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Exploring Jeremiah 23:1–6

21 November 2022

By Susan Oxley of Seattle, WA, USA

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.
The days are surely coming, says 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. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Jeremiah 23:1–6

[Excerpted from Sermon and Class Helps, Year C: Old Testament, Jane M. Gardner, ed. Herald House, 2021, pp. 129–130]

The passage begins with judgment. God is displeased with the rulers and leaders of the Jews because they are not protecting their people. When people are poor and oppressed, burdened by unjust leaders, they feel disconnected. Emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, they are divided, isolated, and fearful. Perhaps the wicked shepherds are the kings and religious leaders of Judea before the Babylonian exile, who did not heed the prophetic warnings. God accuses the leaders of scattering and driving the people away from themselves.

It is easy to put the blame for exile on the Babylonian conquerors. But the kings and religious leaders must take responsibility for the injustices and internal oppression that weakened the nation and allowed conquest to occur. Because the leaders did not attend to the needs of the people, God will attend to them.

Having heard God’s accusation against the leaders, the hearer expects God to tell the wicked shepherds what their punishment will be. Instead, God turns immediately to the needs of the poor sheep, those who have been abandoned and lost through poor leadership. “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock…” (v. 3). He promised to bring them back to their homes in Judea, where they will multiply. God will provide new leadership who will care for them. The people will no longer be fearful, dismayed, or lost.

In verse 5, Jeremiah expands on the promise of a new and caring shepherd. Here is the messianic hope of a righteous king from the lineage of David, who will rule over a restored nation. David himself was a shepherd, so the image connects to the Davidic line and the royal covenant. A good shepherd is one who is strong but gentle, powerful but pastoral, just and righteous. God’s promise is to save both Israel and Judah, who will live in safety. The statement implies a reuniting of the divided kingdoms. The name of the future king— “The Lord is our righteousness”—is a reminder that he will reign as a representative of God.

Prayer Phrase

God who is with us and ahead of us, help us feel the gentle nudge of your Spirit as we move toward the future. Guide us along the way as we seek justice and peace for your creation.

Spiritual Practice

Praying for Leadership of the Church

An important spiritual practice for disciples is praying for members of the body of Christ, especially those who carry leadership responsibilities. Ask God to guide your awareness of people who lead the community of faith in congregations, mission centers, and the World Church. Pray for God’s outpouring of grace on each servant leader who comes to mind.

Today’s Prayer for Peace

Engage in a daily practice of praying for peace in our world. Click here to read today’s prayer and be part of this practice of peace.

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