Question: "What is the oracle of the Lord (Jeremiah 23:36)?"

Answer: An oracle is a divine message. Jeremiah 23 uses the phrase the oracle of the Lord on several occasions in the NKJV and NASB 1995. The context includes a pronouncement of judgment upon particular leaders of Israel who were destroying and scattering God’s sheep (Jeremiah 23:1) and an announcement of the coming Messiah who would deliver the people and lead the nation into salvation and security (Jeremiah 23:5–6).

In the same chapter, God also indicts false prophets for wrongly representing the Word of God. They were not sent by God but were prophesying by Baal and leading Israel astray (Jeremiah 23:13). They were polluting all the land (Jeremiah 23:15), and they would be judged. God is ever present. These false prophets were deceiving the people, but they could not deceive God (Jeremiah 23:23–25). God had not sent them, and they did not provide any benefit for Israel (Jeremiah 23:32).

As God proclaims the guilt and coming judgment of false prophets, He references the oracles of the Lord six times. The term oracle (translated from the Hebrew massa) literally refers to a “load” or “burden”—a weighty message of import. In this case, the load or burden belonged to the Lord (Yahweh). The term denotes a prophetic message of great importance that was revealed directly by God.

In Jeremiah 23:33, some questioned what the oracle of the Lord was, and they were told that He would abandon them. Thus, anyone pronouncing an oracle of the Lord was giving a false prophecy and would be judged (Jeremiah 23:34). The people would no longer remember the true oracle of the Lord because they had perverted His Word and distorted His message (Jeremiah 23:36). God repeats three times in Jeremiah 23:34–38 that they should not claim to have “the oracle of the Lord” (NKJV).

It is clear by these six references to the oracle of the Lord in Jeremiah 23 that God takes His Word seriously and He will not tolerate any misuse or misrepresentation of what He has said. Paul reminds his readers that all the Scriptures (the writings commissioned by God) were actually God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16–17). Peter explains that the Holy Spirit moved men who spoke from God (2 Peter 1:21). Peter adds that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation (2 Peter 1:20).

Because God is the author of Scripture, readers should seek to understand what He intended to communicate and not misinterpret His Word. The oracle of the Lord was to be taken seriously in Jeremiah’s day, and God’s revealed Word is no less important today. Paul exhorts Timothy to be diligent to study the Word and to handle it rightly so that he would not be ashamed (2 Timothy 2:15). No other words are so valuable. God’s Word is unique. It accomplishes exactly what He intends it to accomplish (Isaiah 55:11), and it endures forever (Isaiah 40:8). Revelation 1:3 illustrates the value of God’s Word, as God offers a blessing for those who hear and heed the words in the book of Revelation. Paul exhorts believers that their transformation comes from the renewing of their mind (Romans 12:2) and challenges them to be armed with the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17).