Our reading today begins with King Zedekiah sending two men to inquire of Jeremiah (21:1). Note that this is not the same Pashhur of 20:1-6. Also note that Zedekiah was the last king of Judah, who we already know will be unwilling to listen to Jeremiah (see 2 Chr 36:11-16). Zedekiah wants Jeremiah to inquire of God because Babylon was attacking Judah (v. 2). I guess he really hadn’t been paying attention to Jeremiah…
Zedekiah doesn’t get the news he was hoping for. God is not going to make Babylon withdraw. In fact, He is going to give them victory (v. 4). It is God Himself fighting against Judah (v. 5)! We see that the prophecies of “pestilence, sword, and famine” as well as captivity are about to come to pass (v. 7 – see 15:2). God encourages the people to surrender (v. 9), because He has declared destruction against Judah (v. 10).
In verses 11-14, Jeremiah declares judgment against Zedekiah to the envoy the king sent. In chapter 22, God sends Jeremiah to prophesy to the king directly. In 21:11 and 22:4, God is offering a last chance for the king to repent. But God knows he will not repent. So He declares judgment against him (see 21:14). Judah is as fruitful and beautiful as either Gilead or Lebanon (v. 6), yet God is not going to destroy those gentile nations, but He will destroy Judah (v. 7). Then, the gentile nations will see the destruction and know that it happened because the people forsook God and worshiped other gods (vv. 8-9 – see Deut 29:24-28).
In verse 10, “him who is dead” is Josiah. “Him who goes away” is Jehoahaz who was taken captive to Egypt (2 Chr 36:4). In verse 11, God calls Jehoahaz “Shallum,” which means “payment” (see 1 Chr 3:15). He will die in captivity in Egypt (v. 12). Josiah was the last king to reign over a sovereign Judah. In Jehoahaz/Shallum’s day, Judah became a vassal nation of Egypt, and then eventually to Babylon under Jehoiakim. Josiah being dead and Jehoahaz ending his life in captivity is a metaphor for Judah – their sovereignty died and their captivity began, and they will end as captives. They will never again be a sovereign nation but will always be in subjugation. History proves this out as they were subject to Babylon, then Persia, then Greece, then the Seleucids, and finally Rome, which destroyed Judah finally and forever in 70 A.D.
God then pronounces woe, continuing the metaphor. Josiah was righteous and just – and knew God! – and it was well with him and Judah while the just king reigned (vv. 15-16). But his offspring: Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah – they were all unrighteous and unjust (v. 13, 17 – see 2 Chr 36:1-14). So God pronounces woe against Jehoiakim, who at this point was a captive in Babylon (v. 18 – see 2 Chr 36:5-6). He would die a dishonorable death. So will Judah, which is in view in verses 20-23. They were disobedient from the start (v. 21). The shepherds of verse 22 are the kings, they will be “shepherded” into captivity (v. 22). That Judah is an “inhabitant of Lebanon” refers to the cedars of Lebanon with which Solomon built the Temple and his palace.
Coniah (v. 28) is Jehoiachin. He was sent into captivity in Babylon, as well (see 2 Chr 36:9-10). The prophecy here is similar to that of Jehoahaz, whom God also removed from the land. Jehoiachin and his children will never return to the land. None of his offspring will sit on the throne of David, so he may as well be childless (v. 30). Zedekiah, remember, is Jehoiachin’s brother, not his son.
However, in the genealogy of Jesus that Matthew provides, Joseph descends from Jehoiachin (Jechoniah – see Matt 1:11-12). While Jesus was not Joseph’s physical son, He was the legal child of Joseph, and therefore in the kingly line of descent. Yet here, God says none of Jehoiachin’s descendants will sit on the throne of David. In the context of this chapter and the next (see below), God is saying that the coming Greater Son of David will not rule over physical Judah. His reign will be a spiritual reign over all of God’s spiritual people (see John 18:33-37).
In chapter 23, God continues to pronounce woe on the physical kings of Judah (23:1). It is, ultimately, on them that the captivity is coming (v. 2). But then God speaks of the remnant (v. 3). He will call them from all the countries they have been dispersed to and they will come back to their fold and will “be fruitful and multiply” (v. 4). This is the mandate God gave to Adam (Gen 1:28). God wanted Adam to fill the earth with followers of God. But Adam failed. So God told Noah after the Flood to do it (Gen 9:1). But Noah failed. And God scattered all the people of the world across the earth at Babel (Gen 11:8). So God called out of the world one man, Abraham, to be His and to bless all nations. But this time, God did not tell Abraham to do it, He promised He would do it (Gen 12:2-3). That promise then went to Isaac (Gen 26:3-4). Then it went to Jacob (Israel) along with the command to “be fruitful and multiply” and the promise that kings would come from his own body (Gen 35:11). Here, in Jeremiah 23:3, God now makes the “be fruitful and multiply” a promise, not a command. And He is rejecting the physical kings (vv. 1-2), and will set over His people true shepherds (kings).
And that will be fulfilled in the Branch of David (v. 5 – see Isa 4:2, 11:1). He will reign as King and execute true justice and righteousness (which the offspring of Josiah did not – see 21:11-17). Both Judah and Israel will dwell securely (v. 6). But the “land” over which He will reign is not the Promised Land. God said they would never again be a sovereign nation! The offspring of Jehoiachin (including Christ) will not sit on a throne in physical Judah! This “land” is the spiritual Israel, which will include God’s spiritual people, and will extend beyond physical Israel and Judah because when Christ reigns, “neither shall any be missing” from God’s people (v. 4). It will not just be the physical Israel that God saved from Egypt (v. 7). It will be those of all nations – out of all the countries God drove them at Babel! – and they will inherit the “land,” and they will finally fulfill the mandate/promise to “be fruitful and multiply” as God’s spiritual people extend to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8).
Jeremiah now indicts and condemns false prophets. Jeremiah is overcome with grief (v. 9) because Judah has earned the curse of God (see Deut 28:45-57, 29:24-28) for worshiping false gods (v. 10). The prophets of Judah are worse than those of Israel (vv. 13-14). They prophesy falsely (vv. 16-17) when God has not called them to prophesy (v. 18, 21-22). So they will be judged (vv. 19-20). God knows what they have done (vv. 23-25). They have intended to turn people from Him (v. 27). So God is against them (vv. 30-32). In verses 33-40, the “burden” of God is the prophetic message He gives His prophets to speak. God plays with the word to tell the false prophets that they who pretend to have a “burden” from God will cast off by Him like a burden. He forbids them to even use the word anymore (vv. 35-40)!
Chapter 24 begins right after Jehoiachin/Jeconiah/Coniah is taken captive to Babylon (24:1 – see 2 Chr 36:10). God gives Jeremiah a vision of baskets of good and bad figs before the Temple (vv. 1-3). The good figs represent God’s spiritual people (among the physical people), and the bad figs the purely physical people. The spiritual people will go into captivity (v. 4). The captivity is God’s means of preserving them (v. 6 – see 21:8-9). God will give His spiritual remnant hearts to know Him, and they will be His people (v. 7). As for the purely physical people, they will be killed and “destroyed from the land” by the sword, famine, and pestilence (v. 10 – see 21:7). Also, those who go into Egypt will be judged, as well (v. 8). The purely physical people will become a horror and a byword (v. 9 – see Deut 28:37).