God’s help in defeating the Babylonians. But of course God had been promising for decades under Jeremiah’s ministry to send these very Babylonians to destroy his rebellious people.
And so, God replied to Zedekiah, telling him that he was going to lose to Babylon. Then the Lord sent a message to the people telling them to surrender to Babylon in order to keep their life. And last in Jeremiah 21, the Lord responded to the king’s household – him and his princes and his servants. And he told them to execute justice.
Jeremiah 23 Commentary: Chapter 22
Then we studied Jeremiah 22. And that chapter was basically a continuation of the message to the king’s household at the end of Jeremiah 21. And so in Jeremiah 22, the Lord again commands the king’s household to execute justice. Then the Lord spoke of the three kings that immediately preceded Zedekiah and their unenviable fates.
And that brings us to Jeremiah 23, which is at the very end of this three-chapter unit.
Jeremiah 23 Commentary: Why Study It?
Now, Jeremiah 23 contains 40 verses. And I wanted to try to explain why we’re not studying the whole chapter – all 40 of those verses – in one lesson.
I have two competing desires. At least, they seem to compete.
Jeremiah 23 Commentary: I Want to Move Along
First, I have the desire to get through this book and then move on to other material. After all, I ran some numbers and figured out that at the rate of one chapter per week and doing that for 52 weeks per year with no interruption, we could finish the Old Testament in about 17 years. I’d be 50 years old by that point (this was published in 2016). How old will you be? Where will you be?
Now, I’m not saying that we’re going to go through the entire Old Testament necessarily, but I’m just pointing to the fact that there is so much Bible – even apart from the New Testament – and so little time. So, I don’t want to drag out our messages in Jeremiah any more than I need to. And therefore, I would be inclined to just teach all forty verses of Jeremiah 23 in this one lesson.
Jeremiah 23 Commentary: I Want to Understand
But that’s where the second of my competing desires comes in. I want to actually understand what I’m teaching. It takes time to understand a chapter well enough to get to the point where you can say something thoughtful about it. And so it seems like anything beyond about 20 verses in one week – or 8 verses, like today – is pretty hard to study to the point where I can say something meaningful about it.
Added to that consideration, some parts of Scripture are just deeper than others. For example, Biblical narrative often repeats events a few times. So when we get to the second or third explanation there’s less of a need to interpret and explain that portion. Another example: when God through Jeremiah tells the people that he is going to judge them for the 20th time, we probably need less time to focus on that particular message than we did when we saw that theme for maybe the 1st or 2nd or 3rd time.
Today we are covering only eight verses. But we see Jesus in these verses. This is new territory in some ways for us. And so we need to park here and attempt to understand what the Lord is saying.
So, because of those two competing desires – the desire to get through the material and the desire to actually understand the material – we’ll be studying the first eight verses in Jeremiah 23.
Jeremiah 23 Commentary: Denouncing Evil Leaders
The message to the king’s household – the leadership of Judah – continues into this chapter. And so in Jeremiah 23:1-2 you have the Denouncing of Evil Leaders.
Jeremiah 23 Commentary: Chiasm
Let me just give us a lay-of-the-land and point out the four sub-sections in these verses and then we’ll get into each verse.
Jeremiah 23:3-8 appears to be what is called a “chiasm”. “Chi” is a Greek letter that looks like an English “X”.
And in this chiasm here in this chapter, the Lord starts by speaking of Return from Exile in Jeremiah 23:3.
Then he speaks of Good Rulers in Jeremiah 23:4.
Then he again speaks of Good Rulers and actually the best one that ever will be in Jeremiah 23:5-6.
And finally he returns to the matter of Return from Exile and speaks of something like a Second Exodus in Jeremiah 23:7-8.
Here’s what it would look like:
Return from Exile (A)
Good Rulers (B)
Return from Exile – Second Exodus (A’)
So, the promise of Return from Exile (A), Good Rulers (B), Good Rulers in the form of the Best Ruler Ever (B’), and then a Return from Exile in the form of something like a Second Exodus (A’). A, B, B’, A’ – that’s the form of this chiasm.
So, now that we know how these verses are structured in God’s mind, let’s study them individually.
Jeremiah 23 Commentary: Return from Exile
To begin, God promises a return from exile for his people in Jeremiah 23:3.
3 [And/Then] I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them,
and will bring them again to their [folds/pasture/homeland];
and they shall be fruitful and increase.
So, note that these people do nothing to deserve or earn this promise from God. God just graciously declares that this is what he plans to do for them in the future.
Jeremiah 23 Commentary: Good RulersAnd when God brings the Jews back from Babylon and the other countries that they will be driven to, the Lord will also give them good rulers according to Jeremiah 23:4.
4 And I will [set up/install] [shepherds/rulers] over them which shall [feed/tend to/care for] them:
and they shall fear no more,
nor be [dismayed/terrified],
neither shall they be [lacking/missing],
saith the LORD.
Again, remember the context. Judah is full of sin. Their rulers and Zedekiah in particular are just plain bad folks. They all are in rebellion against God. And so God has declared their destruction.
And you might tend to think that that’s the end of Judah and Israel. But God promises by himself that he will indeed restore the people to the land which he promised them and will give them good rulers in contrast to what they at that time had in Zedekiah.
Jeremiah 23 Commentary: The Righteous Branch
And now, God wants to focus in on one of those good rulers. But this one surpasses all the rest, as we’ll see in our study on Jeremiah 23 5 6.
Jeremiah 23 Commentary: A Second Exodus
Now, closely associated with this man known as the Branch is the last promise of God made in this section. The Lord promises something like a Second Exodus in Jeremiah 23:7-8.
Jeremiah 23 Commentary: False Prophets
Jeremiah 23:9-40 deals with another branch of Judah’s leadership. But this time, it’s not the king’s household that’s in view. The Lord has already denounced the kings and their wickedness. Now he’s going to focus on the religious leaders of Judah – the prophets and priests – and he’s going to identify them as False Prophets.