Jeremiah 33:14-26 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 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. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt-offerings, to make grain-offerings, and to make sacrifices for all time.
The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: Thus says the Lord: If any of you could break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night would not come at their appointed time, only then could my covenant with my servant David be broken, so that he would not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with my ministers the Levites. Just as the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will increase the offspring of my servant David, and the Levites who minister to me.
The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: Have you not observed how these people say, ‘The two families that the Lord chose have been rejected by him’, and how they hold my people in such contempt that they no longer regard them as a nation? Thus says the Lord: Only if I had not established my covenant with day and night and the ordinances of heaven and earth, would I reject the offspring of Jacob and of my servant David and not choose any of his descendants as rulers over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes, and will have mercy upon them.
Reflection These verses close what is called the ‘Little book of Consolation’ in Jeremiah (Jer.30-33); but they are absent from the much shorter Greek (Septuagint) version. They almost repeat, and then expand upon, Jeremiah 23:5-6. They belong to a later layer of tradition in this complex book but where and when they originated is disputed. The former oracle looks forward to an unspecified time when God would raise up a new branch of Davidic monarchy epitomised by wisdom, righteousness and justice, qualities initially associated with David and Solomon. It reversed the oracle in 22:28-30 which proclaimed the total end of the dynastic line of succession.
Today’s passage not only re-iterates God’s promise of an eternal ‘new’ branch for David, it also speaks in parallel of a Levitical priest having responsibility for an eternal sacrificial cult. This is expressed as part of an eternal covenant that could only be broken if the whole created order of night and day came to an end – clearly taken to be impossible by the author. In addition, God’s eternal covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is recalled – and the understanding that both the former kingdoms of Israel and Judah were equally God’s chosen people. God remains committed to all these covenants and will be merciful.
Absolute confidence in God is being expressed and promises linked with David become part of a holistic understanding of covenant that draws on many biblical books.
‘The days are surely coming’ – but we don’t know when. What is meant by a ‘righteous branch for David’ remains obscure but we get the idea; and it promises a new era of righteousness and justice. God is bringing this into existence for all the children of Abraham; and it is as certain as the fact that night leads on to day. Are you filled with hope?
Prayer Faithful God, we wait with hope for the coming of your eternal kingdom. We acknowledge Jesus as the kingly fulfilment of your promises to David. Have mercy on us and help us to grasp the cosmic scale of your loving purposes. Help us to focus on what lies with the scope of what we understand and what we can do, as we serve Christ in the church and the world. Amen.
The Revd Dr Janet E Tollington A retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge