Sunday, October 02, 2022

“Woe to the Shepherds” [Matt's Messages]

“Woe to the Shepherds”
Uprooted - The Words of Jeremiah
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
October 2, 2022 :: Jeremiah 21:1-23:8

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!’ declares the LORD.”

Those are some scary words.  You don’t want the LORD to say to you, “Woe.” It means that you are in big trouble with Him. These shepherds were in dire straights. They were on dangerous ground.

Jeremiah delivers to them this word of “woe.” “‘Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,’ declares the LORD.” I do not want to be in their shoes.

Who are these bad shepherds? He’s not talking about literal shepherds, sheep-herders, like the ones that came to see baby Jesus. “Shepherd” here is a metaphor for the kings of the nation of Judah.

While Jeremiah has prophesied against the whole nation of Judah as they have forsaken their covenant with Yahweh, he has also focused on the bad leaders that have taken Judah down these wrong paths. Bad shepherds.

Prophets, priests, and kings.

Last time, we learned about the bad priest Passhur son of Immer. Next time, we’ll find out more about the bad prophets in chapter 23. But today in chapters 21 and 22, the LORD speaks directly to the evil failures of the last several kings of Judah.

We learned back in April that Jeremiah prophesied, before the exile, during the reigns of the last five kings of Judah. Extra credit if you can name them! Chapter 1 actually only names 3 of them, probably because 2 of them only reigned for 3 months each.

But their names were:


They all actually had more than one name, but these were their royal names.

Now, do you remember thumbs up and thumbs down for the kings? There were no thumbs up kings for the northern kingdom of Israel. But there were some thumbs-up kings for the southern kingdom of Judah. How about these five guys? Does anybody remember their score card?

Well, let me give you a little hint. This sermon is entitled, “Woe to the Shepherds” meaning the kings of Judah.

Josiah is actually a thumbs up. He was actually two thumbs up. Josiah discovered the Book of the Law and tried to reform Judah according to it.

But how about these other guys? 


All thumbs down. And that’s what these few chapters are about. They are like an autopsy, a post-mortem examination of what went wrong with these kings. So that we can learn from their failures. 

I’ve only got two points to make this morning, of application, and here’s the first one. It’s pretty simple:


Don’t fall into the traps that got them the word “Woe” spoken over them by the LORD. Don’t be like the bad shepherds. So, let’s see what they did wrong. In chapter 21, we actually flash forward to the ending. We start with the last king to sit on the throne in Judah, King Zedekiah. His personal name was Mattaniah. And he ruled from 597 to 586 BC.

And this chapter appears to take place around 588 BC. Just about 2 years before the end of his reign and the end of the nation of Judah itself. And guess what Zedekiah is doing in 588BC?

He’s asking the Prophet Jeremiah for help. Look with me at chapter 21, verse 1.

“The word came to Jeremiah from the LORD when King Zedekiah sent to him Pashhur son of Malkijah and the priest Zephaniah son of Maaseiah. They said: ‘Inquire now of the LORD for us because Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon is attacking us. Perhaps the LORD will perform wonders for us as in times past so that he will withdraw from us’” (vv.1-2).

Stop there for a second. Do you get the picture? Do you get the time frame? This is some time later than the events we’ve been studying the last few weeks in chapters 18, 19, and 20. (Remember this book jumps around chronologically.)

It’s probably been several years, maybe more than a decade since then. This Passhur is not the same Passhur as last week’s. Different dads. And this Zephaniah is not the prophet but a priest. And this Passhur and Zephaniah are sent by King Zedekiah to ask the prophet Jeremiah if he would ask the LORD to do a miracle and save Jerusalem from Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. 

By the way, this is the first time that he has been actually named so far in the this book. And it’s because he’s at the city gates. And they are under siege. Zedekiah had sworn loyalty to Nebuchadnezzar but made an secret alliance with Egypt and then betrayed Nebuchadnezzar and then rebelled against him, and it has not gone well for him.  Nebuchadnezzar is knocking on his door.

