33 “When one of this people, or a prophet or a priest asks you, ‘What is the burden of the Lord?’ you shall say to them, ‘You are the burden, and I will cast you off, declares the Lord.’ 34 And as for the prophet, priest, or one of the people who says, ‘The burden of the Lord,’ I will punish that man and his household. 35 Thus shall you say, every one to his neighbor and every one to his brother, ‘What has theLord answered?’ or ‘What has the Lord spoken?’ 36 But ‘the burden of the Lord’ you shall mention no more, for the burden is every man’s own word, and you pervert the words of the living God, the Lord of hosts, our God. 37 Thus you shall say to the prophet, ‘What has the Lord answered you?’ or ‘What has the Lord spoken?’ 38 But if you say, ‘The burden of the Lord,’ thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have said these words, “The burden of the Lord,” when I sent to you, saying, “You shall not say, ‘The burden of the Lord,’”39 therefore, behold, I will surely lift you up and cast you away from my presence, you and the city that I gave to you and your fathers. 40 And I will bring upon you everlasting reproach and perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten.’”
(Jeremiah 23:33-40 ESV)
In yesterday’s text, The Lord took the prophets to task for sharing their dreams as if the dreams were a word from the Lord. The Lord did not have an issue with the prophets having dreams, but He did have an issue with the prophets attaching His Name to the dreams as if they were fact or prophecy, i.e., an oracle from God Himself.
In today’s text, the Lord continues His focus on the prophets associating His name with whatever they decided to say (none of which came from the Lord).
To help capture the essence of today’s text, I switched from my regular NIV text to the ESV. The word “burden”(Hebrew, “massa“) in today’s text can also be translated “message” or “oracle”. The ESV captures the play on words the Lord uses in today’s text (vv. 33 and 40). The idea is that a word from the Lord carries weight, and should not be trivialized. From yesterday’s passage (v. 28), the Lord compared His Word to a consuming fire and a hammer that can shatter rocks into pieces. The prophets’ dreams did not carry that power or have that effect on their hearers.
In verse 33, the Lord tells Jeremiah what to say when someone asks him “What is the burden [message / oracle] of the Lord ?” The Lord tells Jeremiah to say “‘You are the burden, and I will cast you off,’ declares the Lord.”
In verses 34 – 38, the Lord forbids Jeremiah or anyone else from using the phrase “the burden of the Lord” from that point in time forward. The prophets had so misused the phrase, associating whatever they decided to say with God’s name that His name became a mere cliche’ or catch-phrase that no longer reflected His holiness, power, or righteousness. The only questions the people were allowed to ask going forward were ‘What has the Lord answered you?’ or ‘What has the Lord spoken?’.
In verses 39 – 40, the Lord says He will cast off the burden of the prophets who declare anything in His name that did not come from Him. And the casting off will be literal – throwing them out of Jerusalem, to their shame, and for all the world to see.
May we always hold God’s Word in the highest regard and remember His power to transform us from the inside out when we obey Him and His Word.
May we also take God’s Words seriously, not using them carelessly or as nice “church words” that have no meaning or substance behind them, fully recognizing our responsibility to handle His Word carefully and respectfully.
May we have the heart of one seeking after the Lord, and asking “what has the Lord spoken?”, with the full commitment to obey whatever He says before we know what He will say.