Jeremiah 23:1-6 on August 6th, 2023

Jeremiah 23:1-6 on August 6th, 2023

We are on an open bus tour of the book of Jeremiah. We can’t see and explain everything.

What we are doing in our Sunday mornings is taking a stop at some iconic places in the book, and hopefully, that’ll give you a feel of what the book looks like.

But I encourage you to read it at home if you find some time. Depending on the version you use, it has about 33,000 words, so the longest book in the Bible by word count; but you can read through that in just 2-4hrs, again depending on how fast you read.

Today we are in Jeremiah 23, so let’s pray as we start:

Jer. 23:28 Let the prophet who has a dream recount the dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?” declares the Lord. 29 “Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?


The focus this morning is leadership. We all know that leadership matters. Everything rises and falls on leadership.

The people of Israel are not innocent and blameless; but as they say—a fish rots from the head.

And the passage today goes for the head.

v.1 “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord.

It is also worth noting at the start that right at the beginning of the book, Jeremiah sets what we might call a ministry philosophy.

This is his commission/mandate from God: to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.

It is exactly by destroying, and uprooting; that building and planting is possible. In theological terms, it is salvation through judgment, a theme that runs right through the Bible.

So hold those two themes in your mind. It is not just judgment for the sake of judgment, it is judgment to pave the way for salvation.

And this passage is a classic example of that principle

So two points:

  1. Woe to the shepherds who scatter

Again this is a big theme in Jeremiah. And I think it is ruthless here in Jeremiah 23.

If you are a leader, Jeremiah 23 should give you pause.

v.2 Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord.

There is a play of words on that last line which translators have a lot of fun with. The NIV here uses the word ‘bestow:’ you have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you

Most translations use the phrase ‘attend to’ or ‘take care of;’

And it’s like those mafia bosses in movies saying, “I will take care of them,”

It’s a dangerous place to be in. You have scattered my flock, and driven them away and have not taken care of them. I will take care of you for this evil you have done.

And that is unpacked in the rest if the chapter which we didn’t read, but which makes for a very sobering reading.

Let’s just skim through it:

In v.10, the prophets, just like the kings in ch.22, abuse their power.

v.11 Both prophet and priest are godless;

    even in my temple I find their wickedness,”

declares the Lord.

And so the Lord will take care of them,

12 “Therefore their path will become slippery;

    they will be banished to darkness

    and there they will fall.

I remember hearing the story of a 20yr old who slipped in the bathroom and died. Slipping is dangerous, for the old but even for the young.

The Lord will make their paths slippery and dark at the same time.

v.14 (in v.13 he talks about the prophets in Samaria which is now already in exile) but the prophets in Judah are not different

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.”

It’s their personal life and their ministry, these prophets. Instead of helping people to turn away from sin, they strengthen them in it. Thus making repentance impossible.

And so the Lord will take care of them:

v.15 Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty says concerning the prophets:

“I will make them eat bitter food

    and drink poisoned water,

because from the prophets of Jerusalem

    ungodliness has spread throughout the land.”

And I wonder if the reason we might find language like this a bit too extreme is that we have not considered just how dangerous false teaching is. So imagine you had an opportunity to have coffee with Osama bin Laden just before 9/11 and had a small chance to sneak in cyanide in his coffee while he dashed to the restrooms.

I would probably do it, especially if I was not Daniel the pastor, but Daniel the CIA or MI6 agent. And you all would have probably said, something needed to be done to protect all those innocent people he’s going to destroy.

And I think that’s exactly what’s going on here, except that, it’s much worse. Osama killed people physically, but physical death is not the last word. These prophets, they are more dangerous because they kill people eternally, Jeremiah would say.

And so,v.16 This is what the Lord Almighty says:

“Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you;

    they fill you with false hopes.

They speak visions from their own minds,

    not from the mouth of the Lord.

17 They keep saying to those who despise me,

    ‘The Lord says: You will have peace.’

And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts

    they say, ‘No harm will come to you.’

Again, they encourage people to just go on sinning: “It really doesn’t matter. God loves you unconditionally, they would say. Follow your heart…”

v.25 they prophesy lies in my name:

–all of them are of course using the name of Jesus

v.32 They tell them and lead my people astray with their reckless lies, yet I did not send or appoint them. They do not benefit these people in the least,” declares the Lord.

Indeed, the Lord is so sick of them that the lord forbids the introductory formula for his words:

v.36  But you must not mention ‘a message from the Lord’ again, because each one’s word becomes their own message. So you distort the words of the living God, the Lord Almighty, our God.

It’s like when, especially in Anglican churches, we say, “This is the word of the Lord” after reading the bible. And God says, let no one ever say that again.

Because people in all sorts of churches say this is the word of the Lord, and yet they don’t believe it. They distort God’s word.

Do not listen to them! He says.

Woe to the shepherds who scatter, who do not take care of the flock, the Lord will take care of them.

  • Yaay to the Shepherd who gathers

And so here we turn over the coin: from destruction to building up; from uprooting to planting.

And the shock of this passage I think, is that God puts himself as the substitute for these scattering shepherds:

v.3 “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number.

The phrase ‘be fruitful and increase in number’ is a significant one in the Bible, and is usually called the creation mandate. It is our main task in this world.

And so the Lord says, I am going to be the shepherd. I will gather all the remaining sheep from wherever they are, and bring them back so they can serve their divine assignment.  

They believed a lie, and did not repent; and so they are scattered, away from home, and hopeless. The Lord will bring them back, and then v.4, appoint shepherds over them.

The implication is that these shepherds to be appointed would be under-shepherds, working under the chief shepherd as Apostle Peter calls him.

And so the flock will be safe and none missing; because the lord is tending them.

In the immediate, it was shepherds like Ezra and Nehemiah, extraordinary leaders who shepherded the people when they returned and led a spiritual renewal in the land. And today, it is the faithful pastors and priests.

And then most importantly, v.5 and 6, the Lord will raise up a righteous branch, a king who will reign wisely and justly.

And of course if you know your bible, you know that this righteous branch, this king from the line of David is the Lord Jesus.

 When he comes, he says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Which is extraordinary. Because if you ask, how does this shepherd gather the flock? How does he restore them?

Answer: He lays down his life for them

And right at the cross, even while he is hanging there, anyone who would humble himself and acknowledge his kingdom becomes a gathered flock—your past notwithstanding.

So woe, to the shepherds who scatter, but praise God, rejoice, yaay, to the Shepherd who gathers—the Lord Jesus, and of course yaay to the under-shepherds: the priests and pastors who shepherd under him.