The Process of Redemption

As I have mentioned numerous times in this book, one of the principles of sound Biblical study is that the Bible is self-referential. Passages in the Bible that utilize similar words or imagery reveal deeper understandings when the related passages are read side by side. As valuable as this method of study is across the entire Bible, it is even more valuable, and accurate, when studying texts from the same book. 

By making note of the similarities between the passages, our attention is drawn to the differences between them. When we pay attention to the differences, we can uncover the specific lesson that each passage teaches us. Let’s begin by listing these notable differences.

In comparison to:

When the prophecy is repeated in chapter 33, instead of saying God “will raise up” a leader from the house of David, Jeremiah uses the word “will sprout.” Second, the verse in chapter 33 leaves out the phrase, “a king shall reign with wisdom.”

Here in chapter 23, near the end of the passage, the time period is called “his days,” referring to the king from the seed of David, whereas in chapter 33, the it is called “those days.” More strikingly, “Israel” is replaced by “Jerusalem.”

Finally, in chapter 23, “The Lord is our righteousness” is the name that the king will be called, whereas in chapter 33, this is the name that Jerusalem will be called.

Various options for redemption

To explain the meaning of these differences, we must first understand an important characteristic of Biblical prophecies about the future redemption. 

Let’s start with a simple question. If the future redemption of Israel is a certainty, why does it matter whether or not the people of Israel are faithful to God’s covenant? Why does it matter whether or not the Jewish people stray from the ways of the Torah? Furthermore, why should the Jewish people take any action at all to bring about the ingathering of the exiles and the rebuilding of the kingdom of Israel? After all, God will bring the redemption regardless of Israel’s disobedience or inaction. 

While it is true and certain that God will bring about the redemption at some point in the future, the prophecies of the end times in the Bible are not entirely consistent with each other. According to the Jewish exegetical and theological tradition, these inconsistencies are due to the fact that the precise details of the redemptive process are flexible. To put this another way, the redemption of Israel is a certainty. The precise manner and pace of the redemption is not. This is where the behavior of the nation of Israel matters.

We determine the manner of redemption

According to the Jewish sages of the Talmud, there are, broadly speaking, two paths to redemption. One path is based on the Jewish people’s merit. In this process, the righteous and faithful behavior of the Jewish people leads to a hastening of the process. This redemption based on merit is the ideal, and with it, the redemption reaches its completion smoothly and relatively peacefully. 

The alternative to redemption based on the merit of the Jewish people is redemption “in its time,” meaning, when God ordains that the time has come, even though the Jewish people have not merited to be redeemed. This redemptive process is more gradual and involves greater conflict along the way. According to this slower process of redemption, there are intermediary stages where the redemption is underway, accompanied by imperfections in Israel that will be rectified over time and with difficulties.

And this is the meaning of the two passages in Jeremiah we are studying.

Ideal vs. Imperfect redemption

In chapter 23, Jeremiah is describing the ideal, perfect redemption of Israel. Whereas in chapter 33, Jeremiah’s prophecy is of an imperfect, more gradual process of redemption. So, in chapter 23, God will “raise up,” which in Hebrew is the same word as “establish,” the king from the seed of David. But in chapter 33 God will “sprout” such a leader. In other words, the process that will lead to a righteous king of Israel will begin, like a sprout, but will not yet reach its full mature form. This is why the phrase “A king shall reign with wisdom” is not included in chapter 33. Similarly, the redemptive time-period is called “his days” in chapter 23 because the righteous king is present and the active leader of the process. But in chapter 33, God is working without a righteous king of Israel, so the time-period is called “those days.”

In chapter 23, “Israel” will be saved. But in chapter 33, it is only Judah and Jerusalem. “Israel” refers to the fully restored nation, whereas Judah and Jerusalem do not. 

And finally, in the ideal redemption in chapter 23, God’s righteousness is revealed through the righteous king of Israel from the seed of David who leads the nation through the process. “He will be called “the Lord is our righteousness” But in chapter 33, God’s righteousness is revealed not through a righteous leader of Israel, but through what happens in the city of Jerusalem, i.e., “she will be called…”

There is much more to say on the topic of the options for how the process of redemption will unfold. But even from this short study we learn a powerful lesson. While God’s redemptive plan for Israel and humanity is a certainty, the nature of the journey is up to us. 

God’s plan for history, and our lives, is determined by His will. At the same time, the pace and manner of that plan is affected by our own behavior. God gives us the freedom to determine how smooth or difficult the road to redemption will be.

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Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

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