Jeremiah 30:21 states—-and here I will quote the New Revised Standard Version because that is what I read in my daily quiet time—-”Their prince shall be one of their own, their ruler shall come from their midst; I will bring him near, and he shall approach me, for who would otherwise dare to approach me? says the LORD.”
The KJV is a bit different: “And their nobles shall be of themselves,
and their governor shall proceed from the midst of them; and I will
cause him to draw near, and he shall approach unto me: for who is this
that engaged his heart to approach unto me? saith the LORD.” Whereas
the NRSV presents God asking who would dare to approach God unless God
brought him near, the KJV depicts the prince engaging his heart to
The LXX seems to apply to all of Israel what the MT relates to the
prince. To quote Brenton’s translation of the Septuagint: “And their
mighty ones shall be over them, and their prince shall proceed of
themselves; and I will gather them, and they shall return to me: for who
is this that has set his heart to return to me? saith the Lord.” God
in the LXX is gathering to himself the people of Israel, not just the
prince. Or the “them” whom God is gathering could be the mighty ones,
but I think that it makes more sense to interpret the “them” as all of
Israel, for soon before “them” in that verse is “themselves,” and that
refers to Israel.
The HarperCollins Study Bible states in its commentary on v 21: “To approach
God was normally a priestly prerogative (see Ex 29.4, 8; 40.12, 14; Lev
7.35). Cf. Ezekiel’s prince in Ezek 46.1-18.” John MacArthur in his
study Bible similarly says that the Governor in Jeremiah 30:21 is
approaching God as a priest. MacArthur goes so far as to suggest that
this Governor is the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Jeremiah 30:21 surprised me somewhat, but it also baffled me a bit. I
did not know that Jeremiah envisioned an eschatological paradise in
which the prince would approach God as a priest. What I did not
understand, however, was the part of the verse asking who would dare to
approach God, or who would engage his heart to approach God. Why is
that part there? What point is it making in its context? “It teaches
us that we do not deserve to enter into the glorious presence of God,”
someone might say. Sure, but why did Jeremiah throw that point in?
What was its function within the passage, what Jeremiah was saying, and
the historical situation that he was addressing?
Perhaps its function is to assure Israel that her representative—-the
prince—-can approach God, in a time when Israel may be doubting this.
Israel has just experienced devastation and exile. She has suffered
from God’s holy hatred of sin, and she may feel unworthy to approach
God, especially a God so glorious that no human being could casually
approach him. God could be comforting Israel by reassuring her that her
representative would be approaching him, and yet God wants to indicate
that this is indeed a remarkable task, for who would approach so holy
and glorious a God?
Suppose that part of the verse does not mean “who would otherwise
dare to approach me” and instead means “who is this that engaged his
heart to approach me”? Could the point be that the prince is taking the
initiative in approaching God, that he recognizes his and his people’s
need for God and thus approaches God in faith? It’s like Moses taking
the initiative of going to the Tent of Meeting and seeking God’s face,
when Israel is alienated from God due to the Golden Calf incident
(Exodus 33). Is the prince taking leadership as a man of God, as Moses
did? Well, perhaps. I read one commentary that suggested that. But
Jeremiah 30:21 is not just saying that the prince is approaching God,
but that God is drawing the prince to him. It’s not just about the
prince’s initiative, but God’s invitation and initiative. God is making
the first move. Could the point of Jeremiah 30:21 be that no one would
approach God, unless God first drew that person? Does God want to
emphasize his drawing of people to himself to comfort Israel that God
loves and cares for her, or to stress that God deserves glory for Israel
(or actually her representative) coming to him?
But why is God changing the rules and letting the ruler approach him,
when before that only the priests could? Well, perhaps it is hasty to
assume that a king could not perform a priestly function before the
exile. There were biblical authors who believed that only priests could
approach God in the sanctuary, but there are also parts of the Bible
where kings do priestly things, such as wearing an ephod or blessing the
people. See my post here
about Psalm 110, where the Davidic king (presumably, according to
certain historical-critical interpretations) is said to be of the
priesthood of Melchizedek.
Or maybe Jeremiah’s point is that, in Israel’s eschatological
restoration, there will be greater intimacy between Israel and God.
Jeremiah 33:21-22 envisions the restoration of the Levitical priesthood,
so there will be Levites in Jeremiah’s eschatological paradise. But
perhaps the point of Jeremiah 30:21 is that holy priests will not be
standing between Israel and a holy God, for Israel’s representative, her
prince, will be able to approach God. God in that case is identifying
himself even more with Israel, a refreshing message, in light of
Israel’s experience of God’s wrath.