Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentJEREMIAH 33
THE RIGHTEOUS BRANCH, THE MESSIAH
Much of this chapter is challenged by the critics who point out that Jer. 33:14-26 are missing from the LXX, and that the apparent prophecies of the endless succession of a Davidic line of kings and a restoration and perpetual continuity of the Levitical priesthood with its countless sacrifices are totally contrary to other prophecies given through Jeremiah.
Jeremiah did indeed prophesy the final end of the Davidic line of kings in Jer. 22:30, where Coniah was designated as the very last of the Davidic succession; and he also prophesied the termination of the whole Levitical system in Jer. 3:16.
Furthermore, the New Testament emphatically teaches that, "No king of the family of David shall reign, except the Messiah, and that the seat of his government is not an earthly, but a heavenly throne (Luke 1:23,33; Ps. 89:37 KJV)."F1
Likewise, regarding any such literal priesthood as that of the Levites, the New Testament is equally emphatic. "The Levitical services have been forever abrogated by the unchanging and unceasing priesthood of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 7:12-28)."F2
The problem, then, is what to do with the apparent contradiction of such undeniable and eternal truth by the seeming affirmation in this chapter of a new line of Davidic monarchs on the throne in Jerusalem, and a permanent reestablishing of the Levitical priesthood after the return from the captivity.
There are two ways to solve the problem: (1) deny the authenticity of the chapter and credit it as a commentary not written by Jeremiah, but by someone else afterward, or (2) take the passage as a type of Messianic blessings, written in terminology that would have encouraged the returnees from Babylon. To this writer (2) is by far the preferable solution. The following exposition by Payne Smith, which is given in full under Jer. 33:17-18, below, follows this path of explanation, which we believe to be correct. The fact of the whole chapter's being absolutely Messianic supports this view.
The chapter falls into these divisions: the siege of Jerusalem actually in progress (Jeremiah 33:1-5); the destruction of the city and the ensuing captivity will not nullify God's ultimate forgiveness and blessing (Jeremiah 33:6-9); future blessings enumerated (Jeremiah 33:10,11); more blessings recounted (Jeremiah 33:12,13); the promise of the Messiah, the Righteous Branch, and apparently, the restoration of a Davidic monarch upon the earthly throne, and the perpetual restoration of the Levitical priesthood (Jeremiah 33:14-18); the infinite multiplication of the seed of David and of the Levitical priests (Jeremiah 33:19-22); the perpetual nature of the promise to David and to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Jeremiah 33:23-24).
THE SIEGE OF JERUSALEM IN PROGRESS
Moreover the word of Jehovah came unto Jeremiah the second time, while he was yet shut up in the court of the guard, saying, Thus saith Jehovah that doeth it, Jehovah that formeth it to establish it; Jehovah is his name: Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and will show thee great things, and difficult, which thou knowest not. For thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, concerning the houses of this city, and concerning the houses of the kings of Judah, which are broken down [to make a defence] against the mounds and against the sword; while [men] come to fight with the Chaldeans, and to fill them with the dead bodies of men, whom I have slain in mine anger and in my wrath, and for all whose wickedness I have hid my face from this city:
Jehovah that doeth it
(Jeremiah 33:2). Some have supposed this to be a reference to the Creation; but it appears more logical to see it as a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem then in progress.
Houses which are broken down
(Jeremiah 33:4). Due to difficulties in the text, some have supposed the destruction here to be connected with the demolition of houses by the army of the invaders; but our translation indicates that the houses were destroyed to provide materials for the erection of mantelets (Nahum 2:5) or mounds with which to oppose the invading Babylonians. We do not see the difference as a problem, because houses were in all probability destroyed by both the defenders and the invaders. Thus the text is true no matter which translation is used; it is true both ways.
To fill them with the dead bodies of men
(Jeremiah 33:5). This was due to the fact of there being no time to bury the dead. All of the houses emptied of their residents due to military operations, whether of the defenders or the invaders, were used to stack the dead. The passage, due to textual uncertainties, remains enigmatical.F3
GOD'S PROMISE OF FUTURE BLESSINGS
Behold, I will bring it health and cure, and I will cure them; and I will reveal unto them abundance of peace and truth. And I will cause the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel to return, and will build them, as at the first. And I will cleanse them from all their iniquity, whereby they have sinned against me; and I will pardon all their iniquities, whereby they have sinned against me, and whereby they have transgressed against me. And [this city] shall be to me for a name of joy, for a praise and for a glory, before all the nations of the earth, which shall hear all the good that I do unto them, and shall fear and tremble for all the good and for all the peace that I procure unto it.
