A Righteous Branch – Jeremiah 23

1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:1-2 NIV

Who were these Magi, and where would they get the idea to come seek the king of the Jews?  Furthermore, once they found Him, where did they get the idea to worship Him?

The Magi from the east were likely from the area where the people of Judah had been carried off into exile centuries before – Babylon. They were likely instructed by the Old Testament and its prophets, including Daniel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Zechariah.  They might also have been influenced by teachings handed down directly from the prophet Daniel himself, whom God had sent into Babylon to minister to the exiles there.

From the time of Daniel until the coming of Christ, there was no king of the Jews.  Prior to their exile to Babylon, God announced that Judah’s king, Jehoiachin, would be the last one in his family to reign over Judah.  

24 “As surely as I live,” declares the Lord, “even if you, Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, were a signet ring on my right hand, I would still pull you off.  30 … for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule anymore in Judah.”  Jeremiah 22:24,30b NIV

The royal tree was cut down and its branches had been removed.  The kingly line was preserved in the form of governors, but no ruler was sitting on the throne of David.  Yet, God had promised King David that one of his descendants would rule over Israel and the entire world forever. 

Jeremiah 22 tells us that the kings that were descended from Josiah had become dead wood through their unbelief and unrighteous acts, being quick to choose injustice, violence, greed, and the worship of other gods.  But God was not done with the line of David.  He had demonstrated before that He can bring new life to the deadest of wood, and He can do it again, any time He chooses.

Back when the Israelites had been freed from slavery in Egypt and led into the desert, many of their leaders rebelled against the God-given authority of Moses, his brother Aaron, and the tribe of Levi.  To quell the rebellion, God told all twelve tribe leaders to gather their walking sticks together overnight.  In the morning, one of these dead shafts of wood, Aaron’s, showed miraculous signs of life, confirming his spiritual authority.

 The next day Moses entered the tent and saw that Aaron’s staff, which represented the tribe of Levi, had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds.  Numbers 17:8 NIV

Similarly, God promised through the prophet Isaiah that a new Branch would come up from the stump of Jesse, King David’s father.  A stump exists only when the tree has been cut down.  In this case, the tree was the line of the kings of Judah, and the new branch growing from its stump is a King who will rule not only over Israel, but over the whole world.

1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit…

…with righteousness he will judge the needy,
    with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.  Isaiah 11:1, 4a NIV

Jeremiah tells us that this new righteous King will also be called the Lord.  He will be God, and as the Magi had known, He will be worthy of worship when He comes.

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
    and do what is just and right in the land.
… This is the name by which he will be called:
    The Lord Our Righteous Savior.  Jeremiah 23:5, 6b NIV

There are other references to this righteous Branch in the Bible, including one by the prophet Zechariah.  These prophecies all point to something new and different growing out of a pre-existing line, the holy line of David.  When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, He was the fulfillment of these Branch prophecies.  He is the coming King, the Messiah, that the scripture points to.  The Magi in the east had been given the wisdom to understand this and had the will to take up the search for this righteous Branch once His star appeared.

Reflection

Like the Magi, God gives us the spiritual insight to recognize Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of prophetic scripture, the righteous Branch.  Do I have the will that the Magi had to seek Him out and to worship Him?

Lord, continue to teach me about Jesus, the righteous Branch, and eternal King from David’s line.  Draw me close to You and help me to sit at Your feet to absorb Your goodness, wisdom and love.  May we love and worship You and share Your many blessings with others.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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