Connections 12.02.2018: The Promise of the Righteous Branch

Jeremiah 33:14-22

God said, “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (v. 15).

Is it any wonder that, as the day of Jesus’ birth approached, people expected him to be a king who would rule with might and power? Their Scriptures were full of promises like this one from God. Though they suffered now, they looked forward to a time when God would send someone to conquer their conquerors. The words “righteous,” “spring up,” and “execute justice and righteousness” don’t exactly convey a helpless child sleeping in a feeding trough or, indeed, a man who went around loving the least of these and proposing quiet, nonviolent resistance.

No, these words convey a forceful, powerful, eloquent man who trumps the current authorities. Who wouldn’t be encouraged by this promise, especially when you’re oppressed and impoverished?

But when we think about the image in this text from Jeremiah, we will find that it is full of hope and life instead of might and power. Picture it: A lifeless, rotting stump is all that’s left of a grand and mighty tree. But then, right from the center, a green shoot begins to grow. Small at first, it gains ring after ring until it becomes a branch, sturdy and strong, springing up into the sky.

There is no indication yet that the branch becomes a tree equivalent to the one before. This branch isn’t the same as the tree. It seems that, in spite of the words that imply a mighty conqueror, God is actually quite clear about the kind of savior Jesus will be. He will appear in a surprising place. He will be small and rather insignificant at first. He will grow and move quietly for many years until, one day, he will be noticed. His subversive power will grow as he gains followers and teaches them a new way to love God and love people. And, unlike a tree that is stubbornly rooted and unmovable, Jesus will be like a branch, weaving and winding among people, touching their hearts, sharing his love and his way throughout his ministry. This is the justice and righteousness of Jesus Christ—powerful precisely because it is executed with love.

Discussion

1. For a people who were oppressed and impoverished, what was the benefit of hoping for a mighty conqueror? Why do you think they believed Jesus would be this kind of savior?
2. How could such a people maintain hope when their expectations weren’t met in the way they wanted?
3. Why is Jesus like a Branch? How does this image help you understand his mission?
4. Can Jesus be both mighty and humble? How?
5. As Jesus’ followers, how can we find the balance between being strong in our faith and being humble as we share it with others?

Reference Shelf

Verse 14 refers back to the promise made to Israel and Judah (in 23:5-6), stating that God will fulfill that promise (lit. “the good word”). Then the promise is restated with some changes in detail (see Introduction for repetitions in Jeremiah). God will raise up a righteous branch (see at 23:5) for David who, unlike the kings throughout Israel’s sorry history, will execute justice and righteousness (see 30:9; the similar language in Isa 11:1-5; the phrase “and he shall reign as king and deal wisely” in 23:5 is omitted here). Then, while “Judah will be saved” is retained, it is Jerusalem rather than Israel that will “live in safety.” Moreover, while the Davidic king is named “the LORD is our righteousness” in 23:6, in v. 16 it is the city of Jerusalem that will be so named (as in Ezek 48:35). These changes suggest that the restoration of Jerusalem is the primary concern in this text (as in vv. 1-13), and the question of the future of Israel (the northern kingdom) is taken care of by the opening reference to the fulfillment of the former promise to Israel (23:5-6). It is not clear whether the name change for Jerusalem is now a substitute for the name change for the Davidic king, or whether both are in view given the opening word in v. 14 about the fulfillment of the former promise.

The expansion of the opening oracle comes in three parts, each introduced by a formulaic word from the Lord (vv. 17-18, 19-22, 23-26). Each of these parts in their own way makes the same point: God is bound to the covenants with David and with the Levites and God will not back away from those commitments, come what may.

Terence E. Fretheim, Jeremiah, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2012) 477-78.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley attends First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha and Natalie, and her husband John. Currently, she is looking for the next opportunity to be onstage in a local theater production. She also loves Marvel movies and Doctor Who, and she will always be a writer at heart.

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