This passage is Messianic, as proved by the "forgiveness of sins" promised in Jer. 33:8. Also, it should be noted that it is not the impressiveness of the literal city of Jerusalem that will constitute the joy and praise and glory of God, but it will be "a name" (Jeremiah 33:9), should we say merely "a name?" Certainly it is true that today, the only connection that the Messianic kingdom has with literal Jerusalem is the "name of it," heaven itself being called in the New Testament, "The New Jerusalem"; and the spiritual mother of all Christians, being, in no sense whatever, a literal earthly city of any kind, much less, an earthly Jerusalem, but "the Jerusalem which is above, which is free, which is our mother" (Galatians 4:26).
Another proof that we are here confronted with Messianic prophecies is seen in the fact that both the Northern and Southern Israels (Jeremiah 33:7) are promised a share in the blessings, an indication that all Jews of whatever tribe will have access to the New Covenant, along with all others of the human race, and upon the same terms.
FUTURE BLESSINGS ENUMERATED
Verses 10, 11
Thus saith Jehovah: Yet again there shall be heard in this place, whereof ye say, It is waste, without man and without beast, even in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, that are desolate, without man and without inhabitant and without beast, the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of them that say, Give thanks to Jehovah of hosts, for Jehovah is good, for his lovingkindness [endureth] for ever; [and of them] that bring [sacrifices of] thanksgiving into the house of Jehovah. For I will cause the captivity of the land to return as at the first, saith Jehovah.
Since this was written while the siege was still in progress, while Zedekiah was still on the throne, and while Jeremiah was still a prisoner in the court of the guard, we have here the predictive prophecy of what will ultimately be said concerning the desolation of the city.
Also, here are very encouraging prophecies about the ultimate restoration and prosperity of the city.
In Ps. 106:1; Ps. 107:1; Ps. 108:1; and Ps. 136:1, some of the words of this passage are incorporated into the Psalms; and, "From this we gather that they became a regular part of the liturgical worship in the Jewish temple."F4
MORE BLESSINGS ENUMERATED
Verses 12, 13
Thus saith Jehovah of hosts: Yet again shall there be in this place, which is waste, without man and without beast, and in all the cities thereof, a habitation of shepherds causing their flocks to lie down. In the cities of the hill-country, in the cities of the lowland, and in the cities of the South, and in the land of Benjamin, and in the places about Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah, shall the flocks again pass under the hands of him that numbereth them, saith Jehovah.
The contrast between Jer. 33:10,11 and Jer. 33:12,13 emphasizes the great prosperity that is promised for Judah after their return from captivity, these blessings being typical of the great spiritual blessings under the Messiah. "Strangely enough, the Targum has a Messianic interpretation here and substitutes the word `Messiah' for the one counting the sheep."F5 This at least indicates that from of old the whole chapter has been understood as Messianic.
MESSIAH THE BRANCH IS PROMISED
Behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that I will perform that good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and concerning the house of Judah. In those days, and at that time, will I cause a Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely; and this is [the name] whereby she shall be called: Jehovah our righteousness. For thus saith Jehovah: David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel; neither shall the priests the Levites want a man before me to offer burnt-offerings, and to burn meal-offerings, and to do sacrifice continually.
As noted in the chapter introduction, the only difficulty here is the apparent promise of the perpetual succession of his descendants upon the throne of David and also that of the permanent, unending restoration of the Levitical priests with their animal sacrifices, events which are denied absolutely by other passages of the Word of God. We have rejected the device which would remove this passage from God's Word; and the best explanation of the true meaning, as we see it, is that of Payne Smith.
