9 Concerning the prophets:
My heart is broken within me;
all my bones tremble.
I am like a drunken man,
like a strong man overcome by wine,
because of the Lord
and his holy words.
10 The land is full of adulterers;
because of the curse the land lies parched
and the pastures in the wilderness are withered.
The prophets follow an evil course
and use their power unjustly.
11 “Both prophet and priest are godless;
even in my temple I find their wickedness,”
declares the Lord.
12 “Therefore their path will become slippery;
they will be banished to darkness
and there they will fall.
I will bring disaster on them
in the year they are punished,”
declares the Lord.
13 “Among the prophets of Samaria
I saw this repulsive thing:
They prophesied by Baal
and led my people Israel astray.
14 And among the prophets of Jerusalem
I have seen something horrible:
They commit adultery and live a lie.
They strengthen the hands of evildoers,
so that not one of them turns from their wickedness.
They are all like Sodom to me;
the people of Jerusalem are like Gomorrah.”
(Jeremiah 23:9-14 NIV)
In Chapter 22 and verses 1 – 8 of Chapter 23, the Lord spoke concerning the kings of Judah. In verses 9 – 40 of Chapter 23, the emphasis shifts from the Judean kings to the prophets.
The Lord’s design for kings, as we noted before, was to administer justice and righteousness among the people, demonstrating God’s care and concern for His own, watching out for those who needed protection and support, such as the widows, orphans, foreigners, and others in need. The outer or external domain was where the king could impact the nation through his sphere of influence.
The Lord’s design for prophets and priests was to speak God’s truth and provide an example of holy living. The priest’s job was to exemplify the inner domain, the “heart” of a person – the mind, will, and emotions. The prophets and priests were to live a life set apart by God and for God, speaking truth to all.
In today’s text, we see a dialogue between Jeremiah and God. Because of the length of the passage, we will cover the first three parts of the conversation today and cover the remaining sections in subsequent days.
Verses 9 – 10 are Jeremiah’s reaction to the fellow prophets of his day. Jeremiah describes how he felt when confronted with the wickedness and corruption of his contemporaries compared to the calling of the Lord in his life. This feeling was not a self-righteous attitude, but rather, a physical weakening and a terrible breaking of his heart as Jeremiah saw the disparity between what God called the prophets to be versus what they were. Jeremiah became weak in the knees, unable to walk firmly and confidently because of what he saw. He was unsteady on his feet, stumbling along like a drunken man in need of assistance because of the evil and wickedness of his fellow prophets.
Verses 11 – 12 are God’s reply to Jeremiah’s observations. The Lord sees the same godlessness in both the prophets and the priests. The Lord says that they even bring the wickedness of their sin into the Temple, God’s dwelling place among His people. When the prophets and priests desecrated the Temple, this showed a total lack of respect and reverence for the Lord and His holiness. Because of their sin, the Lord promised judgment upon them (v. 12).
Verses 13 – 14 are Jeremiah’s next comment to the Lord. He compares the sin of Israel’s prophets (the northern kingdom) to the sin of Judah’s prophets (the southern kingdom, where Jeremiah lived). Notice the words Jeremiah chose to describe the two: “repulsive”, speaking of the northern prophets; “horrible”, speaking of the southern prophets.
Jeremiah was repulsed by the northern prophets speaking on behalf of Baal, the Canaanite god, but he was horrified at what the southern prophets were doing. Not only were they speaking on behalf of Baal (in Hebrew, “The Lie” – v. 14), but they had entirely secularized their life and were immersed in the adulterous and cultic practices of the godless people around them. And the scenario gets worse – not only were the prophets fully engaged in these cultic practices, but they were encouraging the people – the very ones they were to be an example – to do the same. Jeremiah ended by comparing the prophets to Sodom and Gomorrah, deserving of the same fate as those cities that God destroyed because of their wickedness.
May we take to heart both Jeremiah’s and God’s words regarding the prophets of their day. The prophets were called to be the spiritual and moral leaders of their day. While we may not have the same Old Testament structure of prophets and priests today, we have the same requirement from the Lord to be spiritual and moral leaders in our day. We may not be pastors or teachers by vocation, but each of us, as followers of Christ, are leading others by the way we live our lives, through our thoughts, words, and actions.
May we be grounded in God’s truth, living it out in our lives first, also walking along side others and encouraging them to do the same, by both word and example.