Jeremiah 23 5 6: And now, God wants to focus in on one of those good rulers. But this one surpasses all the rest, as we’ll see in 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/act wisely],
and shall [execute judgment/do justice] and [justice/righteousness] in the [earth/land].
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/has provided us with justice].
Jeremiah 23 5 6: Branch
Let’s explore for a moment why the Lord – as he looks forward to this future righteous king – calls him a “branch”.
We’re used to titles for our Lord Jesus like the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah” or the “Lamb of God” or the “Light” or the “Word”. But, branch? That might be new to some of our ears.
The word translated “branch” is the Hebrew word tsemach. This word occurs a mere 45 times in the Old Testament in both its noun and verb forms. And there are two passages that I think shed some light on why that word is used here to foretell of Christ coming as the perfect king of Israel.
Jeremiah 23 5 6: 2 Samuel 23:5
First is 2 Samuel 23:5. This is a passage that contains some of David’s last word. And it’s there that David says that God “…hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although he make it not to grow.” Or, really, that last phrase “he make it not to grow” could be translated as a question, like “Will he not make it grow?” And the answer expected would be “yes, he will!”
Now, the word “grow” in 2 Samuel 23 is the verb form of the word tsemach which we find in Jeremiah 23. So, David, many centuries before Jeremiah 23, looks back on his life and points to the fact that God had made an eternal covenant with him. The main stipulation of the Davidic Covenant was that God would cause one of David’s descendants to rule from his throne forever. And that’s just what this Righteous Branch, Jesus Christ, will do – as a son of David, he will rule on David’s throne forever.
Jeremiah 23 5 6: Psalm 132:17
The second reference that might help us understand why the Lord uses this fairly-rare term “Branch” or tsemach back in Jeremiah 23 is Psalm 132:17, which is a Psalm of Ascents. These are psalms which those going up to Jerusalem would sing as they approached the city – and especially its Temple – to worship the Lord. So, in this psalm they’re extolling Jerusalem. And in that context, they would say the words of Psalm 132:17, “There [in Jerusalem] will I make the horn of David to bud [tsemach]: I have ordained a lamp for mine anointed.”
David will always have a lamp for himself in Jerusalem – meaning that he will always have one of his sons ruling at least part of Israel. That’s what God said in 1 Kings 11:36 where in that passage the Lord is taking away all but one tribe of Israel from David’s son. But God says that he will leave Judah to David’s sons so that David will always have a “lamp in Jerusalem”.
So, then, because Psalm 132 is poetry and we’d expect to see parallelism, David’s lamp has something to do with David’s horn. The horn is often a symbol of strength and power in the Scripture – and many times that word refers poetically to a king or ruler. And so, a Davidic ruler with power and strength will tsemach – our word from Jeremiah 23.
Jeremiah 23 5 6: Summary
So, again, you might come across this reference to Christ in Jeremiah 23 and wonder why God is using that word Branch to refer to Christ. And I think these two other passages help us understand the significance of God’s using this word Branch or tsemach. That fairly rare word appears in these two passages referring to David and his sons and God’s promise to put those sons of David on his throne forever.
Jeremiah 23 5 6: Our Righteousness
One other thing to note in this passage is that Christ, the Branch, will also be called “the Lord our righteousness” Jehovah Tsidqenu, if you’ve heard that phrase before.
And our New Testament-focused minds rightly look at this phrase and import into it all the meaning that is revealed in the New Testament of believers in Jesus having his righteousness imputed to us. And in that way, he’s our righteousness.
And yet in the context, this Branch will be dealing out justice and judgement in the land. And this will bring physical safety and security to Israel. And in that context the Branch will be called “the Lord our Righteousness” or “the Lord our Justice” or “the Lord has provided us with Justice”.
Now, we know from the New Testament that this righteousness and justice extend beyond mere physical and temporal justice. This Branch, Jesus Christ, the Lord our Righteousness – he provides us with justification – he declares us righteous by faith. As I’ve said already, he imputes his righteousness to those who believe in him. He cleanses us of our awful sins and their awful penalty. He forgives and releases those sins. That might not have been clear to the original readers of Jeremiah 23. But it certainly is clear from the New Testament.
Jeremiah 23 5 6: The Lord
And one last thing to note about this Branch. He will be our righteousness, yes. But we must not overlook this point. This king – whom this passage would cause us to think is a mere man – is actually the Lord.
Now, this is not the Hebrew word Adonai which can mean “lord” as in “master”. No, this is the Hebrew Yahweh, God’s covenant name.
This Branch and descendant of David will certainly be human. And we don’t know how much Jeremiah himself or those hearing his message would have understood this. But this man would somehow also be the Lord himself!