The Shepherd of All Shepherds
Join us as we celebrate The Promised King, Jesus Christ, born to us on Christmas morning!
God sometimes speaks in the most profound fashion if you are listening and paying attention. This past August Liz and I traveled to California to perform a wedding for a friend of ours. While we had some free time one afternoon, we decided to take our car rental, jump on Interstate 99, and head north for some good Mexican food in Lodi California.
Turning on the radio, which was synced to my Apple phone, which in turn contains all of my favorite rock music, a great song started playing for our seven-mile drive to the restaurant. That’s when it happened. That’s when God spoke. When the rock song finished, the next song to play was Vince Gill’s Go Rest High on that Mountain, my late father’s favorite as he battled brain cancer. It is hard for me to hear that song, because, in my mind’s eye, I can see my dad sitting at his kitchen table and listening to this song about the death of a brother. Needless to say, Liz and I said nothing as we drove along the freeway because we both knew that song did not start playing by sheer accident. With literally hundreds of mostly rock songs from the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s on my phone, we knew it was statistically impossible for that particular song to come up at that particular moment.
What made the whole episode extremely amazing was this: the cemetery where my father is buried is located about 6 miles heading north on this interstate. As we passed the cemetery, the song played. As we exited the freeway and drove up a curving, westbound elevated off-ramp, the song concluded when we reached the top of the ark. At that precise moment, we were parallel to the military section of the cemetery where my father is buried.
And you say that God does not speak. I think you need to reconsider your position. Sometimes He communicates in a fashion you will never forget. By perfectly timing the playing of that particular song, God, in his omniscience and love, spoke most clearly. What did He say to us? He said, “Don’t worry, your dad is with me and he’s fine.”
Perhaps tonight will be one of those times for you when God will speak most clearly and profoundly. What method will use? He will use a precise prophecy given some five hundred years before the coming of the Messiah, Jesus. Statistically, it is impossible for one man to fulfill all 60 of these exact prophecies because that man could not control the variables given. In Genesis chapter 3, God promised to send a seed, a Savior, who would one day defeat Satan and sin. In Genesis 12, God prophesied that his chosen people, Israel, would be the nation through which the promised one would come to earth and bless mankind. In Genesis chapter 49, God prophesied through the pen of Moses how the coming seed would be a regal man of peace from the tribe of Judah. In second Samuel chapter 7, God prophesied through the pen of Nathan how the coming Savior and King would come specifically through the dynasty of David. Jesus, of course, fulfilled all of these ancient prophecies to the letter.
In Jeremiah chapter 23, verses one through eight, God gave a spectacular prophecy to Israel on the eve of their national destruction because of sin. With two deportations of Jewish inhabitants by the military machine of Babylon fresh in everyone’s minds (605, 597 B.C.), a final judgment of Jerusalem and Judah was on the horizon through the political mis-steps of their final Davidic King, Zedekiah (Jer. 22).
Of course, the majority of the people did not actually think their nation would fall because of their sin based on the premise that God’s temple dwelt among them. Those people thought wrong from what we know of history. The more spiritually attuned people of the day, who actually formed a small minority within the nation, rightfully wondered what would happen to the future of David’s dynasty since God promised him a perpetual regal line. In the chapter before us, God not only answered this question definitively, he gave them and us a prophecy concerning the regal Shepherd of all shepherds. Or to put it differently, in the middle of national gloom and doom when people thought all was lost, God gave them a heavy dose of hope.
In this particular prophecy, God’s hope for the hopeless and further fearful is revealed in this one main motif:
Hardness In The Present Leads To Messianic Hope For The Future (Jer. 28:1-6)
Unfortunately, everything stated here about the causes of Israel’s national decline are well-known to us. Why nations fade away hasn’t changed in the last 2,500 years, and some of those reasons are mentioned at the beginning of this messianic prophecy.
The People Had A Royal Problem (Jer. 23:1-4)
Boy, did they. Except for King Josiah, who brought restoration, spiritual revival, and law-and-order back to the land during his reign, Jeremiah reminds us how the majority of the political leaders purposefully, and sometimes illogically and mindlessly, moved God, who is holy, to finally and definitively judge His people. A fish rots from the head down. We all know this. Applied to Israel, the willful sins of the leaders became the willful sins of the people. After 348 years of watching His people collectively reject Him (counting from 930 B.C. when the kingdom split in two until 586 B.C. when Babylon invaded one last time), His laws and ways, and His prophets, God finally said in 586 B.C. He had had enough.
Before divine judgment came, however, God revealed the reasons which motivated Him to discipline the decadent and derelict Davidic dynasty. Jeremiah’s words couldn’t have been more precise and pointed. No, God was not interested in having a conversation with his sinful people to discover how they could come to some type of compromise. On the contrary, God wanted them to know exactly what sins they needed to repent of in order to stay His disciplinary hand (Jer. 22:1-5),
1 “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!" declares the LORD.
In the Hebrew text, the word woe is placed in an emphatic position to get the attention of Israel’s leadership. Who were the shepherds? Based on the fact chapters 21 through 22 detail God’s condemnation of Israel’s final unwise and power-hungry kings, viz., Jehoazhaz (609 B.C.), Jehoiakim II (609-598 B.C.), Jehoiachin (598-597 B.C.), and Zedekiah (597-586 B.C>), it is safe to contextually conclude the spiritually obstinate and arrogant final king’s prior to captivity is in view.
True, prophets and priests are castigated in Jeremiah’s book for giving the people false, misleading messages, or messages which made them feel great and wonderful (Jer. 2:8, 13-29; 5:13, 31; 13:13; 14:14). But the primary blame for divine judgment in this section of Scripture rested squarely on the shoulders why they were supposed to govern God’s of the political leaders who should have known better. Why? They were supposed to govern with the inexorable law of God in hand (Jer. 10:21), but they chose to deconstruct the nation by flaunting the law, creating new lawless laws, persecuting the prophets who spoke against them, and permitting all forms of worship . . . along with worship of the living God. (How hypocritical, right?)
Jeremiah gets at the root of the national political and spiritual problem with the next short verse:
2 Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel concerning the shepherds who are tending My people: "You have scattered My flock and driven them away, and have not attended to them; behold, I am about to attend to you for the evil of your deeds," declares the LORD.
The word “therefore,” merely informs us there is always a cause/effect relationship between sinful activity and divine judgment. A leader, or a person, might get away with evil for some time, but God’s train of justice moves slowly but it always reaches its forewarned destination if repentance is not realized.
Instead of shepherding the flock, or the nation, the political leaders were masters at “destroying” and “scattering the sheep.” Both prepositions can be classified as duratives meaning these politicians, from the king downward, lived to dismantle everything in the nation which was holy, just, God-honoring, and logical. What exactly did they do? Isaiah chapter 5 contains a detailed list of their sinful action. Jeremiah chapter 2, verse 8, is insightful as well:
8 "The priests did not say, 'Where is the LORD?' And those who handle the law did not know Me; The rulers also transgressed against Me, And the prophets prophesied by Baal And walked after things that did not profit (Jer. 2).
The spiritual leaders stopped pointing people to God, after all, that probably bothered folks who were more open-minded to various forms of worship (Baal, Chemosh, Ashtoreth, etc.). The political rulers broke God’s laws whenever they liked, and the prophets, who should have spoken God’s word, gave the people their word it was permissible to worship other gods too. This caused the people to love and support these prophets, while despising prophets like Jeremiah who actually told them what they needed to hear to aver divine discipline.
Jeremiah chapter 5 is not far behind chapter 2 in its intensity and lucidity. Listen to the closing scathing words of Jeremiah 5:
28 'They are fat, they are sleek, they also excel in deeds of wickedness; they do not plead the cause, the cause of the orphan, that they may prosper; and they do not defend the rights of the poor. 29 'Shall I not punish these people?' declares the LORD, 'On a nation such as this Shall I not avenge Myself?' 30 An appalling and horrible thing Has happened in the land: 31 The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority; and My people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it (Jer. 5)?
Nations become chaotic and implode when the prophets, priests, and kings disregard God’s laws, invent their own to consolidate their power, take advantage of the disadvantaged, and constantly devise and support new, unheard-of, ways of engaging in evil . . . while calling it good (Isa. 5:20). Yet in the final analysis, the wild party always ends, as the final clause states, and people will have to face the living Lord God. What will they do then? Yes, there always comes the moment in time and space when God says from His lofty throne: “I am about to attend to you for the evil of your deeds.” We’d do well to take note of Jeremiah’s observations for the same God still sits on His throne.
Apart from the sins of the leaders arousing the judgment of God, their sinful activity also led to the scattering of the people. Some were scattered when the Babylonians invaded them in 605 and 597 B.C. because the intelligentsia of the nation (young men like Daniel, Daniel chapter 1), were forcibly carried away into captivity. Others scattered by attempting to flee the evil, by moving off into the mountains or remote areas to escape the personal impact of the political, societal, and spiritual decay. They were like sheep without a shepherd. The shepherd’s job was to protect and provide for the sheep, not to leave them wandering aimlessly unprotected all over the place. But that’s exactly what transpired and caused so many to feel hopeless.
When we are in our deepest points of despair, is typically when God shows up and speaks in a spectacular, uplifting, and encouraging fashion. This is exactly what He does in the ensuing verses. In wrath, He always remembers mercy and hope.
The Lord Had A Royal Promise (Jer. 23:5-8)
What is that promise? Speaking like the true Shepherd, the Lord makes this comforting statement:
3 "Then I Myself shall gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and shall bring them back to their pasture; and they will be fruitful and multiply.
This statement is quite interesting. The sinful activity of the leaders caused the Lord to drive His people into captivity to teach them a lesson for not following hard after Him. Yet there would be a limit to the time of his divine discipline. Israel went into captivity in 586 BC, and they were miraculously released from captivity when Cyrus king of Persia overran the Babylonians and then freed the Jews in 539 BC. No one saw this coming, but God did.
The Babylonians hauled the Jews away to Babylon in three deportations, and God sovereignly brought them back in their returns.
- Zerubbabel from the line of David, who served as the governor of Jerusalem from 537 two 515 B.C., led the first return. The high priest Joshua, who was from the line of Aaron and Zadok (Ezra 1:8-11), was part of this return as well.
- The second return came 80 years later in 458 BC when the Persian ruler Artaxerxes permitted Ezra the priest to lead 5000 Jews back to Israel (Ezra 7:14).
- The third return came 14 years later in 444 B.C. Persian leadership permitted Nehemiah to return and rebuild the walls torn down by the Babylonians. Imagine the precision of this prophecy given probably around 588-587 B.C. A whopping 142 years before anyone could have dreamed these returns could have occurred, God said they would, and they did. Again, don’t tell me that God does not speak.
During these various returns, as Jeremiah states in verse four, God promised to give Israel good leaders to take care of them. Men like Zerubbabel, of the Davidic line, Nehemiah and Joshua were illustrations of this prophetic promise:
4 "I shall also raise up shepherds over them and they will tend them; and they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified, nor will any be missing," declares the LORD.
The first clause introduces us to the shepherds, but the second clause informs us that a future Shepherd will come to rule and reign over Israel so that they no longer would the people be fearful and terrified of their neighbors. At no time in human history has this part of the prophecy ever been fulfilled. Today Israel has many enemies in the region, Hezbollah, Hamas, the PLO, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and so forth. Yet, according to God, there is coming a time in the future when Israel will be at peace because the ultimate ruler will live and reign over them and over the world.
The King of Kings and the Shepherd of all shepherds is prophetically revealed in verse 5:
5 "Behold, the days are coming," declares the LORD, "When I shall raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land.
God never promised David in the Davidic covenant (2 Sam. 7) a perpetual King on the throne. What he did promise to him was a perpetual dynasty, and the only way this could be fulfilled was for One to come who is perpetual, or eternal. That would be the God-man as foretold by Isaiah (Isa. 7:14; Mic. 5:1-2).
Jeremiah calls this coming One from the royal line of David “a righteous Branch.” What is this? That is the wrong question. The better question is, Who is this? He will be a Davidic king who will act wisely instead of unwisely, bring justice instead of injustice, and cause righteousness, not evil to be the order of the day on a worldwide basis. The branch motif, therefore, merely informs us how this future Davidic king would suddenly and miraculously come forth from the dead-looking stump of what was once the glorious and mighty Davidic empire.
Just who was this coming One? Verse 6 identifies Him:
6 "In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely; and this is His name by which He will be called, 'The LORD our righteousness.'
His name is divine because he is divine: “The LORD our righteousness.” This is probably a spoof or a play on words regarding the meaning of King Zedekiah’s name: “The LORD is my righteousness (Jer. 21:1-10). Zedekiah did not live up to the meaning of his name, but this future Davidic king will because He will be the LORD, who is righteous.
What are the benefits of this King’s arrival on the planet? Our first answer comes from His name, as disclosed here. Interestingly, He is called “our righteousness.” Why? This king enjoys this title because He will lovingly give sinners what they could never earn on their own: righteousness and holiness. Who can give sinners righteousness? The answer is simple: only God who is holy.
What Davidic king came in time and space who was, in fact, the God-man who came not only to die for the sin of mankind but to give repentant sinners life and holiness? The answer is, again, simple: Jesus. Was He from the Davidic line? Check (Matt. 1; Luke 3). Concerning a faith relationship with Him, Paul, a former Pharisee and Rabbi who became a Christian, wrote to the Corinthians: “30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, . . . (1 Cor. 1).
Was He God? Check. The angel told his father Joseph this much, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, God with us” (Matt. 1:23). Was He capable of forgiving sinners? Check. This was His mission according to John the Baptist (John 1:29, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”). The paralytic heard these soul-comforting words after his friends lovingly dropped him through the roof of a home into the presence of Jesus, “My son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5).
The question this Christmas couldn’t be timelier. Have you permitted the “LORD our righteousness” to give you a whole new holy standing before God by bowing before Him faith? You have enough prophetic evidence to tell you definitively who Jesus was, and is, and now it is time to come to terms with His mission. Earning the ability to become your Savior from sin was what His first mission was all about. Now it is time for you to accept the ramifications of that divine mission for yourself by bowing before His throne and confessing Him as the true and prophesied righteous LORD. When you do this, you get a benefit that will last into eternity. It’s called His righteousness.
A second benefit is prophesied in these verses. It regards the salvation of Judah and Israel, God’s first chosen people (Deut. 7). God not only unconditionally and prophetically promised to bring the Seed, the Savior, and the King of Kings through them, He promised them a land wherein He would, after the seven-year Tribulation (Dan. 9:24-27), dwell among them in the final and most glorious Davidic empire of peace and holiness. Jeremiah records their future salvation in chapters 30 through 31, and Zechariah does as well when he gives this revelation:
10 And I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him, like the bitter weeping over a first-born . . .13:1 "In that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity. (Zech. 12-13).
Not only will God save His historically wayward people, but He will also rule and reign over them. They will dwell securely and know only peace because He will sit on the David throne in Jerusalem (Isa. 2). If you have a faith relationship this Christmas with Jesus, the prophesied Messiah, you are not only part of His spiritual kingdom, you will rule and reign with Him when He arrives to establish a kingdom, the likes the world has never seen . . . a kingdom known for holiness, righteousness, peace, and true justice (Psalm 2; Rev. 2:27; 5:10; 12:5; 19:15; 1 Cor. 4:8).
A few months ago, the Lord spoke to my wife and me in a most personal and unforgettable fashion. As stated, His tender voice came through the words of a song rich in meaning, and His timing of the playing of that song couldn’t have been more perfect. We will never forget His word that afternoon.
I pray a similar thing has occurred in your life this evening. I pray the same tender Lord who spoke to us through a song perfectly timed, has revealed Himself to you through a precise ancient prophecy only He was qualified to fill. It was not by chance that the Messiah was prophesied to be a righteous King of the Davidic line to beat all kings in any age. Whereas the kings of this old world leave much to be desired, He is most desirable because He, and He alone, is equipped to shower His holiness on you at the moment of faith. I pray this precise prophecy, which He fulfilled in His first coming, moves you toward Him. He stands ready to forgive you and give you a place in His forever family. He also stands ready to invite you to be an active part of His empire when He returns the second time.