Text: Jeremiah 23:(1-4) 5-8
The Lord declared through the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” These words are quite similar in tone to the words of John the Baptist, and they should remind us of him. John the Baptist, you remember, came ahead of Jesus to prepare the way of the Lord. Jeremiah also came preparing the way of the Lord, though in a different way. Jeremiah came as the weeping prophet, whose ministry contained harsh words of judgment against Judah and the resulting destruction coming its way. And yet, with these words of judgment came also words of promise. In our text today Jeremiah proclaims the coming of the Righteous Branch, the shoot from Jesse’s stump. The days are coming, says our text, and are yet here, when Jesus the Righteous Branch will cause His people to dwell securely.
For us to understand the idea of the Righteous Branch, this king who will come and will deal wisely and execute justice, it’s important to understand the context of our reading. Jeremiah’s ministry lasted a long time – from the reign of the good king Josiah until fall of Jerusalem – over 40 years. His time was a very political time. Assyria in the north, had control of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and was declining. In its place Babylon was rising. Now, throw Egypt into the fray as a world power and it all became one big powder keg. Jerusalem, and the kingdom of Judah, sat in the middle of it all – quite literally, geographically speaking. And they got nervous. Everyone had different opinions about what to do. In all of it, the Lord consistently and faithfully sent them prophets to show His people the way. These prophets told the people God’s will, but they ignored it. Everyone had an idea about what to do, and none of them were God’s.
This refusal to submit to God’s will resulted in a very high turnover of kings. Egypt would come and displace some, Babylon some others. Thus, in absence of true kings, the nobles of Judah gained much power; but, rather than use it to lead God’s people wisely, they abused it. God had spoken through Jeremiah that Babylon was going to come and destroy Jerusalem – though complete disaster would be averted if they would just listen to the Word. Instead, they allied with Egypt – an alliance that ended poorly. Because of all this the Lord says in the verses leading up to our text,
“You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.”
The kings and leaders of God’s people were poor shepherds. They did not listen to God’s Word nor teach the people to. Instead, they substituted their own thoughts and dreams. God would later chastise them for not seeking the council of the Lord. Therefore, He would attend to them for their failure to attend to His people. He will fix it all Himself by gathering His flock from all the countries where they have been driven and by placing shepherds over them who will care for them. Under His care they will fear no more, nor be dismayed, and none shall be missing.
This is how the Lord will fix everything. He says,
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”
This is what the Lord says. He will deal with the poor shepherds of Israel and care for His people by fulfilling the promise He made to David in 2 Samuel 7, that an offspring from David’s line will sit on the throne of the Lord forever. The “forever” part rules out Solomon as the fulfillment of that promise and makes it squarely about the Messiah. The Lord says the days of the Messiah are coming. He will reign as king and deal wisely with the people. The Scripture teaches that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. That is how this Righteous Branch will rule and reign, through the wisdom of God’s Word. The result will be that, in His days, Judah and Israel (the whole Church) will dwell securely and call upon the Lord, who is our Righteousness.
The Lord speaks again of the coming Righteous Branch. He says,
“Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land.”
The days are coming, says the Lord, when His people will no longer look to the past for the mighty deeds of the Lord, for they shall forever be in His presence.
It will not be like how God’s people would celebrate the Passover to remember His mighty deeds of old. Instead, this passage brings us to the end of Scripture, to the new heaven and new earth, where at His return Christ recreates all things as they should be. We get a picture of this in Eden, but even that doesn’t compare to the glory that awaits us in the presence of Christ. This Advent, let us then fix our eyes on Jesus our Righteous Branch. We remember and celebrate His incarnation in the manger, but we pray for His glorious return, where He will gather all His people and cause them to dwell in security and joy forever.