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Jeremiah 23:5-6

5. Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.

5. Ecce dies veniunt, dicit Jehova, et suscitabo Davidi germen justum; et regnabit rex, et prudenter (vel, prospere) aget: faciet judicium et justitiam in terra.

6. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.

6. Diebus ejus servabitur Jehudah, et Israel habitabit in fiducia (hoc est, tranquille: et hoc nomen, quo vocabunt eum, Jehova justitia nostra.

 

The Prophet confirms what he had before said of the renewal of the Church; for it would not have been in itself sufficiently strong to say “I have promised pastors who shall faithfully perform their duty,” except the only true Pastor had been set before them, on whom God’s covenant was founded, and from whom was to be expected the accomplishment of the promises which were hoped for. And it was usual with all the prophets, whenever they gave the people the hope of salvation, to bring forward the coming of the Messiah, for in him have God’s promises always been, yea, and amen. (2 Corinthians 1:20.) This, indeed, appears now, under the Gospel, more clear than formerly; but the faith of the Fathers could not have been complete except they directed their thoughts to the Messiah. As, then, neither the love of God could have been made certain to the Fathers, nor the testimony of his kindness and paternal favor be confirmed without Christ, this is the reason why the prophets were wont to set Christ before their eyes whenever they sought to inspire the miserable with a good hope, who otherwise must have been overwhelmed with sorrow and driven into despair.

What, therefore, so often occurs in the prophets is deserving of special notice, so that we may know that God’s promises will become ineffectual to us, or be suspended, or even vanish away, except we raise all our thoughts to Christ, and seek in him what would not be otherwise certain and sure to us.

According to this principle the Prophet now says, that the days would come in which God would raise up to David a righteous branch He had spoken generally of pastors; but the Jews might have still been in doubt, and hesitated to believe that any such thing could be hoped for; hence God calls here their attention to the Messiah; as though he had said, that no hope of salvation could be entertained except through the Mediator who had been promised to them, and that therefore they were not sufficiently wise except they turned their minds to him. Moreover, as the accomplishment of salvation was to be expected through the Mediator, God shews that the promise, that he would give them pastors, ought not to be doubted. Hence it appears that I rightly stated at the beginning, that the former doctrine is confirmed by this passage in which God promises the coming of the Mediator. And the demonstrative particle, behold, as we have elsewhere seen, is intended to shew certainty; and it was necessary for the Jews to be thus confirmed, because the time had not as yet arrived, and we know that their faith must have been grievously shaken by so many and so long trials, had they not some support. God, then, seems to point out the event as by the finger, though it was as yet very remote. He does not intimate a short time, but he thus speaks for the sake of making the thing certain, so that they might not faint through a long expectation. Come, then, he says, shall the days in which he will raise up to David a righteous branch

Though the preposition ל, lamed, is often redundant, yet in this place it seems to me that God has a reference to the covenant which he had made with David. And the Prophet did this designedly, because the Jews were unworthy of being at all regarded by God; but he here promises that he would be faithful to that covenant which he had once made with David, because David himself was also faithful and embraced with true faith the promise made to him. God then, as though he would have nothing to do with that perverse and irreclaimable people, but with his servant David, says, “I will raise up to David a righteous branch;” as though he had said, “Though ye were even a hundred times unworthy of having a Deliverer, yet the memory of David shall ever remain complete with me, as he was perfect and faithful in keeping my covenant.” Now, it cannot be doubted but that the Prophet speaks here of Christ.

