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The Remnant and the Righteous Branch

Jeremiah 22:1-25:38

The focal passage, Jeremiah 22:13–21 excerpts an important part of God’s chastening words through Jeremiah. It deals with God’s expectation of justice and compassion on the part of rulers in society. Following these chapters there is an extended biographical section on Jeremiah [26–45] showing how his prophecies and the reaction to them affected his personal life. Within the background text for this week, however, one must take note of several powerful themes that go beyond the single focus on social justice. We find that the failure to extend justice to the helpless is simply a manifestation of damning depravity. Their failure of love to fellow Israelites, fellow sinners, fellow humans arose from a despising of the claims of a holy God over their lives. The prophets and priests not only winked at evil but pursued courses of teaching and acting that approved and encouraged it. Only an alien righteousness can make the chosen remnant survive the onslaught of error.

I. Jeremiah 22—

The Kings abused their position and used it to show how privileged and unfettered depravity manifests itself given sufficient power and wealth. Lord Acton: “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

A.  Jeremiah was told to go immediately to the king’s house.

This certainly could be viewed as bold confrontation for one that had so recently been beaten and put in the stocks and that already had threats against his life (22:1). The king was to be reminded that his was not the throne, but the throne of the Father of the Messiah, David. He did not possess independent arbitrary authority but was only tolerated because of the covenant to David and should manifest Messianic mercies in his own short time to occupy that throne. Even to Solomon, God says that he preserves the promise to Judah for the sake of David, to whom he promised, “You shall not fail to have a man on the throne of Israel (1 Kings 9:5).

B.  Those mercies characteristic of the final one that would occupy David’s throne [note verses 4 and 30 as well as 21:12 for the importance that God placed on this being David’s throne] should be manifest in all those that sat on that throne.

The offense of Zedekiah and those others that followed Josiah was that they not only exhibited personal evil in their abuse of authority, but they had no sense of awe and wonder and reverence for their position of occupying the throne of the infinitely merciful Messiah. This matter had been fully explicated in Isaiah 9:6, 7 and 11:1–10 and Isaiah 29:17–21. and also compare Luke 6:18–23. 

C. Even yet, should they repent, the nation would stand and be a place noted for its stability and prosperity (22:4). 

D.  Failing such repentance, and left to their sinful hearts that failure was certain, they would be ruined by the invasion and their rebellion against their God would be noted even by other nations.

The exile would not be kind for most that went, and verse 10 indicates that death would be preferred. There were exceptions as 24:4–7 makes clear.

E. The sons of Josiah all are despicable, unlike their father.

    1. Shallum, already in exile never to return, used his position to enrich himself, not to be a responsible ruler. Note the irony of the rhetoric, “Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar?” (22:11–15a).  Look at verse 17 for a thoroughly sad description of a life used only for personal gain and, thus, for evil. Shallum sounds much like the Renaissance Popes Sixtus IV and Alexander VI, the father [illegitimately] of Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia.
    2. Comparison with Josiah [Look at 2 Kings 23:25 for a statement on the exalted place that Josiah has among the kings of Judah.] He lived modestly but as a king and did so without forsaking the primary task of righteousness in his judgment. “Is this not to know me?” declares the Lord. Knowledge of and worship of God made Josiah conform in his public duties as king to the requirement stated so eloquently by an earlier prophet Micah, “He has told you O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).] Formal religion without this is unwanted and reprehensible.
    3. The judgments against Jehoiakim (“with the burial of a donkey he shall be buried”) and Coniah (even if he were a signet ring, God would tear him off and hurl him into the land of exile, he is “a despised, broken pot, a vessel no one cares for”) are filled with loathing and condemnation and descriptions of the most humiliating kinds of judgment.

II. The Righteous Branch 23:1–8

A.  Contrast with the false shepherds that do not tend the flock.

The words seem to indicate that the exile (“You have scattered my flock”) can be substantially attributed to their failure to teach truth and give proper warning and admonition (23:1, 2).  Note Paul’s admonition to Timothy, “Reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). By the word of God—particularly the fervent, accurate, truth-laden preaching of the pastor/teacher given by Christ to the church for this very purpose—the people of God will be sanctified. By such faithful preaching the people no longer are tossed to and fro from by every wind of doctrine, by every false teacher (Ephesians 4:11–16).

