“Good Shepherds” – Jeremiah 23:1-8 [9-40]

September 1st, 2019

Jeremiah 23:1-8 {9-40}

“Good Shepherds”

Aux. Texts: Ezek 34:1-16 & John 10:11-18

Call to Worship: Psalm 23

Service Orientation: Godly, serving, hard-working, competent and loving leaders create a great society.   Evil, selfish, lazy and incompetent leaders create poverty, chaos and disintegration.  God promises woe to bad leaders.


Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. — John 10:11


Background Information:

  • Back in chapter 5, God promised that he would forgive his people if Jeremiah could find just one good man. The prophet searched high and low.  He walked up the streets and down the alleys, but he could not find even one man to be righteous for the people. 

     In chapter 23, Jeremiah finally finds his man.  This Good Shepherd, this Son of David, this Wise King will be righteous for his people.  In some way–perhaps even beyond Jeremiah’s comprehension–the goodness, integrity, and moral perfection of the Righteous Branch would belong to God’s people.  His righteousness would be credited to their account.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 342)

  • Included among the “shepherds” mentioned at the beginning of the chapter are almost certainly kings–perhaps the three kings (Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah) mentioned in the previous two chapters. Priests are also mentioned (23:11, 33-34), but the brunt of the criticism falls on prophets, who have not understood the Lord correctly and who have, therefore, misled the people (cf. Dt 13; 18).  (J. Andrew Dearman, The NIV Application Commentary: Jeremiah, 217)
  • (v. 2) In verse 2, the prophet used a play on words to enrich the picture he wanted to paint. The Hebrew word translated bestowed care (tend my people – NIV) is one that means “to visit,” in either a good or bad sense.  The Hebrew reads literally, “You have not visited them; behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings.”  (Max Anders, Holman OT Commentary: Jeremiah, 215)
  • (v. 5) Jeremiah used an interesting metaphor. The word Branch comes from a verb that means “to shoot, sprout, grow up, spring up, arise.”  This same figure, though not expressed with the same terms, was used by Isaiah (Isa 11:1) to predict the coming of the messianic Servant of the Lord.  He would arise from the remnant of a crushed nation.  (Max Anders, Holman OT Commentary: Jeremiah, 215)
  • (v. 6) Paul may have had this promise in mind when he spoke of “Christ Jesus. . . our righteousness. . .” (1 Cor 1:30, cf. 2 Cor 5:21). (Derek Kidner, The Bible Speaks Today:  Jeremiah, 90)
  • (v. 6) The prophecy expresses a future hope that a king, who will bear the name “The LORD [Yahweh] is our righteousness” (v. 6), will be “raised up” (i.e., elevated to the throne) by God to fulfill the promise attached to the Davidic dynasty. This precisely is the meaning of the name Zedekiah; the Babylonian administration placed Zedekiah on the throne in place of the deported Jehoiachin.  The interpretation favored by Skinner and others has seen this as an extremely subtle rejection of Zedekiah, implying that he was unworthy of his name (and royal office) and would be one day replaced by one who would bear it more appropriately.  (R.E. Clements, Interpretation: Jeremiah, 139)
  • (v. 6) The coming King would be called “the LORD Our Righteousness” (23:6b). In other words, he would be exactly the opposite of the kind of ruler we have come to expect in this world.  That is why Jeremiah switched Zedekiah’s name around to make his pun.  Zedekiah was called “Righteous is the Lord,” but the Messiah would be called “the LORD Our Righteousness.”  He would be the antithesis of men like Zedekiah.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 342)


The questions to be answered are . . . Why does Jeremiah spend a whole chapter talking about shepherds?  What does it teach us?


Answers: Shepherds are leaders of any kind.  God promises woe to those leaders who fail to bring their constituents into shalom.