The Jews, in order to obscure this prophecy, will have this to be applied to all the descendants of David; and thus they imagine an earthly kingdom, such as it was under Solomon and others. But such a thing cannot certainly be gathered from the words of the Prophet; for he does not speak here of many kings, but of one only. The word “branch,” I allow, may be taken in a collective sense; but what is afterwards said? A king shall reign They may also pervert this, for the word “king” is often taken for successors in a kingdom. This is indeed true; but we ought to consider the whole context. It is said, in his days Hence it appears evident that some particular king is intended, and that the words ought not to be applied to many. And the last clause is a further confirmation, This shall be his name, by which they shall call him, Jehovah our righteousness Here also the Jews pervert the words, for they make God the nominative case to the verb, as though the words were, “Jehovah shall call him our righteousness;but this is contrary to all reason, for all must see that it is a forced and strained version. Thus these miserable men betray their own perverseness; for they pervert, without any shame, all the testimonies in favor of Christ; and they think it enough to elude whatever presses hard on them.

We must now, then, understand that this passage cannot be explained of any but of Christ only. The design of the Holy Spirit we have already explained; God had from the beginning introduced this pledge whenever he intended to confirm faith in his promises; for without Christ God cannot be a Father and a Savior to men; nor could he have been reconciled to the Jews, because they had departed from him. How, indeed, could they have been received into favor without expiation? and how could they have hoped that God would become a Father to them, except they were reconciled to him? Hence without Christ they could not rely on the promises of salvation. Rightly, then, have I said, that this passage ought to be confined to the person of Christ.

And we know of a certainty that he alone was a righteous branch; for though Hezekiah and Josiah were lawful successors, yet when we think of others, we must say, that they were monsters. Doubtless, with the exception of three or four, they were all spurious and covenant-breakers; yea, I say, spurious, for they had nothing in common with David, whom they ought to have taken as an example of piety. Since, then, they were wholly unlike their father David, they could not have been called righteous branches. They were, indeed, perfidious and apostates, for they had departed from God and his law. We hence see that there is here an implied contrast between Christ and all those spurious children who yet had descended from David, though wholly unworthy of such an honor on account of their impiety. Therefore as these kings had roused God’s wrath against the people, and had been the cause of their exile, the Prophet says now, that there would be at length a righteous branch; 7878     The Sept. and Arab. give, “a righteous sun-rising — ἀνατολὴν δίκαιαν;” the Vulg., “a righteous branch;” the Syr., “a ray of righteousness.” The Vulg. is alone correct, as there can be no doubt as to the original words. — Ed that is, that though those did all they could to subvert God’s covenant by their wicked deeds, there would come at length the true and the only Son, who is elsewhere called the first-born in the whole world, (Psalm 89:27,) and that he would be a righteous branch.

And this ought to be carefully noticed; for neither Hezekiah nor Josiah, nor any like them, when viewed in themselves, were worthy of this sacred distinction,

“I will make him the first-born in the earth;” and further,
“My Son art thou.” (Psalm 2:7.)

This could not have been said of any mortal man, viewed in himself. And then it is said,

“I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son;”

and the Apostle tells us, that this cannot be applied even to angels. (Hebrews 1:5.) As, then, this dignity is higher than angels’ glory, it is certain that none of David’s successors were worthy of such an honor. Hence Christ is justly called a righteous Branch. At the same time, the Prophet, as I have already reminded you, seems to set the perfect integrity of Christ in opposition to the impiety of those who under a false pretense had exercised authority, as though they were of that sacred race of whom it had been said, “I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son.”

It follows, — And reign shall a king This also has not been added without reason, shortly after Jeconiah had been driven into exile, and also the whole royal family had been exposed to every kind of reproach. The crown, indeed, was cast on the ground, as it has already appeared, and was trodden under feet. There was, therefore, no hope of a future kingdom when the seed of Abraham had become, as it were, extinct. This is the reason why God promises what we now hear of the restoration of the throne; and we may easily infer from what all the prophets have said, that the salvation of the people was dependent on the person of their king; and whenever God bade the people to entertain hope, he set a king before their eyes. A king was to be their head under God’s government. We now see the design of the Prophet in saying, that a king would reign