B. God will save a remnant. (3, 4).

Compare this with Isaiah 10:20–23. The remnant of Israel that returned becomes a paradigm for the remnant of all nations, the vessels of mercy (See Romans 9:19–33). 

    1. The promise of restoration first was given in Eden in the form of the seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). It is indicated there that the devil, the Edenic tempter, will retain a seed (John 8:44). But the crushing of his head indicates that his power is broken at any point where the seed of the woman applies his victory (See 2 Corinthians 4:4–6; Ephesians 2:1–5).
    2. The principle of the remnant continued through Abel and then through Seth. Noah and his family found grace in order to continue the gathering of the remnant although “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5; 8:21).
    3. After the spread of the nations and the confusion of languages at the tower of Babel, God chose Abraham to continue the historical journey toward this seed of the woman that would crush Satan’s head. To him the promise was given, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
    4. Through Abraham a “son of promise,” Isaac, was born to be the seed through whom the promised remnant would receive its Savior. From Isaac, Jacob was selected instead of Esau to embody the coming of the Seed. From him the elect nation, Israel, descended. Within that nation, from Judah the scepter would become permanent in the person of “Shiloh,” the peace giver, to whom “shall be the obedience of the people” (Genesis 49:10).
    5. Judah by Tamar (his widowed daughter-in-law) had a son that carried the promised seed. Through Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho, came Boaz the great-great grandfather of David. From Ruth the Moabitess (descendants of Moab, son of Lot by one of his daughters) came Obed, the grandfather of David. The remnant was already embedded within the genealogical table.
    6. David came from the tribe of Judah and to him the promise was given that he would have a Son whose kingdom would never end; “I will establish his throne forever,” the Lord said (1 Chronicles 17:12).
    7. Jesus Christ was “born of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3). And to him shall people give praise for he redeemed them from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). Jesus brought in the Samaritan woman to the remnant (John 4), and the Gentile woman of Tyre (Matthew 15:22, 28), and the Roman Centurion (Matthew 8:10–13), as well as Nicodemus the Pharisee (John 3). In the presence of the Centurion’s faith Jesus said, “I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness” (Matthew 8:11, 12).
    8. Paul’s Spirit-inspired theological ruminations on this riveting issue of grace wrote about “the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom he called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles” (Romans 9:23, 24).

C. God will deliver them through the “righteous Branch.”

This deliverance will be superior to that of the Exodus from Egypt (23:5-8); See also Isaiah 11:1, 4, 5, 11—“There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. … With righteousness he shall judge the poor. … Righteousness shall be the belt of his loins. … The Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people who are left.”

    1. A prevailing theme of the Scripture that has vital logical, doctrinal, and moral connections to all other themes is righteousness. For human beings, God’s image-bearers, righteousness may be defined as a perfect conformity to God’s moral law. For God, righteousness consists of his perfect conformity in all of his decrees to his immutable, infinite, perfect holiness. The Branch of David conformed absolutely to both of these standards of righteousness.
    2. This Branch is “Jesus Christ, the righteous,” who has manifested this righteousness most impressively and necessarily in that “he is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:1, 2). The Psalmist says of Him, “A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness, therefore, God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness more than your companions” (Psalm 45: 6, 7).
    3. What separated the faith of Cain from that of Abel? Abel grasped the principle of righteousness that must be imputed: “Why did he [Cain] murder him [Abel?] Because his own works were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:12).
    4. Noah was a “preacher of righteousness” to the ancient world and was himself an “heir of righteousness which is according to faith” (2 Peter 2:5; Hebrews 11:7). Lot was the single “righteous man” that escaped from the destruction of Sodom (2 Peter 2:7) and those who finally are condemned for their pursuit of lawlessness receive the “wages of unrighteousness” (2 Peter 2:13).
    5. Abrahams’ paying of tithes to Melchizedek indicates his understanding of the principle of righteousness and his absolute indebtedness to righteousness not his own. The writer of Hebrews (7:2) points to the very meaning of his name, “Melchizedek—king of righteousness,”, as significant in Abraham’s willing response of tithes to this prince of Salem. When Abraham believed God concerning the grace with which God had blessed him, “He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:1–6). Learning that God himself was his “shield and exceedingly great reward” sealed Abraham’s belief in all of God’s promises for he was covered with the worthiness of God himself.
    6. At the time Judah was to be restored to Jerusalem, Daniel prayed with the address to God, “O Lord, righteousness belongs to you, but to us shame of face.” Why? “We have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in His laws, which He set before us by his servants the prophets. … Therefore the Lord has kept the disaster in mind, and brought it upon us; for the Lord our God is righteous in all the works which He does.” (Daniel 9:7, 10, 14). Righteousness governed the Lord’s relationship with Judah. The failure of righteousness makes necessary the actions founded in mercy from which flows forgiveness.
    7. Paul looked upon the work of Christ done in righteousness as the most bright manifestation of the wisdom of God—“of him are you in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—[even] righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). Paul’s most succinct statement concerning the whole of our salvation centers on “the righteousness of God apart from the Law,” that stands as the full vindication of God in justifying sinners who have no personal righteousness. At the same time, in this way he demonstrates his righteousness (Romans 3:21–26). Paul recognized as blessed the one “to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works” (Romans 4:6). On that basis, Paul rejoiced in the “crown of righteousness” he would receive from “the Lord, the righteous judge” on the day of final judgment. In Philippians 1:10, 11, Paul calls that day “the day of Christ” and affirms that believers will be “filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ.” In Chapter 3, Paul eschewed any pitiful attempts at perfect legal righteousness as rubbish desiring to be “found in him, not having a righteousness of my own by the law, but that righteousness that come from God on the basis of faith in Christ” (Philippians 3:9).
    8. John wrote (1 John 3:7, 10) that “He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.” Conversely, whoever “does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.” No one will trust Christ for the pardon of sin who does not have riveted into his soul that the Law of God is righteous, and that righteousness is godlike, divine, infinitely beautiful and worthy. Without such a conviction, he will never repent of sin and recognize the necessity of the death and righteousness of Christ for the gift of eternal life. He who does so recognize those relationships and, as a consequence, trusts in Christ alone for reception before God, will also pursue the honoring of God by striving to obey the first table of the commandments in loving God and will pursue the second table of the commandments in loving one’s neighbor.
    9. gain, the writer of Hebrews characterizes spiritual immaturity and an inability to teach even the “first principles of the oracles of God” as a consequence of being “unskilled in the word of righteousness” (Hebrews 5:12, 13). The perfecting of Jesus through the great difficulties involved in his blameless obedience is the ground of our salvation and the manifestation of God’s righteousness. A failure to grasp this is a failure to grasp the great burden of God’s revealed truth.
    10. This is why the righteous branch descended from David is called “The Lord our righteousness.”

III. The Prophets contributed to this perversion of office, by giving false messages and conniving at the kings’ injustices (23:9–15).

A. Jeremiah, in a statement combining his own reaction with the words of God, shows distress at the message he is to deliver to the prophets for their false and dangerously misleading words (23:9–11).

    1. Jeremiah described the visceral response that his body had to the reception of God’s words concerning the false prophets. He experienced a broken heart. His love for God and his truth made his heart respond severely to the revelation of evil that had engulfed the chosen nation. His bones trembled. The support system of his body followed the deep despair of his heart in realizing the lawlessness of the nation that had been blessed with a revelation of God’s righteous law. He had become like a drunk man, so disoriented by these things that he could only with great difficulty maintain balance. The words of God were holy and doubtless utterly disharmonious with the message of the prophets.
    2. Jeremiah saw lawlessness of the most perverse kind, the suffering of both land and stock as a result, and the evil use of power (10).
    3. Offices granted to Judah as an elect nation were polluted and in the very place that God had designated he was to be met with sacrifice and praise, the place from which he would hear their prayers and dwell among them (1 Kings 8:27–30), wickedness prevailed.

