The Righteous Branch: God’s Promise of a Righteous King
In these verses, God promised Judah a righteous king. Jeremiah picked up the theme in 23:5. The promise of a king comes in contrast to God’s condemnation of the past and present kings. Josiah was the last good king. His sons were evil kings.
Jeremiah 22:11-12 is a condemnation of Josiah’s son, Shallum. He was also known as Jehoahaz. He only reigned for three months. (2 Kings 23:31-33)
The next king, Jehoiakim, is condemned in Jeremiah 23:13-23. He built a great house for himself while his people suffered.
Then, verses 24-30 condemn Jehoiachin, or Jeconiah, who also reigned only three months before Babylon deposed him and put Zedekiah on the throne. None of these kings were righteous. In Jeremiah 23, God refers to them as shepherds, for they were to take care of God’s flock, his people. But they did not. In verse 2, God said “you have scattered my flock and have driven them away and you have not attended to them.” The king was supposed to lead Israel in worship of and obedience to God.
David was the model for the righteous king. Although he sinned, he never worshipped idols. He retrieved the ark and brought it to Jerusalem. He built a tent for it and put it in a prominent spot. He assigned priests to care for it and to make the sacrifices. He regularly went down to worship. He wrote songs for worship. He provided funds for the instruments used in worship. He provided funds for the temple that his son would build.
Josiah was another model. He led the last reform of worship in Judah. He read the law and led the nation to repent. He destroyed altars and idols. But his sons did not carry on his work. They worshipped idols, they did not keep the covenant and led the people to abandon the Lord. Many other kings of Israel and Judah were evil.
In contrast to these unrighteous kings, God promised Israel a righteous king.
God said “I will raise up for David a righteous Branch and he shall reign as king”. (Jeremiah 23:5) In just two verses, God told the Jews, and now us, much about this figure who would be king.
First, God would give them a king in the line of David. In this metaphor, David’s line is a tree. The promised king will be a branch of that tree. Zechariah 6:12 uses this same image. He is the Branch and he will sit on his throne.
We know from our previous study that God made a covenant with David. It is recorded in 2 Samuel 7:4-17. God said David’s throne would be established forever. (2 Samuel 7:16) Yet there was no king of the Jews in Babylon. They served the Babylonian kings, then the Persian king.
Even when the Jews returned from exile, there was no Davidic king. Zerubbabel, a descendant of King Jeconiah, returned and is even listed first by Ezra among those who returned, but he did not reign. (Ezra 2:2)
The temple was rebuilt, but not the palace. There were priests and Levites, but no king. There were prophets, such as Haggai and Zechariah, but no king. They were initially ruled by a governor (Ezra 6:6) and subject to the Persian king. No descendants of David are even mentioned despite all the listings of families. But God promised a king.
Zedekiah was the last Davidic king in Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 36:11). After the Persians, the Greeks ruled the area, followed by the Selucids and finally the Romans. The Romans sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple in 70 A.D. Then, in 135 A.D., the Romans drove the Jews completely out of Jerusalem. Next the Arabs controlled the area. Then the Turks took over in 1071, then the Egyptians.
The Crusaders conquered Jerusalem in 1099 and held it until 1187. They did not allow Jews to live there. Saladin conquered the city in 1187. The Mamelukes from Egypt took over in the 1200s. The Ottomon Empire conquered the Mamelukes in 1517. They held the area until the end of World War 1, which they lost after joining Germany against the Allies. The British were given control over Palestine after the war and let Jews return to Palestine. But there was no king of the Jews. Then the United Nations created the Jewish state. But there was no Davidic king. The Jews rule themselves in a parliamentary democracy. It is a secular state.
But God kept his covenant with David and he fulfilled this word he spoke to Jeremiah. He sent a king of the line of David. He just did not do it in the way they expected or that we would expect.
That king, of course, is Jesus. Matthew, in particular, wrote to reveal this fact. That is why Matthew wrote the first words of his gospel: “the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David.” The Messiah had to be the king. So he had to be of David’s line. Matthew knew there was no point in discussing this if he did not show that Jesus was in the line of David. He often referred to Jesus as “the son of David”.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Luke reminds us that it was David’s home town (Luke 2:5). Since Joseph was of David’s lineage, he had to go there and register in the census.
The wise men who came from the east were looking for the “king of the Jews”. They came to worship him. (Matthew 2:1-2) It is interesting that these pagan kings understood the situation when God’s people did not.
Paul declared to the Romans that Jesus was descended from David according to the flesh. (Romans 1:3)
Jesus preached his kingship. After his baptism and temptation, Jesus immediately began to preach “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. Matthew 4:17. He did not defend his birthright, he simply preached with authority.
Verse 5 of Jeremiah 23 says he shall reign as king. Does Jesus reign as king? Yes! We know he has a throne in heaven. 1 Corinthians 15:25 says he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. Then he will deliver the kingdom to the Father.
We are given a vision of this in the book of Revelation. It shows Jesus exercising his kingly authority over mankind, over the beast, over Satan and over death. At the end of chapter 20, he has defeated all of these foes. Then the Father makes all things new.
Hebrews 1:8-9 says Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The writer of Hebrews applied the words of Psalm 45:6-7 to Jesus.
The second thing God said is that this king would be righteous. Jesus was righteous. Israel sinned when tempted in the wilderness, but Jesus overcame Satan in the wilderness and did not sin. (Matthew 4:1-11) Even Pilate’s wife called him a righteous man. (Matthew 27:19) Peter, in his sermon at Solomon’s Portico called Jesus “the Holy and Righteous One”. (Acts 3:14)
2 Corinthians 5:21 says Jesus knew no sin. Hebrews 4:15 says Jesus has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Look at Hebrews 1:8-9 again. It says The scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
God gave a fuller explanation of this doctrine of Christ’s righteousness in Jeremiah 23:6, when he said “he will be called the LORD is our righteousness.” We know that only the righteous will get into God’s kingdom. Jesus even said “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. (Matthew 5:20) That statement would have scared all who heard it, for the Pharisees were the most outwardly righteous people they knew. And the words of Psalm 14:1-3 would echo in their minds: none is righteous, no not one.
So, how do we become righteous? When we receive Christ, his righteousness is credited to us. This is the argument presented in Romans 4 and 5. Paul reminded the Romans that Abraham’s faith was counted to him as righteousness. Then he says it applies to us also, who believe in him. That faith will be counted to us as righteousness. Our sin is put on Christ and his righteousness is put on us when we believe and trust Christ.
Paul said it most succinctly in 2 Corinthians 5:21:
For our sake he made him (Christ) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
If you have received Christ, rejoice that this great exchange has been made for you.
If you have not received Christ, do it today. Exchange your guilt for his righteousness.