The Lord will gather his people. 23:1-8
From 21:11 to 23:8, the book of Jeremiah contains a diverse collection of prose and poetry directed at the kings who reign after king Josiah. Jeremiah is critical of these kings in that they fail to uphold the law on behalf of the people, 21:12. Our passage for study, the concluding section, consists of three prophecies dealing with the future of the people and of the Davidic monarchy. The first passage, in prose, deals with three issues: judgment on Israel's kings, the gathering of a remnant and the raising up of new "shepherds", v1-4. The second passage, in poetic form, speaks of the coming of a new king, "a righteous branch from David's line", v5-6. The third passage, again in prose, speaks of a new exodus as God's people are rescued from bondage, v7-8.
v1. Jeremiah proclaims "woe" on the "shepherds". The "woe" is a word of judgement upon Israel's leaders, particularly Zedekiah and his advisers.
v2. The leaders of Israel were appointed to care for the people, reign over them and maintain peace, security and justice throughout the land, and so enable the people to freely worship the Lord. Yet, Zedekiah and his advisers have failed in this duty. Jeremiah's word of "woe" from the Lord is "you have not attended" to my people, so "I am going to attend to you for your wicked deeds", NEB.
v3. The prophecy moves from a word of "woe" to future blessing. The Lord will preserve a remnant of the people, obviously a faithful remnant, a people like those who, so many years before, did not bow their knee to Baal. Although the people are now scattered in exile, they will be brought home and "will be fruitful." The fulfilment of this promise must await the coming of the Christ, the gathering of the lost from the ends of the earth and their coming to an eternal city.
v4. The returned remnant will be in the hands of shepherds who will reign wisely so that the people will live in security and none will be scattered and lost. The leaders, in the time of the restoration, were not much better than their predecessors, so again the prophecy presses us to look for another shepherd who will tend his sheep and see that none go astray.
v5. Jeremiah now describes this shepherd. He is a genuine sprout ("branch") from the Davidic line. He is genuine in that he acts as the Lord intended Israel's leaders to act; he is a "righteous" king. Jeremiah also tells us that he will reign wisely, ably, maintaining justice throughout the land.
v6. Under the reign of this new shepherd, the whole of God's people will be liberated from bondage; they will be set free. This shepherd will carry a glorious name: "The Lord, the one who establishes righteousness in our favor."
v7-8. This short individual prophecy speaks of the future restoration of Israel when the people are gathered and returned to "their own land." This new exodus specifically relates to the Northern tribes who were taken into exile by the Assyrians, but in general terms it looks to the gathering-in of the lost in the day of the coming messiah, the messiah who is the shepherd of the sheep.
We find ourselves in Thee
Not hiding, but sheltering;
Not invisible, but magnified.
Lost in you, like light refracting;
My true colors showing.
You are the window of my soul.
Jeremiah proclaims the Lord's promise of a restored Israel, a promise to all the tribes lost and scattered. In that day the people will find green pastures, no longer afraid, no longer lost. Unlike their worthless leaders in past years, there will be a new leader, a good shepherd of the sheep. He will be a descendent of David, a true son of David, an ideal king. He will rule with wisdom such that justice will reign and the people will live safely. Above all, his name will itself proclaim the wonder of his rule, for he will be called "the Lord, the one who establishes righteousness in our favor."
Of course, it was only natural for the people of Israel to expect that the coming of this shepherd would be realized in the restored kingdom of Israel, 538BC-70AD. It is true that some of the exiles from Judah returned to Jerusalem after the decree of Cyrus the Persian, but they were less than a representative group, and as for their leaders, they were less than average. Only in the coming of Christ was this prophecy inaugurated and its realization assured in the Lord's return to reign.
In our relationship with Christ, the Good Shepherd, we are that lost people found, no longer scattered, no longer terrified. Now found in him, our Shepherd cares for us wisely and well and through him we find righteousness in our favor. That is, before God we are counted right, not in ourselves, but in our Shepherd. So like the poet David Barclay, we are no longer hiding from the divine, rather we are sheltering in him; we are no longer invisible to him, rather magnified before him. We find ourselves lost in our Shepherd, like refracting light displaying the glorious person we are. Jesus has become the window of our soul.
1. Identify each of the prophetic elements in this passage
2. How do these elements apply to the here and now?
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