37 Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, when the Lord has not commanded it? 38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that woe and well-being proceed? 39 Why should a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?” (Lamentations 3:37–39, NKJV)
Jeremiah’s Lamentations may seem an unlikely place to teach respect for God’s silence, but this passage powerfully describes the futility and falsity of speaking when the Lord has not spoken. God had brought His righteous wrath upon Jerusalem to punish her sins (Lam. 1:3-5, 8-11; 2:1-8). He announced judgment against Zion and brought it to pass at the hands of the Babylonian army. Many false prophets said Jerusalem would not fall, but its fall showed they spoke when the Lord had not commanded it (cf. Jer. 28; 2 Chron. 36:15-21). They preached a message of “peace, peace” when there was no peace, only impending doom (Jer. 6:13-15). We have no right to complain against God when He punishes our sins according to His word (v. 39). Both “woe and well-being proceed” from Him, not us. We must submit to His word humbly and faithfully. Jerusalem and Judah refused to do that, and the Lord punished them. In the New Testament, honoring the silence of the Scriptures (of God) is not going beyond what is written but instead, abiding in Christ’s doctrine (1 Cor. 4:6; 2 Jno. 9). We must follow what the Scriptures say, not speak where God has not spoken. To teach and practice things God’s word does not speak of will not have God’s approval, but is a transgression of the doctrine of Christ. Let us speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is silent.
5 “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; A King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. 6 In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; Now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” (Jeremiah 23:5–6, NKJV)
Jeremiah wrote spoke prophetically of Jesus Christ the King. He is the “Branch of righteousness” raised up by Yahweh to reign, to execute justice and righteousness, to bring salvation and safety to the people of God. Jeremiah’s predecessors, Isaiah and Micah, spoke of His coming reign of justice and righteousness (Isa. 2:2-4; 11:1-5; Micah 4:1-8). Jeremiah’s contemporary, Ezekiel, anticipated a shepherd prince who would feed God’s sheep and God would make a covenant of peace with them to dwell safely and receive “showers of blessing” from the Lord (Ezek. 34:24-28). Later, Zechariah reassured Jerusalem their king would come with salvation, riding on the foal of a donkey and speaking peace to the nations (Zech. 9:9-10; Matt. 21:1-10). God has delivered what He promised. The righteous Branch of David has come bringing salvation from sin, peace with God, and showers of blessings as the sheep of His flock (Acts 4:12; Rom. 5:1; Eph. 1:3; Jno. 10:15-16, 26-29). Do not be misled into looking for a future return of Jesus to reign as king on the earth. The King is on David’s throne now, reigning at the right hand of God (Acts 2:29-36; Heb. 1:8-13). Jeremiah said, “the days are coming,” and those days have arrived. Christ’s kingdom is His church (Acts 2:44; Mk. 1:14-15; 9:1; Matt. 16:18-19). Praise God for His great redemptive plan and the eternal spiritual blessings available to us all in His Son!
15 Thus says the Lord: “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” 16 Thus says the Lord: “Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; For your work shall be rewarded, says the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. 17 There is hope in your future, says the Lord, that your children shall come back to their own border.” (Jeremiah 31:15–17, NKJV)
The horrors of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem (586 B.C.) and exile were followed by a remnant of the people returning to their land (Ezra 1-2). God gave hope to the exiled people through Jeremiah, assuring them their “work shall be rewarded” and “your children shall come back to their own border.” It is telling the Lord said their “work” would be rewarded. (See Jeremiah 29:1-11 for a description of their “work” and God’s promised reward.) Many teach any rewarded work of man is meritorious and against the purpose of God. This verse teaches otherwise. So, the “faith only” people have a problem because Jeremiah said God would reward their work. There are Messianic undertones to the passage. Matthew applied verse 15 directly to Herod’s slaughter of the young male children in Bethlehem and its districts (Matt. 2:16-18). Jesus survived that horrific event, and our hope is redemption from sin’s captivity in Christ Jesus (Rom. 5:1-2, 8-11). Works of faith do not merit the reward God promises us any more than the remnant’s faith earned their return to the land. Works of obedience show our faith in God and the hope we have in Jesus (Jas. 2:17-18; Heb. 10:36-11:1). Remember, God rewards the faithful (Heb. 11:6).
4 Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:4–5, NKJV)
Jeremiah was unique before his birth. (The unborn baby is new human life, not merely a blob of tissue connected to a woman.) The Bible repeatedly upholds the dignity of life as from God, formed and sustained by Him. In Eden, sin interrupted life and brought death. God’s plan to redeem sinners (us) from death would involve the death of His Son. But, His power of life over death would resurrect Jesus (Rom. 1:4). God chose Jeremiah before He formed Him. He set him in place as a prophet of God’s redemptive purposes. He would speak God’s word to a Judah, a sinful nation on the verge of destruction for her sins (Jer. 1:6-10). Judgment was coming, but divine mercy and redemption would also come (Jer. 21:1-10; 23:1-8). After God’s judgment against Judah (the seventy-year Babylonian exile), God would restore a remnant to the land (which occurred under Cyrus, King of Persia, Jer. 29:10-14; 25:11-12; Ezra 1:1-4). God would send “David” (Messiah) to be their King, vastly different from the kings who rebelled against God (Jer. 22). He would be “a Branch of righteousness” who would “reign and prosper” God’s people with salvation and safety (Jer. 23:1-8; 30:8-9). Messiah indeed came, but they killed Him. Yet, Jeremiah’s prophecy came true – Jesus now reigns over His kingdom at God’s right hand – “The Lord Our Righteousness” (Jer. 23:5-6; Acts 2:30-36; Heb. 1:8-9). Believe and obey the King and share in the salvation Jeremiah anticipated (1 Pet. 1:10-12; Acts 2:36-41).
13 Because from the least of them even to the greatest of them, everyone is given to covetousness; And from the prophet even to the priest, everyone deals falsely. 14 They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly, Saying, ‘Peace, peace!’ When there is no peace. (Jeremiah 6:13–14, NKJV)
Jerusalem and Judah were headed for destruction in the days of Jeremiah. Covetous hearts – greedy for power and wealth – guided both prophet and priest to speak falsely to a population that loved to have it so. These religious charlatans “healed” the spiritual ailments of the people with superficial dressings. They proclaimed “peace, peace,” even though hostility toward God and men ruled the day. Even now, religious leaders, with many followers, preach messages that fail to heal men’s soul – even as those souls rush headlong toward eternal ruin. Messages of peace that tolerate immorality are proclaimed. “Peace” is advanced at the expense of divine truth. (Indeed, evil is called good, and good is called evil, Isaiah 5:20.) Jeremiah’s warning remains relevant, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it’” (Jer. 6:16). No peace can exist where sin reigns. Changing its definitions and ignoring its reality reveals hearts that are greedy for selfish gains, not selfless hearts devoted to the Almighty.
13 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, the prophets say to them, ‘You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.’” 14 And the Lord said to me, “The prophets prophesy lies in My name. I have not sent them, commanded them, nor spoken to them; they prophesy to you a false vision, divination, a worthless thing, and the deceit of their heart.” (Jeremiah 14:13–14, NKJV)
Many prophets were telling Judah, “Peace, peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). Jeremiah was telling them destruction was on the way (Jeremiah 6:22-30). How was Israel to know the difference between a false prophet and a true prophet? “If the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously” (Deuteronomy 18:21-22). Jeremiah was the true prophet; the others were false because their prophecies failed. False prophets are deceived and speak from hearts of deception, not from divine revelation. Even today some claim to be prophets of God. But, like the lying prophets of old, their words are false because they do not conform to the Scriptures (the revealed mind of God, 1 Corinthians 2:6-13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Revelation is now complete (John 16:13). Today, we know whether a message is from God or from the heart of man by comparing it to the words of Christ’s apostles (1 John 4:1, 6). They wrote the commandments of the Lord (1 Corinthians 14:37).
30 “An astonishing and horrible thing has been committed in the land: 31 The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own power; And My people love to have it so. But what will you do in the end?” (Jeremiah 5:30–31, NKJV)
When Jeremiah penned this warning from God, Judah was facing punishment for her sins (“Shall I not punish them for these things? says the Lord,” Jeremiah 5:29). This passage gives us insight into God’s great displeasure with false teaching and religious oppression. Devastating and horrible things were happening in Judah, because false prophets were speaking lies in the name of God (Jeremiah 14:14). Yet, God’s people “loved to have it so.” The priests, who should have taught the people to be holy before the Lord, seized power for themselves at the expense of the people. And still, God’s people loved to have it so. In the end, they did not escape God’s judgment. Even now, some Christians are content to be deceived by false teachers. Instead of following God’s word, they are willing to be ruled over by the tyranny of human wisdom. Why? Perhaps, because it has always been easier to run with the crowd to do evil than to stand up and stand against unscriptural teaching and immoral practices (Exodus 23:2). God sees false teaching and unholy conduct as devastating and horrible things, that bring destruction upon those who “love to have it so.” May we resolve never to love what God hates (Psalm 97:10; Romans 12:9).
“Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem; See now and know; And seek in her open places if you can find a man, if there is anyone who executes judgment, who seeks the truth, and I will pardon her.” (Jeremiah 5:1, NKJV)
The Lord God sent Jeremiah into the streets of Jerusalem to look for a righteous man; a man of justice (“judgment”), and one who seeks the truth. Such a discovery would prevent God’s punishment upon the rebellious, obstinate, sinful city (Jeremiah 5:3, 7-9). But, what Jeremiah found were lies instead of the truth (Jeremiah 5:2). None were found among the poor; they did not know the way of the Lord (Jeremiah 5:4). None were found among her “great men;” they had burst the bonds of divine rule in favor of destructive, sinful pleasures (Jeremiah 5:5-9). Does God find you to be a person who is just toward others? Do you seek truth, and pursue it? Or, have sin’s allurements enticed you away from Him, hardening your heart toward His will? Jerusalem reached a point of no return, and she was destroyed for her sins (Jeremiah 52:3-30). But, it is not too late for you to return to the Lord. His longsuffering continues to this moment, longing for sinners to repent (2 Peter 3:9). If you will heed His call and repent, He will pardon your sins, and you will escape His wrath (Romans 2:1-11).
16 Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They make you worthless; They speak a vision of their own heart, not from the mouth of the Lord. 17 They continually say to those who despise Me, ‘The Lord has said, “You shall have peace”’; And to everyone who walks according to the dictates of his own heart, they say, ‘No evil shall come upon you.’” (Jeremiah 23:16–17, NKJV)
The false prophets in Jerusalem during the life of Jeremiah sound much like the false preachers today, who tell people such things as, “Let your conscience be your guide,” and, “join the church of your choice,” and, “God will accept every person who has a sincere heart” (that was the very falsehood for which God punished His people, verse 17). Living “according to the dictates of his own heart” brings a person under God’s wrath, not God’s approval and pleasure. Such worthless teaching made the people spiritually worthless (verse 16). When Jeremiah opposed these false prophets, they tried to have him killed (Jeremiah 26:4-14). A person who tells you God’s truth is not your enemy; don’t make him out to be one (Galatians 4:16). Speaking God’s truth has never been popular. But, we must speak truth, attempt to save souls and please God. We dare not speak error to please men, for by doing so, we lose our souls, and they remain lost, too (Galatians 1:10; 4:16; 1 Timothy 4:16).
“As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you! But we will certainly do whatever has gone out of our own mouth, to burn incense to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we have done, we and our fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, were well-off, and saw no trouble.” (Jeremiah 44:16–17, NKJV)
Can you image God’s people telling God’s prophet that they would not listen to him? That is exactly what this remnant of Judah said to Jeremiah. They did not love the word of God, but themselves. They interpreted their days of plenty to mean God was pleased with them; they were wrong. They said this even though their beloved city of Jerusalem had been ransacked by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar! Yet, still they clung to their idols in their self-willed defiance, even though God would bring further judgment upon them for their rebellion (Jer. 44:12). This sounds very familiar. There are still many who claim to have faith in God that behave this way. Refusing to listen to the word of Christ from His apostles does not bring divine blessings, but certain judgment (John 12:48). To have God’s approval and blessings, the sin of defiant self-will must be abandoned, and replaced with humble submission to the word of Christ (Matt. 7:21-23).