We did it! You contributed over $1 million USD in 48 Hours.

Jeremiah 23:1–6

20 November 2022

Exploring the Scripture

Today’s text is used for the last Sunday before Advent when we celebrate Christ the King. We return to the prophet Jeremiah, whose prophecies were centered on the royal covenant God made with David, to preserve his lineage forever. As Christians, we interpret that prophetic word to refer to the coming of Jesus Christ, a descendant of David, who will reign in God’s kingdom forever.

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. “I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and execute justice and righteousness in the land.” 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. The future king is not a superhero in his own cause or a puppet in the hands of a conquering nation.

Gospel writers quoted Jesus affirming to his followers that he was the Good Shepherd. He knows his sheep, and they know his voice and follow willingly. Jesus’ use of the idea not only spoke of the pastoral relationship and loving-kindness between him and his followers but also echoed Jeremiah’s extension of the Good Shepherd into an expectation of a messianic age. Jesus came as our Messiah, a representative of God, and an attentive, caring shepherd who gathers his scattered sheep in safety and peace.

Central Ideas

  1. Political and religious leaders who do not put the needs of the people first displease and anger God.
  2. God’s promise is to care personally for those who are oppressed, marginalized, and poor who have been abandoned by self-centered leaders.
  3. The Gospel writers build on Jeremiah’s prophecy and point to Jesus Christ as fulfilling the promise to send a Good Shepherd who will reign in God’s kingdom with strength, gentleness, and justice.

Questions to Consider

  1. Who are the Good Shepherds among the political and religious leaders of our day? Who are the wicked shepherds?
  2. Where do you see God active in the world, caring for those who are marginalized, oppressed, and poor?
  3. What is a modern metaphor you could substitute for the image of the Good Shepherd?
  4. How do you express the image of the Good Shepherd in your ministry? How do you see others expressing that image?

Previous Page

Learn more about Community of Christ. Subscribe