"The solution is probably as follows. It was necessary that the Bible should be intelligent to the people at the time when it was written, and in some degree to the writer. Neither writer nor the reader needed to know the whole meaning, but it must have had some meaning to them. But language can never rise above the ideas of the time; for words are merely symbols, taken at first from external objects, but gradually elevated and made to express mental emotions and spiritual conceptions. The Jew therefore could use only such symbols as he possessed; and in describing the perfections of the Christian Church, he was compelled to represent it as the state of things under which he had lived, freed from all imperfections. Thus we can form no idea of Deity except as a man freed from all human weakness ... So here; the Davidic kingdom and the Levitical priesthood are symbols that represented to the Jew all that was most dear to his heart in the state of things under which he lived."F6
The limitation of language itself has been frequently mentioned in my series of commentaries. "The waters above the firmament" in the Creation narrative, for example, actually refer to "moisture in the atmosphere, or clouds"; but the Jews had no word for "vapor"; therefore, the waters (liquid) were beneath the firmament, and the waters (vapor) were above the firmament.
Also, read the description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation's last two chapters. "Transparent gold" is an impossibility.
Language often breaks down as an inadequate vehicle for the conveyance of the thoughts of God; and so we believe is the case here. The continuity of a succession of rulers on the literal throne of David and the perpetual ministrations of the Levitical order in their offerings of burnt-offerings, etc., represented to the Jew the full and perpetual restoration of his national life, along with freedom from oppressive foreign rule, and restoration of all the rights and privileges of his holy religion: Furthermore, it was impossible for the Jewish mind to have comprehended such marvelous blessings apart from such promises as are found in these five verses.
Nevertheless, we believe that the words are also literally true when properly understood. How about all of those "kings" and "priests" which are promised here? They are those who have been loosed from their sins and cleansed in the blood of Christ. "Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins, in his own blood, and made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen." (Rev. 1:5,6, KJV).
KINGS AND PRIESTS UNTO GOD
These are Christians, called by the apostle Peter "a royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9), and of whom the prophecy declares that "They live and reign with Jesus Christ a thousand years!" (Revelation 20:6). And just who are these? They are those who participated in the "first resurrection." They are those who experienced the new birth (Revelation 20:5).
And how about those "sacrifices" which are to be offered perpetually? "Ye (Christians) ... are a spiritual house, a royal (or holy) priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5).
And the burnt-offerings ... what about them? When the true sacrifice for sins, even Christ our Lord, died upon Calvary, the whole institution of animal sacrifices perished forever, never to be renewed. Therefore the perpetual sacrifices mentioned here refer not to burnt offerings, etc, but to "spiritual sacrifices," as indicated in the above paragraph. And exactly what are those spiritual sacrifices? They are the songs, the prayers, the charities, the good deeds, the faithful lives of true Christians. They are described in Hebrews.
"Through him (Christ) then let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips that make confession to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased" (Hebrews 13:15-16).
These New Testament passages clear up completely any problems that are alleged to appear in these verses. Again we have proof that when radical critics wish to expunge some verse or some chapter from the Bible, it is merely because they cannot understand the passage; and for many of them, their failure is due to their apparent ignorance of everything in the New Testament.
THE RIGHTEOUS BRANCH
I will cause a Branch of righteousness to arise unto David
(Jeremiah 33:16). This prophecy parallels that of Jer. 23:1-8. (See notes on this above). It is amazing that Jehovah Our Righteousness, which is given there as the name of the Righteous Branch (The Messiah), appears here as the name of Jerusalem. This is no contradiction, because the New Jerusalem is the Church of God, completely identified with the True Israel who is Jesus Christ, a truth which becomes crystal clear in the New Testament. This designation of Jerusalem as Jehovah Our Righteousness makes it mandatory to read Jerusalem here as The New Jerusalem. All will admit the total impropriety of associating a name like that with the literal earthly Jerusalem.
