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JEREMIAH 30-33: THE CONTEXT
Chapter 33 is the last chapter of the Book of Consolation (chapters 30-33)—three hopeful chapters that promise redemption and restoration to Israel and Judah. “The opening movement assigns to Jeremiah, while still imprisoned, a vision of the future based upon the elements in the siege. The tearing down of the houses to repair the defenses against the siege mounds of the Chaldeans, the conditions of pestilence, of famine, and of death are suddenly reversed by a vision of health and healing, together with abundance and security” (Hopper, The Interpreter’s Bible, 1049).
These chapters follow a lengthy series of prophecies by Jeremiah against Judah and Jerusalem during the reigns of four kings—Josiah, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah (chapters 1-25), and shine a bright light through the darkness of Jeremiah’s earlier prophecies. These chapters take place while the Babylonians are besieging Jerusalem, and there is every reason to believe that they will crush the city. However, in these three chapters, Jeremiah offers hope—assurance, even—for a hopeless situation.
Chapter 33 is composed of two major sections:
• The first section, verses 1-13, conveys a series of Yahweh’s promises: “Call to me, and I will answer you” (v. 3). Yahweh will strike down the Chaldeans and “will cause the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel to return, and will build them, as at the first ” (vv. 5-7). Yahweh “will cleanse them from all their iniquity” (v. 8). “This city shall be to me for a name of joy, for a praise and for a glory, before all the nations of the earth” (v. 9). Where there is now only devastation (v. 10a), “Yet again there shall be heard in this place… the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride” (vv. 10-11a). “For I will cause the captivity of the land to return as at the first” (v. 11b). “Yet again shall there be in this place, which is waste, without man and without animal, and in all its cities, a habitation of shepherds causing their flocks to lie down” (v. 12).
Verse 1 (“The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah a second time”) links this chapter to the previous chapter, which begins, “The word that came to Jeremiah from Yahweh” (32:1). Both the first and second words from the Lord came to Jeremiah while he “was shut up in the court of the guard, which was in the king of Judah’s house. For Zedekiah king of Judah had shut him up, saying, Why do you prophesy, and say, Thus says Yahweh, Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it” (32:2-3). “The significance of Jeremiah’s imprisonment is that it demonstrated that the leadership of Judah, and especially the king, had indeed failed to heed God’s word…and rejected God’s prophet” (Bracke, 27).
This first section (33:1-13) echoes the good news found in 32:6-15, where Yahweh commanded Jeremiah to buy his uncle’s field, even though the city was under siege, because “Houses and fields and vineyards shall yet again be bought in this land” (32:15). It also echoes the assurance of 32:26-44 that just as Yahweh brought devastation to Judah, so also will he “bring on them all the good that I have promised them” (32:42).
• The second section, verses 14-26, is not found in the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek version of the Old Testament, suggesting that it was added after the Septuagint was translated (3rd or 2nd century B.C.). This section includes three promises to David’s lineage: “In those days, and at that time, will I cause a Branch of righteousness to grow up to David” (33:15). “I (will) multiply the seed of David my servant, and the Levites who minister to me” (33:22).
JEREMIAH 33:14. BEHOLD, THE DAYS COME, SAYS YAHWEH
14 Behold, the days come, says Yahweh, that I will perform that good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and concerning the house of Judah
“I will perform that good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and concerning the house of Judah.” The promise is to all the people, both Israel and Judah, suggesting a future united kingdom. Yahweh made the promise, and Yahweh will fulfill it. This is the promise:
“Now therefore you shall tell my servant David this, ‘Thus says Yahweh of Armies, “I took you from the sheep pen, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people, over Israel. I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you. I will make you a great name, like the name of the great ones who are in the earth. I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in their own place, and be moved no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as at the first, and as from the day that I commanded judges to be over my people Israel. I will cause you to rest from all your enemies. Moreover Yahweh tells you that Yahweh will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled, and you shall sleep with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who shall proceed out of your bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men; but my loving kindness shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before you. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:8-15).
Yahweh reiterated the promise to David’s son, Solomon (1 Kings 8:25; 9:5), but added this caveat: “But if you turn away from following me, you or your children, and not keep my commandments and my statutes which I have set before you, but shall go and serve other gods, and worship them; then will I cut off Israel out of the land which I have given them; and this house, which I have made holy for my name, will I cast out of my sight; and Israel shall be a proverb and a byword among all peoples” (1 Kings 9:6-7).
The removal of Zedekiah from the throne fulfills this judgment, but Yahweh promises that judgment will not be the last word. God will raise up a Righteous branch (v. 15) and will restore both the throne and the priesthood (vv. 17-18).
JEREMIAH 33:15-16. A BRANCH OFRIGHTEOUSNESS
15 In those days, and at that time, will I cause a Branch of righteousness to grow up to David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely; and this is the name by which she shall be called: Yahweh our righteousness.
