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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Jeremiah 33

 

 

Verses 1-3

To A Doubting And Troubled Jeremiah YHWH Promises To Reveal The Glorious But Seemingly Impossible Future, Which Will Be Brought About By His Creative Power Following The Current Storm (Jeremiah 33:1-3).

Jeremiah 33:1

‘Moreover the word of YHWH came to Jeremiah the second time, while he was yet shut up in the court of the guard, saying,’

The need for a ‘second word’ suggests that YHWH is aware of Jeremiah’s confusion as the siege gets even more severe. Situated as he was he had had plenty of time to puzzle over what appeared to be an impossible situation. Who had ever heard of a nation being destroyed and exiled from its land, only to be restored in all its former grandeur?

Jeremiah 33:2

“Thus says YHWH who does it, YHWH who forms it to establish it; YHWH is his name,”

YHWH, however, assures him that He is easily able to produce something out of what appears to be nothing, for He is the one who ‘does things’, and then ‘fashions them’ (as He had at creation), with a view to finally establishing them. And this is so because His Name is ‘YHWH’, the One Who ‘will be whatever He wants to be’, and ‘causes to be whatever He wants to cause to be’. (Depending on the pointing both meanings are contained within the Name YHWH).

Jeremiah 33:3

“Call to me, and I will answer you, and will show you great things, and hard to bring about (difficult, impregnable), which you do not know.”

All therefore that Jeremiah has to do is call on Him, and He then promises him that He will answer him, and will show him things which are both ‘great and hard to bring about’ (compare the same description in Deuteronomy 1:28; Deuteronomy 9:1), things about which at present he has had no past knowledge of. In other words He will show him ‘a new thing’ outside of his experience.

Alternately the singular verbs may apply to the people in general, with the point being that if, when in exile, they truly call on Him, He will reveal His hand in an amazing deliverance.


Verses 1-26

Sub-Part B. YHWH Promises The Restoration Of The Davidic Monarchy And The Levitical Priesthood (Jeremiah 33:1-26).

The passage commences with, ‘Moreover the word of YHWH came to Jeremiah the second time --’, as it had the first (Jeremiah 32:1). Despite the fact of the devastation that is shortly to come on besieged Jerusalem, YHWH promises to Jeremiah that one day He will restore His people, settle them securely in the land, and will restore the Davidic kingship and the Levitical priesthood in accordance with His covenants made with them (Jeremiah 33:1-26).

The initial promise to show these things to Jeremiah suggests that in his prison in the court of the guard, with news coming to him of the city’s sufferings under the siege, he was struggling in his soul concerning the situation, and trying to come to terms with what was involved in all that YHWH had said. YHWH thus comes to give certainty to His loyal servant, the certainty that he seeks.

The passage is divided up by divisional markers:

· The first part is divided up by ‘Thus says YHWH --.’ Jeremiah 33:2; Jeremiah 33:10; Jeremiah 33:12.

· The second part commences with ‘Behold the days are coming --’ (Jeremiah 33:14, compare Jeremiah 31:27; Jeremiah 31:31; Jeremiah 31:38), and is then divided up by ‘in those days’ (Jeremiah 33:15-16), ‘and thus says YHWH’ (Jeremiah 33:16), ‘and the word of YHWH came to Jeremiah saying, -- thus says YHWH’ (Jeremiah 33:19-20 a; 23, 25a).


Verse 4-5

The Conditions Of The Siege Which Have Caused Jeremiah To Despair (Jeremiah 33:4-5).

YHWH recognises that Jeremiah might be confused at what he is experiencing as the siege approaches its final intensity, and describes the scenes with vivid reality, before adding His assurance that this causes Him no problems.

Jeremiah 33:4-5

“For thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, concerning the houses of this city, and concerning the houses of the kings of Judah, which are broken down to make a defence against the mounds and against the sword, while they come to fight with the Chaldeans, and to fill them with the dead bodies of men, whom I have slain in my anger and in my wrath, and for all whose wickedness I have hid my face from this city,”

In a vivid, but abbreviated description, Jeremiah depicts under YHWH’s guidance the awful cost of defending the walls against the besieging army, and he draws attention to the fact that it all arises as a result of the wickedness of those very people (its citizens) who were now dying or facing death, for it was their wickedness that had drawn down on the city the anger and fury of YHWH. It is clear that he was well aware as he sat in his prison, of the ferment in the city as houses were being torn down in order to strengthen the fortifications that were the main target of the besiegers, and he would have been especially so as it directly affected the palace complex where the most substantial stones would be found which were suitable for the purpose. As the siege progressed, the battering rams, dragged by the besiegers up the mounds which enabled the rams to reach the weaker parts of the walls, gradually did their work of weakening the defences. The consequence was that the walls, once thought to be sufficiently substantial, were now crumbling before them, and in such circumstances it was common practise to strengthen such walls from the inside by adding layers of stones and other building materials, which would be obtained by breaking down suitable buildings. It was all a part of the cost of the defence of the city in the face of the daily activity of the Chaldeans (Babylonians) against the walls. And on the other side the enemy would be tearing down houses outside the walls in order to build their siege mounds, adding to the overall final cost. War was not cheap.

‘Against the sword (instrument of war).’ The noun used signifies siege axes as well as swords, and indeed all instruments used by the attackers in order to achieve a breach in the walls, and which the defenders had to constantly face in defending those walls. During a fierce siege nothing stood still, and all kinds of weapons and instruments were used.

The account is necessarily very much abbreviated and telescoped, but it vividly brings out the mayhem and devastating effects of the continual fighting. We can visualise the siege engines being dragged up the mounds to attack the walls, accompanied by other instruments of war as men fought from siege towers, with the defendants fighting back gallantly, and their dead being dragged away to be laid in heaps in the remnants of the destroyed buildings near the wall. This is the explanation of the ‘dead bodies of men’ who were probably those slain defending the walls, and who would be dragged away when there was a lull in the fighting, in order to be laid in the ruins of the houses. This was so that they would be out of the way, and would also have the purpose of treating them with a rough kind of respect. War was a cruel thing, but even in the midst of hostilities, men still respected their fallen comrades as best they could. They did not leave them just lying around. The numerous bodies that lay there, piled up in the broken down ruins of the buildings, would be a constant reminder of the cost of the siege.

But they were also a reminder, as YHWH Himself points out, of YHWH’s anger against Jerusalem, and of His punishment of men whose wickedness had contributed to the demise of the city, a wickedness which had caused Him to hide His face from them rather than defending them. It was because of this wickedness that He had handed them over to the slaughter.

Vividly aware as he would have been of such conditions we can understand why Jeremiah was finding it difficult to reconcile them with YHWH’s promises of future deliverance. He would be gaining the impression that once the fighting was over, there would be little left to restore. He would not, of course, have been the only one afflicted with a sense of deep gloom, nevertheless, having no part to play in the fighting, he would have time to think of it more than most. And it was into such gloomy prognostications that the assurance of YHWH came.


Verses 6-9

YHWH Confirms His Promise Of Future Restoration (Jeremiah 33:6-9).

These verses must be seen as being closely connected with Jeremiah 33:5 for it is in the light of the words there that these promises are made. Indeed there is a certain pattern here which partially parallels Jeremiah 33:5. Instead of broken down buildings there will in the future be plasters and healing, instead of dead bodies there will be an abundance of true peace and restoration, and instead of YHWH’s anger over their sin they will receive cleansing and pardon. And the consequence of all this will be that YHWH’s Name will be exalted among the nations. Nevertheless it is quite clear that in the case of each parallel the one must precede the other. The breaking down must precede the binding up, warfare must precede true peace. The lessons must first be learned through suffering, before the glory arises out of the ashes. But so wonderful will be what happens that it will be a deliverance beyond Jeremiah’s, and the nation’s, current understanding.

Jeremiah 33:6-9

“Behold, I will bring it a plaster and a healing,

And I will heal them,

And I will reveal to them abundance of peace and truth,

And I will cause the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel to return,

And will build them, as at the first,

And I will cleanse them from all their iniquity,

By which they have sinned against me,

And I will pardon all their iniquities,

By which they have sinned against me,

And by which they have rebelled against me.

And it will be to me for a name of joy (a joyous renown),

For a praise and for a glory, before all the nations of the earth,

Who will hear all the good that I do to them,

And will fear and tremble for all the good and for all the peace that I procure to it.”

YHWH promises that in days to come the wrecked and devastated Jerusalem, and the equally desolate Judah, will be brought back to health, bound up (covered with an effective plaster) and healed (compare Jeremiah 30:17), and that the people within it will themselves be healed, and will enjoy an abundance of ‘peace and truth’ (‘genuine peace’ rather than the kind of peace promised by the false prophets). Thus the city and the land, at present experiencing such despair and hopelessness, will once more be restored to life and vigour. For He will cause the captivity and exile of Judah and Israel to be reversed, with the result that their numbers will be built up in the land so that they will be as numerous as before.

Furthermore they will be cleansed from all their ‘iniquity’ (the root means ‘to be bent’) and will be pardoned from all their ‘iniquities’ (the consequences of their being ‘bent’ within) which assumes that they will have repented from their ‘sins’ (their ‘coming short of the mark’) with which they have sinned against Him. Note that this last is repeated twice. We can see from this how the depths of their sin is being emphasised. And it had all resulted from ‘rebellion’ (hostility to God and His ways). But now their rebellion will be over and they will be cleansed and pardoned (as per the new covenant - Jeremiah 31:34). Thus both the depths of their sin and the greatness of their pardon is being emphasised.

And the consequence of YHWH’s goodness to them will be that ‘all the nations’ will fear and tremble as they see all that YHWH does for His people. They will realise that from then on they must treat them with care because they are YHWH’s. And all that has happened will bring home to them the wonder of YHWH, His joyous renown, His praise and His glory. We may also justifiably see in this ‘fear and trembling’ a reverent response of the nations to YHWH, another indication that finally people of all nations will turn to YHWH (compare Genesis 12:3).


Verse 10-11

Desolation And Waste Will Be Replaced By Joy And Gladness, Marriage Celebrations and Worship, Because YHWH Will Have Delivered His People From Their Captivity (Jeremiah 33:10-11).

Once again we have the ‘before’ and ‘after’ of which Jeremiah is so fond, in that he first depicts the utter desolation of Jerusalem and Judah, ‘waste without man and beast’, and contrasts it with the following times of joy and gladness, when weddings will be celebrated with merriment, worshippers will give vibrant thanks to YHWH for His covenant love, and thanksgiving offerings will be sacrificed in the house of YHWH.

Jeremiah 33:10-11

“Thus says YHWH,

Yet again there will be heard in this place,

Of which you say, ‘It is waste, without man and without beast,’

Even in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem,

Which are desolate, without man and without inhabitant and without beast,

The voice of joy and the voice of gladness,

The voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride,

The voice of those who say, ‘Give thanks to YHWH of hosts,

For YHWH is good, for his covenant love endures for ever,’

Who bring sacrifices of thanksgiving into the house of YHWH,

For I will cause the captivity of the land to return as at the first,

Says YHWH.”

‘This place’ clearly refers both to Jerusalem and to the cities of Judah and thus indicates the whole land. At present it is a desolate waste (with Jerusalem awaiting the final denouement) and will shortly be bereft of its inhabitants and all forms of civilisation, a deserted land stripped of life. But when the time comes for YHWH to act He will restore life to it, men and women will once more dwell there voicing their joy and gladness, marriages will again be joyous affairs and worshippers of YHWH will give thanks to Him for His goodness and His everlasting covenant love (chesed). The house of YHWH will have been restored, and worshippers will bring there their thanksgiving offerings out of gratitude for what He has done for them, for He will have restored Jerusalem and Judah back to what it was in the glory days. Note the opening and closing ‘says YHWH’ which emphasises that it is all His doing.

In all this we must not overlook the problems that would be involved. Uprooted from the lands which they had begun to call home because of the lure of their true homeland, taking the long and weary journeys back to that homeland with all their belongings, settling into what had become a foreign environment, coping with the jealousies and schemings of their neighbours, struggling to re-establish themselves in the land, and to re-establish the fruitfulness of a land that had gone to waste, eventually after twenty or more years rebuilding the Temple, although but a mere shadow of what it had been before (and yet one which would last longer than any other of their Temples and would be truly the people’s), and finally after a hundred years rebuilding Jerusalem as once more a semi-independent city. It would not be easy, nor would all necessarily go well. But they were a hardy people, and eventually the land was restored. As so often God’s work was not spectacular, but was ground out through the sufferings of His people.


Verse 12-13

The Whole Land Will Once Again Become A Place Of Flocks And Herds (Jeremiah 33:12-13)

To an agricultural people this was an essential part of the re-establishment of the land. Once again the land, which had become so desolate, would be filled with flocks and herds. This would be the sign of its prosperity. The land would be filled with Jacobs, feeding their flocks and seeing their numbers grow. It would be back to the good old days.

Jeremiah 33:12-13

“Thus says YHWH of hosts.

Yet again will there be in this place,

Which is waste, without man and without beast,

And in all its cities,

A habitation of shepherds causing their flocks to lie down.

In the cities of the hill-country, in the cities of the lowland,

And in the cities of the South, and in the land of Benjamin,

And in the places about Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah,

Will the flocks again pass under the hands of him who numbers,

Says YHWH.”

Note again the vivid contrast being expressed. Initially the land would be waste, and would be emptied of man and beast, but then it would become repopulated with both man and beast. The ‘cities’ would be mainly shepherds’ encampments, as they gathered together for mutual protection, with their watchtowers and their sheepfolds. And they would be found all over the land, in the hill country, and in the lowlands (the Shephelah), in the cities of the Negeb (in the south), and in the land of Benjamin (in the north), and in the places around Jerusalem and in the varied cities of Judah. There the flocks would lie down, and there they would be counted by the counters. Note again the opening and closing ‘says YHWH’ stressing that YHWH has spoken.

It would be interesting to know how the counting would take place, for it is very probable that few if any shepherds could actually count proficiently to any large extent. (Learning to count takes considerable effort, an effort which may well have not been seen as worthwhile. Such a skill was not really needed by shepherds who would recognise their own sheep without having to count them). Possibly shepherds had a number of small stones reflecting the number of sheep, and the sheep would be numbered by dropping the stones into a vessel as the sheep were driven by. Or there may have been specialist counters who performed this function for the shepherds (as the text may seem to indicate). Or the assessment may have been by names stored in the memory, ‘he calls his own sheep by name’ (John 10:3). The shepherd would know every one of his sheep and would easily spot if one was missing.


Verses 14-16

The Setting Up Of The Shoot Of Righteousness Descended From David (Jeremiah 33:14-16).

YHWH now repeats His promise of a coming David who will introduce righteousness (compare Isaiah 9:7; Isaiah 11:1-4). The days are coming, on the assured word of YHWH, when He will perform the good word that He has spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. For in those days He will bring forth a shoot of righteousness to David, a righteous and true Davidic king, Who will bring about justice and righteousness among His people. The promise is basically Messianic. He will introduce a reign of righteousness.

Jeremiah 33:14

“Behold, the days are coming, the word of YHWH, that I will perform that good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and concerning the house of Judah.”

This is the fourth ‘days are coming’ of this series of passages. The first referred to the re-establishing of the people in the land (Jeremiah 31:27-28), the second to the giving of the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34), and the third to the re-establishment of the new Jerusalem (Jeremiah 31:38-40). Now all will be sealed by the setting up of God’s righteous King. It is a ‘good word’ indeed.

Jeremiah 33:15

“In those days, and at that time, will I cause a Shoot of righteousness to grow up to David, and he will execute justice and righteousness in the land.”

The promise of the coming righteous king began in Genesis 49:10. It was confirmed in 2 Samuel 7:12-13; 2 Samuel 7:16; and ripened in the prophecies of Isaiah (Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-4). It has already been confirmed in Jeremiah 23:5-6 in words similar to those used here. It was, of course, finally fulfilled in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring about righteousness and in the establishment of His eternal kingship (Matthew 12:28; Matthew 25:31-46; Matthew 28:18; Luke 1:32-33; Acts 2:35; Acts 7:55-56; Romans 1:3-4; Hebrews 1:3-4; Revelation 3:21; Revelation 19:16).

Jeremiah 33:16

“In those days will Judah be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell safely, and this is the name by which she will be called, ‘YHWH our righteousness’.”

While there was a shadow of a fulfilment after the exile when Judah was delivered and Jerusalem dwelt safely under a Davidic ruler, and an even greater fulfilment in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, when His people were covered and endued with His righteousness under His Kingly Rule, it is only through His eternal Kingship, and the establishment of His heavenly kingdom, that this promise could be truly fulfilled. It is vain to look for it in an earthly kingdom. For it is only in a heavenly kingdom that His people can enjoy the perfect righteousness of YHWH. It is an idealistic state.

‘YHWH our righteousness.’ This name was originally given to the coming king of the house of David (Jeremiah 23:6), now it is applied to His people as personified in Jerusalem. It is an indication that both will be revealed in God-likeness.


Verses 14-25

YHWH Promises That In ‘The Days That Are Coming’ Both His Chosen (Davidic) Kingship and His God-Appointed (Levitical) Priesthood Will Be Maintained So As To Watch Over His People’s Future (Jeremiah 33:14-25).

The point in what follows is not so much the proper descent of the kings and priests mentioned, as the fact that they will be those who have been chosen and appointed by YHWH. Both the Davidic kingship and the Levitical priesthood had been chosen and appointed by YHWH in order to maintain a pure kingship and a pure priesthood, and that was why they were kept ‘in the family’. The theory was that they would be properly bred to their posts, inheriting the virtues of their ancestors. One thing in which northern Israel had so disastrously failed was in dispensing with the Davidic kingship and the Levitical priesthood, appointing instead kings and priests of their own choice who had soon proved their lack of worth. But Judah was also suffering because whilst they still had a Davidic kingship and a Levitical priesthood, their ‘Davidic kings’ did not walk in the ways of David, and their ‘Levitical priests’ did not walk in the ways of Aaron.

Thus YHWH’s promise is not only of a Davidic King, but of one who will be a Shoot of Righteousness. And His promise is not only of a Levitical priesthood, but of one that will offer sacrifices truly ‘before YHWH’. In other words He will provide true Kingship and true Priesthood of a type which is pleasing to Him. The main spotlight is, however, on the Righteous Shoot from the house of David, who is then described in more detail (Jeremiah 33:15-16; Jeremiah 33:25 a), with the true priesthood being a necessary adjunct so that true worship will be ensured.


Verse 17-18

YHWH Guarantees The Provision Permanently Of Successors To David, And Successors To The Levitical Priesthood While They Are Still Required For The Offering Of The Regular Offerings (Jeremiah 33:17-18).

Jeremiah 33:17-18

“For thus says YHWH, David will never want a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, nor will the priests the Levites want a man before me to offer burnt-offerings, and to burn meal-offerings, and to do sacrifice continually.”

YHWH’s words are carefully chosen. He promises that there will always be a descendant of David available to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, not that one will always be sitting on it. Indeed the latter situation could not be true in exile. And it was from the line of David’s successors that Joseph, Jesus’ father, was king-elect in Israel, as Matthew’s genealogy demonstrates, and that the right passed on to Jesus as the eldest son.

He also promised that there would never be a lack of a Levitical priest to offer the regular offerings and sacrifices, while such a priest was required. Unlike Isaiah Jeremiah did not foresee the day when the regular offerings and sacrifices would be required no more, because Another would have been offered up as an all-sufficient sacrifice (Isaiah 53; Hebrews 7-10), but he did recognise that YHWH would always make provision for man’s atonement.

Both promises have been fulfilled. On the return to the land a Davidide was available to govern Israel, leading up to the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ, and there was an abundance of Levitical priests for the renewal of Temple worship. It was only when the sacrificial system finally ceased, never to be renewed, spiritually at the death of Christ, and literally at the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, that the line of Levitical priests ceased. For by then we had One Who was chosen by God as both King and Priest to act on our behalf for ever. (Today we could not find either a genuine Davidide other than Jesus Christ, or a genuine Levitical priest).

‘The priests, the Levites.’ This phrase is found nowhere else in Jeremiah, but it also occurs in Deuteronomy 17:9; Deuteronomy 18:1; Joshua 3:3; Isaiah 66:21; Ezekiel 43:19; Ezekiel 44:15; 2 Chronicles 30:27. As found in Deuteronomy 18:1 a distinction is made between ‘the priests, the Levites’ and ‘the whole tribe of Levi’ (see our commentary on Deuteronomy for evidence of this) which is then explained in more detail in Deuteronomy 18:2-8.


Verses 17-24

YHWH’s Promise That There Will Always Be A True Son Of David, And A True Priesthood, To Meet The Needs Of His People (Jeremiah 33:17-24).

In a series of three short words from YHWH the guarantee is made to God’s people that they will always have a Son of David available to rule over them, and that while offerings and sacrifices are necessary there will always be a legitimate Levitical priesthood. Each ‘word’ is introduced by a standard Jeremaic introduction:

· ‘For thus says YHWH’ (Jeremiah 33:17).

· ‘And the word of YHWH came to Jeremiah, saying, thus says YHWH’ (Jeremiah 33:19-20 a).

· ‘And the word of YHWH came to Jeremiah, saying’ (Jeremiah 33:23).


Verses 19-22

YHWH’s Covenant With David And With The Levitical Priesthood Is As Certain As His Covenant Of Day And Night (Jeremiah 33:19-22).

Jeremiah 33:19

‘And the word of YHWH came to Jeremiah, saying,’

The introductory saying leads into a vital ‘word’ from YHWH

Jeremiah 33:20

“Thus says YHWH, If you can break my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night, so that there will not be day and night in their season, then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant, that he will not have a son to reign on his throne, and with the Levites the priests, my ministers.”

And that vital word is that YHWH’s covenant with David His servant, and with the Levitical Priesthood is as sure as the covenants which result in the continual series of day and night. The first covenant was that there would always be a son available to rule on the throne of David His servant, and the second covenant was that none other would be allowed to offer offerings and sacrifices other than the Levitical priesthood, His servants. Both were fulfilled, the first in that Jesus Christ received the eternal throne of David, and the second in that the Levitical priesthood was restored after the exile and continued its ministry of offerings and sacrifices until Lord Jesus Christ came and offered up a heavenly sacrifice which was not one that the Levitical priesthood could offer (as the writer to the Hebrews makes clear), thus terminating the Levitical priesthood which had thereby lost its purpose and ability to act, a termination confirmed by God in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD.

This solemn promise was necessary at this time. The seed of David appeared to be in a precarious position, with Jehoiachin in prison in Babylon, and Zedekiah and his sons, and the whole house of David, in peril of their lives in Jerusalem, whilst the priests could well have been a target for Nebuchadrezzar’s revenge, or may have become ‘lost in the crowd’ once they were in exile and no longer required. That neither happened was a fulfilment of this promise.

For the covenant with David see 2 Samuel 7:8-16; Isaiah 55:3-4; 2 Chronicles 7:18; 2 Chronicles 13:5; Psalms 89:3. For the covenant with Levi see Numbers 25:12-13; Nehemiah 13:29; Malachi 2:4-9.

Jeremiah 33:22

“As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, nor the sand of the sea measured, so will I multiply the seed of David my servant, and the Levites who minister to me.”

In a clearly exaggerated statement, exaggerated in order to emphasise His provision, YHWH states that He will multiply the seed of David and the Levites who serve Him until they are as many as the stars and the sand of the sea. The main aim of the statement was in order to indicate the certainty that neither would die out while they were needed as there would be a plentiful supply. That this was fulfilled comes out in that the line of David continued adequately, with an heir always available, and the number of Levitical priests available to serve in the coming new Temple after the exile were numerous. Indeed by the time of Jesus there were so many Levitical priests that they drew lots for the privilege of offering incense in the Sanctuary (Luke 1:9).

However, as this vivid description with regard to the host of heaven and the sand of the sea is in Genesis used of the whole ‘seed of Abraham’ (see e.g. Genesis 15:5; Genesis 22:17; etc.), and the ‘seed of Abraham’ is mentioned in Jeremiah 33:26, it may well be that we are intended to see in it a hint that God’s people as a whole will become the seed of David (by being united with Christ), and will replace the Levitical priesthood (by becoming priests who offer up the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving), thus being truly a great multitude which no man can number.


Verses 23-25

YHWH Affirms That He Has Not Cast Off The Two Families Whom He Has Chosen, And Guarantees The Rule Of The Seed of David Over The Seed Of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Jeremiah 33:23-25).

In this final affirmation YHWH gives the assurance, either that He has not cast off either the family of David, nor the family of Aaron, despite what others are saying, so that both have a part in His future purposes, or that He has not cast off the family of David and the family of Jacob, whom He had chosen. The latter is the more likely as it will be noted that in what He goes on to say it is only to the family of David and the family of Jacob that he gives an assurance of eternal permanence. At no stage, in fact, in these verses has YHWH guaranteed the eternal permanence of the Levitical priesthood. All that He has promised was that while the ministry that they had been chosen to perform was there to be done, it would be they alone as His chosen priests who would do it. They are not, however, specifically mentioned in this final word from YHWH at all, while the families of David and Jacob are.

Jeremiah 33:23

‘And the word of YHWH came to Jeremiah, saying,’

Once again we are assured that this is the word of YHWH speaking through Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 33:24

“Do you not consider what this people have spoken, saying, ‘The two families which YHWH chose, he has cast them off?’ Thus do they despise my people, that they should be no more a nation before them.”

The reference to ‘this people’ is always a reference to unbelieving Israel/Judah. Thus this is a comment being made by unbelieving Israel/Judah as they claim that YHWH has broken His promises and has cast off the two families whom He chose. Some see the two families as referring to those of David and Aaron, whom He has chosen. And as a consequence unbelieving Israel are seen as rejecting the idea that Israel can ever again be a true nation because its two recognised pillars, its king and its priesthood, have been removed. In their circumstances of despair it was understandable that they should feel this, but YHWH wants them to know that their words are not true. However He goes on to say that He has neither cast off the seed of David, nor has He cast off the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the true Israel. Both continue before Him. Thus the inference would appear to be that they are the two families now being spoken of, so that the Levitical priesthood is no longer in mind. Either way the important fact is that Israel have not been cast off, they are only being chastened.

‘Thus do they despise my people.’ This may refer to unbelieving Israel seen as despising Israel as a nation because YHWH has cast them off, or may indicate that the foreign nations despise Israel because of their unbelief, seeing them as no more a true nation because they have deserted their roots. The former appears more likely as the nations have not been in mind in the context.

Jeremiah 33:25

“Thus says YHWH, If my covenant of day and night stand not, if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth, then will I also cast away the seed of Jacob, and of David my servant, so that I will not take of his seed to be rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

Once again YHWH uses His covenant with day and night (compare Jeremiah 33:20), and adds His appointment of the ordinances of Heaven and earth, as a guarantee of permanence. And what are to be permanent are ‘the seed of Jacob’ (then expanded to ‘the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’) and ‘the seed of David my servant’, with the latter ruling over the former.

The ‘seed of Jacob’ and ‘the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’ were technical terms indicating all who subscribed to the covenant of YHWH, for by this time (and even from the beginning) it included more than Jacob’s direct blood descendants. Through the centuries many ‘foreigners’ had been incorporated into Israel in accordance with Exodus 12:48 and all were seen as ‘the seed of Jacob’, as were the mixed multitude of Exodus 12:38 which had been incorporated into ‘the seed of Jacob’ at Sinai. Their descent was by adoption. The process would continue after Christ’s resurrection when the early Jewish church, the true remnant, the ‘holy seed’ of Isaiah 6:13, opened its doors to Gentiles who became believers and were thus incorporated into the new Israel, ‘the Israel of God’ (Matthew 21:43; Galatians 6:16) becoming ‘Abraham’s seed’ (Galatians 3:29) and circumcised though the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2:11). Today ‘the seed of Jacob’ continues in the whole body of true believers in Christ.

Jesus Christ was ‘the seed of David’ because He was adopted by Joseph, who was of the seed of David, as his eldest son and heir (demonstrated by his naming Him - Matthew 1:25), being born through Mary, who was probably also a Davidide, by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:35).

Jeremiah 33:25

“For I will cause their captivity to return, and will have mercy on them.”

And all this would occur because YHWH would ‘cause their captivity to return’, that is, would deliver them from exile, as a result of His compassion and mercy.

Note On The Permanence Of The Levitical Priesthood.

The appointment of Aaron and his sons to minister in the priest’s office is described in Exodus 28, see also Leviticus 8-10, although there is no actual mention in those passages of a covenant. It could on the other hand be assumed that there was an incipient covenant, as it is constantly made clear that Aaron and his sons were alone appointed to minister in the Sanctuary.

However, a covenant with relation to the Levitical priests is mentioned in Numbers 25:12-13, when in his zeal for YHWH, Phinehas slew Zimri, the prominent Simeonite, who had consorted with a Midianite woman and her gods, and brazenly brought her into the camp, displaying his disloyalty to YHWH for all to see. In response to Phinehas’ action YHWH promised, ‘Behold I give to him my covenant of peace, and it will be to him and his seed after him, the covenant of an everlasting priesthood, because he was jealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel’. In other words, as a result of his action YHWH covenanted peace to His wayward people, and as long as the priesthood was required in Israel (for the purpose of obtaining atonement), Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, and his descendants would have a part in it. They were thus given an everlasting right to have a part in the Levitical priesthood.

So whether we see the covenant as made with Aaron, or with Phinehas, the outcome is the same, and that was that the rights to serve the Tabernacle (and then the Temple) as priests lay with the Levitical priests. This would, of course, depend on there being a need for such priests, and there being a central altar where legitimate sacrifices could be offered. It was not, however, until the prophets that the concept would arise, although even then not fully thought through, of a time when God’s people would be truly holy, and would therefore presumably no longer require such priests (e.g. Isaiah 4:3; Isaiah 6:13; Obadiah 1:17).

When the rival Sanctuary was set up at Dan in the time of the Judges an attempt was made to give its priesthood legitimacy by appointing as priests descendants of Moses (Judges 18:30), and this presumably continued until the land was overrun by the Philistines (‘the time of the captivity of the land’). It must be seen as probable that no legitimate Aaronide would serve there because it contained a graven image. But we cannot see this as evidencing anything other than man’s attempt to get round God’s Law and make do with second best.

