The Old Testament Lesson for this Sunday is from the book of the prophet Jeremiah. The text is Jeremiah 23:16-29 and is part of a larger section of chapter 23 (vs. 9-40) which speaks very directly concerning ungodly, false prophets, and even against the priests. Similar to Ezekiel 34, the shepherds (prophets and priests) who have been charged with the care and nurture of the LORD’s sheep have been more concerned with their own needs and desires. More to the point, these false and lying prophets have been saying what the people want to hear and claiming it is the word of the LORD. Like St. Paul writes concerning those who preach and speak words to scratch our itching ears, the LORD through Jeremiah’s prophecy speaks of those who do not know Him or His will or His Word speaking the “party line” to please those in power and control. Basically, they are Old Testament “yes men” and the LORD is not at all amused by their antics.
The LORD makes it clear there really is no excuse for such behavior because He is a God who is in their midst. Verse 23 asks, “Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far off?” God identifies Himself as a unique God here as He does through Moses and Joshua when He says things like, “No other people have a God like yours. A God who is truly with His people.” This is all part of the “Real Presence” motif of Scripture. The real presence of the LORD does not pop-up unannounced when Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper—it has been a theme from the days in the Garden of Eden when He walked and talked with His people. Even with the separation that takes place at the Fall into sin, God continues to desire to be in the midst of His people. From theophany to vision, from tabernacle to temple the LORD God lays out the things which need to be done so He and man can dwell together. This is an incredible reality—God loves us so much He desires to be with us! Obviously, the real presence manifests itself in the most intimate way when Christ is born of Mary. Even His name Emmanuel means, “God with Us.”
As we look at this text one might at first struggle to find the Gospel. The condemnation of the false prophets and priests is quite strong. In preaching I would point to verse 23 and use the “real presence” of God with His people as the means to show the Gospel to the people in the pew. We have a God who is with us—who cares for us, pays attention—and who is angry at those who would lead us astray and speaks falsehoods to us concerning Him. The LORD desires to be with us and will show His wrath toward those who would sever this relationship!
23:16 הַנְּבִאִים הַנִּבְּאִים (han-ne-vi-Im han-nib-be-Im) “the prophets, the ones prophesying (to you)” literally: of the prophets who prophesy.
מַהְבִּלִים (mah-bi-Lim) root: הבל (haw-bal) Hiphil, participle: “cause to become vain; made void; delude” The Hiphil shows the causing agent to be the false prophets and their prophecies.
חֲזוֹן] (cha-Zon) “prophecy; vision; oracle; divine communication”
23:17 אֹמְרִים אָמוֹר (o-me-Rim a-mOr) “they say continually…”
לִמְנַאֲצַי (lim-na-a-Tzai) root: נאץ (naw-ats) Piel, infinitive: “to despise; spurn; to treat with disrespect”
בִּשְׁרִרוּת (bish-ri-Rut) from: שׁרירות (sher-ee-rooth) “stubbornness; hard-heartedness”
23:18 בְּסוֹד (be-Sod) from: סוֹד (sode) “council; intimate circle”
הִקְשִׁיב (hik-Shiv) root: קשׁב (kaw-shab) Hiphil: “to listen carefully, attentively; to pay attention”
23:19 סַעֲרַת; (sa-a-Rat) “tempest; high wind; storm”
וְסַעַר (ve-Sa-ar) “and a heavy gale; tempest”
מִתְחוֹלֵל (mit-cho-Lel) root: חול (khool) Hithpolel, participle: “to whirl”
יָחוּל (ya-Chul) Qal: “(prefix: it will) to whirl; to whirl about violently”
23:20 מְזִמּוֹת (me-zim-Mot) “project; purpose; plan; intent”
בְּאַחֲרִית. (be-a-cha-Rit) from: אַחֲרִית; (akh-ar-eeth) “end; means”
תִּתְבּוֹנְנוּ (tit-Bon-nu) root: בנה (bene) Hithpael: “(prefix: you will) to understand; to cause to understand”
בִּינָהi (bi-Nah) “understanding; perfectly”
23:21 שָׁלַחְתִּי (sha-Lach-ti) “to send”
דִבַּרְתִּי (dib-Bar-ti) Piel: “to speak”
23:22 וּמֵרֹעַ (u-me-Ro-a) from: רֹעַ (ro-ah) “evil; corruption”
מַעַלְלֵיהֶם (Ma-al-lei-Hem) “deed; action”
23:23 מִקָּרֹבi (mik-ka-Ro) from: קרוֹב (kaw-robe) “near; close; close by”
מֵרָחֹק (me-ra-Chok) from: רחוֹק (raw-khoke) “far off; afar; afar off”
23:24 יִסָּתֵר (yis-sa-Ter) root: סתר (saw-thar) Niphal: “to hide oneself”
בַּמִּסְתָּרִים (bam-mis-ta-Rim) “in secret places”
23:25 חָלַמְתִּי (cha-Lam-ti) root: חלמ (khaw-lam) Qal: “to dream” Literally: “I have dreamed.”
23:26 מָתַי (ma-Tai) “when?”
תַּרְמִת; (tar-Mit) “deceit; betrayal”
23:27 בַּחֲלוֹמֹתָם; (ba-cha-Lo-mo-Tam) from: חֲלוֹם (khal-ome) “dream” “in their dreams”
23:28 הַבָּר; (hab-Bar) from: בָּר; (bawr) “grain; corn”
23:29 וּכְפַטִּישׁ (u-che-fat-Tish) from: פַטִּישׁ; (pat-teesh) “forge hammer; blacksmith’s hammer”
יְפֹצֵץ (ye-Fo-tzetz) root: פצץ (poots) Poel: “to smash; to shatter; to break into pieces”
סָלַע (Sa-la) “cliff; crag; rock”
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Jeremiah 23:16-29.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Jeremiah 23:16-29.