I. Here is a word of terror to the negligent shepherds. The day is at hand when God will reckon with them concerning the trust and charge committed to them: Woe be to the pastors (to the rulers, both in church and state) who should be to those they are set over as pastors to lead them, feed them, protect them, and take care of them. They are not owners of the sheep. God here calls them the sheep of my pasture, whom I am interested in, and have provided good pasture for. Woe be to those therefore who are commanded to feed God’s people, and pretend to do it, but who, instead of that, scatter the flock, and drive them away by their violence and oppression, and have not visited them, nor taken any care for their welfare, nor concerned themselves at all to do them good. In not visiting them, and doing their duty to them, they did in effect scatter them and drive them away. The beasts of prey scattered them, and the shepherds are in the fault, who should have kept them together. Woe be to them when God will visit upon them the evil of their doings and deal with them as they deserve. They would not visit the flock in a way of duty, and therefore God will visit them in a way of vengeance.
II. Here is a word of comfort to the neglected sheep. Though the under-shepherds take no care of them, no pains with them, but betray them, the chief Shepherd will look after them. When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord taketh me up. Though the interests of God’s church in the world are neglected by those who should take care of them, and postponed to their own private secular interests, yet they shall not therefore sink. God will perform his promise, though those he employs do not perform their duty.
1. The dispersed Jews shall at length return to their own land, and be happily settled there under a good government, Jer. 23:3, 4. Though there be but a remnant of God’s flock left, a little remnant, that has narrowly escaped destruction, he will gather that remnant, will find them out wherever they are and find out ways and means to bring them back out of all countries whither he had driven them. It was the justice of God, for the sin of their shepherds, that dispersed them; but the mercy of God shall gather in the sheep, when the shepherds that betrayed them are cut off. They shall be brought to their former habitations, as sheep to their folds, and there they shall be fruitful, and increase in numbers. And, though their former shepherds took no care of them, it does not therefore follow that they shall have no more. If some have abused a sacred office, that is no good reason why it should be abolished. “They destroyed the sheep, but I will set shepherds over them who shall make it their business to feed them.” Formerly they were continually exposed and disturbed with some alarm or other; but now they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed; they shall be in no danger from without, in no fright from within. Formerly some or other of them were ever and anon picked up by the beasts of prey; but now none of them shall be lacking, none of them missing. Though the times may have been long bad with the church, it does not follow that they will be ever so. Such pastors as Zerubbabel and Nehemiah, though they lived not in the pomp that Jehoiakim and Jeconiah did, nor made such a figure, were as great blessings to the people as the others were plagues to them. The church’s peace is not bound up in the pomp of her rulers.
2. Messiah the Prince, that great and good Shepherd of the sheep, shall in the latter days be raised up to bless his church, and to be the glory of his people Israel, Jer. 23:5, 6. The house of David seemed to be quite sunk and ruined by that threatening against Jeconiah (Jer. 22:30), that none of his seed should ever sit upon the throne of David. But here is a promise which effectually secures the honour of the covenant made with David notwithstanding; for by it the house will be raised out of its ruins to a greater lustre than ever, and shine brighter far than it did in Solomon himself. We have not so many prophecies of Christ in this book as we had in that of the prophet Isaiah; but here we have one, and a very illustrious one; of him doubtless the prophet here speaks, of him, and of no other man. The first words intimate that it would be long ere this promise should have its accomplishment: The days come, but they are not yet. I shall see him, but not now. But all the rest intimate that the accomplishment of it will be glorious. (1.) Christ is here spoken of as a branch from David, the man the branch (Zech. 3:8), his appearance mean, his beginnings small, like those of a bud or sprout, and his rise seemingly out of the earth, but growing to be green, to be great, to be loaded with fruits. A branch from David’s family, when it seemed to be a root in a dry ground, buried, and not likely to revive. Christ is the root and offspring of David, Rev. 22:16. In him doth the horn of David bud, Ps. 132:17, 18. He is a branch of God’s raising up; he sanctified him, and sent him into the world, gave him his commission and qualifications. He is a righteous branch, for he is righteous himself, and through him many, even all that are his, are made righteous. As an advocate, he is Jesus Christ the righteous. (2.) He is here spoken of as his church’s King. This branch shall be raised as high as the throne of his father David, and there he shall reign and prosper, not as the kings that now were of the house of David, who went backward in all their affairs. No; he shall set up a kingdom in the world that shall be victorious over all opposition. In the chariot of the everlasting gospel he shall go forth, he shall go on conquering and to conquer. If God raise him up, he will prosper him, for he will own the work of his own hands; what is the good pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in the hands of those to whom it is committed. He shall prosper; for he shall execute judgment and justice in the earth, all the world over, Ps. 96:13. The present kings of the house of David were unjust and oppressive, and therefore it is no wonder that they did not prosper. But Christ shall, by his gospel, break the usurped power of Satan, institute a perfect rule of holy living, and, as far as it prevails, make all the world righteous. The effect of this shall be a holy security and serenity of mind in all his faithful loyal subjects. In his days, under his dominion, Judah shall be saved and Israel shall dwell safely; that is, all the spiritual seed of believing Abraham and praying Jacob shall be protected from the curse of heaven and the malice of hell, shall be privileged from the arrests of God’s law and delivered from the attempts of Satan’s power, shall be saved from sin, the guilt and dominion of it, and then shall dwell safely, and be quiet from the fear of all evil. See Luke 1:74, 75. Those that shall be saved hereafter from the wrath to come may dwell safely now; for, if God be for us, who can be against us? In the days of Christ’s government in the soul, when he is uppermost there, the soul dwells at ease. (3.) He is here spoken of as The Lord our righteousness. Observe, [1.] Who and what he is. As God, he is Jehovah, the incommunicable name of God, denoting his eternity and self-existence. As Mediator, he is our righteousness. By making satisfaction to the justice of God for the sin of man, he has brought in an everlasting righteousness, and so made it over to us in the covenant of grace that, upon our believing consent to that covenant, it becomes ours. His being Jehovah our righteousness implies that he is so our righteousness as no creature could be. He is a sovereign, all-sufficient, eternal righteousness. All our righteousness has its being from him, and by him it subsists, and we are made the righteousness of God in him. [2.] The profession and declaration of this: This is the name whereby he shall be called, not only he shall be so, but he shall be known to be so. God shall call him by this name, for he shall appoint him to be our righteousness. By this name Israel shall call him, every true believer shall call him, and call upon him. That is our righteousness by which, as an allowed plea, we are justified before God, acquitted from guilt, and accepted into favour; and nothing else have we to plead but this, “Christ has died, yea, rather has risen again;” and we have taken him for our Lord.
3. This great salvation, which will come to the Jews in the latter days of their state, after their return out of Babylon, shall be so illustrious as far to outshine the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt (Jer. 23:7, 8): They shall no more say, The Lord liveth that brought up Israel out of Egypt; but, The Lord liveth that brought them up out of the north. This we had before, Jer. 16:14, 15. But here it seems to point more plainly than it did there to the days of the Messiah, and to compare not so much the two deliverances themselves (giving the preference to the latter) as the two states to which the church by degrees grew after those deliverances. Observe the proportion: Just 480 years after they had come out of Egypt Solomon’s temple was built (1 Kgs. 6:1); and at that time that nation, which was so wonderfully brought up out of Egypt, had gradually arrived to its height, to its zenith. Just 490 years (70 weeks) after they came out of Babylon Messiah the Prince set up the gospel temple, which was the greatest glory of that nation that was so wonderfully brought out of Babylon; see Dan. 9:24, 25. Now the spiritual glory of the second part of that nation, especially as transferred to the gospel church, is much more admirable and illustrious than all the temporal glory of the first part of it in the days of Solomon; for that was no glory compared with the glory which excelleth.