Week of August 22

Follow the Real Leader

Read: Jeremiah 23 & 25; John 19
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David
a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely,
and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”
Jeremiah 23:5, ESV


“We are living in a fear epidemic, stoked in part by a 24/7 media that makes tragedies from around the world seem part of our everyday experience, or makes a global pandemic appear to be crouching at our door. We live in a time of great uncertainty, when important things that we once thought we could rely upon, like a job for life, have been taken from us” (David Knott, The Psalm 23 Life). In similar fashion, the prophet Jeremiah prophesied in a time of extreme uncertainty. Godless kings and corrupt civil leaders, prophets and priests were oppressing the people and they longed for delivery. Israel needed a shepherd and so do we.

This section in the book contains a significant passage where God announces that He would appoint a righteous ruler who would execute righteousness and justice in the land. We will see readily the messianic implications of these words. The overall message is to warn Judah about God’s coming judgment, but also to promise a Davidic king to rule righteously a remnant of the people. Let’s examine and apply our focal chapter today.

Let's See What the Bible Says

The Problem: The Amazing Lack of Effective Shepherds
To speak about leadership in the Ancient Near East guarantees that the word “shepherd” would surface. The language in our passage is figurative, but the main idea is clear. The “shepherds” of Judah included its kings and other leaders (cf. 10:21; 25:34-38; Ezekiel 34; John 10:1-18; NAC). These leaders were continually “scattering and destroying” (23:1; note the use of participles). The sheep of the pasture were obviously the people of Israel—the northern ten tribes that had been absorbed into Assyria and Judah that were to enter exile in Babylon (cf. Ezekiel 34:31). You think, “Why all the fuss about ancient history, Ashlock?”

Their history is the reality for most of our world today. People are eking out an existence and longing desperately for deliverance. God is deliverer. He disapproved of poor leadership that mistreated people precisely because He cared about the welfare of His sheep (vv. 1-2)! Allow me to be blunt. A Ph.D. in Leadership does not necessarily equate to moral leadership. These rulers and elders had the titles, but they were not tethered to the truth! I’d be shooting fish in a barrel if I turned my focus to our present national and local leadership, so I’ll simply let you know that God is indeed aware of the widespread moral failure within elected offices here and around the world. So, what did God decide to do about the situation?

God decided that He, himself, would assume the role of Israel’s shepherd and gather the remnant of His flock from all of the various places that He had scattered them (vv. 3-4). We do not have the place nor the time here to develop fully the remnant theme, but there are many passages where this motif is present (Isaiah 37:32; Ezekiel 5:10; Amos 5:15; Micah 2:12). Once God had purged the nation, then a remnant would remain.

Notice that Jeremiah shows how the bad leaders (23:2) were used by God (23:3) to punish the extreme moral depravity of Israel. There is no confusion between verse 2 and 3 because both the leaders and the people were held accountable by God for their individual sin. Nevertheless, the returning ones would be fruitful and prolific (Genesis 1:28; Deuteronomy 28:4; NAC). God, too, and this is key, would place righteous shepherds (rulers) over them who would nurture them and protect them from danger. How would this change occur?
The Solution: God Provides the Good Shepherd
Verses 5-6 form a key part of the developing messianic belief in Israel (see also Jeremiah 30:8-9; 30:21; 33:15-16). All of Israel’s kings had failed, so God provided His own ruler from within the Davidic dynasty. This leader came to be called the Messiah (i.e., the Anointed One). The term “branch,” or sprout, would later be understood as a messianic title (Zechariah 3:8 and 6:12). F. B. Huey notes that the Phoenicians used the word to refer to the “rightful heir to the throne” (NAC). God’s ruler would set the standard for leadership.

This ruler would do what was just and right. A time would come when all of the people would acknowledge the Lord as the only source of righteousness (Philippians 2:9-11)! Hallelujah! Paul applied the title to Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:30), so Jesus is the one who is the true Branch, the Messiah for all humanity (Isaiah 9:1-7; 11:1-9; Mark 8:27-33; Romans 1:1-6; NAC). In fact, when God does this, the second exodus promises to be greater than the first (vv. 7-8). I suppose this trumps any trust in an earthly leader as deliverer (I’m smiling and praising God through whom all of our lasting blessings have flowed).

Let's Deepen Our Walk

Who is real anymore? I noticed a lengthy thread on Facebook some time ago that included comments on an image that pictured a platoon of Vietnam era soldiers. Post after post thanked those soldiers for their service in that horrible conflict. Sadly, the picture was fake. In fact, it was a photo that had been taken on a movie set. The background seemed real enough and the uniforms were from that era, but the people in the photo were only performers. Our world needs the true deliverer. He is Jesus Christ.

Here are some steps for our spiritual growth. God’s remnant practices observable attitudes and behaviors that show loyalty to the “the righteous Branch.” First, His people will display unity. He rules over a reunited nation (23:6; cf. Ezekiel 37:19). He will bring salvation to His people. Peace and security will characterize Messiah’s rule. Secondly, true shepherds will submit to His authority. Jesus warned against the harmful shepherds that had preceded Him and had oppressed the sheep (John 10:7-8, 10). He had seen how the people had been burdened and scattered like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). Thirdly, the critical moral need is a changed heart and life. Jesus knew that the way to relieve human burdens was to fulfill what Jeremiah prophesied. He would need to save His people from their sins (John 12:32). He would, through His death, draw all people to Himself (cf. Jeremiah 23:5-6; cf. John 19:14). God, our true Shepherd, provides true leadership in every age. We do well to follow Him with all of our hearts.

Let's Think and Discuss

1. Take time to consider how you may support God’s agenda for our world (see the opportunities for spiritual growth). How may your words and actions speak to the truth that Jesus is the answer to the world’s need? Secondly, in what ways will you become engaged, in Jesus’ name, to meet the needs of the whole person (Christ’s peace)?

2. For families: Children learn by our example as adults. What neighborhood, school, or home project may your family undertake through the remainder of the year that witnesses to the truth that Jesus saves and cares about people?

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock