“God Promised a Righteous Branch”
Lesson Text: Jeremiah 23:1-6; 33:14-18
Background Scripture: Jeremiah 23:1-8; 33
Devotional Reading: Psalm 33:1-5
Jeremiah 23:1-6 (KJV)
1Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the Lord.
2 Therefore thus saith the Lord God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the Lord.
3And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase.
4And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, saith the Lord.
5Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.
6In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
Jeremiah 33:14-18 (KJV)
14Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.
15In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land.
16In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name wherewith she shall be called, The Lord our righteousness.
17For thus saith the Lord; David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel;
18Neither shall the priests the Levites want a man before me to offer burnt offerings, and to kindle meat offerings, and to do sacrifice continually.
TODAY'S LESSON AIMS
Learning Fact:To recognize that God's promise of sending a Righteous Branch is fulfilled through Jesus Christ, the head of the Church.
Biblical Principle: To understand that God is always righteous and just to fulfill His promises.
Daily Application: Write a note of thanks to the pastor and /or other leaders in your church, for their positive leadership, justice and fairness.
Bad Leadership and God's Solution
Titles of leaders in New Testament churches include: shepherds, pastors, elders, bishops, evangelists, teachers, and even deacons (1Cor. 12:27-29; Eph. 4:11-13; 1Tim.3:1; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 2:25; Phil. 1:1). Paul requested earnestly that these leaders walk worthy of the calling they have received (Eph. 4). Their responsibilities include equipping God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.
Although most leaders are good at serving in this manner, bad leadership often seems to be no leadership at all. It has lost its focus on the future in terms of a vision for the people and knowledge of how to get there. Bad leadership has a tendency to perpetuate itself by not preparing future leaders. The younger person who is a potential, future leader remains apathetic and unchallenged.
Bad leadership in a church has recognizable traits. One such trait can be called the ruling elder syndrome or the ruling preacher syndrome. This is a top-down attitude: “I am the boss!” Churches do need strong leadership, but that is not the same as being a dictator.
Lack of communication and lack of delegation are also traits of bad leadership. Also, immoral people sometimes are in leadership positions. Our lesson today addresses the issue of bad leadership and God’s solution.
TIME: 626 B.C. - 586 B.C.
Leaders in ancient Israel were often referred to as shepherds, a common image in that day. The prophet Ezekiel described bad leadership in great detail in terms of shepherd imagery (compare Ezekiel 34). The prophet Jeremiah also called the irresponsible civil and religious leaders shepherds; they misled the people and brought destruction to the kingdom.
Jeremiah ministered in the southern kingdom of Judah from about 626 B.C. to a little beyond the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. His ministry saw the deterioration and destruction of Judah due to bad, unholy leadership. Jeremiah may have encouraged King Josiah’s reforms of about 622 B.C., but those reforms ended when Josiah lost his life in battle in about 609 B.C. (2 Kings 23:29). It was all downhill from there (23:31-25:21).
Jeremiah 22, just prior to today’s text, discusses three evil kings who succeeded Josiah. These three were responsible as bad shepherds for the destruction of Judah, although the death knell had already been sounded (see 2 Kings 23:26, 27). The Lord’s charges against these men included the shedding of innocent blood, failing to pay workers, and ignoring the just cause of the powerless.
Last week’s lesson promised a coming Davidic king against the historical background of the Assyrian threat (about 734 B.C.). This week’s lesson concerns the same promise, except the threat is now the Babylonian captivity (597-586 B.C.).
SHEPHERDS' FAILURE (Jeremiah 23:1-2)
1. Describe the source of Judah's pastor “woes” as addressed by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 23:1)?
The source of Judah’s woes is the worthless pastors (shepherds) who have ruled Judah unwisely. The terms “pastors” and “shepherds” refer primarily to kings in this context (see Jeremiah 21, 22), but also can refer to those who give them counsel. These include priests and false prophets (Jeremiah 23:16, 25-40; 32:32; 2 Chronicles 36:14).
Chief among the evil kings was Manasseh. He ruled for 55 years, from about 698 to 644 B.C. (2 Kings 21:1). His evil was shocking (21:2-11, 16). Josiah’s law reform after Manasseh was a case of too little, too late (22:1-23:27).
The Lesson Background mentions three evil kings of Jeremiah 22, which is immediately prior to today’s lesson text. The “woe oracle” of judgment we see in the verse before us is probably uttered in the early part of the reign of Zedekiah, who follows those other three. He ends up being the last king of Judah (see Jeremiah 21:1-10). These four do not champion justice in the land (see 21:11-22:9). Instead, they destroy and scatter God’s people by failing to keep the covenant with Yahweh.
As the unrighteous leaders of Judah steered the nation toward certain destruction at the hand of the Babylonians, Jeremiah continued his call for righteous leaders.
2. For which specific area of leader negligence does God punish the pastors (v. 2)?
By right of their office, the kings of Judah had exerted a tremendous influence on the people. For this the leaders of God’s people—the succession of kings and their advisors—are judged accordingly.