Some think that a king is to be understood as in opposition to a tyrant, because many kings had departed from their duty, and committed robbery under that specious authority. I have no doubt but that the word king was expressed, lest the people should doubt the fulfillment of this prophecy; for if it had been only said, “I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign,” they might, indeed, have entertained some hope, but it would have been small, and not full and complete. We, indeed, know that Zerubbabel and others excelled in some things, and were highly regarded for David’s sake; but there was then no kingdom. God therefore intended here expressly to testify that there would be the high privilege of a kingdom, that there might be nothing wanting to the Jews, as the power of Christ would not be inferior to the power of David. Reign, then, shall a king; that is, he shall reign gloriously, so that there would not be merely some remnants of pristine dignity, but that a king would flourish, become strong, and attain perfection, such as it was under David and Solomon, and much more excellent. 7979     We cannot express the words in our language without changing the terms as follows, “And a ruler shall rule,” or, “a reigner shall reign.”
   Bochart says that this double use of the same word, as a substantive and a verb, imports in Hebrew what is enhancive, according to what Calvin says here. The king was to be a king indeed, with full power and dignity, and with a large extent of empire.

   The Welsh will express the words literally, — A breniniaetha brenin.

   And so it is rendered in Greek, —

   Καὶ βασιλεύσει βασιλεὺς

   — Ed.

It follows, And shall act prudently, and shall do judgment and justice in the land; or, “he shall prosper,” for שכל, shecal, means both; yet the Prophet seems here to speak of right judgment rather than of success, for the two clauses ought to be read together, “he shall act prudently,” and “he shall do judgment and justice.” It seems then that he means this in short, — that Christ would be endued with the spirit of wisdom as well as of uprightness and equity, so that he would possess all the qualifications, and fulfill all the duties of a good and perfect king. 8080     The verb שכל first means to be wise or prudent, and in Hiphil, as here, to understand, to act wisely or prudently; and secondly, as the natural effect of wisdom, it means sometimes to prosper. But the first sense is given to it here by all the Versions: “and shall understand,” is the Septuagint; “and shall be wise,” the Vulgate; “and shall act prudently,” the Syriac. Our version is the Targum, Blayney gives the same idea with Calvin, “and shall act wisely;” which is no doubt the correct one. — Ed

And in the first place, wisdom or prudence is necessary; for probity alone would not be sufficient in a king. In private individuals indeed it is of no small value; but probity in a king, without wisdom, will avail but little, hence, the Prophet here commends Christ for his good discernment, and then mentions his zeal for equity and justice. It is indeed true that Christ’s excellences are not sufficiently set forth by expressions such as these; but the similitude is taken from men; for the first endowment of a king is wisdom, and then integrity in the second place. And we know that Christ is often compared to earthly kings, or set forth to us under the image of an earthly king, in which we may see him; for God accommodates himself to our ignorance. As, then, we cannot comprehend the unspeakable justice of Christ or his wisdom, hence God, that he may by degrees lead us to the knowledge of Christ, shadows him forth to us under these figures or types. Though, then, what is said here does not come up to the perfection of Christ, yet the comparison ought not to be deemed improper; for God speaks to us according to the measure of our capacities, and could not at once in a few words fully express what Christ is. But we must bear in mind that from earthly kings we must ascend to Christ; for though he is compared to them, yet there is no equality; after having contemplated in the type what our minds can comprehend, we ought to ascend farther and much higher.

Hence, the difference between the righteousness of Christ and the righteousness of kings ought to be here noticed. They who rule well can in no other way administer righteousness and judgment than by being careful to render to every one his own, and that by checking the audacity of the wicked, and by defending the good and the innocent; this only is what can be expected from earthly kings. But Christ is far different; for he is not only wise so as to know what is right and best, but he also endues his own people with wisdom and knowledge; he executes judgment and righteousness, not only because he defends the innocent, aids them who are oppressed, gives help to the miserable, and restrains the wicked; but he doeth righteousness, because he regenerates us by his Spirit, and he also doeth judgment, because he bridles, as it were, the devil. We now then understand the design of what I said, that we ought to mark the transcendency of Christ over earthly kings, and also the analogy; for there is some likeness and some difference: the difference between Christ and other kings is very great, and yet there is a likeness in some things; and earthly kings are set forth to us as figures and types of him.

