God In The Forefront

Jeremiah 23:1-6

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord. “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number.I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord.

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,

“when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,

a King who will reign wisely

and do what is just and right in the land.

In his days Judah will be saved

and Israel will live in safety.

This is the name by which he will be called:

The Lord Our Righteous Savior. (NIV)

Many Christians today see the birth of Jesus written all over this passage. They see this prophecy as one that gives the promise of a future utopia where God’s chosen king will rule and everyone will benefit, unlike the most recent batch of kings which have pushed the region and its people further and further from justice and peace. They see that never really happened in the history of the Jews after their return from Babylonian exile, so Jesus, the Savior, must be the fulfillment of that promise. The Zionist movements in Christianity and Judaism are still looking for the restoration of Israel’s political might and world power.

In the ancient Near East, the shepherd was a favorite metaphor for the royalty. The shepherd doesn’t go off and live in a house while the sheep are alone out in the field. No. Shepherding is best when lived out with the sheep so the sheep know the shepherd’s  voice and will follow without resistance. The shepherd is supposed to lead the flock to the still waters and the green pastures so they have everything they need. These kings, in Jeremiah’s day, did not lead nor did they provide. They disregarded. They took. They pushed. And consequently the flock was scattered. The people were driven into exile. The nation was no more and the people were in distress, the culture destroyed.

Authorities who do not serve the good of the whole, who only look out for their own interests are an anathema to God. They are not good for the people and in the long run, that kind of ‘leadership’ won’t get satisfaction for anyone. Those kind of ‘leaders’ are never satisfied. No matter how much they get, power, wealth, you name it, they always want more. And that pushes the people into less and less tenable circumstances. 

Jeremiah was a prophet before and during the time of the Babylonian invasion that ended up driving the people into exile and the destruction of the first temple. Jeremiah had warned that the neglect by the royalty for their kingly/shepherding responsibilities would lead to the downfall of the nation. That happened in 587 BCE. Even before the nation fell, King Jehoiakim was bound in fetters and carried off to Babylon. Zedekiah, the last King of Judah was captured trying to escape when the city fell. He was forced to watch as all of his sons were executed and then his eyes were put out so that would be the last thing he would ever see. This is not the power and glory either of them had envisioned for themselves. Self-serving behavior never works out in the long run. 

 Nothing has changed over the past 2500 years. Leaders that only look out for their own good weaken the nation. Leaders that will say whatever helps their cause, regardless of its truth, do not bring strength to the nation. They bring division and chaos. God’s people are reminded by the prophets, Jeremiah among them, to disregard the example of leaders like that. They are not good shepherds. The flock will be divided and no good will come of it.

God says don’t give up though. God will not forget the people who remain faithful. They will be given a new leader that is in the line of David… whether that is biologically, ie the genetic line of David, or in the spiritual line of David, ie a fallible human who nevertheless seeks to do God’s will and work for the good of the nation. (David strayed away from that at the end of his life, and he made some colossal mistakes in judgment and behavior, but still he was more of an instrument than an obstacle to God’s will being done and God’s glory being made known.) If people of faith remain steadfast and follow God’s law… 

—worship nothing and no one more than God our creator

—care for the vulnerable, the widows, orphans, and sojourners

—to honor and respect the values and property of the neighbor

—to protect life in all its forms

As Jesus asked the sacred law expert to sum up God’s law he said ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27, NIV) If we would live this way, thinking of God first in all things and treating every person near and far as the personal representative of God, the world would be a better place. God is in it with us, so keep the faith.

Live your day with God in the forefront.

Blessings to you,

Pastor Karla

New International Version (NIV)

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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