Explore The Bible Study: Rules

7:30 AM

Which does our society value the most today from a leader: Character or Results? Does society overlook someone’s character if they get the results they desire? In what ways might a church value results over character? One must ask what will happen when a society or a church values results over character. The Explore The Bible Study: Rules will reveal the way God views and deals with those who choose to value results over character.

Most people would agree that leaders should possess good character. It still ranks as one of the highest qualities admired in leaders. Yet, when leaders fail morally, ethically, or legally, their followers sometimes rationalize or justify why that person is still a worthy leader to follow. Sadly, they are saying as much about their own decisions as they are of the choices of that leader. They can also rationalize that, “since that leader was able to continue in their poor choices, I can do the same thing and continue to lead.” Most leaders who don’t accept responsibilities for their failures and sins aren’t as concerned with those whom they lead but for the power that they will lose if they repent or admit their failures. 

This was true in Jeremiah’s day as well. Judah’s King Zedekiah asked Jeremiah to pray for God’s deliverance in Jeremiah 21:1-2. Jeremiah lays out the fact that deliverance was not going to take place, but judgment was coming. In the remainder of Jeremiah 21 and Jeremiah 22, he warns Judah’s officials to rule justly lest God sweep them away. He encouraged Judah’s royal house to follow God’s ways. He preached that obedience would bring blessing, but disobedience would bring ruin. 

None of the leaders desired to repent. Finally, in Jeremiah 23, Jeremiah begins to lay out a plan to give His people a trustworthy and righteous Ruler. Before introducing us to that new leader, God instructs Jeremiah to reveal that there will be new shepherds who will replace those who have abused the sheep of His pasture.

Shepherds with a New Purpose—Jeremiah 23:1-4

Shepherds were responsible for the flocks they oversaw. This referred to all the current leaders responsible for the people of God during Jeremiah’s time. God had seen the practices of the evil leaders and spelled it out in His threefold indictment. They had scattered the people, banished them, and had not attended to them. The Lord affirmed that He would deal with the evil shepherd-leaders. 

In what ways might Christian leaders commit the same evils? What would cause Christian leaders to act in this manner?

After dealing with the evil shepherd-leaders, God said He would work to restore the people. This was great news and demonstrated God’s love for His sheep.

God affirmed that He Himself would participate in His people’s restoration. 

  1. He promised to gather the remnant of my flock. Remnant literally means “remainder,” and it often denotes a faithful group of God’s people. This group would receive the Lord’s personal attention. 
  2. God said He would gather His people from all the lands. The leaders failed to shepherd well, leading Judah astray. As a result, they bore significant blame for God’s judgment. Ultimately, however, God had banished His people because they had failed to follow His commands. God now promised that He would bring them back to their grazing land. 
  3. God promised that in this restoration the Jews would become fruitful and numerous. In a sense, God was starting over with His people. 
  4. When He brought them home, He would raise up shepherds over them who will tend them. He would provide good leaders who would serve faithfully. God affirmed that His people wouldn’t be afraid or discouraged under these good shepherds. 

Leaders are accountable to God for their actions. When leaders fail to lead well and, instead, steer their people toward evil, God holds them accountable. On the other hand, leaders who serve faithfully will be a blessing to their people and also enjoy God’s blessing.

But the Lord also declared He would raise a Righteous Branch for David.

A New King with a New Purpose—Jeremiah 23:5-8

Jeremiah anticipated a day when God’s people would not only have good shepherds, but a new King would be leading them—“A Righteous Branch for David.”

  1. Jeremiah affirmed this Branch will reign wisely. The original wording has the sense of unusual insight and abundance. Kings needed wisdom to rule well, and this King would do just that. 
  2. He would administer justice and righteousness. He would make just decisions and enact godly laws that would guide people toward righteous lives. He would reflect God’s will because God loves these qualities as well (Jeremiah 9:24).
  3. Jeremiah affirmed that Judah will be saved, while Israel will dwell securely under the Branch’s leadership. During the days of the divided kingdom, the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah remained separate, but God was planning to reunite them. Israel was relatively small, and hostile forces surrounded it. Nevertheless, in the day of the Branch, God’s people would know everlasting security. 

Jeremiah announced that the Branch’s name would be The Lord Is Our Righteousness. The Branch’s name pointed the people toward the God who is identified by righteous judgments and actions. Righteousness flows from God’s character, and the Branch would demonstrate that to everyone. 

We know that Jeremiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. We can trust Jesus as our righteous King. Many kings reigned throughout Israel’s history. The writer of 1,2 Kings tells us that all nineteen leaders of the Northern Kingdom were evil, whereas only eight of Judah’s twenty kings sought to follow God. Jesus’ reign will surpass them all. 

Even the best of Israel’s kings, and even David, falls short of the righteousness of the Messiah. God’s people will live well under the reign of Jesus, the Righteous Branch.

Is it easier for you to trust in the rulers of our land or in King Jesus? How would life perspectives be different for us if we completely trusted Jesus to be the absolute and perfect Ruler of this world?

In verses 1-8, he had denounced the evil shepherds and assured God’s people that He would provide new, righteous leaders—particularly the Branch (Jesus). In verse 9, Jeremiah returned to his present context (which wasn’t encouraging) and pronounced judgment against prophets who misused their power and led the nation toward ruin.

Jeremiah’s Current Reality Broke His Heart but He Continued to Trust God—Jeremiah 23:9-12

Jeremiah knew God had appointed him to preach the truth. Tragically, false prophets contradicted Jeremiah and convinced the people that peace was coming. This broke Jeremiah’s heart. This leads Jeremiah to recall what “The Lord” declared regarding their future: “their way will seem like slippery paths in the gloom. They will be driven away and fall down there, for I will bring disaster on them, the year of their punishment. This is the Lord’s declaration.”

How can what we know about the return of Christ and our redemption through a personal relationship with Him, help strengthen us when we observe all the evil taking place in the world?

Embrace Character Over Results

A 2022 Lifeway Research blog post headline stated, “Americans increasingly don’t trust the church or pastors, as confidence and trust levels have eroded to historic lows for both.” It went on to reveal these statistics:

  • Only 31% of Americans say they have quite a lot or a great deal of confidence in the church or organized religion, a record low in Gallup's tracking poll.
  • 36% of Americans say they rate the honesty and ethical standards of clergy or pastors high or very high—down three points and a new record low in Gallup's annual survey.

How should you respond to this based on what Jeremiah was observing in his cultural context? How can Jeremiah’s prophecy regarding the future help you avoid discouragement and remain faithful and hopeful?

As you strive to live faithfully in a sin-broken world, you should be careful regarding the character traits you embrace in leaders, especially those who profess to be followers of Christ. You should also be careful how you lead others. You should be good shepherds who search for, care for, and tend to God’s sheep. You should be good shepherds who point people to the Perfect and Righteous King—Jesus Christ, the Messiah!

The downloadable teaching helps provide more details for this study, along with some tools you can use in guiding a group Bible study. 

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LifeWay Explore The Bible Resources

These teaching helps are intended to be used as a supplement to your study of Lifeway's Explore the Bible curriculum resources. Portions of this material are taken directly from content copyrighted to Lifeway Christian Resources Explore the Bible and is used with permission.  This material has not been reviewed by Lifeway Christian Resources. 

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