National Restoration and the Righteous Branch
This chapter concludes what some have called the "Book of Consolation," the section containing God's promise of national restoration, before the book of Jeremiah returns to the historical aspects of Judah's downfall.
The inhabitants of Jerusalem were trying desperately to save their city. As had happened in Hezekiah's day, the people pulled down houses, including some within the palace complex, to strengthen the walls (verse 4; see Isaiah 22:10). "Houses that were built along the city walls could be torn down and filled with rubble to produce a wider, more solid wall. This was one means of combating the sloping earthen siege ramparts that armies constructed opposite domestic quarters rather than at heavily fortified towers or gates" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Jeremiah 33:4-5). But this effort would prove to be in vain because it was God they were really fighting against (verse 5).
Verse 6 then switches immediately to a message of great hope, when God will bring "health and healing." The captives of both Judah and Israel will return (verse 7), clearly pointing to the time of Jesus Christ's second coming. Jeremiah was still in prison (verse 1) but God was now going to encourage him and give him an even greater insight into the wonderful world to come, revealing His secrets (verse 3).
God again tells Jeremiah about the coming new world—prosperity, peace, rebuilt cities, forgiveness, fertile pastures, peace for the flocks, safety and an example to the whole world. It would be so good that even God Himself will be made happy by it. The New Living Translation brings out the impact of this: "Then this city will bring me joy, glory and honor before all the nations of the earth! The people of the world will see the good I do for my people and will tremble with awe!" (verse 9). The people will be so happy that they will again sing praises to God and offer Him their thanks. With regard to the "sacrifice of praise" or "thank offerings," the Harper Study Bible comments: "Jeremiah seems to refer to spiritual sacrifices, not animal offerings, i.e., thanksgivings made with the mouth, or what Hosea calls 'the fruit of our lips' (Hos 14:2)" (note on Jeremiah 33:11).
In verses 14-16, God repeats the prophecy about the coming "Branch," given earlier in chapter 23. "The Messiah is here called a righteous Branch, a true shoot of the stock of King David. Many of David's descendants had become kings of injustice; now the people were looking for the coming of a righteous king who would come as the Lord's anointed or Messiah. The phrase The LORD is our righteousness must be understood as, 'Jesus is our righteousness.' The word 'LORD' here is 'Yahweh' ['He Is Who He Is'; the Eternal]; in this context, it can only mean Jesus the Messiah. Thus Jesus is Yahweh, or God. And the N[ew] T[estament] refers to Jesus our Righteousness (cf. 1 Cor 1.30). His righteousness is imputed to us [through His death atoning for our sins and His life in us helping us to obey God]. We have no righteousness in ourselves, only his righteousness (2 Cor 5.21)" (Harper Study Bible, note on Jeremiah 23:5-6). In Jeremiah 33, the name "The Eternal Our Righteousness" is given to Jerusalem (verse 16)—as God's people bear His name and receive His righteousness.
Continuity of the Royal and Priestly Lines
The latter part of Jeremiah 33 is a remarkable section concerning two important family lineages. God had promised David that his royal line would continue forever (2 Samuel 7:12-16). This is repeated here with the addition of a second part, the promise of continuity for the Levitical priests. The Expositor's Bible Commentary states: "Monarchy and priesthood were the two bases of the O[ld] T[estament] theocracy. When these appeared to be in most danger of extinction in Jeremiah's day, we find their continuance couched in sure and irrevocable terms. What is affirmed of the monarchy in v. 17 is promised the priesthood in v. 18. The Levitical priesthood is assured a permanent ministry (cf. the promise to Phinehas in Num. 25:13). As legitimate priests, they will serve the Lord" (note on Jeremiah 33:17-18).
Yet these promises have appeared to many to contradict history. Neither the occupation of the Davidic throne nor the Levitical priesthood's offering of burnt and grain offerings has been continuous. Expositor's explains in its note on verses 17-18: "If one sees in them a constant presence and succession of Davidic rulers and Levitical priests, then, of course, history does not validate this interpretation. But the passage claims no such thing. It says only that David's dynasty will never cease. Temporary interruption is only apparent, not true cessation."
