By Sam E. Stone
God sent the prophet Jeremiah to the southern kingdom of Judah. He faced difficult challenges seeing conditions in Judah go from bad to worse. The previous chapter (22) outlines the failings of three evil kings who had succeeded Josiah. The rulers are spoken of as “shepherds.” These men should have been pastors of the flock, lovingly caring for the people and leading them in the right paths. Instead they were just the opposite. They shed innocent blood, failed to pay the workers, and ignored the poor and needy. These rulers were false shepherds; the sheep were their prey and they were like wild beasts.
Many Bible teachers believe that this judgment against the nation’s leaders was given in the early part of Zedekiah’s reign, after the other three rulers. He was the last king of Judah. Jeremiah’s description of the shepherds’ sins (v. l) is reminiscent of the way in which the prophet Ezekiel condemned them (Ezekiel 34:1-6).
James E. Smith explains, “The current leaders of Judah were under the divine ‘woe’ because they were ‘destroying and scattering’ God’s sheep. Though the shepherds had not attended to the needs of the sheep, God would shortly attend to the shepherds because of the evil of their deeds.”
Although the shepherds had the responsibility to take care of their flock, they were concerned only with taking care of themselves (compare Ezekiel 34:8; Jude 12). True shepherds do not drive their sheep; they lead them (John 10:3-5). These rulers not only failed to provide for the needs of the people, but they scattered God’s flock and drove them away. For this reason, he will punish them.
At the same time, God assured the people that soon he would gather his remnant and raise up shepherds who would feed and not scatter the people. Jeremiah spoke of a Davidic king whose name, “Our Righteousness,” indicates his nature (Jeremiah 23:6). God will bring the flock back from the nations where they have been scattered. Then they will be fruitful and increase in number. Moreover the new shepherds whom God sends will care for the flock!
“The days are coming,” declares the prophet. This expression occurs 16 times in Jeremiah, and only five times elsewhere in Scripture. God announces that he will send a righteous Branch, a king who will reign wisely. The Branch refers to the coming Messiah. In Hebrew the word literally means “a sprout.” Like a tender plant, his origins will be humble and fragile. The Messiah’s reign will be both just and right, as he sits on the throne of David (see Zechariah 6:12, 13). Judah and Israel will live in safety under his rule.
The concluding part of today’s text is found 10 chapters later. Chapters 30-33 are sometimes called Jeremiah’s “book of consolation.” This optimistic section of prophecy provides hope for the Lord’s people. Many date it around 587 BC, the year before Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and its people exiled to Babylon. God assured them of a time of restoration, even though it did not appear likely from a human perspective.
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord. “I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line.” Here Jeremiah repeats his earlier message (23:5, 6). God’s promise made long ago to David through the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 7:16) will be fulfilled. God always keeps his word. At that time (Jeremiah 33:15) speaks of the Messianic age when Jesus comes. He will do what is just and right in the land. The Jews saw this promise as referring to the geographic spot where their nation existed. Christians see here a clear reference to the Lord’s reign over all the earth.
Jerusalem will be given a new name
—”The Lord Our Righteousness.” After Jerusalem’s sins are cleansed, it will be known as “the Faithful City” (see Isaiah 1:26). One of David’s descendants (Jesus) will rule on the throne. Jeremiah promises that the priests will never fail to have one of their number stand before God to make offerings for the people—a clear picture of Jesus in his intercessory role for the church. The blessing of his royal priesthood is assured (compare Hebrews 7:11; 10:19-22).
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.