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The Abundance of Peace and Truth
Jeremiah 33 opens by referencing the destruction that has been made upon Jerusalem (“this city” in v.4), where the inhabitants had to demolish houses to build fortifications (Jer. 33:1-4). Yahweh declares that, although He will not save them from the Babylonians, He does intend to heal the city and bring to it “an abundance of peace and truth” (33:6). This will involve a return from captivity (33:7), which to the prophet’s hearers would put them in mind of their eventual return from Chaldea. But again, just as with 32:28-41, we should hesitate to reach that conclusion because God also promises redemption and national preeminence for Israel among the nations of the world (33:8-9).1
There is a return to the theme of rejoicing (Isa. 35:1-2; 61:10; 65:18; Jer. 31:13; Zeph. 3:14), but it incorporates cultic elements; the “house of the Lord” being prominent (Jer. 33:11). These features of salvation, national ascendancy, and celebration push the prophecy into the time of covenant consummation. What one chooses to do with the temple in verse 11 will depend on the level of sufferance one has for a temple and priesthood in the post-advent kingdom era.
Unfortunately, a survey of the works of both dispensational and covenant theologians will reveals a frustrating neglect of the second half of Jeremiah 33.2 Dumbrell ventures to say that the passage adds little to what was said in Jeremiah 31:31ff.3 Dispensationalists in particular should see the importance of the section. But they overlook it, I believe, because they are more concerned about dispensations than they are about God’s covenants. Verses 14 to 26 together form perhaps the single most sustained challenge to amillennial eschatology in the whole Bible. Where they are treated, they are often dealt with hurriedly and inaccurately.4
The section begins with the promise that “the days are coming” when God’s intentions for Israel and Judah will be brought to pass (Jer. 33:14). The note of a coming unification of the divided tribes is struck once more.
What follows reminds the reader of what was read in chapter 23:5-6, but there are differences. The introductory phrase places a definite point of fulfillment before us. We should look for the realization of these prophecies when “a Branch of righteousness” reigns and ushers in “judgment and righteousness” worldwide. Repeated in Jeremiah 33:15-16 is the idea of peace and safety in a redemptive context that we have noted several times already. The most striking difference between Jeremiah 23:5-6 and here is the substitution of the king in Jeremiah 23:6 for the city in Jeremiah 33:16. In this place, Jerusalem is called by the name of its righteous Sovereign. This does not mean that the city will no longer be called Jerusalem. In the Bible people and things are given names of reference as a way of speaking of a characteristic. In this same way the Messiah is called “Immanuel” in Isaiah 7:14 and the four (or five) names in Isaiah 9:6.
The next two verses include specific references to two covenants. Verse 17, although the wording is unique, reminds one of 2 Samuel 7:13, 16, Psalm 89:3-4, 34-37 and underscores the perpetuity of the Davidic covenant in no uncertain terms. The question which might occur to some is why this covenant needs to be mentioned in light of the great promise of the Branch in Jeremiah 33:15. I speculate that it could refer not only to the Messiah, but to David himself, whom we may recall was mentioned in Jeremiah 30:9, as well as in Hosea 3:5. Ezekiel has something to add so I will defer further comments until then.
The sentence continues by introducing another group of men whose survival was threatened by the looming exile. The Levites were to be left with no temple. As they had proven themselves unworthy of the temple ministration this was just the culmination of the disaster that had already beset the worship of Yahweh. Notwithstanding the word of God is clear: the Levites will carry on their work seemingly in tandem with the restored Davidic regency (Jer.33:17-18).
Whether or not this presents a problem of conflict with the New Testament is not for me to decide while I am studying the Old Testament prophets. I earnestly ask my reader to stick with the unveiling process presented in the Holy Scriptures, and not to introduce material that had not been written in Jeremiah’s time. The structure of this book deliberately waits to come across revelation as it was revealed in history and seeks to build up a picture of the prophetic and covenant-led landscape. Reading the Bible backwards is, I firmly believe, a huge mistake, which is almost guaranteed to obscure the unfolding truths of Divine revelation. What invariably ends up happening is that plain and clear revelation is simply brushed aside in the rush to arrive at conclusions the New Testament writers are assumed to have held.
