Jeremiah. 23:5-6 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”
You might have noticed that the two scripture readings don’t seem to go together, that in fact they seem to contradict one another. Now, in case you were momentarily distracted, let’s recap. In the first reading, taken from the First Book of Samuel, the loose confederation of Israelite tribes come to Samuel, judge and prophet, and ask for a king. They have good reasons, the Philistines have moved into the region with advanced technologies and are putting pressure on the western border. Samuel warns them that a king is not God’s plan for the people, but they insist. Even though this text was written in the centuries after a monarchy was established, it records the uneasiness the people still felt about loyalty to anyone other than God.
The second reading was written five centuries later. The United Kingdom of Saul, David and Solomon had been torn in two. The Northern Kingdom called Israel had fallen, and the Southern Kingdom, Judah, was at risk, with invaders at the gate. In this reading, God promised through his prophet Jeremiah to raise up a new king for his people. Monarchy had become the theological model from which the Judeans operated. So when the people were in trouble, it was up to a great king, an anointed one, a messiah, to rescue them. Unlike the people of the exodus, these people believed that God worked indirectly, through others, through chosen kings.
The readings suggest that God changed plans, though we have adopted from Hellenism an unfortunate notion of a God that cannot ever change. The truth is that the Israelite religion is a trajectory of change. God creates a covenant with one small tribe through one man, Abraham. Then God creates a new covenant with that tribe through all members when he frees them from bondage, a covenant mediated by Moses but executed by the people. Then God changes models again and creates a covenant with a single household through one man with the Davidic covenant. We could fall back on the oft repeated trope “God planned it all that way,” but that would leave no room for human freedom, only a puppet-master God, one that seems less than worthy of our love. So what are we to make of all of this change? Continue reading →