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God’s Word for You

Jeremiah 23:16-22

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, February 27, 2015

16 This is what the LORD of Armies says:
     Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you.
      They are making you worthless.
They speak visions from their own hearts
  and not from the mouth of the LORD.

This begins Jeremiah’s third sermon against the false prophets. This one is preached to their audience. “Do not listen! They are making you worthless!”

17 They keep saying to those who despise me,
      “The LORD has said you will have peace.”
And to everyone who stubbornness of his own heart
  they say, “No harm will come to you.”
18 For who has stood in the council of the LORD,
      to see and hear his word?
Who has listened to his word
  and heard it?

The defense offered here by the false prophets sounds eerily like the arguments of modern theologians who ignore the text and truth of the Bible. The argument goes like this: “Nobody can know what God wants, so who is Jeremiah to tell us that we’re wrong!?” They question whether anyone has ever heard the word of God—and therefore what they have to say is every bit as valid as what anyone else has to say.

The problem is, they’re using “camel in the tent” logic. An Arab proverb goes something like this: The camel pokes his nose into your tent because it’s warm in there, but once his nose is in, his whole head will follow. And if a camel’s head gets into the tent, pretty soon the whole camel will follow—and once that happens, there’s no room for anybody else in the tent. That’s what false doctrine always does. It pokes its nose into the tent and says, “You must tolerate me.” But pretty soon—just as soon as it is tolerated—it will not tolerate anything else. When false doctrine is allowed to have a place, then it will accuse orthodox doctrine of being hateful, unloving, intolerant, and illegal. Therefore where false doctrine begins its infection, the disease spreads throughout the whole body of Christ, killing what is healthy and leaving only ruin and decay. It must be fought, and the antidote is the pure gospel, the true word of God.

19 Look, a storm of the LORD!
      His wrath has gone out,
a whirlwind twisting down
  whirling on the heads of the wicked
20 The LORD’s anger will not turn back until he has completely fulfilled the purposes of his heart. In later days you will understand it perfectly.

Jeremiah makes a play on the word shuv, “turn.” Since the false prophets will not turn from their sin (verse 14 above), the Lord’s anger will not turn (shuv), either. The whirlwind of God’s wrath would come.

What are the “later days,” when this would be understood? These are either the days when the false prophets, exiled to Babylon, would be instructed in the truth of God’s word by men like Ezekiel and Daniel, or else this would be the realization in much later times, when the Messiah would come into the world to preach repentance and the righteousness of God. I am inclined to the second view, especially since we are told that “the Lord’s anger will not turn back until he has completely fulfilled the purposes of his heart.” This is a clear testimony about what happened to Jesus Christ on the cross, receiving the full vent of God’s anger until he completely fulfilled his purpose (“It is finished!” John 19:30).

This is what Paul described: “For he himself is our peace, who… has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14-16)

21 I did not send these prophets,
      yet they ran
I did not speak to them,
  yet they prophesied.
22 But if they had stood in my council
      they would have enabled my people to hear my words,
and would have turned them from their evil ways
  and from their evil deeds.

God’s judgment is simple and to the point: “I did not send them, I did not speak to them.” How could they claim to be God’s prophets if God did not send them? Their very claim to be God’s workers is undone by God’s own word. God says, even more simply, “If they had stood in my council, they would have…turned (my people) from their evil ways.” If the false prophets had actually listened to the word of God, then their work would have seen success; God’s Holy Spirit would have worked through their preaching to turn the people away from their sins and to live according to God’s holy will. Instead, the false prophets ran around prophesying lies, leading people further and further into sin.

They were the opposite of Eldad and Medad in the days of Moses. There was a time when the Holy Spirit descended on Israel’s leaders, who prophesied the word of the Lord in the tabernacle. But two of them, Eldad and Medad, had not gone into the tent, and had remained outside with the people. But the Spirit rested on them, too, and they began to prophesy where they were (Numbers 11:26-29). They spoke God’s truth because it was given to them, even though they had not sought out the experience (perhaps they had even stayed outside because they felt there would not be room for all seventy of Israel’s elders in the little tabernacle). The false prophets sought the experience without the word of God or the call from the Holy Spirit. They were just empty wind, but a deceptive wind.

Thank God for your called messenger. His message might be difficult at times; even painful. But it is the word of God. The messenger would be the first to tell you that what matters is not the man, but the word of God itself. This is what tells us what God’s will is, and this is what tells us God’s great Accomplishment. Through God’s own Son, our sins are atoned for, and we are made one with God through faith in Jesus, by baptism which gives us the forgiveness of sins, new life on earth, and eternal life in heaven.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.