And Zedekiah is looking for a way out, and he thought of Jeremiah. It turns out that he loves to ask Jeremiah for advice. He just never takes it. But this time, he asks for Jeremiah for prayers. He asks him to inquire to see if the LORD might have another miracle up his sleeve. Like He used to.

There was a time not, too far back, when his ancestor King Hezekiah prayed, and the LORD performed a wonder–killing an entire attacking army in one night. Zedekiah asks if maybe the LORD would do that again?

And Jeremiah sends back this answer, “No.” No. It is too late. The clay was too hard, and it is now time to smash. V.3

“But Jeremiah answered them, ‘Tell Zedekiah, 'This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I am about to turn against you the weapons of war that are in your hands, which you are using to fight the king of Babylon and the Babylonians who are outside the wall besieging you. And I will gather them inside this city. I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and a mighty arm in anger and fury and great wrath. I will strike down those who live in this city–both men and animals–and they will die of a terrible plague. After that, declares the LORD, I will hand over Zedekiah king of Judah, his officials and the people in this city who survive the plague, sword and famine, to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and to their enemies who seek their lives. He will put them to the sword; he will show them no mercy or pity or compassion'” (vv.3-7). Stop there.

“It’s worse than you think, Zedekiah. Not only am I not going to fight for you, I’m going to fight against you. And you yourself are going to die.”  

Woe to the Shepherd, Zedekiah.

Jeremiah does have some advice, however, for the people of Judah. Verse 8. “‘Furthermore, tell the people, 'This is what the LORD says: See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death. [Sound familiar?] Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague. But whoever goes out and surrenders to the Babylonians who are besieging you will live; he will escape with his life. I have determined to do this city harm and not good, declares the LORD. It will be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will destroy it with fire.'”

Your only chance is to survive is surrender. Boy, did Pashhur and Zephaniah hate that advice! We’ll see how they reacted when we get up to chapters 37 and 38! They thought that this was treason. But it was actually just good sense and faithfulness! Because the LORD had decided that Jerusalem was going up in flames. 

And that’s exactly what happened. And we can’t really comprehend what that was like. Read the Book of Lamentations.

But the question is why. Why did Yahweh respond to Zedekiah in this way? Look at verse 11.

“‘Moreover, say to the royal house of Judah [say to Zedekiah], 'Hear the word of the LORD;
O house of David, this is what the LORD says: 'Administer justice every morning; rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done–burn with no one to quench it. I am against you, Jerusalem, you who live above this valley on the rocky plateau, declares the LORD–you who say, ‘Who can come against us? Who can enter our refuge?’ I will punish you as your deeds deserve, declares the LORD. I will kindle a fire in your forests that will consume everything around you.'”

Zedekiah failed to administer justice every morning. He had one job! "Keep the covenant! Lead the people to worship the LORD alone and follow His commandments. You’re the king! If you see someone is robbed, then rescue them from the hand of their oppressor. Administer justice every morning. That’s what you were supposed to do. And, Zedekiah, you were not doing it. 

Instead, you were trusting in how Jerusalem was situated so well for natural defense. And you were trusting in all of the wrong things. Like having the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of LORD." V.13

“Who can come against us? Who can enter our refuge?’”  We’re sitting pretty! Not if the LORD is against you, you aren’t. “I will kindle a fire in your forests that will consume everything around you.” So, woe to you, Shepherd Zedekiah. 

Now, in chapter 22, it jumps back again, in time. It jumps from Zedekiah the last king of Judah to just after the last good king of Judah. Josiah and then goes down from there through the others.

Look at chapter 22. Verse 1.

“This is what the LORD says: ‘Go down to the palace of the king of Judah and proclaim this message there: 'Hear the word of the LORD, O king of Judah, you who sit on David's throne–you, your officials and your people who come through these gates.”

Now, just think about that for a second. How dangerous is this?!

The LORD tells Jeremiah not just to go to the Potter’s House or the Linen Belt Store or even to the Temple complex, but he sends Jeremiah down to the palace of the king of Judah and puts a fiery message in his mouth! This is a dangerous mission, but Jeremiah obeys. 

What message does he deliver to the Shepherds of Judah? What does God want to say to them? Verse 3.

“This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. [That’s so important. It’s so basic, but it’s so important. ‘Do what is just and right.’] Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. For if you are careful to carry out these commands, then kings who sit on David's throne will come through the gates of this palace, riding in chariots and on horses, accompanied by their officials and their people. But if you do not obey these commands, declares the LORD, I swear by myself that this palace will become a ruin'” (vv.3-5).

Do you see what the LORD cares about? Do you see how much He cares about justice? “Do what is just and right.”

Because that’s Who the LORD is, right? Remember chapter 9? “[L]et him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," (Jer. 9:24 NIVO).

This is the LORD’s vision of leadership. It’s someone who does what just and right and watches out for the little guy. 

“Do no wrong or violence to the alien” meaning the immigrant. “The fatherless or the widow.” That’s the vulnerable. Those who don’t have many rights or money or power. “And do not shed innocent blood.”

The LORD loves justice and righteousness. And it was the king’s job to administer it. And if they did, then wonder of wonders, there would be blessing! But if they didn’t (and they didn’t), their palace would become a ruin. V.6

“For this is what the LORD says about the palace of the king of Judah: ‘Though you are like Gilead to me, like the summit of Lebanon [beautiful forest places like central Pennsylvania], I will surely make you like a desert, like towns not inhabited. I will send destroyers against you, each man with his weapons, and they will cut up your fine cedar beams and throw them into the fire” (vv.6-7).  Did you ever think about that?

Remember that palace that Solomon built for himself out of the cedars of Lebanon? I read about it in my morning Bible reading this week (1 Kings 7). It was this beautiful house built of cedar. Imagine what it looked like! Imagine what it smelled like. Not just a cedar-lined closet, but a cedar-built palace.

And the LORD said, that he was going to turn that fine house into firewood. V.8

“‘People from many nations will pass by this [burning] city and will ask one another, 'Why has the LORD done such a thing to this great city?' And the answer will be: 'Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD their God and have worshiped and served other gods.'”

They only had one job, but they refused to do it. They only had to be faithful to one Lord, but they were unfaithful. They only had to administer justice, but they loved crookedness.

And now he gets personal. He proclaims woe on King Jehoahaz, also known as King Shallum, son of Josiah. Look at verse 10.

“Do not weep for the dead king or mourn his loss [meaning Josiah, who was killed in battle in 609 BC. Don’t weep for him]; rather, weep bitterly for him who is exiled, because he will never return nor see his native land again. For this is what the LORD says about Shallum son of Josiah, who succeeded his father as king of Judah but has gone from this place: ‘He will never return. He will die in the place where they have led him captive; he will not see this land again.’”

Josiah’s son, Shallum, also known as Jehoahaz, was only king for 3 months before Nebuchadnezzar carted him off into exile (2 Kings 23:29-35).

And Jeremiah says that he is to be pitied more than his dead father. How come? Because his father died a two-thumbs-up-king. And Shallum was a two-thumbs down king, and exile was his judgment.

And then his brother took over. Elliakim, or more commonly known as King Jehoiakim. And who verse 13 is all about.

“‘Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his countrymen work for nothing, not paying them for their labor [basically slavery]. He says, 'I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.' So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red. [Improving on what Solomon had made with even more cedar and vermillion. This is the palace that Zedekiah was living in in chapter 21.] Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the LORD. But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion.’

Therefore this is what the LORD says about Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah: ‘They will not mourn for him: 'Alas, my brother! Alas, my sister!' [Same Hebrew word for “Woe.”] They will not mourn for him: 'Alas, my master! Alas, his splendor!' He will have the burial of a donkey–dragged away and thrown outside the gates of Jerusalem.’” (vv.13-19).

Jehoiakim ruled for 11 years. And he was basically Jeremiah’s enemy. We will read a lot more about him over the next several months.  Jehoikakim wasn’t anything like his father Josiah. He was two thumbs down. And nobody[!] mourned when he died. Think about the whole former British Empire mourned the passing of Queen Elizabeth last month. Nobody mourned the death of King Jehoiakim.