It then follows, that Judah shall be saved in the days of this king. By days we are not to understand the life only of Christ, which he lived in this world, but that perpetuity of which Isaiah speaks, when in wonder he asks,

“His age who shall declare?” (Isaiah 53:8;)

for he died once, that he might live to God, according to what Paul says. (Romans 6:10.) It was then but a short beginning of life when Christ was manifested in the world, and held converse with men; but his life is to continue for ever. It is then the same thing as though the Prophet had said, that when Christ came and descended from the Father, the Church would be saved.

If it be now asked, “How long shall it be saved?” the answer is, “As long as the King himself shall continue; and there is no end to his kingdom.” It follows then that the salvation of the Church will be for ever. This is the import of the whole.

Now, though the Prophet speaks of the deliverance of the people, there is yet no doubt but that he especially sets forth what properly belongs to the kingdom of Christ. He is set over us as a king, that he might be our Savior; and his salvation, though it extends to our bodies, ought yet to be viewed as properly belonging to our souls; for the kingdom of Christ is spiritual, and so is everything connected with it. Hence, when the Prophet says that saved would be Judah, it is the same thing as though he promised that the happiness of the Church would be real and solid under Christ.

He adds, Israel shall dwell in confidence; for in a happy life the first thing is, that we possess tranquil and quiet minds; for tranquillity has not been without reason commended by the ancients. When all things which men covet are heaped together, and what they think necessary for happiness, they yet cannot be otherwise than miserable if their minds are not in a right state. It is not then without cause that tranquillity is added, when mention is made of salvation. And experience itself teaches us, that we have no salvation, unless we, relying on Christ the Mediator, have peace with God, as Paul also mentions it as the fruit of faith, and shews that we cannot otherwise but be always miserable: we have peace, he says, with God. (Romans 5:1.) He hence also concludes that our very miseries are a help to our salvation; for afflictions prove patience, patience exercises hope, and hope never makes us ashamed; and the proof of this is added, because God thus really shews that he is present with us.

We hence see how fitly the Prophet connects tranquillity of mind with happiness. Moreover it is certain that we do not yet enjoy either salvation or peace, such as are here promised; but let us learn by faith what salvation is, and also what is rest even in the midst of the agitations to which we are continually exposed; for we recumb on God when we cast our anchor in heaven. Since, then, the Prophet says here that Judah would be saved and that Israel would be in a tranquil state, let us know that he includes the whole kingdom of Christ from the beginning to the end, and that therefore it is no wonder that he speaks of that perfect happiness, the first fruits of which now only appear.

He then adds, And this is the name by which they shall call him, Jehovah our Righteousness By these words the Prophet shews more clearly that he speaks not generally of David’s posterity, however excellent they may have been, but of the Mediator, who had been promised, and on whom depended the salvation of the people; for he says that this would be his name, Jehovah our Righteousness 8181     See the Preface to this volume.

Those Jews, who seem more modest than others, and dare not, through a dogged pertinacity, to corrupt this passage, do yet elude the application of this title to Christ, though it be suitable to him; for they say that the name is given to him, because he is the minister of God’s justice, as though it was said, that whenever this king appeared all would acknowledge God’s justice as shining forth in him. And they adduce other similar passages, as when Moses calls the altar, “Jehovah my banner,” or my protection. (Exodus 17:15.) But there is no likeness whatever between an altar and Christ. For the same purpose they refer to another passage, where it is said,

“And this is the name by which they shall call Jerusalem,
Jehovah our peace.” (Ezekiel 48:35)

Now Moses meant nothing else than that the altar was a monument of God’s protection; and Ezekiel only teaches, that the Church would be as it were a mirror in which God’s mercy would be seen, as it would shine forth then, as it were, visibly. But this cannot for the same reason be applied to Christ; he is set forth here as a Redeemer, and a name is given to him, — what name? the name of God. But the Jews object and say, that he was God’s minister, and that it might therefore be in a sense applied to him, though he was no more than a man.