When rival Sanctuaries were set up by Jeroboam I of Israel at Dan and Bethel he made no attempt as far as we know to obtain legitimate priests, but appointed men of his own choosing. This was, however, clearly frowned on by YHWH and by the prophets. On the other hand there were altars in Israel that were looked on as legitimate and these presumably had legitimate priests (1 Kings 18:30; 1 Kings 19:10). As they were accepted as legitimate they were presumably seen as erected at places where YHWH had ‘recorded His Name’ (Exodus 20:24-25). We need not doubt that this was the same in Judah, something which may be observed from Samuel’s ministry (his sacrifices at Bethlehem). The actual situation is often disguised by the fact that regularly someone is said to have offered sacrifices, when in fact it may well have been done by a priest at their instigation. Thus when Solomon is said to have offered a thousand burnt offerings (1 Kings 3:4) he hardly did it on his own. His priests made the offerings on his behalf. This may well also have been the case e.g. with Gideon and his ten men (Judges 6:25-27) and David (1 Kings 24:25). Manoah made a sacrifice to YHWH, but it was in a place where He had recorded His Name as a result of the presence of the Angel of YHWH, and was thus legitimate (Judges 13:19). In none of these cases was the uniqueness of the Levitical priesthood called into account.

Alongside this in Isaiah 61:6 all Israel are at some time in the future to be named as ‘Priests of YHWH’ and called ‘Ministers of our God’, and this was presumably intended to indicate being legitimate Levitical priests by adoption, whilst Isaiah 66:21 indicates a time when many who were not of the family of Aaron (and some commentators see it as indicating Gentiles), would legitimately be taken by YHWH as priests and Levites. We may assume from all this that as with becoming a member of the other tribes, it was possible to become a Levitical priest by adoption (as happened to Samuel), and in these cases, by wholesale adoption.

It must, however, be emphasised that at no time is it ever said that Levitical priests would be required everlastingly, but only that when they were required to serve at the Sanctuary on earth they would need to be in one way or another of the house of Aaron, whether by descent or adoption.

The position of the Levitical priests is upheld by the writer to the Hebrews, who points out that Jesus could not act as a priest on earth because He was not of the Levitical priesthood. However, he stresses that He had a perfect right to do so at a heavenly altar because He was a priest after the order of Melchizedek (the Jerusalem and Davidic priesthood - Psalms 110:4). This, of course, for all practical purposes made the earthly Levitical priesthood redundant.

Meanwhile in the New Testament as a whole God’s people are seen to have a priestly role in that they offer themselves as a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1-2) and offer up the sacrifices of praise and generosity (Hebrews 13:15-16). For they are a holy priesthood who are to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Christ Jesus (1 Peter 2:5). Indeed they are a kingdom of priests (Revelation 5:10). But none of this impinges on the service of the Levitical priesthood, although it may be seen as superseding it. It is a priesthood of a different order, a spiritual priesthood.

The coming of the future kingdom is put in sacrificial terms because that was the main way of expressing worship known to the prophets and the people, and we may see the descriptions partly as depicting the worldwide worship of the church, as the Kingly Rule of God is being established, and partly as a pointer to the everlasting kingdom when it will be finally established. Thus in Isaiah 66 it is depicted in terms of a weekly visit by all nations to Jerusalem in order to worship YHWH, where the adopted priests and Levites of Isaiah 66:21 were presumably ministering (although no mention is made of sacrifices), and also to scan the rubbish dump where the bodies of presumably executed transgressors were burning continually. In contrast in Zechariah 14 the nations are only required to pay a yearly visit to Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles where they are to worship YHWH by observing the Feast, and the sacrifices will be so many that all the pots in the whole of Judah will be required and will be made holy to YHWH (we can therefore see why all Israel will need to be priests). Meanwhile in every place among the Gentiles incense is being offered, along with a pure offering to YHWH (Malachi 1:11). If the aim in each case is to bring out total loyalty to YHWH in worship and a ministry to the whole world, rather than to indicate actual practise, the pictures make sense, but if we seek to take them literally we make them contradictory, and have the weekly keenites vying with the annual visitors, who again vie with the house churches. (Of course if we see them as a picture of the worship of the whole church, which in a sense they also are, such an idea becomes very realistic). One thing that they are not is the picture of a millennial kingdom, unless we see that as very divided and disorderly.

Thus Jeremiah’s (and YHWH’s) description of the Levitical priesthood as permanently established in Israel/Judah whilst earthly offerings were being offered at an earthly Sanctuary is valid, and the promise was never broken.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jeremiah 33:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/jeremiah-33.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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