Israel’s Promise and Hope
Week 1 of Advent
Laura Miguélez Quay
November 29, 2015
To read Old Testament prophetic books is to be reminded of how hard it would be to be a prophet of God. On the one hand, what an amazing privilege it must have been to receive communications from God and present them to his people; on the other hand, we who have the 20–20 hindsight that comes from living long after these prophesies were presented and recorded, know that all too often God’s prophesies fell on closed ears. All too often the intended recipients of God’s Word by his prophets had no desire to hear what God had to say to them.
Jeremiah (who was probably born around ~645 BC) was a man called to be a prophet as a youth (1:6) and he served as a prophet for over 40 years (1:2–3)—probably from about 627 BC, the time of Josiah, Judah’s last good king’s reign, to sometime after the Fall of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 BC. Jeremiah was also a priest and may have been a descendant of Abiathar, the high priest during David’s reign. As a prophet, Jeremiah’s unique contribution was his articulation of a new covenant that God was going to make between himself and his people.
Now the old covenant God made with Israel was a binding relational agreement based both on deeds done and promises made by God which Israel accepted and agreed to live by as God’s unique people in the world. This old covenant was rooted in God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen. 12–15). It began with God’s call to Abraham recorded for the first time in Genesis 12:1–3:
1The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
And it’s important to keep in mind that when Scripture tells us that God created a people for himself, this is exactly what he did. Before Abraham was Father Abraham, he was called Abram—in other words, he was just a man, not a nation. But God calls him to be not just a man of God individually but he promises to make of him a nation of God. And not only that but God also promises him that one day, through him, all the nations of the world will one day be blessed (Gen. 12, 15).
With this initial covenant, we see that God is a promise maker and a promise keeper—though perhaps he isn’t as quick at keeping promises as we would like. When God’s promise begins to be fulfilled in the birth of Abraham’s son Isaac, 25 years have passed. Abram was 75 years old when God promised to make him the father of all nations; he is 99 years old when Isaac is conceived. And it is at this time that God changes Abram’s name to Abraham meaning the father of a multitude of nations. Abraham’s son is Isaac and his grandson is Jacob. And it is Jacob whose name, like that of his grandfather Abraham, is also changed—from Isaac to Israel when God reaffirms the promise he had made to Abraham, telling Jacob in Genesis 35:10–12:
“Your name is Jacob,but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel.
11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.”
So that’s the origin of the old covenant but the old covenant is also rooted in God’s redemption of Israel from slavery in Egypt (Ex. 1–20:2). And it included standards of living (Ex. 20–24) that God’s people, who were called to be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, were to uphold as they trusted God and lived for him (19:16). The old covenant included sacrifices (Lev. 1–16) that dealt with people’s sins (Ps. 32:51, etc.). It allowed for a clear accountability for this kingdom of priests in the form of benefits or blessings if they obeyed and followed God, and consequences or curses if they did not (Dt. 27:22).
And, as time passed, God’s covenant with Israel came to incorporate as well God’s promise to David of an eternal kingdom (2 Sam. 7.1; I Chr. 17) along with the promise of a Messiah, a word that means “anointed” one.
But sadly, Israel had a long history not of covenant keeping but of covenant breaking (Jeremiah 2–6). Consequently Israel was often the recipient of God’s curses, rather than his blessings. Still, God doesn’t easily give up on those who belong to him. He used Jeremiah to deliver the good news that in future days God would make a new covenant with the house of Israel and Judah (Jer. 31:31). And unlike the old covenant partners, the new covenant partners would follow God all of their lives (Jer 31:33–34). Therefore God would remember their sin no more (31:34; sa Heb. 8:8–12 which speaks of Jesus fulfilling this). Listen to these words from Jeremiah 31:31–34:
31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord.—Do you see the continuity and analogy between Old Testament Israel being God’s bride and the Church being Christ’s bride in the New Testament? This is how intimate God’s relationship with those who are his has ever been. Reading on—
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”
Now another important component of the new covenant, as noted in our passage this morning, is the promise of a Righteous Branch whom God would send to make all things right. We find a parallel of this passage in Jeremiah 23. Jeremiah is building on a rich history of God’s relationship with his special covenant people, Israel. Though Israel is often faithless, God remains faithful. Though Israel breaks its promises, God keeps his. God is true to his promises. Jeremiah conceives of a time when God would gather the remnant of Israel and raise up for David a Righteous Branch who would reign over the faithful (Jer. 23:2–3). When this Messiah came, he would be their righteousness (23:16). Notice how closely Jeremiah 23:5–6 parallels our passage this morning:
5 “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.
6 In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior.
The added information Jeremiah 23 gives to Jeremiah 33 is that this promised Righteous Branch from David’s line will be a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.
As we turn to Jeremiah 33, we see that Jeremiah provides a clear indication that the LORD who is addressing Israel is the one true LORD. There are not many gods; there is only one. He “made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it” (verse 2) and he tells Jeremiah that he, the God of Israel, will destroy Judah because of their disobedience (vv. 4–5). But he also tells Jeremiah that, in time, he “will bring health and healing to” them (v. 6) as he brings “Judah and Israel back from captivity” and “rebuild[s] them as they were before” (v. 7) and cleanses “them from all the sin they have committed against” God who “will forgive all their sins of rebellion against” him (v. 8). One day “this city will bring [God] renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things [he does] for it” (v. 9). Though now “[this city] is a desolate waste, without people or animals” (vv. 10, 12) there will be “11 the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord, saying, “Give thanks to the Lord Almighty, for the Lord is good; his love endures forever” (v. 11).
