The significance of the Righteous Branch of Jeremiah 23:5-6 concerns the differences between the leadership of King Zedekiah and King Messiah. Zedekiah, Judah’s last king, who reigned at the end of Jeremiah’s ministry, was an ineffective, oppressive, idolatrous and unrighteous king. During his reign Jeremiah and other prophets like him condemned the entire nation (both leaders and common folk) for their illegal and illicit business practices, unrepentant hearts and immoral behavior. In contrast to this depraved human condition stands The Branch. Where Zedekiah was unjust and foolish, The Branch is wise and acts justly (Jer. 23:5). Where Zedekiah’s leadership is marked by unrighteousness, The Branch bears the name “Yahweh Tsidekenu” (Yah-way Tidz-kay-knew) meaning “The Lord Our Righteousness” (Jer. 23:6). And where Zedekiah’s reign would ultimately end in disgrace (2 Ki. 25:1-7; Jer. 52:1-9), The Righteous Branch would reign forever (2 Sam. 7:12-13; Is. 11:1-10; Jer. 33:14-18).
Two unique pictures are combined in this passage to depict the Righteous Branch. The first comes out of nature. The netzor (branch) was a sprout or shoot which grew out of a trunk or up from the ground on a tree or bush that appeared to be dead. Whether it was trimmed or chopped, the plant showed no sign of life or promise that it would return. Yet at the next growing season a lovely green sprout is produced showing promise that the plant would revive and thrive again. Isaiah 53:2 speaks of this imagery too, proclaiming that the Lord’s Servant would grow up like a tender shoot out of dry land.
The second image comes from the world of business. Weights and measures were extremely important in the ancient world where business was conducted by bartering rather than the exchange of currency. Unethical practices (such as the one our fictional Tekel conducted) were explicitly forbidden (Lev. 19:35-36; Mic. 6:9-12). The Lord was concerned that everyone get their fair share (Prov. 20:10) but as is common in human nature the art of cheating had reached an all-time high during Zedekiah’s reign. Unlike Israel’s kings who fell short of the Lord’s measurements, The Branch is a faithful and accurate leader, both in His personal character, and in His ability to govern the people (v.5).
The New Testament writers recognized that Jesus Christ fulfilled the prophecy of the Jeremiah 23:5-6. They noted His lineage came through David (Mt. 1:1-17; Lk. 3:23-38; Heb. 7:14), so He had the legal claim to David’s throne. And while it appeared that Jesus’ death on the cross had cut Him off with no sign of life, His Resurrection proved otherwise (Mt. 28:1-7). Like the netzor, Jesus sprang to life.
Zedekiah was a king filled with many flaws, but Jesus fully embodied Yahweh Tsidekenu. Where the people, both great and small, had altered and deceived with their weights and measures Jesus the Branch judges fairly and righteously (Jn. 8:16). Zedekiah oppressed the poor and preyed upon the innocent. Jesus as “The Lord Our Righteousness” lifts up the lowly and meek, champions the poor, innocent and abused and collects the scattered (Is. 61:1-3; Mt. 9:35-36; 11:28-29; 15:29-31; Mk. 6:34; Lk. 4:16-21; 7:21-23).
There are many institutions in society today where we feel we are not represented, heard or even cared about. We understand from experience that they are as sin-ridden and flawed as the king in Jeremiah’s day. That is why it is imperative that we go to the Righteous Branch to plead our cause first (Mt. 7: 7-10; 11: 28-29; Lk. 11:9-13). He will oversee any justice we deserve, or give us grace to hold up under the pressure of an unrighteous situation (Lk. 18:1-8). Truthfully speaking we do not really have the power to fix anything in our lives although the ads we see on TV each day may give us that impression. This lawyer will solve that problem. This procedure will repair whatever’s wrong with you. But those things never fix what hurts on the inside. And they never balance out the injustice we see all around us. Only the Righteous Branch can put things right (Jer. 33:14-18) and only He can save us (Acts 4:8-12).
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 9/18/2016