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Bible Study – For those in authority (Jeremiah 23:1)

Today’s Reading: Jeremiah 23-25

Today’s Reflection: Jeremiah 23:1

“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD.

What is this text saying?

The leaders of Judah, men placed in authority to lead and serve the people who neglected these responsibilities and used their position and power to serve their own interests. Here the prophet Jeremiah here warns them of the destruction to befall them if they continue in this way.

Some translations of this text substitute the word ‘pastors’ for ‘shepherds’, leading some to believe this text only referred to the priesthood and prophets of that time.  But the term shepherd had long been synonymous with the kings who ruled over Judah and Israel.  For example, when Micaiah prophesied the death of Israel’s wicked King Ahab in battle, and the subsequent disorientation of his soldiers, he said:

“I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd. And the LORD said, ‘These have no master; let each return to his home in peace.'”  — 1 Kings 22:17

The kings of Israel and Judah were not just political figures, they were religious ones as well, appointed and set up by God to maintain His standard.  While a precious few (Josiah, Hezikiah, etc.) lived up to their calling, this task was one most of the kings failed at miserably.  Reading through the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles largely outlines the debauchery of wicked kings who dragged the people following them into various blasphemies and idolatries, acts that would eventually incur the destructive power of God’s wrath.

Lastly, this passage ends with a messianic prophesy in Jeremiah 23:5-6.  The ‘righteous Branch’, the good shepherd who would reign as King, deal wisely, execute justice, provide security, and be called “The Lord is our righteousness” is Jesus Christ Himself.  And just as the term shepherd can refer to a priest or a king, Jesus is both our high priest (Hebrews 3:1, 4:14) and the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 17:14, 19:16).

Why is it important?

This text demonstrates the awesome privilege involved with being called into service by the Lord, and warns of the consequences of failing to live up to the responsibility they have accepted from Him.  The priests and kings Jeremiah was addressing willingly received the authority and benefits of their God-given positions and offices, but cast aside the needs of the people they were called to serve on God’s behalf.  The deprivation of others is not something God did not take lightly, and when necessary it was something He punished harshly.

How can I apply this?

1.  Recognize that God has set up the leaders in authority over you (employers, politicians, judges, etc.)  Whether you like them or not, or get along with them, no one rises to any position of power without God allowing it to be so.  And God Himself will give them what they require to succeed, but the enemy desires to see them fail and has set traps against them as he did with the priests, prophets and kings of Israel and Judah.  So the Bible encourages you to pray for the people placed in positions of authority over you so that you might be able to live in peace (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

2.  Recognize that when you accept a position of authority, you’re making a promise to God to fulfill the responsibilities of that role.  This is absolutely true in the case of a religious or ministerial office, as the story of Jesus thrice instructing Peter to feed His sheep (yet another shepherd reference) reminds us emphatically (John 21:15-17).  But it is also true of other forms of authority—parental authority (Ephesians 6:4, Colossians 3:21), political or legislative leadership, and being a manager over workers just to mention a few.  Ephesians 6:5-8, which instructed servants to work as though they were serving God and not man, has long been considered exemplary of the attitude employees should have about their work and employers.  But what isn’t discussed nearly as often is verse 9, which tells masters to have the very same mindset, to avoid threatening their servants, and to understand that they are under God’s authority just as their servants are.  To whom much is given, much is expected (Luke 12:48).  This is good advice to those in authority.



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