So we read in verse 14, “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.’” God does not give up on those he claims to be his own. He will preserve a remnant through which Messiah will come (Jeremiah 23:3). Though things may look dark now, God always wins out in the end.
“‘In those days’ Jeremiah continues in verse 15 ‘and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land.’” Though God’s people, again because of their disobedience, experienced a time of desolation, things are not always going to be this way. They will not always be the recipients of God’s curses, the just consequence of their disobedience, but will be recipients of God’s blessings. By God’s mercy and abundant love and compassion and grace, one day they will receive the blessings of the covenant not because of their obedience or righteousness—for they’ve been disobedient time and again—but because of the obedience of the Branch which will sprout from David’s line; it will sprout from David, the best King Israel ever knew. But this Branch will be even greater than David. He will succeed where Israel and Judah and all from the time of Adam and Eve have failed.
Verse 16 adds to the picture of this promised Branch. “In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it [or he, the Branch] will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.” We have in these few verses in seed form the promise of what God—the promise maker and keeper—fulfills in Jesus Christ who is the head not only of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, but also of all the nations whom God promised to bless through Abraham. This new enlarged community of God’s faithful people is in continuity with the old covenant people of God. And as we know, with the coming of Jesus, we have the fulfillment of God’s promise. With the coming of Jesus, we have the coming of Messiah—which is what “Christ” means. As we’ve noted before to say “Jesus Christ” is not like saying Nancy McFadden or John Kilgour. “Christ” is Jesus’ title and identity, not his last name. So Jesus is the promised Righteous Davidic Branch. Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is the LORD. Jesus is the Righteous Savior who saves us by dying in our place, taking on our sin, and receiving the wrath of God that is our due. For we are no more able to be righteous than Adam or Israel or Judah was. We all need the righteousness he provides if only we turn to him and allow him to make us the new creation he always intended.
Jesus Christ—Jesus the Messiah promised and foretold in the Old Testament—is Our Righteous Savior. The New Testament makes this clear time and again. I love the account of John the Baptist recorded for us in Luke 7:18–23 when he sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (v. 19). Rather than answer with a simple “yes” or “no” Jesus answers John, the last in the line of Old Testament prophets by showing how Jesus’ life has fulfilled Scripture. “Go back and report to John” Jesus says “what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 23 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” In his life and deeds, Jesus fulfills the deeds prophesied of the Righteous Branch to come.
God’s people living in the time of the Old Testament were looking for—were looking forward to—the coming of Messiah, the righteous Branch, the LORD our Righteous Savior. Despite their disobedience, God didn’t give up on them. God the promise maker and keeper promised that one day he would make things right. And so they waited, believing in the One who made these promises. They entered a period of Advent, a word that means “coming” or “arrival.” Advent is a time of looking forward and waiting for the arrival of something greater, of a notable person or event. And the remnant of Israel and Judah were awaiting the arrival of the Righteous Branch that would deliver them from their woes and once again make all things right.
This morning we, too, are in a period of Advent even though we live in a time after the first Advent since we know the Messiah has come in the person of Jesus Christ. Nonetheless in remembering this initial Advent of the Old Testament patriarchs and saints, we are reminded of God’s faithfulness. We are reminded that God is ever true to his word. We are reminded that God’s Word can be trusted and he will bring about that which he has promised. He will bring to fruition the Kingdom he inaugurated.
This morning as we mark the first week of waiting, of looking forward to our Lord’s coming, we come alongside the work God did in the lives of the Old Testament saints in promising them a Messiah. In this first week of Advent we look back to the Old Testament patriarchs who were Christ’s ancestors. And, as we celebrated this morning, this first candle that we light in expectation of Christ’s coming—of Messiah’s coming—is one of hope. The first three candles are purple because purple is a royal color, a kingly color, so it signifies both our penitence and that Christ is not only our Lord and Savior but also our ruler and King who in coming inaugurated and claimed his kingdom. As Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920), a Dutch theologian, noted, when Scripture says God has made Jesus Christ ‘the head over all things’ (Eph. 1:22), ‘all’ means what it says. Thus Kuyper’s most famous saying: ‘There is not a square inch on the whole plain of human existence over which Christ, who is Lord over all, does not proclaim: ‘This is Mine!’’ Christ is Ruler—he is King—over all the earth. He is Ruler—he is King—over all of us.
And when Jesus Christ ascended to heaven he sent his Holy Spirit to live in us that we might never be separated from him. But Jesus also promised that he, our Righteous Savior and King, would return again, once and for all, to make all things right; to make all things as he intended them to be when he first created this world; to extend his shalom, his peace, to ever corner of the earth; to consummate the kingdom he inaugurated during his first coming to earth.
Brothers and sisters, what a hope we have in our gracious Lord and Savior as we live in a time of a second Advent, awaiting our Righteous Savior’s return. We have a hope that is grounded not in our subjective desires but in the objective certainty that God is one who not only makes promises but who keeps every promise he makes. Because God never changes and is ever true to his promises,
we can look forward, with confidence, to his final return.
We can look forward to his kingdom coming on earth and his ruling on earth even as he is ruling in heaven.
We can look forward to all things being made right one day.
We can look forward to one day walking not by faith but by sight as we see him face to face and are transformed, once and for all, into the people he desires us to be.
Let us pray.