“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!” says the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:1)God has a special judgment for those who are unfaithful shepherds. To whom much is given, much is required. The degree of insight and influence which God grants to those who guide His people elevates the level of the pastor’s responsibility and accountability. The more insight we have into the truth, the greater God holds us responsible for what we know. The more influence we have, the graver God views our accountability for those we lead.
Jeremiah was a faithful shepherd. It was not easy. His message was hated by his generation. His fellow shepherds were enjoying the favor of the people because they were telling them what they wanted to hear. This is the theme of Jeremiah 23.
Woe is pronounced on those who scatter sheep rather than gather them (v.1-2). Shepherds are meant to care for the flock—to lead, feed, guard, and care for the sheep. It is not an easy job. The faithless pastor is one who is focused on his concerns instead. He is self-centered and not sheep-centered.
The Lord, our Shepherd, takes note. He loves His sheep. This is His nature. God knows they are soon to be scattered in judgment when Jerusalem falls to the Babylonians. It is not just the wicked in the city that will be taken, but when the city is sacked, the godly will be led away also. God will not lose sight of His sheep, however, and will regather them and care for them (v.3). His way of caring for them is to appoint over His flock some faithful shepherds who will feed them the Word of God (v.4). I think of men like Ezekiel and Daniel—faithful shepherds to the exiles; Ezra, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi—faithful shepherds to those who returned to rebuild Jerusalem. The ultimate gathering of the Jews to Israel and outpouring of grace awaits the coming of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ (v.5-8).
The end of time is a day of hope for those who are prepared to meet the Lord. The Apostle would later write of his anticipation of reward for all faithful shepherds like himself (2 Tim.4:8). Paul knew there would be false teachers also who would tickle the ears of the people (2 Tim.4:3-4). The end of time is a day of horror for those who are unprepared. Faithless shepherds will face some of the hottest fires of hell for they have not only rejected God’s Word, they have actively led others into torment with them! Jeremiah was heartsick at the thought (v.9).
The spiritual leaders’ model and message—fueled by the lusts in their own wicked hearts—fed the flame of depraved desire in the hearts of the people (v.10). God assures them of His wrath (v.11-15).
Their kind is growing like a cancer in the churches of our land. Apostasy is a malignant evil afflicting the pulpit and killing those in the pew. As those of Jeremiah’s day, the source of their message is their own perverse heart and not the Word of God (v.16). They preach a false promise of prosperity and rock them to sleep with the lullaby of the damned (v.17). Such are not God called, but self-centered (v.18). Their doom will come (v.19-40).
The faithful shepherd knows the power of God’s Word (v.28-29). It will be a fire to consume the chaff and a hammer to break stony hearts. The shepherd’s call is to, “Preach the Word!” (2 Tim.4:2)