False and True

Jeremiah 23:24—32

Jeremiah wasn’t preaching the Word of God to win friends. Over his lengthy ministry, he offended more people than he won over to the Lord’s side. Sometimes the Gospel has this effect on people. God’s Word seldom makes any sense to those who don’t believe in it.

In Jeremiah 23, Jeremiah is at it again; offending people with the word of the Lord. First, he offends the kings of Judah:

Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. (verse 1)

The kings of Judah were considered shepherds who led God’s people on the right path. While Judah had some very godly kings, it also had its share of wicked and vile kings who did untold damage to the kingdom. Jeremiah makes it clear that God has noticed what these kings have done and they will be punished:

I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done… (verse 2b)

That’s not an uplifting sermon, it’s an offensive one.

So, after having opposed and offended the kings, Jeremiah sets his sights on the prophets of Judah who were not preaching the truth, especially about the severe consequences of their sins.These prophets were not just ignorant, they were dangerous because they preached for money. Monetary gain was their motivation and these worthless, dangerous ministers were herding the already rebellious people of Judah straight toward oblivion at breakneck speed.

These verses serve to show us that there are, in the kingdom of God, two kinds of preachers: those who preach the truth of God’s Word because they themselves have received that Word in their own hearts and those who preach things they dreamed up out of their own heads.

God’s denunciation of Judah’s prophets was justly severe. God had already seen the damage false prophets did to to the northern kingdom of Samaria. Thanks to them, Samaria fell to the Assyrians. What happened to the north a hundred years earlier is about to happen to Judah, and for exactly the same reasons.

1. The dreamers

I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’ (verse 25)

The problem with preaching a dream is that of authority. What authority does a dream have? None! A dream is NOT the Word of God, and it is the Word of God that carries the authority of God. It is the Word of God that changes a heart for the better. These false prophets were so because they preached a dream they had, therefore, so they thought, the whole world should sit up and take notice. But anybody can have a dream!

Now, we know what Joel 2:28 says—

I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.

There is a segment of the church that clings to that verse and uses it as an excuse to do just what God accused these false prophets of doing in Jeremiah’s day. The Joel prophecy is not saying that in the last days dreams would trump the Word of God. It is saying that “old men” would be given God-given direction through the infilling of the Holy Spirit. But it is still and will always be the Word of God that carries the authority of God. No dream or vision or message in tongues has that kind of authority.

These dreamers thought they had a unique message that was so awesome and so earth shattering, yet as far as God was concerned, these dreamers were just plain stupid.

Am I only a God nearby,” declares the Lord, “and not a God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord. (verses 23, 24)

These false prophets viewed God as big as their dreams. But by His own testimony, God is so much bigger than any man can dream! These two verses make the point that Yahweh, unlike the false gods that were common to different localities, is not confined only Judah! God is so big and His presence so pervasive that He cannot be escaped; nobody can hide from Him. These two verses brilliantly make the case that our God is both immanent and transcendent, omniscient and omnipresent. No false prophet , no matter how eloquent and attractive he may be, can hide his sins from God. If he is speaking lies, he will be judged. To coin a phrase, you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can never fool God any time.

These false prophets thought their sins were hidden from God, but God was well aware of them. They preached lies to the people, using the pretense of a dream to give their lies credence. Dreams had always been viewed as a legitimate way to discern God’s will, but these babbling false preachers were using dreams, not to further God’s will or confirm it, but to fill their own pockets. In the end, though, they were completely distorting the character of God.

How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds? They think the dreams they tell one another will make my people forget my name, just as their fathers forgot my name through Baal worship. (verses 26, 27)

This is a rhetorical question, for the false prophets would not keep getting away with lying. To Jeremiah and other faithful preachers of God’s true Word, it may have seemed like the false prophets were lying with impunity. Not so, declares the Lord! They will not last. These false prophets and their sermons of lies were having the exact same effect on Jeremiah’s people as Baal worship had had on Samaria a hundred years earlier, but they were so full of themselves, they couldn’t see it.

Of course, there wouldn’t have been false preachers if there wasn’t an audience for them. People have always been more attracted the false teaching than the truth of God’s Word. The Apostle Paul confirms this kind of thing went on and goes on even to this day:

For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:3, 4)

2. Receivers

Are all dreams bad? Should a preacher never mention a dream or an idea he had from behind the pulpit? Of course not! In verse 28, the Lord laid down a guideline:

Let the prophet who has a dream tell his dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?” declares the Lord.

If a prophet had a dream and preached about it, he had to tell his listeners it was just a dream and nothing more than that. Why? Because dreams and the pure Word of God should never be mixed together. Dreams are to the Word as weeds are to wheat. The words of the dreaming false prophets were worse than worthless to those who heard them—like weeds in the garden. But a sermon made up of God’s Word is like wheat! It nourishes and strengthens those who hear it. This is God’s point in verse 28. If a man is going to preach something other than the Word of God, let him tell his people where his ideas came from. Don’t deceive the audience into thinking it’s from God when it isn’t!

Of course, a false teacher or false prophet would never do that because they know God’s people really want God’s Word and the only way to keep them coming back is to trick them into thinking that’s what they are getting. But how can the average person, in Jeremiah’s day and today, tell when they are having the wool pulled over their eyes? How can we tell the truth from lies when they come from behind the  pulpit? The easy answer is to simply exercise discernment. Every believer is filled with the Holy Spirit, and part of His job is to help the believer tell the difference. But the Word of God itself has certain qualities that will prove it to be the truth. A genuine Word from God will be known by the divine energy that accompanies its proclamation.

Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (verse 29)

No dream or doctrine of man has that effect! God’s Word is like a fire, compared to the cold, useless words of the false prophets. Nobody should ever be in doubt about God’s Word; it will always authenticate itself! God’s truth is like a fire! It is penetrating, purifying, and it consumes anything in its way. This was something Jeremiah himself understood clearly:

Therefore this is what the Lord God Almighty says: “Because the people have spoken these words, I will make my words in your mouth a fire and these people the wood it consumes.” (Jeremiah 5:14)

But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. (Jeremiah 20:9)

Jeremiah, like all who preach the truth of God’s Word have themselves received that Word in their hearts. Their messages are not dreams. They are not full of worldly wisdom, necessarily. What makes a preacher great is not his educational pedigree. It’s the Word burning in His heart, trying to get out.

More than a fire, the Word of God is like a hammer in the strong hands of somebody who knows how to use it. A message full of God’s truth will not put a needy heart to sleep! The truth of the Word can break a heart to bring it to repentance. No dream can do that! The wonder of the Word is that convicts and converts. It does not amuse or entertain.

Once, after Jesus had risen from the dead, He met a couple of believers walking on the road to Emmaus. As the three of them walked along, the two men didn’t recognize Jesus. He was, after all, supposed to be dead. As they walked along, Jesus quoted the Word to them. It wasn’t until after Jesus left them that they realized who this stranger was!

They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

In other words, they should have known who this Guy was! When they received the Word, it burned in their hearts.

Why in the world would anybody want to listen to the whims of a man when they could listen to the Word of God?

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12, 13)

That may be why. Some people might be afraid to let the Word get too close to them. Once you’ve been exposed to the Word, you have a choice to make. Do you change your life and live? Or stay the same and risk being lost forever? Some people would rather not choose. To them, the dream is preferable. What about you?

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