(1) Woe be unto the pastors . . .—The message that follows in Jeremiah 23:1-8 comes as a natural sequel to that of Jeremiah 22. The unfaithful shepherds who had been there denounced are contrasted with those, more faithful to their trust, whom Jehovah will raise up. As before, in Jeremiah 2:8 and elsewhere, we have to remember that the “pastors” are (like the “shepherds of the people” in Greek poets) the civil rulers, not the prophets or the priests, of Israel. The parallelism with the prophecy of Ezekiel 34, delivered about the same time in the land of exile, is suggestive either of direct communication between the two writers, or of traditional lines of thought common to the two priest-prophets.
The sheep of my pasture.—The words assert the claims of Jehovah to be the true Shepherd of His people. (Comp. Psalm 79:13; Psalm 100:3.)
Have not visited.—i.e., cared for and regarded. They were negligent, but God was not, and He therefore would “visit” them by reproof and chastisement.
Neither shall they be lacking.—i.e., the flock would be so cared for that not one sheep should be lost. Care extending even to every individual member was the true ideal of the Shepherd’s work (John 10:3; John 17:12), and therefore of the ruler’s.
A righteous Branch.—The idea is the same, though the word is different (here Zemach, and there Netzer), as in Isaiah 11:1. In both cases, however, the word means a “sprout” or “scion,” springing up from the root even after the tree had been cut down (Isaiah 6:13), and not a branch growing from the trunk. It is probably in reference to this prophecy that we find the name of “the Branch” (Zemach) so prominent in Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12. Here, it is obvious, the prophet speaks of the one great Shepherd.
A King shall reign.—Better, he shall reign as King, the Branch or Sprout being the subject of the sentence. As with all the Messianic prophecies of this class, the thoughts of the prophet dwell on the acts and attributes of a sovereignty exercised personally on earth. Such a sovereignty, “all power in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18), was indeed given to the Christ, but not after the fashion that men expected.
Whereby he shall be called.—Literally, whereby one shall call him, the indefinite, almost impersonal active having the force of the English passive.
The Lord our Righteousness.—It is significant that in Jeremiah 33:16 the same name is given to Jerusalem. There it is clearly not, in logical language, the predicate of the city, but that which she takes as her watchword, and blazons, as it were, on her banner; and we cannot consistently press more than that meaning here. So in Ezekiel 48:35 the new name of Jerusalem is “Jehovah-shammah” (= the Lord is there). So in Exodus 17:15 Moses calls the altar which he builds “Jehovah-nissi” (= the Lord is my banner). The interpretation which sees in the words (1) the identification of the Messianic King with Jehovah, the Eternal, and (2) the doctrine of imputed righteousness, must accordingly be regarded as one of the applications of the words rather than their direct meaning. That meaning would seem to be that the King, the righteous Branch, will look to Jehovah as giving and working righteousness. Some commentators, indeed, refer the pronoun “he” to Israel, and not to the righteous Branch. We cannot forget that, at the very time when Jeremiah uttered this prophecy, a king was on the throne whose name (Zedekiah = righteous is Jehovah) implied the same thought. His reign had been a miserable failure, and the prophet looks forward to a time when the ideal, which was then far off, should at last be realised. If with many critics we refer the prediction to the reign of Jehoiakim (see Note on Jeremiah 23:1), we might almost see in Mattaniah’s adoption of the new name a boast that he was about to fulfil it. The Christ, we may say, answered to the name, not as being Himself one with Jehovah, though He was that, but as doing the Father’s will, and so fulfilling all righteousness (comp. Matthew 3:15).
Because of swearing.—Better, because of the curse—i.e., that which comes from Jehovah on account of the wickedness of the people.
The land mourneth.—This, and the “drying up” of the “pleasant places” or “pastures,” refers apparently to the drought described in Jeremiah 12:4; Jeremiah 14:2, or to some similar visitation.
Their course.—Literally, their running—i.e., their way or mode of life.
Their force is not right.—Literally, their might or their valour: that in which they exulted was might, not right.
The year of their visitation.—The prophet returns to his characteristic word for the time appointed by the Divine Judge for chastisement. (Comp. Jeremiah 8:12; Jeremiah 10:15; Jeremiah 11:23.)
They prophesied in Baal.—i.e., in the name and as if by the power of Baal. Comp. 1 Kings 18:19; 1 Kings 22:6-7.
Profaneness.—The root-meaning of the Hebrew word is that of “veiling,” hence that of simulated holiness, or, as in the margin, “hypocrisy;” but the associations of the word attached to it the further sense of the hypocrisy that desecrates, so that “profaneness” is, on the whole, the best rendering. The corresponding concrete noun is rendered in Isaiah 9:17 by “hypocrite;” in Psalm 35:16 by “hypocritical mocker;” above, in Jeremiah 23:11, by “profane.”
By their lightness.—The Hebrew word is the same in meaning as the “unstable as water” of Genesis 49:4, the “light persons” of Judges 9:4; Zephaniah 3:4, and points primarily to the gushing or spurting forth of water. Here it points to what we may call the “babbling” of the false prophets. We are almost reminded of the words in which an English poet describes a hollow and pretentious eloquence as poured out—
“In one weak, washy, everlasting flood.”
Therefore . . .—Better, simply, and they shall not profit.
What burden?—The false prophets had come, not without a supercilious scorn, asking, with affected grandeur, what burden, what oracle Jeremiah had from Jehovah. He repeats their question with a deeper scorn, and tells them that for them the “burden” tells of exile and shame. A different division of the words of the prophet’s answer (which presents some exceptional grammatical difficulties) gives a rendering adopted by the LXX. and Vulgate, “Ye are the burden”—i.e., it is about you and for you.
I will even forsake you.—Better, I will cast you off, with a play upon the literal sense of the word “burden.” They have made themselves too grievous to be borne. Jehovah will disburden Himself of them.
Jeremiah 23:40And I will bring an everlasting reproach upon you, and a perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten.