The Righteous Branch
Advent reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6; 33:14-18
Disappointed are those who put their hope in the next election. Human leaders ultimately fail to meet our highest hopes and expectations, for like us, they are part of fallen humanity. Sadly, we have come to expect broken campaign promises or the inability of elected leaders to fulfill them. We are outraged when we learn of corruption, exploitation, and the abuse of power and position by those who have been elected to serve. How much worse are the conditions of people who live in totalitarian regimes such as North Korea.
The history of the world is often the story of self-serving leaders who exploit the people they should serve in order to gratify their own selfish desires. Such was the history of Israel, both the northern and southern kingdoms. In Jeremiah 23, the LORD rebukes “the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” (23:1). He warns them, “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” (23:2).
The wickedness of the leaders leads to the scattering of the flock of Israel, but the LORD promises to “assume the role of the shepherd and gather the remnant of his flock from all the places he had driven them.” 1 The LORD promises to set shepherds over his people who will care for them so that they will not live in fear or be lost or missing.
In fact, he promises a future day when a descendant of David, “a righteous Branch” shall reign as king and execute justice and righteousness. (See Isaiah 11:1-9 and advent reading for December 13.) This coming king will be called “The LORD our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:5-6). This promise is so important that Jeremiah repeats it virtually word for word in 33:14-16.
Who is this coming king, this righteous Branch? The Apostle Paul tells us that Christ Jesus is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). It is “by his special work he will impart to men a righteousness not of works but of grace (Eph. 2:8) which will include personal holiness as the work of the Spirit after justification.” 2 The LORD our righteousness is the righteous Branch who will come a second time to reign as king. As we consider the state of our world, we pray with the Apostle John, “Even so, come Lord Jesus!”
1 F. B. Huey, Jeremiah, Lamentations, vol. 16, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 211.
2 R. K. Harrison, Jeremiah and Lamentations: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 21, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 123.