The Most Strongly-Worded Pledge of God in Either Testament
We have already read an accentuated guarantee that the Lord intends to preserve a united nation of Israel in Jeremiah 31:35-37. What more needs to be said? What else needs to be underscored? In light of the fact that God’s covenant word has been routinely ignored or reinterpreted by the Church throughout its history, these transparent words of the Governor and Sustainer of history exist as a reproof to those who bend God’s promises out of all recognition.5
Instead of the descendants of Israel being given categorical guarantees, the lineages of David and of Levi are chosen out for unqualified assurances. The oracles concern the throne of Israel and the altar (Jer. 33:17-18). They will have innumerable descendants (33:22), which rather puts the cat among the pigeons for those who believe that the subject of the Davidic oracle is Christ. Without a doubt the figure in verse 15 is Christ (the Branch), but He cannot be who is meant in verses 22 and 26 because those verses speak of descendants (plural).
This is where we must return to comments made at Jeremiah 30:9 and the prediction of a David redivivus. The covenant with David holds fast into the Kingdom of Righteousness and Peace, in “the latter days” (Jer. 30:24). Jeremiah 33:21-22 does not require more than one descendant to occupy the throne. Only that David will have descendants of whom one will rule.6 The details are hard to make clear, but if Messiah the Branch is reigning from Jerusalem, it is possible that another Davidic ruler will also rule under Him,7 maybe David himself, although verse 21 emphasizes a son. Prophecies are short things. They are not full descriptions. We are forced to piece together a prophetic picture, even though the picture is not complete.
What comes next is worth paying special attention to because it appears in the middle of such forcibly-bound pledges:
Have you not considered what these people have spoken, saying, `The two families which the LORD has chosen, He has also cast them off ‘? Thus they have despised My people, as if they should no more be a nation before them. (Jeremiah 33:24)
The inclusion of this question and response can be for no other purpose than to cause hesitation in those who would assert that despite what God is committing Himself to here, He will cease being concerned with the nation of Israel at some point thereafter. This whole section is saturated with Divine covenants. The covenant with David is found in Jeremiah 33:17, 21-22, and 26. The covenant with Phinehas is found in Jeremiah 33:18, 21-22. The Noahic covenant seems to be in view in Jeremiah 33:20 and 26, and there is a definite allusion to the Abrahamic covenant in Jeremiah 33:22 and 26.
On top of all of these, the revelation that it will all be fulfilled at the time when the Branch reigns, bringing in righteousness and peace to Israel shows that the context is redemptive (Jer. 33:14-16). Hence, I think the New covenant is clearly present. In fact, the fulfillments of the other Divine covenants look to be predicated on the realization of the New covenant with national Israel. So we find are merging of the disparate covenants in together in through the New covenant. It is the New covenant (which I believe is Messiah Himself) that is the ultimate warrant for those who expect God’s covenants to be literally brought to pass.
Hence, in this single passage we found all five of God’s unilateral covenants brought together in an eschatological setting. Furthermore, as Brown has pointed out, verse 26 is the only place in Scripture where the patriarchs and David are mentioned together.8 This is surely worthy of special notice!
1 Compare Deuteronomy 15:6; 28:1,13; Isaiah 60:10-13; 62:1-12; Zephaniah 3:19-20
2 A welcome exception is Michael L. Brown, “Jeremiah”, EBC Revised, vol.7, whose exposition is exemplary
3 William J. Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel, 147, although the author does recognize the strategic importance of chapters 34-36 in support of the covenantal theology of Jeremiah.
4 An example is Routledge’s corralling of the details of the passage into a single Messianic promise. – Robin Routledge, Old Testament Theology, 287. Calvin is full, but he relates it all to the church. See John Calvin, Commentary on Jeremiah 20-47, 261-263
5 Feinberg calls Jeremiah 33:17-26 “a crux interpretum for expositors.” – Charles L. Feinberg, “Jeremiah”, EBC, 593
6 Michael L. Brown, “Jeremiah,” EBC Revised, vol. 7, 426
7 There is no contradiction, unless one is content to say that Christians too will not reign with Christ, despite what the Apostle says in 2 Timothy 2:12. It was not unknown for great kings to have kings as vassals ruling under them.
8 Michael L. Brown, “Jeremiah,” 428
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.