But all who without strife and prejudice judge of things, can easily see that this name is suitably applied to Christ, as he is God; and the Son of David belongs to him as he is man. The Son of David and Jehovah is one and the same Redeemer. Why is he called the Son of David? even because it was necessary that he should be born of that family. Why then is he called Jehovah? we hence conclude that there is something in him more excellent than what is human; and he is called Jehovah, because he is the only-begotten Son of God, of one and the same essence, glory, eternity, and divinity with the Father.

It hence appears evident to all who judge impartially and considerately, that Christ is set forth here in his twofold character, so that the Prophet brings before us both the glory of his divinity and the reality of his humanity. And we know how necessary it was that Christ should come forth as God and man; for salvation cannot be expected in any other way than from God; and Christ must confer salvation on us, and not only be its minister. And then, as he is God, he justifies us, regenerates us, illuminates us into a hope of eternal life; to conquer sin and death is doubtless what only can be effected by divine power. Hence Christ, except he was God, could not have performed what we had to expect from him. It was also necessary that he should become man, that he might unite us to himself; for we have no access to God, except we become the friends of Christ; and how can we be so made, except by a brotherly union? It was not then without the strongest reason, that the Prophet here sets Christ before us both as a true man and the Son of David, and also as God or Jehovah, for he is the only-begotten Son of God, and ever the same in wisdom and glory with the Father, as John testifies in Jeremiah 17:5, 11.

We now then perceive the simple and real meaning of this passage, even that God would restore his Church, because what he had promised respecting a Redeemer stood firm and inviolable. Then he adds what this Redeemer would be and what was to be expected from him; he declares that he would be the true God and yet the Son of David; and he also bids us to expect righteousness from him, and everything necessary to a full and perfect happiness.

But by saying, God our righteousness, the Prophet still more fully shews that righteousness is not in Christ as though it were only his own, but that we have it in common with him, for he has nothing separate from us. God, indeed, must ever be deemed just, though iniquity prevailed through the whole world; and men, were they all wicked, could do nothing to impugn or mar the righteousness of God. But yet God is not our righteousness as he is righteous in himself, or as having his own peculiar righteousness; and as he is our judge, his own righteousness is adverse to us. But Christ’s righteousness is of another kind: it is ours, because Christ is righteous not for himself, but possesses a righteousness which he communicates to us. We hence see that the true character of Christ is here set forth, not that he would come to manifest divine justice, but to bring righteousness, which would avail to the salvation of men, For if we regard God in himself, as I have said, he is indeed righteous, but is not our righteousness. If, then, we desire to have God as our righteousness, we must seek Christ; for this cannot be found except in him. The righteousness of God has been set forth to us in Christ; and all who turn away from him, though they may take many circuitous courses, can yet never find the righteousness of God. Hence Paul says that he has been given or made to us righteousness, — for what end? that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (1 Corinthians 1:30.) Since, then, Christ is made our righteousness, and we are counted the righteousness of God in him, we hence learn how properly and fitly it has been said that he would be Jehovah, not only that the power of his divinity might defend us, but also that we might become righteous in him, for he is not only righteous for himself, but he is our righteousness. 8282     “This king,” says Venema, “is the true God, the meritorious cause and pledge of our righteousness, and also the efficient cause and exemplar of all holiness, piety, and virtue.” He holds that Messiah alone is spoken of here, and blames Grotius for applying the passage in the first place to Zerubbabel, and maintains that what is said here cannot be applied to any but to the Messiah. He mentions, as a proof of this, his name — “a righteous Branch;” his royal dignity — “a king shall reign;” his title — “Jehovah our righteousness,” his prosperity and the security of his kingdom. All these things comport with the character of no one, but with that of our Lord Jesus Christ. — Ed.


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