August 14, 2019
by Timothy Hankins
Clergy of Oakland UMC (Greenback, TN)
Smoky Mountain District
"Thus says the LORD: Only if I had not established my covenant with day and night and the ordinances of heaven and earth, would I reject the offspring of Jacob and of my servant David and not choose any of his descendants as rulers over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes, and will have mercy upon them" (Jeremiah 33:25-26, NRSV).
The book of Jeremiah is not a happy read. It chronicles the downfall of a nation as the eponymous prophet weeps and cries out the judgment of God on the royal city of Jerusalem. Babylonian armies gather at the gates, and, for his efforts, Jeremiah has been placed under arrest and held in confinement at the palace of King Zedekiah. Here in chapter 33, the final siege of the city has begun, and it won't be long until the gates fall and Nebuchadnezzar's hordes lay waste to the city.
This is the culmination of many years of decline for Israel. After the "golden years" of King David and King Solomon's reign, the nation has been fractured. The northern kingdom has already fallen to invaders, and now the southern kingdom of Judah faces its demise as well.
All of this makes it utterly remarkable that here, at the nadir of Israel's history, on the eve of Jerusalem's destruction, the word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah. And it's a words of hope.
Just at the moment when all seems lost, when everything points to doom and destruction, Jeremiah receives three oracles, each one of them pointing to a future hope of restoration and renewal.
"David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the levitical priests shall neer lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offering, to make grain offerings, and to make sacrifices all time," God says through the prophet (33:17). And this promise is as sure as the day and night, God says (33:20-21; 25-26). The only way this covenant between God and the chosen people will ever be nullified is if somehow the rising and setting of the sun could be undone.
In other words, as terrifying and horrific as the fall of Judah and the devastation of Jerusalem will be — no matter how seemingly irreversible and unrelenting the destruction that is coming — God has still not turned His back on the promise made to Abraham. "I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2–3).
It is God's plan to bring salvation to the world by calling a family, turning that family into a nation, and keeping his covenant promise no matter how unfaithful the chosen nation turns out to be. God doesn't make mistakes and God doesn't go back on promises. As surely as the sun rises and sets, God is faithful.
So even at the brink of destruction, the word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah: "David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne ... and the levetical priests shall never lack a man ... to make sacrifices for all time."
And God has kept that promise by sending Jesus — born of a woman, born under the law — to be prophet, priest, and king. He is the promised Messiah, the righteous branch, the eternal king of all creation. He is the high priest who has entered into the heavenly temple to offer a perpetual and perfect sacrifice on behalf of all creation. And He is the prophet who proclaims the good will of God for all humankind, who invites all into a new covenant of salvation.
We live in a world besieged by sin and death. And it can often feel as if we are teetering on the brink of destruction. When we feel as if we are at our lowest point, perhaps it would be good to remember the word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah.
As long as the sun rises and sets, God's promise remains certain and true. Lift up your eyes; salvation is drawing near.