First Sunday in Advent: Jeremiah 32-33: The Coming of Zedekiah Our Shepherd
This Sunday is the first Sunday of the Christian year. This is New Year’s Day of the Christian Calendar. The word “advent” means “coming”; it waits in expectation for the coming of the Lord, his visitation of his people in the Incarnation. The season of Advent has traditionally been a penitential season, but like Lent it is a hopeful penitential season. We know that Christ has come; so we are not waiting as though we don’t know about Christmas. But we join the story because we really are still waiting for the final Coming, and we mourn and repent of our sins longing for the final redemption.
Jeremiah was political problem for Zedekiah, the king of Judah. He would not stop telling everyone that Babylon was going to win the war and that the inhabitants of Jerusalem would be killed or marched into exile and that the city will be burned down. He was demoralizing. When we meet Jeremiah here, he is locked up in the “court of the prison.” The message of Jeremiah has not been all negative. The message has consistently been that this war with Babylon is a losing war, Judah will go into exile for 70 years, and at the end of those years God will gather his people back together in the land of promise. The issue was not that Jeremiah was a thoroughgoing pessimist; the problem was that his plan for Israelite greatness included losing a war and going into exile. The gospel of Jeremiah was to trust in God who was taking Israel into the death of exile, and to trust him to raise them back to life.
A Branch of Righteousness
Verses 15-16 are nearly word for word what is stated earlier in 23:5-6. Interestingly, both follow passages that describe Israel as a flock of sheep with wayward shepherds. Remember that a “shepherd” of the people of Israel is particularly a king or a ruler. And this is what is prophesied in vv. 15-16: a branch of righteousness out of David who rules righteously and a new name: Yahweh our Righteousness. The city of Jerusalem at the time of Jeremiah was known by the name of its king, Zedekiah which means “Yahweh is Righteous” or “the righteousness of Yah.” But Jeremiah says that God is going to raise up a new Zedekiah, a new king, that Jerusalem will be known for. And our Zedekiah was born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago.
Just prior to this passage, God has told Jeremiah that things are not going to go well in the immediate future and then instructs Jeremiah to go out and buy a field because Israel will eventually return to the land (Jer. 32:1-15). Matthew says that this prophecy was fulfilled when the chief priests purchased the field with the blood money of Judas (Mt. 27:9-10). Although it appears he is alluding to Zechariah as well, the context is the same: God is delivering the shepherds and flock of Judah up to destruction and judgment (Zech. 11). The field is a witness against the wickedness that is bringing the judgment as well as a sign that Israel will return from exile. Matthew is saying that Jesus is Israel going down into the grave of exile, but if a field has been purchased (and it has) then Israel will return in joy (Jer. 33:10-11).
Conclusion & Application
As we enter in to the season of Advent and consider a new year, it is fitting to consider how our situation is in some ways similar to Jeremiah’s. We do not have the detailed prophetic voice of Jeremiah today, but we do have the prophetic promises of God that Christ must reign until all of his enemies are his footstool. He must reign until the earth is covered with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. He must rule until the nations have become his disciples, and of the increase of this kingdom there will be no end. This means our situation is strikingly better than Jeremiah’s. Our states and nations may turn from God; God may raise up other nations to humble us, but our king will not see his sons executed and then be blinded and led to a foreign land in fetters (like Zedekiah). But the application is the same: go buy some real estate. Plant a vineyard, build a house. Plan to be around for a while. Nations may rise and fall; peoples may come and go. But this land is claimed by King Jesus; it’s all his. Therefore it is ours. Whatever miniature exiles we may endure, we are citizens of a kingdom that will never end. This is the hope of Advent: Our King has come for us, and He will come for us.