Yet when would the two offices, brought down with the Babylonian conquest, resume? The physical sacrifices of the Levitical priesthood were reactivated when the Jews returned to the land of Judah in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. But a few centuries later they were again cut off for a short time under Syrian oppression in the second century B.C. After their next restoration, they continued until the Romans destroyed the second temple in A.D. 70. Since then, nearly 2,000 years have gone by and they have never been reestablished. Of course, the priestly descendants have always been there—recognized even. Many Jews today bear the names Cohen, Cohn, Kahane, Kagan, Kahn or some other variant, meaning "priest." No doubt many of priestly descent have continued to serve in a "priestly capacity" as teachers and officiators at religious functions. In fact, some have speculated that the true ministry of Jesus Christ has always had descendants of the Levitical priesthood among its numbers, and that may well be. But the prophecy here specifically mentions burnt and grain offerings. Sacrifices are elsewhere prophesied to be reestablished among the Jews soon before Christ's return—to be performed once again, no doubt, by the Levitical priesthood. But these too will be cut off. Then, as the last section of Ezekiel informs us, sacrifices will be reinstated under Levitical priests after Jesus Christ returns to set up His 1,000-year reign over the earth. Indeed, this ultimate resumption appears to be the main focus of this passage in Jeremiah—or, more accurately, the continuity of the priestly line that will make this millennial resumption possible.
What then of the Davidic throne? Since the prophecy of David's descendants is intertwined with that of the Levites, they are usually viewed as being similarly fulfilled. Based on the gaps in the Levitical service, many have interpreted this section of Jeremiah with the view of a very long gap in the occupation of David's throne—from Jerusalem falling to the Babylonians more than 2,500 years ago until David's descendant, Jesus Christ, comes to claim the throne at His yet-future return to then reign forever. But while that is no doubt the ultimate focus of verse 17, parallel with the messianic prophecy of verses 14-16, it does not fully consider the section that immediately follows, which speaks of a vast pool of Davidic descendants (verse 22) from which God will draw "rulers" (plural) to set over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (verse 26). Since this multiplicity of rulers of Davidic descent cannot logically apply solely to Christ's millennial rule, it must mean that David's throne would be reestablished before Christ's coming to allow multiple occupants of the throne. So we see that we should view the prophecy here about the Davidic line somewhat differently from that of the Levitical priesthood and sacrifices. The prophecies are intertwined not because they are fulfilled in exactly the same way and time frame, but to show that these two bedrocks of Israelite government, both civil and ecclesiastical, would both be reestablished. God says His promises in this regard are more certain than the cycle of day and night (verses 20, 25). Of course, the ultimate fulfillment of both prophecies would come in the same time frame—when Christ comes to rule the earth.
Again, though, it should be clear that David's throne would be reestablished even before the coming of Christ. In fact, Psalm 89 adds a very important detail in this regard. God there reveals that He promised to David, "Your seed I will establish forever, and build up your throne to all generations" (verse 4). So although there could be vacancies in the occupation of David's throne, a generation could not pass before that vacancy was filled. This means a generation could not have passed from the deposing of Zedekiah at the fall of Jerusalem until the reestablishment of the throne. But that throne was never reestablished in Judah. So what happened?
Notice that Jeremiah 33:17 says that, from the time this prophecy was given, David would not lack a descendant to sit on the throne not of the house of Judah, but of the house of Israel. This makes sense when we recall from Ezekiel 17:22-24 the prophecy of the transfer of the Davidic throne from Judah to Israel. Jeremiah himself would be instrumental in this transfer, with his curious commission "to root out and to pull down" and then "to build and to plant" (Jeremiah 1:10). God would use him to transplant the Davidic dynasty through a daughter of Zedekiah from Judah to the Israelites in ancient Ireland, from where it would later be transferred to Scotland and then to England—eventually becoming the British royal family of today. (For more details documenting this little-understood history, see our online publication The Throne of Britain: Its Biblical Origin and Future)