1 March 2016

Jeremiah 23:5-8

“And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” (v. 6)

Psalm: Psalm 46


Despite Jeremiah's many warnings about the consequences of the people's disobedience to God's law there seemed little change in the moral and social character of Judah. So Jeremiah kept proclaiming the impending demise of the kingdom, its capital Jerusalem and the temple around which the religious life of Judah was centred.

The main Exile eventually occurred in 587 BC towards the end of Jeremiah's ministry, when the temple was destroyed and a large part of the population were carried off to Babylon (modern day Iraq). It was one of the most cataclysmic events in ancient Jewish history. Yet in the midst of his message of doom came a spark of hope.

The image of the "righteous Branch" (v. 5) isn't unique to Jeremiah. It is also found in Isaiah (Isaiah 11:1) who comes before Jeremiah by about 100 years, and Zechariah (Zechariah 3:8) who was writing after the Exile. In all three cases the term refers to a hope that God will bring forth new life from out of the current state of death. The reference to David harks back to Judah's greatest king and connects the new life to the old.

The title given to this new branch, "the Lord our righteousness", may be making a point about the current governance of Judah. One of the kings during the time of Jeremiah was Zedekiah which may be translated as 'the Lord is righteous' or 'the Lord my righteousness', despite his life failing to demonstrate such a quality. This new Branch won't just have the name, but will demonstrate it in action (verse 5).

Throughout Christian history the righteous Branch has been seen as an image of Jesus. The Gospel writers were keen to stress that Jesus was a descendant of David (eg Matthew 1:17). Equally he was seen as one whose kingdom was characterised by justice and righteousness. In this season of Lent we are forced to confront the reality of death, but also see the hope of Christ's new life.

Jeremiah's words of hope finish with an image of people returning to the restored kingdom. This again points to the action of God. When the people were slaves in Egypt God delivered them (Exodus 12:51), and now the people could hope that God would deliver them from the Exile that was to come.

To Ponder

  • What does it mean today to be people of justice and righteousness?
  • What signs do we see around us of God's new life? 

Bible notes author

The Revd Will Fletcher

Will is a presbyter stationed in the Sheffield Circuit. He has oversight of one multisite church (The Beacon Methodist Church) which is spread over three locations in western Sheffield.