Leadership is influence, the ability of one person to influence others to follow his or her lead. (J. Oswald Sanders; Spiritual Leadership – Principles of Excellence for Every Believer, 27)


Jesus Christ clarified reality for His followers as they had never understood it before. A leader is a servant. The one charged with authority must lead in love. Jesus did, and He is still changing the world. Perhaps he had even influenced Mohandas Gandhi, who said: “Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by fear of punishment and the other by the art of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent”. (Stu Weber; Four Pillars of a Man’s Heart, 72)


Given the importance of competent leaders in the church–and in business and government, too–we might expect that the Bible would use the term more often.  In fact, the King James Bible (on which many of my generation have been nurtured) uses the term leader only six times.  Much more frequently, the role is called servant.  We do not read about “Moses, my leader,” but “Moses, my servant.”  And this is exactly what Christ taught.  (J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 21)


The Word for the Day is . . . Shepherd


What is God telling us about leaders?:

I-  God curses selfish, lazy, leaders who don’t care for their sheep.  (Jer 23:1-2; see also: Prv 27:23-24; Isa 1:23; 56:11; Jer 10:1; Ezek 34; Mt 7:15-23; 20:25ff; Rom 12:8; Jude 1:12)


God loves the sheep of his pasture; so he keeps an eye on his shepherds.  He holds pastors accountable for their shepherding.  If they will not take care of God’s flock, God will take care of them.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 337)


The church has never been without self-seeking leaders who capture the fascination of the people who willingly follow them while they make merchandise of the gospel in order to feather their nests and build up their reputations.  By telling people what they like to hear (2 Tm 4:3), they skillfully take advantage of selfish, gullible believers.  (John MacArthur, Jr., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary–Matthew 16-23, 239)


The true leader is concerned primarily with the welfare of others, not with his own comfort or prestige.  (J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 125)


Jeremiah denounced all the leaders (“shepherds”) of Judah for the ruthless way they treated the helpless people (vv. 1-4).  Instead of leading the flock in love, they drove it mercilessly and exploited it.  The shepherds didn’t visit (“care for”) the sheep, but God would visit the leaders with punishment.  Because the leaders disobeyed the law and refused to trust God, they destroyed the nation and scattered the flock among the Gentiles.  God, however, promised to regather His people and transform the remnant into a nation.  (Warren Wiersbe, Be Decisive, 119)


The shepherd is a not uncommon metaphor for political and religious leaders (Nm 27:17; Ps 78:70-72, see especially Ezek 34).  The fact that these shepherds destroy the sheep (which stands for their subjects) is particularly damning since real shepherds go to great lengths to take care of and protect their sheep.  (Tremper Longman III, Understanding the Bible: Jeremiah, Lamentations, 159-60)


Self-righteous service picks and chooses whom to serve.  Sometimes the high and powerful are served because that will ensure a certain advantage.  Sometimes the low and defenseless are served because that will ensure a humble image.  True service is indiscriminate in its ministry.  It has heard the command of Jesus to be the “servant of all” (Mk 9:35).  Brother Francis of Assisi notes in a letter, “Being the servant of all, I am bound to serve all and to administer the balm-bearing words of my lord.” 

     Self-righteous service is affected by moods and whims.  It can serve only when there is a “feeling” to serve (“moved by the Spirit” as we say).  Ill health or inadequate sleep controls the desire to serve.  True service ministers simply and faithfully because there is a need.  It knows that the “feeling to serve” can often be a hindrance to true service.  The service disciplines the feelings rather than allowing the feeling to control the service.  (Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 129)


To aspire to leadership in God’s kingdom requires us to be willing to pay.  The toll of true leadership is heavy, and the more effective the leadership, the higher it goes.  (J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 115)


Fatigue is the price of leadership.  Mediocrity is the result of never getting tired.  (J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 119)


“The measure of a man is not how many servants he has, but how many men he serves.”  — D. L. Moody


The leaders were guilty of gross dereliction of duty.  By oppression and shedding innocent blood, they destroyed the flock; those who were not destroyed were scattered to wander without protection.  So the leaders were guilty of the very things the shepherds are charged with preventing.  By leading the nation into idolatry and so into the Babylonian captivity, the leaders had scattered the people.  Moreover, contrary to the duty of shepherds to lead and feed the flock, they had driven the flock away.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Jeremiah, 517)


We all like to be called servants until we are treated like one. (Mark Devers on a 5 Keys to Spiritual Growth)


Love is a giving away of power. When we love, we give the other person the power in the relationship. They can do what they choose. They can do what they like with our love. They can reject it, they can accept it, they can step toward us in gratitude and appreciation.

     Love is a giving away. When we love, we put ourselves out there, we expose ourselves, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.

     Love is giving up control. It’s surrendering the desire to control the other person. The two–love and controlling power over the other person–are mutually exclusive. If we are serious about loving someone, we have to surrender all of the desires within us to manipulate the relationship.  (Rob Bell; Sex God, 98)


II-  David’s Son: The Righteous Branch, is the quintessential leader Who leads the lost sheep to shalom.  (Jer 23:3-5; see also: 2 Sm 8:15; Ps 78:70-72; Isa 9:6-7; Jer 33:15; Zech 3:8; 6:12; Mt 1:1-17; 2:6; 10:6; 15:24; 18:12-13; 23:11; Lk 2:4; 3:23-38; 19:10; Jn 13:1-17; Phil 2:1-11; Heb 13:20)


Jesus did not come to be served by you; He came to serve you.  Jesus did not come to be helped by you; He came to help you.  Jesus did not come to be waited on by you; He came to wait on you.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition–Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 272)


Greatness is determined by servanthood.  The true leader places his or her needs last, as Jesus exemplified in his life and in his death.  Being a “servant” did not mean occupying a servile position; rather, it meant having an attitude of life that freely attended to others’ needs without expecting or demanding anything in return.  Seeking honor, respect, and the attention of others runs contrary to Jesus’ requirements for his servants.  An attitude of service brings true greatness in God’s kingdom.  Jesus described leadership from a new perspective.  Instead of using people, we are to serve them.  Jesus’ mission was to serve others and to give his life away.  A real leader has a servant’s heart.  Servant leaders appreciate others’ worth and realize that they’re not above any job.  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary–Matthew, 398)


The shoot which will emerge in the form of a Messianic personage will be quite different in character, and by His special work He will impart to men a righteousness not of works but of grace (Eph 2:8) which will include personal holiness as the work of the Spirit after justification.  (R.K. Harrison, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Jeremiah, 120)


God will call His people from the nations of the world, gather them in their land, purge them, and then send them their promised Messiah (Jer 30; Isa 2:1-5; 4:1-6; 9:17-; 11:1-12:6; Zech 12-14).  David’s “family tree” might have been cut down, but a “branch” (shoot) would grow from the stump and become Ruler of the nation (Isa 11:1; 53:2).  (Warren Wiersbe, Be Decisive, 119)


With astonishing humility, Jesus, their Lord and Teacher, washed the feet of His disciples as an example of how all His followers should serve with humility.

     In this life there will always be a part of us (the Bible calls it the flesh) that will say, “If I have to serve, I want to get something for it.  If I can be rewarded, or gain a reputation for humility, or somehow turn it to my advantage, then I’ll give the impression of humility and serve.”  But this isn’t Christlike service.  This is hypocrisy.  (Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 115-6)


When Jesus came into the world, he made it clear that he had not come to be served, but to serve.  That meant that he had a keen appreciation of human need and that he was absolutely committed to applying himself to meeting that need.  (Stuart Briscoe; Choices for a Lifetime, 132)


Whenever David’s name is mentioned in the lyrics of the OT, our ears should prick up because we know that the Messiah will be David’s son.  The King coming to rule over the people of God will be David’s rightful heir.  He will be an offshoot from David’s family, a branch off the old tree.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 340)


The shoot is that which sprouts from the roots of a fallen tree.  New life will thus spring forth from the fallen dynasty.  Jeremiah is therefore able to proclaim that God will raise up a Davidic king whose name will indicate his true character, an expectation fulfilled in Christ, the Son of David.  (R.K. Harrison, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Jeremiah, 120)


The world may assess people’s greatness by the number of people whom they control and who are at their beck and call; or by their intellectual standing and their academic eminence; or by the number of committees of which they are members; or by the size of their bank balances and the material possessions which they have amassed; but in the assessment of Jesus Christ these things are irrelevant.  His assessment is quite simply; how many people have they helped?  (William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible–Volume Two, 272)


III-  God’s leadership is now . . . not yet.  (Jer 23:6-8; see also: Ps 77:20; 78:52; Isa 32:1; 40:11; 52:13; 60:19-21; 65: 17-20; 1 Tm 6:15; 1 Pt 5:2-4; Rv 7:17; 19:11-21:8)


The return of the Jews to their land after the captivity was but a foreshadowing of the great worldwide regathering that will occur in the last days when “He shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Mt 24:31).  (Warren Wiersbe, Be Decisive, 120)


Although there was a partial return after the fall of Babylon in 538 B.C., the unfolding process of history was to leave an ever expanding number of Jews scattered among the nations.  They experienced, by their very survival, partial fulfillment of the promise of God for their future.  Yet this was not to be the full and complete message of hope delivered through prophecy.  There was to be a “great return,” so alongside all other expressions of hope for the future and however much its fulfillment was postponed, this needed to be kept constantly in view to remain a feature of Jewish hope throughout the later OT period.  The life of “dispersion” was to be understood as no more than an interim manifestation of God’s providential purpose for the Chosen People of Israel.  (R.E. Clements, Interpretation: Jeremiah, 139-40)



Worship Point:  Worship the God of the Universe Who is a Good Shepherd(Ps 23; 79:13; 95:7; 100:3; Jn 10:1-18)


The mother of James and John came to Jesus, (Mt 20:20-28) kneeling before him.  She worshiped Jesus, but her real motive was to get something from him.  Too often this happens in our churches and in our lives.  We play religious games, expecting God to give us something in return.  True worship, however, adores and praises Christ for who he is and for what he has done.  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary–Matthew, 395)


Paul describes his service to God with these words in Col 1:29: “To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.”  The word labor means to work to the point of exhaustion, while from the Greek word translated “struggling” comes our word agonize.  So for Paul to serve God was “to agonize to the point of exhaustion.”  That doesn’t mean it was miserable toil; in fact, the reason Paul worked so hard was because the only thing he loved more than serving God was God Himself.  God supplies us with the power to serve Him.  We struggle in service “with all his energy, which so powerfully works” in us.  True ministry is never forced out by the flesh.  But the result of His power working mightily in us is “labor.”  (Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 119-20)


Gospel Application:  Jesus is the Good Shepherd Who lays down His life for the sheep.  He is their righteousness.  (Ps 23; 80:1; Isa 53; Jn 10:1-18; 21:16ff; Rom 10:4; 1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:8-10)


Jesus Christ is righteous for his people.  His righteousness belongs to them.  All his righteous deeds fulfill the law that they could never keep.  All his righteous suffering satisfy the atonement they could never pay.  If you trust in Jesus Christ, then his righteousness belongs to you, and you will be righteous in God’s sight forever.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 342)


When Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd” (Jn 10:11, 14), he was claiming to fulfill everything the OT promised about good shepherds, including all the promises of Jeremiah 23.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 338)


Paul reached exactly the same conclusion Jeremiah reached.  He looked high and low, but he could not find even one righteous person.

     If no one is righteous, then what hope if there for the human race?  What hope is there for you?  None at all, it would seem.  “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify” (v. 21; cf. 1 Cor 1:30).  Wonderful news!  A righteousness from God has been made known, exactly the kind of righteousness that Jeremiah promised.  “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom 3:22).  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 343)


If Jesus is the Messiah, then he must be of “the house and line of David” (Lk 2:4).  And so he is!  The genealogy of Jesus Christ is more than just a list of names.  It proves that Jesus Christ is the son of David, the rightful heir of Israel’s throne.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 340-1)


Only once in all the recorded words of Jesus did our Lord announce that He would provide an “example” for the disciples, and then He washed their feet (Jn 13:15).  Only once in the rest of the NT does a writer offer an “example” (1 Pt 2:21), and that is an example of suffering.  Serving and suffering are paired in the teaching and life of our Lord.  One does not come without the other.  And what servant is greater than the Lord?  (J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 23)


Human leaders have much to teach us and we can learn much from emulating them (13:7), but we must keep our eyes on Christ, our ultimate leader.  Unlike any human leaders, he will never change.  Christ has been and will be the same forever.  In a changing world we can trust our unchanging Lord.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Hebrews, 236)


The Greeks considered humility to be the lowest virtue; Jesus made it the highest.  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary–Matthew, 398)


  1. W. Tozer wrote: A true and safe leader is likely to be one who has no desire to lead, but is forced into a position by the inward pressure of the Holy Spirit and the press of [circumstances]…There was hardly a great leader from Paul to the present day but was drafted by the Holy Spirit for the task, and commissioned by the Lord to fill a position he had little heart for…The man who is ambitious to lead is disqualified as a leader. The true leader will have no desire to lord it over God’s heritage, but will be humble, gentle, self-sacrificing and altogether ready to follow when the Spirit chooses another to lead.” (A. W. Tozer, The Reaper, 459)


Spiritual Challenge:  Encourage good shepherds.  Avoid bad shepherds.  Be a good shepherd.  (Jn 21:16ff; Acts 20:28ff; Rom 12:8; Heb 13:17; 1 Pt 5:2-4)


When the sheep are destroyed and scattered, the shepherds are to blame.  A declining church is a sign of a declining ministry.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 337)


Happy the church where the holy life and manifest faith of the leaders can be pointed to, even more than their teaching.  Happy the church that imitates and emulates the faith of its leaders.  (Andrew Murray, The Holiest of All, 525)


The people of God do not serve Him in order to be forgiven but because we are forgiven.  When believers serve only because they feel guilty if they don’t, it’s as though they serve with a ball and chain dragging from their ankles.  There’s no love in that kind of service, only labor.  There’s no joy, only obligation and drudgery.  But Christians aren’t prisoners who should serve in God’s Kingdom grudgingly because of guilt.  We can serve willingly because Christ’s death freed us from guilt.  (Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 115)


Humility is the hallmark of the spiritual leader.  Christ told his disciples to turn away from the pompous attitudes of the oriental despots, and instead take on the lowly bearing of the servant (Mt 20:25-27).  As in ancient days, so today humility is least admitted in political and business circles.  But no bother!  The spiritual leader will choose the hidden path of sacrificial service and approval of the Lord over the flamboyant self-advertising of the world.  (J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 61)


A church that adequately recalls its godly leaders and considers the outcome of their way of life and attempts to imitate that way of life will sail well!  Remembering, considering, and imitating the virtues of departed believers is of greatest spiritual importance both to one’s family and to the broader family of the Body of Christ.  (R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Hebrews, vol. 2, 227)


Spiritual Challenge Questions:

  • Why is God so much more concerned about the conduct, hearts and spirit of leaders (shepherds) than He seems to be with the general public? What is there about leaders (shepherds) that makes their evil so devastating?
  • Everyone is a shepherd in one way or another. Have you taken inventory of your being a shepherd?   Where and to whom are you a shepherd if only by influence if not by authority?
  • Are there any shepherds (leaders) in your life that you need to get out from under? Are you sure?   
  • Jesus, Paul, the apostles and the early church all lived under the leadership of evil and depraved shepherds (leaders such as Caiaphas, Anna, the Pharisees, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Felix, Nero). And yet little to nothing is said about trying to get out from under their leadership.  How do you suppose we are to process this absence of criticism from Jesus and the early church about first century shepherds?


So What?:  The world will never enjoy shalom until it is dominated by good shepherds.  Follow them, encourage them, be one!  (Mt 20:25-28; 23:1-12; Mk 10:35-45; Jn 12:15ff; Phil 2:1-11)


People seek power for personal fulfillment and with the hopes of changing society, but political power fails on both counts.  Seeking power leads to corruption; it fails to solve our problems because power cannot change the human heart, which is the source of our behavior and our sin.  For centuries, political leaders have promised redemption through utopian government solutions.  But because these programs are based on a false worldview, they always lead to tyranny in one form or another.  (Charles Colson, The Good Life, 315)


In the Western world, this rejection of sin began with the Enlightenment.  Enlightenment thinkers rejected the biblical God and quickly denied human sin as well.  The French social philosopher Rousseau said, “Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains,” because society has enslaved him.  Freud took this one step further and taught that humans are simply animals.  The bottom line?  There is no sin, no soul, no conscience; we are simply manipulated by forces beyond our control.  In other words, Freud said, we are not responsible for our actions.  Society or some other influence outside of ourselves compels us to do what we do.  This denial of sin can lead to utopianism, whose proponents say, “Give me power, and I’ll create a good society so good people can live well.” But utopianism always leads to tyranny, as utopians Hitler, Lennin, Stalin, and Mao demonstrated.  (Charles Colson, The Good Life, 248-9)


We live in a proud and egotistical generation.  People push and promote themselves in ways that would have been abhorrent and totally unacceptable only a generation ago.  Yet in a great part of modern culture, pride and high self-esteem have come to be redefined not only as virtues but as the supreme virtues.  Our day is reminiscent of the time in history when at the height of the ancient Greek and Roman empires pride was exalted and humility belittled.  This tragic development will surely contribute to the demise of modern society as it did to the demise of Greece and Rome.  No society can survive the self-destructiveness of pride run rampant, because every society depends for its preservation and success on the mutually supportive and harmonious relationships among its people.  When a significant number of them become committed only to themselves and to their own interests, with little regard for their families, friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens, society disintegrates.  As self becomes stronger, relationships become weaker.  As self-rights become supreme, the interpersonal bonds that hold society together are severed.  (John MacArthur, Jr., The MacArthur NT Commentary–Matthew 16-23, 229-30)




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