B. The prophets of Jerusalem exceed the prophets of Samaria in their deceit and evil lives (23:12–15). 

    1. Their relentless course of evil finally has drawn down divinely-imposed calamity. Their pursuit of godless pleasure has gained for them infinite gloom and punishment.
    2.  

C.  Out of their own manufactured visions they give a message that everything is just fine, and that no disaster will befall this evil and rebellious people (23:16–17). 

D. Had they been in the council of God, they would have prophesied the wrath and anger of God bursting forth on the people. They would have issued stern warnings (23:16–22). 

E.  God declares that he is against the prophets, who claim to have revelatory dreams, and thus lead the people into recklessness. Their word is like straw, but God’s word is like a fire and like the hammer that breaks the rock (23:23–32). 

F.  God issues a warning that they are no longer to speak as if they have a divine message in their minds that they simply must deliver.

Instead of having the prophetic burden of a message to deliver, they themselves are a burden to the land, and will receive from the hand of the Lord, not a message to deliver, but “everlasting reproach and perpetual shame” (23:33–40).

IV. The Lord Chooses a remnant (24). 

The good figs and the bad figs symbolize on the one hand those that will receive divine mercies in having their hearts changed (24:7), and thus being a precursor of the new covenant that would come into full operation at Pentecost, when the people of God from over the entire world would have the spiritual mark of circumcision of heart (Colossians 2:11–15). The bad figs, on the other hand, are those upon whom God will execute his justice, to be a “horror . . . a reproach, a byword, a taunt, and a curse” (24:8–11).

V.  No people anywhere from any time are exempt from the Lord’s righteous judgment. “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it” (25:15).

A.  God will punish the nation of Judah for its persistent hostility to the true prophets.

B.  They will go into exile under Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon.

C. Then after seventy years, that nation with its king, Belshazzar, will be punished for their iniquity [Mene, Mene, tekel upharsin] (Daniel 5:22–31)

D. Jeremiah lists all the nations to which he was sent and then gives a summary of the amazingly wrathful message that he was to deliver (25:17–38).

As the saving of a remnant becomes a type of the calling of the elect from all nations, so this judgment foreshadows the final great assize. “For behold, I begin to work disaster at the city that is called by my name, and shall you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, declares the Lord of hosts” (Jeremiah 25:29).

VI.  Observations

A.  The fallenness of humanity is severe indeed and the severity of the offenses we commit regularly against God, left to our selves make us subject to severe wrath.

B.  Our ability for self-deceit is alarming. Giving and welcoming a rosy analysis of our condition in order to create a (false) sense of well-being merely compounds the legitimacy of divine anger against us.

C. We should see ever more clearly the necessity of a divine energy for the transformation of our affections that we might love God and walk humbly with him and consequently do justice and love mercy.

D.  God’s preservation of a remnant according to grace among the Jews kept alive the Messianic line and laid the foundation for the fulfillment of the promises to come through a Messiah.

E. With great force and clarity God provided a revelation that the righteousness we lack is the righteousness he will provide in one that can with perfect truthfulness be called “The Lord.”

F.  God judges all nations, He is the only God, none can hide from his gaze, and his judgment will be thorough.

Though by far the emphasis in these chapters is on the holy wrath of God, the prospect of mercy peeks through the dark and billowing clouds of divine thunder.

The Righteous Branch
Jeremiah 23

God Himself attends his flock;
The remnant surely shall not fail.
False priest and prophet feel the shock
That God’s true judgment shall entail.

So how will truth be separated
From deceit of prophets’ lies?
Their falsehoods must be expurgated,
Words from ears and deeds from eyes.

Left to themselves all nations die,
Eternal death must be their end.
But God in mercy comes nearby
His patient mercies to extend.

Fair Ruth, foul Rahab bore the seed
To David’s branch, the righteous Lord.
Both fair and foul have equal need
Of cover from truth’s wrathful sword.

“The Lord our righteousness,” they shout.
He rescues sinful sheep from hell;
Engulfed by death he calls them out,
The remnant ransomed whole and well.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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