“In those days, and at that time, will I cause a Branch of righteousness (Hebrew: sdq) to grow up to David” (v. 15a). The Hebrew word, sdq, can mean either “righteous” or “rightful”—the former more usually being the case. However, “righteous or rightful are not alternative meanings. Rather, the king requires the one in order to be the other” (Pilkington, 449).
God promises to raise up a righteous Branch for David—one “who, unlike the kings throughout Israel’s sorry history, will execute justice and righteousness” (Fretheim, 477-478). “The image is, of course, that of a great felled tree from which a new shoot is to emerge (compare Isa. 11:1)—an image that itself is a paradigm of life-out-of-death and thus is one that affirms the larger image of days-of-evil now become days-of-good. But the shoot is no ordinary sucker, feebly attempting to preserve a last vestige of the once-mighty oak or cedar. This is a ‘righteous Branch,’ one who will fulfill the ancient model of Israelite kingship by executing justice and righteousness. The Branch will become a mighty Tree in its own right” (Newsome, 3).
“and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (v. 15b). Justice and righteousness are two of the favorite words of Old Testament prophets. They “refer to fair and equitable relationships among people, impartial law courts, the protection of the weak from the strong (justice), and the personal characteristics (righteousness) that make such conditions possible” (Tucker, 2).
“In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely” (v. 16a). Note the similarity between verses 15-16 and 23:5-6, which says, “Behold, the days come, says Yahweh, that I will raise to David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is his name by which he shall be called: Yahweh our righteousness.”
“and this is the name by which she shall be called” (v. 16b). There is another change here. In chapter 23 it says, “this is his name by which he (the king) shall be called: Yahweh our righteousness, while in chapter 33, it is it (Jerusalem) that will be called Yahweh our righteousness” (Thompson, 601; Bracke, 40). This change is not an accidental slip of the pen. “The city is the place of God’s rule, and the human ruler is the agent of that rule” (Miller, 826).
“Yahweh our righteousness” (v. 16c). “The meaning of the new name is that Jerusalem would finally become what God intended for it to be all along—a city noted for its righteousness” (Huey, 300).
“The upshot of these oracles is that God honors the covenants made with Israel’s royal and priestly leadership and, as promised long before, will do so forever” (Fretheim, 477).
This “passage alerts us to the enormous power of leaders, especially those who purport to represent religion and to carry moral or spiritual authority” (Pilkington, 451).
JEREMIAH 33:17-18. DAVID WILL NEVER WANT—PRIESTS WILL NEVER WANT
17 For thus says Yahweh: David shall never want a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel; 18neither shall the priests the Levites want a man before me to offer burnt offerings, and to burn meal offerings, and to do sacrifice continually.
While these verses are not part of the lectionary reading, we should be aware of them. The two central institutions of the Jewish people were the king and the priesthood, but the Babylonians will remove Zedekiah from his throne and destroy the temple. In doing these two things, “the Babylonian powers had brought an end, at least for the foreseeable future, to the two institutions which served as visible and tangible expressions of God’s presence with Israel” (Clements, 199).
Jeremiah has said damning things about both kings and priests, so we might expect him to be glad to be rid of them. However, God directs him to tell the people that both the throne of David and the Levitical priesthood will be restored.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Bracke, John M., Westminster Bible Companion: Jeremiah 30-52 and Lamentations (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000)
Bright, John, The Anchor Bible: Jeremiah (Garden City: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1965)
Clements, R. E., Interpretation Commentary: Jeremiah (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988)
Craigie, Peter C.; Kelley, Page H.; and Drinkard, Joel F. Jr., Word Biblical Commentary: Jeremiah 1–25(Dallas: Word Books, 1991)
Fretheim, Terence, E., Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Jeremiah (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Incorporated, 2002)
Huey, F. B. Jr., New American Commentary: Isaiah, Lamentations, Vol. 16 (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993)
Hyatt, James Philip (Exegesis) and Hopper, Stanley Romaine (Exposition), The Interpret’s Bible: Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Vol. 5 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1956)
Keown, Gerald L.; Scalise, Pamela J.; and Smothers, Thomas G., Word Biblical Commentary: Jeremiah 26-52 (Dallas: Word Books, 1995)
Martens, E. A., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Jeremiah (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1986)
Miller, Patrick D., The New Interpreters Bible: Jeremiah, Vol.VI (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001)
Newsome, James D. in Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; McCann, J. Clinton; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV–Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994)
Pilkington, Christine E., in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text. The First Readings: The Old Testament and Acts (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)
Thompson, J.A., The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Jeremiah(Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980)
Tucker, Gene M. in Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holliday, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M.,Preaching Through the Christian Year, C (Valley Forge: Trinity Press, 1994)
Copyright 2006, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan