Last week I went for a run down a wide path that borders a golf course. I spotted a sign placed beneath a row of tall trees that warned, “WATCH OUT! Aggressive nesting hawks overhead!” Well, that will catch your attention! It was hard to keep my eyes on my feet (I am well known for tripping on a run) and on the trees overhead as I watched for these alleged aggressive hawks. I’m happy to report that I did not encounter any on the run, but it did make me very alert until I got out into the open again. Then I began to wonder what happened that made the golf course post such a sign….yikes!
In our passage in Jeremiah today, the prophet begins with a very clear warning:
Jeremiah 23 (Common English Bible)
23 Watch out, you shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture, declares the Lord. 2 This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, proclaims about the shepherds who “tend to” my people: You are the ones who have scattered my flock and driven them away. You haven’t attended to their needs, so I will take revenge on you for the terrible things you have done to them, declares the Lord.
This is far worse than attacking hawks. God ain’t playin’.
3 I myself will gather the few remaining sheep from all the countries where I have driven them. I will bring them back to their pasture, and they will be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will place over them shepherds who care for them. Then they will no longer be afraid or dread harm, nor will any be missing, declares the Lord.
As scary as this warning sounds, it is actually a hopeful message from the prophet. Let’s put it into context. Biblegateway.com offers this word of explaination:
The prophet Jeremiah saw Israel morally disintegrating and being destroyed militarily by its enemies. He saw Babylon attack Jerusalem in 586 BC and many of its people exiled to foreign lands. According to the NIV Quest Study Bible, Jeremiah’s grim prophecies, in both poetry and prose, continually warned Judah about God’s approaching judgment because of the people’s constant, willful disobedience.
Yet intermingled with all the dark messages were words of hope about Judah’s future redemption. Watch for Jeremiah’s encouragement—prophecies that are still being fulfilled today whenever sinful hearts are transformed by God.
And so the warning becomes a promise that things will be restored according to God’s plan for restoration:
Promise of a righteous and just king
5 The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up a righteous descendant from David’s line, and he will rule as a wise king. He will do what is just and right in the land. 6 During his lifetime, Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And his name will be The Lord Is Our Righteousness.
And then came Jesus.
God will always restore his children to righteousness. When those who are chosen to lead fail to protect their flocks, they will be removed and replaced. This is a vital warning today to all of our leaders, including our elected officials, bishops, pastors, Bible Study teachers, etc. Shepherding the people of God is serious business, and those who are greedy, immoral, or abuse their power for personal gain will receive the wrath of the Lord. And the sheep need to behave themselves, too.
Whenever our sins put us in a season of destruction or judgment, remember this word of hope. God is actively working in our situation to bring us to full restoration…you can count on that! Jesus is the restoration-giver. Open your heart and let him in, and you will be saved. He will give you a future with hope.