Although his prophecies of the Messiah are not as extensive as those of Isaiah, Jeremiah nevertheless often spoke of the coming of the Messiah. "He spoke of the Messiah as `The Spring of Living Waters' (Jeremiah 2:13), `The Good Shepherd' (Jer. 23:4; 31:10), `The Righteous Branch' (here and in Jer. 23:5f), `The Redeemer' (Jeremiah 50:34), `The Lord Our Righteousness" (Jeremiah 23:6), `David the King' (Jeremiah 30:9), and as `The Agent of the New Covenant' (Jeremiah 31:31-34)."F7
Thus, we find no fault whatever with what the holy prophet has written here; and we believe that the full understanding of it is clear enough in the marvelous words of the New Testament. The literal interpretation which sees here a promise, not of One Davidic King alone, namely the Messiah, "but a series of Davidic descendants to occupy the throne of David"F8 is incorrect. As Jellie noted, "It was impossible, and now is impossible, to restore: (1) either a literal reign of David's descendants or (2) the Levitical priesthood, for two reasons: (a) Their genealogical tables have been irrecoverably lost, and (b) nothing short of a direct decision from God Himself could distinguish the descendants of David or Levi from the descendants of any other of the twelve tribes of ancient Israel."F9
Furthermore, it should be particularly noted that this chapter says nothing at all about any "succession" of Davidic kings, or any series of such rulers, but that he shall have "a son to reign upon his throne." That son is the Son of God, the Messiah. But how about the plurality that seems to be here implied? Well, Christ himself said of the Twelve Apostles, "Ye shall sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matthew 19:28), a reference, of course, to the spiritual authority of the Apostles in God's Church.
PROMISE OF INNUMERABLE DESCENDANTS
And the word of Jehovah came unto Jeremiah, saying, Thus saith Jehovah: If ye can break my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night, so that there shall not be day and night in their season; then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant, that he shall not have a son to reign upon his throne; and with the Levites the priests, my ministers. As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured; so will I multiply the seed of David my servant, and the Levites that minister unto me.
"The promise of an innumerable posterity once given to the patriarchs, as in Gen. 13:16; 55:5; 22:17, etc., is here applied to the descendants of David and to the number of God's ministers."F10 This means that the numbers of people who will serve the Messiah shall indeed be, "A great multitude which no man could number, out of every nation and all tribes and peoples' and tongues" (Revelation 7:9).
And how are all these "descendants of David?" By virtue of all Christians being "in Christ," they are thereby sons of David and also sons of Abraham (Matt. 1:1; Gal. 3:29). Also, we have already noted how all Christians are priests unto God.
PERPETUAL NATURE OF GOD'S PROMISES
And the word of Jehovah came to Jeremiah, saying, Considerest thou not what this people have spoken, saying, The two families which Jehovah did choose, he hath cast them off? thus do they despise my people, that they should be no more a nation before them. Thus saith Jehovah: If my covenant of day and night [stand] not, if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth; then will I also cast away the seed of Jacob, and of David my servant, so that I will not take of his seed to be rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: for I will cause their captivity to return, and will have mercy on them.
Take of his seed to be rulers
(Jeremiah 33:26). That there will indeed be of the seed of David (Christians) those who will be rulers (plural) over the seed of Abraham (once racial Israel, but now all Christians everywhere) is an unwavering promise of God; and, at this very moment it is being fulfilled all over the world in the Apostles of Christ and in all Christians who are reigning with Christ.
Things looked very dark indeed for Israel at this sad juncture in their lives. They were about to be deported into a shameful exile in Babylon for a period of seventy years. All of their ancient glory which they remembered from the Solomonic empire had been blotted out forever; and, for many of the people, it seemed like the end of all hope. But God knew what he was doing. Descendants of David would indeed return from the captivity; and, in the fullness of time, Mary the betrothed wife of Joseph, one of the descendants of David through Nathan, would lay the infant Messiah in the Bethlehem manger!
Footnotes for Jeremiah 33
1: W. Harvey Jellie, Jeremiah, in Preacher's Complete Homiletic Commentary (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company), p. 556.
3: T. K. Cheyne, Jeremiah in the Pulpit Commentary, p. 68.
4: Scribner's Bible Commentary (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898), p. 488.
5: Charles Lee Feinberg in Ezekiel (Chicago: Moody Press), p. 590.
6: Scribner's Bible Commentary (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898), p. 489.
7: R. K. Harrison, Jeremiah in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, p. 144.
8: Anthony L. Ash, Psalms (Abilene, Texas: A.C.U. Press, 1987), p. 240.
9: W. Harvey Jellie, Jeremiah, in the Preacher's Complete Homiletic Commentary (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company), p. 555.
10: J. A. Thompson, The Bible and Archeology (Grand Rapid, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972) p. 603.