The prophet Jeremiah is not known for cheerfulness. Today we might describe him as a glass-half-empty kind of guy. The book of Jeremiah reflects the despair of a people exiled from their land and their God because of disobedience. The prophet blames the kings of Judah (the destructive “shepherds”) for the plight of their people. By failing to lead the people in God’s way, the kings have left the nation vulnerable to its enemies.
This passage begins -with a taste of Jeremiah’s usual gloom and doom: “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD. “Yet by verse 3 the prophet begins to sound uncharacteristically upbeat. He looks beyond the exile to a time when God will return the people of Judah to their homeland and give them a wise and just leader. Today Christians recognize Jeremiah’s description of the “righteous Branch” as a prophecy of the coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus, portrayed as the “good shepherd” in the Gospel of John, stands in strong contrast to the evil shepherds in Jeremiah.
This prophecy offers glimpses of God’s greatest gift to the world . Jeremiah visualized this gift in concrete terms from his own experience – as a place of safety and deliverance from enemies and bad kings. We experience it as the salvation offered by Jesus Christ, who lovingly gathers us into his fold. Jeremiah’s good shepherds in 23:4 resemble the God portrayed in Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15, who is determined that none of the sheep “be missing.” That is a cause for thanksgiving.
God, my shepherd, thank you for saving your people from the time of Jeremiah until today. Keep me in your fold forever. Amen.