These self-serving officials failed in their solemn responsibility of caring for God’s chosen people, and the tragic outcome was that they would be dispersed and driven into exile. The Lord solemnly affirmed that He would punish the nation’s officials for what they had done.
These “pastors” are supposed to feed the people, but they feed only themselves (compare Jude 1:12). The prophet Ezekiel’s parallel oracle of judgment proclaims that the shepherds have not searched “for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock” (Ezekiel 34:8). Simple neglect would be bad enough, but these evil shepherds take an active role in scattering the flock.
Even today, tragically, there are church leaders whose false teaching scatters and destroys the sheep. These ministers drive people away from the church by preaching insipid messages or by serving up misleading exhortations to social service. As a result, the flock wanders off looking in vain for what will satisfy their souls.
Verse 2 of our lesson uses a play on words in the Hebrew that is apparent also in the English. The Hebrew for visited applies not only to what the bad shepherds have not done for the flock, but also to what God will do in response: He will visit them in judgment.
Those responsible to lead Judah in God's path were the very ones responsible for Judah’s present plight, and so God had decreed harsh judgment against them. Leaders are held responsible for those entrusted to their care. Whom has God placed in your care? Remember that you are accountable to God for those you influence and lead.
What Do You Think?
How do we guard against worldly leadership principles and practices that might result in a “scattered flock” if brought into the church?
GOD’S FLOCK RESTORED (Jeremiah 23:3-4)
3. Describe the Lord’s gathering of the “remnant” (v. 3)?
In contrast with verse 1, this verse indicates that God is the one who drives the Israelites from their homeland. There is no contradiction here, for the bad shepherds of God’s people lead them along the path of idolatrous worship and rebelliousness. Jeremiah 44:17 notes the guilt of “our fathers, our kings, and our princes” in this regard (compare 44:21) the people are also to blame for following the evil leadership willingly, especially given Jeremiah’s warnings (44:23). So God allows mighty nations to conquer them: Israel in 722 B.C. by the Assyrians, and Judah in 586 B.C.by the Babylonians.
The concept of a remnant returning is found throughout the prophets (see Jeremiah 24: 40-44; Isaiah 1:9; 10:20-22; 37:4;11:11; Micah 4:7; 7:18). Ezekiel 34:11-22, a parallel oracle, is lengthy in this regard. Not only will God gather the remnant, but the people of that remnant also shall be fruitful and increase (see Amos 9:11-15; Hosea 2:21-23; Zechariah 8:9-13).
4. Describe how God will bring the church (remnant) back to its "pasture" (v. 4)?
The remnant that returns will not experience the same kind of leadership that existed before the exile. Instead, God will provide new shepherds who will do what shepherds are supposed to do: feed the sheep and provide for their needs. Fear and dismay will vanish with these new leaders.
Since it is evident we are talking about a supernatural act by God, it is reasonable to look to the messianic age for its fulfillment. Jesus is “the good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14. Compare Hebrews 13:20). He serves as the model shepherd in that capacity. His disciples are under-shepherds. After the resurrection, Jesus says to Peter three times “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).
After the church is founded on the Day of Pentecost, the apostles establish leadership that understands the pastoral role (see 1Timothy 3; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-4). These new shepherds would not exist were it not for the successful rule and authority of the Righteous Branch (the Good Shepherd, or the Chief Shepherd). See 1 Peter 5:4.
What Do You Think?
What are some ways to make sure your church "will set up good shepherds" for future leadership?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Awareness of consequences of not doing so | Methods of identifying future leaders
Methods of leadership training | Having younger leaders “at the table” vs. having them merely “in the loop”
GOD’S RIGHTEOUS BRANCH (vs. 5-6)
5. Define the Lord's promise: "Behold, the days come,... I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and will do what is just and right in the land" (v. 5)?
The word Behold, which translates a word that exists in the Hebrew, is missing from some modern English translations. That is unfortunate, because it is an important word. It is saying “Look! I am about to say something very important! Pay attention!”
The statement the days come is very general and does not give us any sense of a time frame. It is simply a fact, a promise from God that something will happen. That “something” is that God is going to reestablish the Davidic dynasty through a righteous Branch. The word Branch is an important way of describing the coming Messiah, who is to sit on David’s throne (see Isaiah 4:2; 11:1; Jeremiah 33:15; Zechariah 3:8; 6:12). The same idea (but not the word itself) is found in Isaiah 6:13; 53:2. This Branch is a king, and He shall be successful because He rules wisely. This Branch produces judgment and justice in the earth. This is in contrast with the evil kings who come before.
6. How will Judah be saved? (v. 6)
Jeremiah 23:6 points to a future day when under the rule of the Messiah, Judah and Israel would be reunited (see Jer. 3:18; 30:3; 31:27, 31; Ezek. 37:15-28; Hos. 1:11). Also, the chosen people would enjoy safety, live securely, and be eternally redeemed. After all, the Messiah would shield them from the physical and spiritual attacks of their enemies. In the kingdom age, the Messiah would go by the name, “The LORD Our Righteousness” (Jer. 23:6). Put another way, God the Son would be become the embodiment of “righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30) for all who put their faith in Him (Cook).
GOD'S PROMISE REAFFIRMED (Jeremiah 33:14-18)
7. Why did God reconfirm His promise to Israel and Judah (vs. 14-15)?
Jeremiah wrote chapters 32 and 33 during Nebuchadnezzar’s 18-month siege of Jerusalem (587-586 B.C.). The authorities imprisoned the prophet on false charges of trying to desert to the Babylonians. Eventually, they transferred him from a dungeon to confinement in the courtyard of the guard house in the palace of the king (see 33: 1). Zedekiah complained to the prophet about his forecasts of doom for Jerusalem and everyone in it, implying that Jeremiah’s actions left the king no choice but to confine him. Jeremiah’s cousin visited him during his confinement and offered to sell him family property in Anathoth. The Lord instructed Jeremiah to buy the field as an object lesson that the people of Judah had a future in the land, despite their upcoming defeat by the Babylonians. Even during the siege, Jeremiah confessed confidence in the Lord. God again spoke about the necessity of judging, and He renewed His promise of future blessing. For instance, in verse 14, the Lord declared through Jeremiah that a future day was coming in which God would fulfill His blessed pledge to the chosen people. The reference to both the houses of Israel and Judah indicated that despite their worldwide dispersion, all the tribes would be reunited in the land of their ancestors.
Jeremiah 33:15 reiterates the promise of a “righteous Branch” in 23:5. The Lord pledged to bring to the throne of David an upright and virtuous descendant. The reference is to the Messiah, whose rule over the chosen people in the future kingdom age would be characterized by justice and righteous (Cook).
8. Compare Jeremiah 33:16 and 23:6, and explain the changing of the name Israel to Jerusalem?
Jeremiah 33:16 is parallel to Jeremiah 23:6, and is considered to reflect the same meaning with some variation and a slight twist at the end. In those days is parallel to “in his days” of 23:6. “Shall Judah be saved” is similar in both. However, Jerusalem shall dwell safely here is expressed as “Israel shall dwell safely” in 23:6. The change from Israel in 23:6 to Jerusalem here in 33:16 allows for Jerusalem to receive a new name. It is the same name that the Messiah is given: The Lord our righteousness.
9. Why did God promise an unending reign in the offices kingship and priesthood (vs. 17-18)?
The Lord pledged through Jeremiah that in the kingdom age, David would never lack a successor to rule over all the people of Israel (Jeremiah 33: 17).
From Jeremiah’s viewpoint, the sin of Judah is so serious that nothing can prevent her destruction and exile. The kingship will be suspended for many years; the punishment is severe, with only a remnant surviving (Jer. 30-33). But survive she will! Yet even before this, there’s a sense that the throne of the house of Israel is no longer the throne it was meant to be following the death of Solomon. Only when the Messiah, David’s true “son,” comes on the scene can the throne be occupied legitimately. Only the “righteous Branch” can sit on this throne.
We recall that all priests are Levites, but not all Levites are priests (33:18). Thus there is an overlapping reference here. The priests are not exempt from the prophet’s criticism (see Jeremiah 6:13; 8:10, 11). As Jeremiah looks forward to a legitimate king to sit on the throne of Israel (a true son of David), he also looks forward to a legitimate priesthood to offer continual sacrifices (compare 1 Peter 2:5).
The priesthood and kingship of ancient Israel are never combined into one office. Perhaps Jeremiah cannot yet see how the two will be combined in terms of the coming Messiah (Psalm 110:4; see Genesis 14:18-20). Hebrews 4:14-10:18 gives details regarding the Messiah’s priesthood and how it is an eternal priesthood with a sacrifice that is effective forever. We have a high priest we can turn to and “obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need”—Jesus (Hebrews 4:14-16).
POINTS TO PONDER
1. Justice is much more than meting punishment to criminals. In God’s view of things, justice requires that we as leaders use what we have to help meet the needs of others. (Jeremiah 23:1-2.)
2.As God’s people, sometimes we need to be reminded of the Lord’s compassion. No matter how grievous the sin, God will always forgive a repentant people-or person. (Jeremiah 23:3-4.)
3.God sent His Son Jesus to be the best example of what it means to lead others faithfully. (Jeremiah 23:5-6; 33:14-18).
There is a reason God chose David to be king: David was a man “after [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). In spite of David’s sins (2 Samuel 11, 12), he was a good leader. Toward the end of his life, he uttered great words that apply to every good leader: “The God of Israel said,... He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain” (2 Samuel 23:3, 4). The greatest son of David, Jesus Christ, is the ultimate leader in this regard.
Jesus turns leadership on its head for the church. Whereas secular leaders exercise authority and power, leaders in God’s church are to be servants (Mark 10:42-45). Jesus washes His disciples’ feet (John 13:14-17). He is the good shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep (John 10:11-15).
Peter never forgot that model. In his twilight years, Peter could write to the church elders, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Peter 5:2-4). Amen!
O Lord God, we pray for good leadership in the church. May Your Spirit move those of humble spirits to rise in our moment of greatest need to care for Your flock. In the name of the good, and righteous shepherd, Jesus our Lord, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Good leaders lead justly in the fear of God.