The Shepherd-King

“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, that I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” Jer 23:5–6

The Branch of David

David was the “Shepherd-King” of Israel (2Sa 7:8; Psa 78:70–72). He was the least in his father’s house, not even considered worthy to be called to Samuel’s quest for a king (1Sa 16:1–13). He came out of obscurity, but his impact on history will last throughout eternity. Such is the potential of every soul that pants after the heart of the Lord (Psa 42:1–2; Act 13:22).

To an even greater degree, the Savior came into the world “as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground” (Isa 53:2). From His plebeian birth in the shepherds’ fields outside Bethlehem to His upbringing in Nazareth, He seemed to be the least in Israel.

And yet, the prophets of old seemed riveted to this theme—the “Branch”—as if broken from the tree of life, He would take root in the alien soil of this Earth, to bring both light and life to mankind.

How amazing, in retrospect, that the object of the “Branch,” which captivated the minds of the prophets (Isa 4:2; Isa 11:1; Jer 23:5; Jer 33:15–16; Zec 3:8; Zec 6:12), should grow up in Nazareth, a tiny mountain hamlet of utter insignificance (Joh 1:46). The word Jeremiah uses for “branch” is tsemach, a shoot or sprout, emphasizing its initial insignificance. And yet, in the wisdom of God, the prophet Isaiah introduces the idea of the “Branch,” using the word netzer in Isa 11:1. Not only is this related to the idea of something hidden or concealed (in the Hebrew, natsar), but it is also the root for the word “Nazareth,” giving a clue to His true identity and fulfilling the visions of the prophets (Mat 2:23).

The Shepherd-King

The designation of the coming Messiah as “the Shepherd of Israel” runs all through the Old Testament. As early as the prophecy of Jacob in Genesis 49, we find the promise, “by the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel)” (Gen 49:24). Even David, the original “Shepherd-King” spoke of his Shepherd, who was the LORD (Psa 23:1), the “Shepherd of Israel” (Psa 80:1). His son, Solomon the wise, attributed all his wisdom sayings to the Shepherd who gave them (Ecc 12:11). The prophet Isaiah anticipated the day when the Lord God Himself would come, saying, “He will feed His flock like a shepherd …” (Isa 40:10–11).

The significance of these and many other prophecies could not have been lost on Jesus’ generation when He proclaimed, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (Joh 10:11). So clearly were His words understood, in their fullest meaning, that they enraged the Jews to attempt to stone Him, for as they said, “You, being a man, make Yourself God” (Joh 10:33). What should have been a joyful realization of God’s Word fulfilled became, for them, cause for the accusation of blasphemy!

The Lord our Righteousness

As you reflect on our original passage (Jer 23:5–6), take note of who is speaking. “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD …” (emphasis mine). This is none other than Jehovah who is speaking. So holy was “the Name” (see Exo 3:14, “I AM”), that the Jews would not even utter it, substituting the word “Adonai,” which connotes “the Sovereign Lord.”

How amazing then, that “the LORD” speaks of the coming King from the lineage of David, stressing three times in the context that His chief characteristic and accomplishment would be “righteousness.” In fact, if we look carefully, we see a progression that is absolutely marvelous.

First of all, in His essence He would be a “Branch of righteousness.” This would be His very nature. This would set Him apart from all other members of the human race (Rom 3:10, Rom 3:23). Secondly, He would “execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.” Jesus Christ accomplished this on the cross, where He bore the divine judgment of our sins that we might, through faith, receive His righteousness (2Co 5:21). Finally, to those who trust in His sacrifice, He becomes “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (emphasis mine). Not only do we trust in Him for our initial induction into righteousness and eternal life, but we rely on Him as our only source for righteous living. This is the significance of the declaration that “the just [righteous] shall live by faith” (Hab 2:4; Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38).

But one thing must be clearly seen as the very heart of Jeremiah’s vision and the key to our faith. That is, that it is none other than the Lord who is making the promise (Jer 23:5), who Himself becomes our Shepherd-King, and who alone is “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” In the person of the humble Jesus that we read of in the Gospels, we see the mighty Jehovah of the Old Testament, clothed in human flesh, undertaking the salvation which He had promised, and which He alone could achieve.

How can we not stand in awe and wonder at such love and condescension? It was this awe and wonder that drove the Apostle Paul to sacrifice everything to reach the world for Christ.

“Who, eternally existing in the essence of God, did not consider equality with God a means of gain, but emptied Himself of His rightful glory, taking the essence of a bond-slave, and coming in the likeness of men … He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even the death of the cross.” Phi 2:6–8 (my translation)

“For it is [the very] God who said, ‘Out of darkness let light shine,’ who [Himself] has shone in our hearts for the illumination of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” 2Co 4:6 (my translation)

May the wonder of the coming of Almighty God in the Person of the humble Lord Jesus Christ, the “Good Shepherd,” who will one day reign as “King of kings” (Rev 17:14), fill us all with gratitude and compel us to serve in the love of Christ.

In the wonder of His grace,


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