Partially because of how different he was from his father. Look more closely at what his father did right. It really shows us what a king was supposed to be like.

What God really cares about. And how He wants you and me to live today. 

Look back up at verse 15. All Jehoiakim cared about was luxury. 

“Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? [Is that’s what’s important? Doesn’t the LORD take care of our needs?] Did not your father [Josiah] have food and drink? He did what was right and just [sounds like verse 3], so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the LORD.”

These are important words. This is what it looks like to know God. If you truly know God, then you will love people. You will be committed to what right and just. And you will look out for the poor and the needy.

How are we doing at that? Are we committed to justice? Are we committed to the poor?

We can all have different ways of working towards justice and showing compassion. But we all need to be committed to it, at heart and with our hands and feet and wallets, if we call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ. “Is that not what it means to know me?”

It’s not just that we pray or read our Bibles, but we live out our faith.

I love that our EFCA Statement Faith directly addresses this in Article #8. It says, “God commands us to love Him supremely and others sacrificially, and to live out our faith with care for one another, compassion toward the poor and justice for the oppressed.” 

Because that’s the heart of God. That’s what it means to know Him.

Or here’s how the Prophet Micah said it, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Mic. 6:8 NIVO) We walk humbly with our God by acting justly and loving mercy. By doing what is just and right and defending the cause of the poor and needy.

God says, “Is that not what it means to know me?”

Do you know God? We show it by how we treat the poor and needy.

How we treat the asylum-seeking migrants at our borders.
How we treat the innocent unborn in our wombs.

Don’t be like Jehoiakim!

He wasn’t interested in knowing the LORD. He was only interested in how nice his house was. And so the LORD was against him. Woe to you, Shepherd Jehoiakim!

And woe to your son. Jeconiah or “Coniah” for short. Or his royal name, “King Jehoiachin.” 

That’s the next king to be mentioned by name. He was also thumbs down. The last four king were all thumbs down. And everybody suffered. V.20

“Go up to Lebanon and cry out, let your voice be heard in Bashan, cry out from Abarim, for all your allies are crushed. I warned you when you felt secure, but you said, 'I will not listen!' This has been your way from your youth; you have not obeyed me. The wind will drive all your shepherds away, and your allies will go into exile. Then you will be ashamed and disgraced because of all your wickedness. You who live in [quote-unquote] 'Lebanon,' who are nestled in cedar buildings, how you will groan when pangs come upon you, pain like that of a woman in labor!

‘As surely as I live,’ declares the LORD, ‘even if you, Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, were a signet ring on my right hand, I would still pull you off. I will hand you over to those who seek your life, those you fear–to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and to the Babylonians. I will hurl you and the mother who gave you birth into another country, where neither of you was born, and there you both will die. You will never come back to the land you long to return to’” (vv.20-27).

Just like his uncle Shallum (or Jehoahaz), King Jehoiachin will only reign for three months and then be sent off into exile to die there (2 Kings 24:15). Probably in 597 BC at the same time that the Prophet Ezekiel was exiled, too. Uprooted, never to return. V.28

“Is this man Jehoiachin a despised, broken pot, an object no one wants? [Rejected from the potter’s house.] Why will he and his children be hurled out, cast into a land they do not know? O land, land, land, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the LORD says: ‘Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his lifetime, for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule anymore in Judah.’”

What a sad sad thing.

Jehoiachin actually had seven sons! But not one of them would sit on the throne in Judah. Instead, Nebuchadnezzar would make his uncle Mattaniah a puppet king which brings us back to Zedekiah. And we already saw what happened to him.

Woe to you, Shepherd Jehoiachin. A despised and broken pot, an object no one wants. How come? Why? Again, why? Chapter 23.

“‘Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!’ declares the LORD. Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: ‘Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,’ declares the LORD.”

Do not be like the bad shepherds.

However, Jeremiah has also good news for us today. This next part is actually the best and brightest paragraph in the whole book of Jeremiah so far! Jeremiah has for us today a word of hope.

And that is that there is another Shepherd coming. And this Shepherd is a Good Shepherd!


