Jeremiah – Chapter 23

It Ain't Heavy, It's My Prophecy

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Woe to the evil kings of Judah, who are shepherds that destroy their own flock. Since they have caused the people to be scattered, G-d will pay them back for their evil deeds. G-d will ultimately gather the remainder of those lost flocks and bring them back, to dwell securely. (This refers either to the return after the Babylonian exile or to the Messianic era.) G-d will give them better “shepherds,” who will lead them properly and they will have no fear.

Days are coming, G-d says, when he will set up a righteous king of the Davidic dynasty. (This part definitely speaks of the Messianic era; the Second Temple period had no Davidic kings.) At that time, not only Judah, but the lost Tribes of Israel will be saved. This King (i.e., the Messiah) will be referred to as “Hashem is our Righteousness.” In the future, people will no longer refer to “G-d, Who took Israel out of Egypt.” Instead, they will speak of “G-d, Who returned Israel from the lands where they were exiled.”

Jeremiah is distressed because of the false prophets, who only foretell peace and good things; they profane the true word of G-d. The land is full of adultery and false oaths, people use their power for evil – how can they promise peace in such an environment? The role models – prophets and priests – are all false. They even have idols in the Temple! Because of this, their way will be like a slippery path in the dark; they will fall and G-d will punish them during the year of payback (see 11:23, Isaiah 34:8, et al.). The so-called “prophets” of Samaria, capital of the Northern Kingdom of the Ten Tribes, spoke in the name of the Baal and misled the people. Ultimately, their nation was exiled. The false prophets in Jerusalem, capital of Israel, commit adultery and act treacherously. They encourage evil and nobody returns from that improper path. The false prophets are like Sodom and the people who follow them are like Gemorrah. G-d will give them trouble like bitterness and poisoned water.

G-d tells the people not to listen to these false messengers; they are sharing a fabrication, not G-d’s word. These false prophets, who do not even keep the Torah, certainly do not carry G-d’s word! A storm goes forth from G-d and it will come to rest upon the heads of the wicked. G-d’s anger will not subside until He fulfills His plans. At the end of days, meaning the Messianic era, they will clearly see this prophecy has been fulfilled. (The fact that Jeremiah tells the people of his generation that they will see it is a reference to the revival of the dead. For more on the revival of the dead, see Daniel chapter 12.) G-d didn’t send these prophets; they came up with their own messages and enthusiastically spread them. If they were really G-d’s prophets, they would encourage people to follow the Torah and to get back on the path of righteousness.

Isn’t G-d close? He’s not far away! He fills the Heavens and the Earth and there’s no place a person can hide from Him. Obviously, He was aware of what these “prophets” were saying in His Name. How long will they lie, saying that they’re prophets? They know that they’re not, but they trick people and cause them to forget G-d. A person who has a dream can certainly tell someone about it, but only a real prophecy should be referred to as a message from G-d. The former is like straw, the latter is like wheat, and they shouldn’t be mixed together.

G-d’s word is like fire – a mere dream would not be mistaken for a prophecy. G-d’s word is powerful, like a sledgehammer that smashes rock. G-d opposes the false prophets, who not only make things up, but also steal messages from the true prophets, further complicating matters.

When a person – whether a private citizen, a false prophet or a priest – would ask Jeremiah derisively about the “burden” of his prophecies, he was to reply that they are no burden at all – and that G-d would punish that person for mocking His word! People would ask one another for G-d’s reply, but a burden was not to be mentioned in connection with prophecy after that. The only burden will be the one on the person who tried to pervert G-d’s word. If people continue to equate true prophecy with a burden, the result will be exile and desolation. The shame they experience will never be forgotten.

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