18 December – First Reading

Commentary on Jeremiah 23:5-8

Today’s reading comes from one of three prose sermons which seem to originate either from the period of exile in Babylon or soon after the return to Jerusalem. After scolding Judah’s rulers for scattering Judah, God – in today’s passage – promises to establish an upright member, a “Branch”, of David’s line over a restored Israel.

‘Branch’ is used elsewhere as a messianic title. Zerubbabel, whose name means ‘branch/shoot of Babylon’, was one of the leaders in the return of the Jews from exile. And he was a descendant of David.

The Messiah, unlike any previous descendant of David, will be the ideal King. He will sum up in himself all the finest qualities of the best rulers, and infinitely more. He will rule responsibly before God as a real king and not as a puppet like King Zedekiah. He will be a true shepherd for his people, free of the corruption found in so many of Judah’s rulers. He will:

…deal wisely and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

He will be called “The Lord is our righteousness”. This is in contrast with the present ruler, Zedekiah, whose name in Hebrew meant ‘the lord [Yahweh] is my justice’. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon originally gave this name to Mattaniah when he was appointed king. Zedekiah was the last king of Judah (597-587 BC). He was a tragic figure. He tried to enter into an alliance with surrounding peoples, including Egypt, to rebel against Babylon. But he suffered defeat and was led off to Babylon. Here his two sons were executed in his presence and then his own two eyes were gouged out. Although Zedekiah did not in any way live up to his name ‘the Lord is our righteousness’, the new Lord of Righteousness will bring many blessings to his people and give them all that they need to be truly God’s people.

A new era is on the way. People will no longer be thinking of God as the one who brought his people out of Egypt. Rather, they will think of him as the one who brought his people from their place of exile to live once more on their own soil. This will be the ‘New Exodus’, one of even greater significance than the earlier one. And it will not be complete until the Messiah comes and establishes the Kingdom of God, not only in Israel, but throughout the world – bringing true justice and peace to all.

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