After all of that doom and gloom and darkness, verse 3 just beams with light! The LORD says, “‘I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,’ declares the LORD.”

Yahweh says, “I’ve had some bad shepherds who did a terrible job with the flock.

So I’m now going to come and shepherd the flock myself! I’m going to grab the flock from all the places where it’s been scattered and bring them back to the green grass and the still waters of my pasture. And they will be fruitful and increase in number. That’s Genesis language! Things are going to return to the way they were meant to be!

My flock will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing.”

Doesn’t that sound good? When I was studying verses 3 through 8 of chapter 23, I just kept writing in the margin of my notes, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” That’s what we need! 

A day when we are not afraid or terrified.
A day when nobody is lost.
A day when everything is the way is was meant to be in the beginning and even better.

And what we need for that day to come is a Good Shepherd. And that’s exactly what Yahweh is promising here. Verse 5.

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land [there it is again–justice!]. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness” (vv.5-6).

In Hebrew that is, “Yahweh Tsidkenu.” It’s very close to Zedekiah’s name in Hebrew which is “Tsidqiyah.” Both are based on the word for righteousness or justice.

But unlike Zedekiah, this king will live up to his name!

He’s also going to come from the line of David. He’ll be a righteous branch. A new growth that shoots up out of the seemingly dead stump of Jesse (to use Isaiah’s language (chapter 11)).

And He will save His people. Do you know His name? I sure hope you do.

He’s talking about King Jesus. King Jesus is the Good Shepherd.

He’s everything these bad shepherds were supposed to be but were not. And His salvation rescue will be even better than the salvation rescue of the Exodus. Verse 7.

“‘So then, the days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when people will no longer say, 'As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,' but they will say, 'As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the descendants of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.'  Then they will live in their own land” (vv.7-8).

This is the Shepherd that we need (see Ezekiel 34 for more on this theme)! Put your hope in Him.

Interestingly, King Jesus is a descendent of these woeful kings. He is actually related to King Jehoiachin from the end of chapter 22. The one that had seven kids but none of them would be king.

Jehoiachin had a grandson named Zerubbabel. And he never was the king, but he got to come back from exile and help rebuild. He was the governor of Judah for a while. And the Gospel of Matthew (1:12) tells us that he was the great-great-great-great-great (and so forth) grandfather King Jesus. So that, though he died in exile, the Righteous Branch would shoot out of his stump. And be given to God’s people forever.

I love to think about what His kingdom will be like, don’t you?

Verse 5 says that He will “reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.” That’s the language of chapter 21, verse 12 and chapter 22 verse 3 and verse 15. He will have the heart of God! Ge will love justice and righteousness. And He will love and serve the vulnerable, the oppressed.

There will be no ending to the blessing of His kingdom!

King Jesus said that He is the Good Shepherd, and He has come that we may “have life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10 NIVO).

Put your hope in Him.


Previous Messages in This Series:

01. "The Word of the LORD Came to Me" - Jeremiah 1:1-19
02. "I Bring Charges Against You" - Jeremiah 2:1-3:5
03. "Return to Me" - Jeremiah 3:6-4:4
04. “Oh My Anguish, My Anguish!” - Jeremiah 4:6-5:31
05. "Ask for the Ancient Paths" - Jeremiah 6:1-30
06. “This Is the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD!” - Jeremiah 7:1-8:3
07. "Is There No Balm in Gilead?" - Jeremiah 8:4-9:22
08. "Boast About This" - Jeremiah 9:23-24
09. "Like a Scarecrow in a Melon Patch" - Jeremiah 9:25-10:25
10. "Conspiracy" - Jeremiah 11:1-12:17
11. “My People For My Renown” - Jeremiah 13:1-27
12. "I Can No Longer Show Compassion" - Jeremiah 14:1-15:21
13. "I Have Withdrawn My Blessing, My Love and My Pity" - Jeremiah 16:1-21
14. "I the LORD Search the Heart" - Jeremiah 17:1-27
15. "Go Down to the Potter's House" - Jeremiah 18:1-19:15
16. “Insult and Reproach All Day Long” - Jeremiah 20:1-18