Sunday, December 2, 2012

Musings on Jeremiah 33:14-16 and Prophecy

At church this morning, the pastor preached about Jeremiah 33:14-16, which states (in the King James Version):

"(14) Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. (15) In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land.  (16) In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name wherewith she shall be called, The LORD our righteousness."

The pastor was applying this to Jesus, but was it Jesus at his first coming, or Jesus at his second coming?  I don't entirely remember.  On the one hand, the pastor suggested that Israel's return from exile occurred in 1948, with the re-establishment of Israel as a nation, and I think that would coincide with applying Jeremiah 33:14-16 to Jesus' second coming----the exiles return to Israel in 1948, and several years later Christ comes back and rules Israel in righteousness while enabling Judah to dwell in safety.  On the other hand, the pastor also seemed to think that v 15's reference to the Davidid as a branch was predicting that Jesus would be a humble Messiah, not the conquering king that many Jews in the first century were expecting.  That appears to hold that Jeremiah 33:14-16 concerns Jesus' first coming. 

Perhaps one could combine the two views:  God caused the Davidic branch to sprout during Jesus' first coming, in the person of Jesus, and years later Jesus would come back and rule Israel in righteousness, save Judah, and enable Jerusalem to dwell in safety.  Speaking for myself, I'm skeptical about applying Jeremiah 33 to Jesus, for I think that what Jeremiah was saying was that the Jews would return from exile in seventy years, and then God would restore the Davidic dynasty and the Levitical priesthood (see vv 18-22, and Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10).  Even if you go the route of saying that the prophecy is consistent with saying that the Jews would return from exile under Cyrus, and years later God would re-establish the Davidic dynasty through Jesus, who would rule years after that, there's still the problem of what to do with the prophesied restoration of the Levites.  Don't many Christians believe that Christ nullified the Levitical priesthood?  Is that inconsistent with Jeremiah 33:18-22's prediction that God would not only restore the Levites, but that they would be before him perpetually?

Christians can probably go a variety of routes here.  First, they can say that God did restore the Levites, in Israel's historical post-exilic period.  But Jeremiah 33:18-22 appears to describe the Levitical priesthood as perpetual, whereas the historical service of the Levites in the Temple came to an end, as did the Temple.  Second, Christians can say that Jesus as high priest fulfills the function of the Levitical priesthood, and that Jeremiah 33:18-22 is symbolic of this.  I can't really refute that, but I do think that interpreting prophecies symbolically is quite arbitrary and allows people to read back into the prophecies their desired conclusions rather than allowing the prophecies to speak for themselves.  Third, Christians can say that Levites will offer sacrifices before God during the millennial reign of Christ.  Perhaps that would work.  When I read Jeremiah's prophecies about restoration, though, it seems to concern what Jeremiah expected to happen in seventy years, not something that would be partially fulfilled in seventy years, while other parts would be fulfilled later in the future.  But many Jews and Christians believe that the prophecies could be partially fulfilled in the past while also having a later fulfillment, and the reason has been that they want for the prophecies to have continued relevance rather than being an expectation on the part of Jeremiah that did not fully pan out.

I should note something else: Jeremiah 33:18 states that "Neither shall the priests the Levites want a man before me to offer burnt offerings, and to kindle meat offerings, and to do sacrifice continually."  So the Levites are offering sacrifices?  That appears to be inconsistent with Leviticus-Numbers, in which the Aaronic priests perform the sacrifices, while the Levites are responsible for transporting and guarding the sanctuary, and possibly other services.  Deuteronomy, however, does not present the Aaronides as a higher class of priests than the other Levites, and it just says that the Levites minister before God (Deuteronomy 18:7).  Jeremiah appears to agree with Deuteronomy, whereas Ezekiel depicts the Zadokites as the priests who will offer sacrifices (Ezekiel 43:19; 44:15).  Of course, I suppose that you could say that the Aaronides and the Zadokites were Levites (Ezekiel 40:46), which is true.  Still, it's interesting that Jeremiah does not explicitly distinguish the sons of Aaron from the other Levites, but rather says that the Levites will offer sacrifices to God.

I was intrigued by what my pastor was saying about the branch, for that made me wonder why the Davidid in Jeremiah 33 was called the branch.  Does it have to do with lowliness and humility, as my pastor was suggesting?  I wouldn't be surprised if that were the case, for there was an expectation that the coming king of Israel would be humble----Zechariah 9:9 presents him peacefully entering Jerusalem on a donkey, for example.  But I think the passage probably means that there will come a king who will have Davidic ancestry, which means that God will restore David's dynasty.  In short, a branch will come from the Davidic tree.

6 comments:

davey said...

I like the judicious way you tackle things like this, James. You are certainly acquiring background in depth with all your reading to be a knowledgeable commentator! And then, you apply your knowledge intelligently and reasonably.

James Pate said...

Thanks Davey!

David (a different Davey) said...

James,
Are you inferring that there could be a restoration of the Davidic Kingship as well as a restoration of the Levitical Priesthood that could be either separate or in conjuction with Jesus?

James Pate said...

Thanks for your comment, David. That is one route that some Christians have taken----if I'm not mistaken, some of the dispensationalist ones say that. I can see where they're coming from, since Jeremiah itself presents the Davidic line and the Levitical priesthood being restored. Ezekiel goes a similar route, only it highlights the Zadokite line as the priestly one. But then there are Christians who see all of that as symbolic.

David said...

I find it extremely rare that a Christian (even a dispensationalist) would believe that there will be a restored Davidic Kingship by one who is not Jesus, but there is no good reason why not. Jesus also was not a Levite, but is referred to as a priest of the Melchizadek Order, so it doesn't seem that the restoration could be symbolic in relation to Jesus.

James Pate said...

No, I think you're right there. Probably every Christian thinks the Davidid will be Jesus.

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