Jeremiah 33 Predicts a Continual Heir of David over Israel. True or False?

Bible critics have claimed that the prophecies in Jeremiah 33:17-18 did not come to pass. Upon examination, the Bible is proven true and the critics shown to be in error.

The Claim

Jeremiah 33:17-18 says:

For thus says the LORD, ‘David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel;
and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man before Me to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to prepare sacrifices continually.’ ” (NASB)

The critic claims that Israel has clearly not had a descendant of David on the throne for 25 centuries, nor has it had a Levitical priest offering burnt offerings for almost 20 centuries. The reference to Levitical priests making burnt offerings, specifically grain offerings, holds us to a literal interpretation of the Old Testament law. Therefore, according to the critic, we must hold to a literal interpretation of the passage, not some future spiritual kingdom. The hearer of Jeremiah would have understood this to be a literal earthly kingdom in the normal sense. Since neither verse has come true, the Bible must be held to be false.

The Response

Here the critic makes a common mistake, for the passage in Jeremiah is rather clear and obvious as to its meaning. A reading of the entire passage shows Jeremiah to be very accurate and true.

It is a mistake to go to one or two verses and read only those verses. If we read the entire chapter of Jeremiah 33, even the entire book, we find a rather clear story. First, by the time Jeremiah 33 was written, the kingdom was already mostly destroyed, as Jeremiah makes very clear:

  • The end of the country was known from the first of the book, for Jer. 1:3 tells us of the death of the king and the nation.
  • 2 Kings 18:9-12 tells us that the northern kingdom of Israel had already been destroyed, and the people either killed or carried away to captivity many years earlier. The line of kings of Israel had been stopped over a hundred years prior to Jeremiah’s birth.
  • The southern kingdom of Judah was mostly already destroyed by the most powerful army in the world, Babylon, which was besieging Jerusalem (32:1-2)
  • God, through Jeremiah, had already said that wicked king Zedekiah would be defeated and carried away to Babylon, ending his reign as king (32:4-5). Jeremiah would know this would be the end of Judah as a nation.
  • The houses inside the city, including that of the king, had already been destroyed and the materials used as a last gasp effort to improve fortifications (33:4).
  • Jeremiah predicts more death and destruction for Jerusalem (33:5).
  • Most of the land was already laid waste without man nor beast. The streets were already desolate. (33:10, 12)

The critics claim about 33:17-18 seems to assume that Jeremiah did not know Jerusalem was about to fall. It is clearly false to suggest that Jeremiah was predicting a rosy, long-term future for the current line of the kings of Judah or Israel. By 33:17-18, Israel had not had a king for about a 150 years, and Judah, Jerusalem, and the sacrifices were about to stop, a fact Jeremiah had already prophesied and knew to be true.

Second, the end of the book of Jeremiah goes into detail about the fall of Judah and the death of the king and the nation (see ch. 52). If the prophesy of 33:17-18 had been an obvious mistake, as the critics claim, Jeremiah’s writings would have never been saved for posterity. At the very least, it would have been an extremely odd thing for a writer to include when by the time Jeremiah’s book was published, the king and the country were all dead and gone.

Third, in the midst of obvious destruction, Jeremiah is clearly speaking of a future time of blessing:

  • 33:14 God says “The days are coming” when He will again bless Israel and Judah.
  • 33:15 “In those days and at that time” God will raise up a “righteous branch to spring up for David.”
  • 33:16 says “In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will will dwell securely.”

This is the immediate context of Jeremiah 33:17-18. When will this happen? Clearly, “in those days and at that time,” which was a future time, not at the time of writing, when the land was already almost completely destroyed. Further support is given with the verses immediately following speak of God’s covenants happening at “their appointed time.”

Further support is given throughout Jeremiah 33, which speaks of God’s blessings in several future tense verbs:

  • 33:6, “I will heal them”
  • 33:7, “I will restore . . . as they were at first.”
  • 33:8, “I will cleanse them . . . I will forgive . . .”
  • 33:9, “this city shall be . . . “
  • 33:11, “. . . I will restore the fortunes of the land as at first”

Most of this section of the chapter is in future tense, and the section clearly speaks of “in those days and at that time” while the current situation was horrendous.

So we can only take Jeremiah 33:17-18 as false prophesies if we merely turn to those two verses and ignore the rest of the chapter and the rest of the book, which is what critics do all too often. We cannot wrench a text from its context. When we look at what Jeremiah is actually saying, the word of God is found true. Jeremiah was speaking of a future time of blessing of the land and the people, a time that has not yet come to pass.

What about the Levitical sacrifices? This presents no problem, for it could be that in a future divine kingdom, when Jesus, the root and branch of David, reigns as king, the sacrifices may again be instituted as a sign that looks back to the true sacrifice, just as the original Old Testament sacrifices looked forward to the true sacrifice.

Nowhere does Jeremiah say there will be a continual, uninterrupted series of kings in the line of David. Rather, chapter 33 is saying in that day, the day of blessing, Israel and Judah will have an heir of David as king.

The Bible is once again proven true and accurate, and the critic is found to be picking passages to hide their true motivation: it is not the case that there is a lack of evidence for Christianity, but rather the critic does not want to trust Jesus. We can only conclude that the critic does not read the text honestly, but merely looks for proofs to support their own preconceived biases. They would do better to read the Bible for what it is: the word of God given by eyewitnesses.

About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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4 Responses to Jeremiah 33 Predicts a Continual Heir of David over Israel. True or False?

  1. bethyada says:

    Excellent

  2. Nate says:

    Hi humblesmith,

    I agree with you that Jeremiah is speaking about a future time, but doesn’t the Hebrew writer create problems for your notion that this might still be something that will happen in the future? Hebrews 7-10 goes into a lot of detail about the purpose of the Levitical priesthood and the kinds of sacrifices that they offered. The first verse of Hebrews 10 says this:

    The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.</blockquote

    So the sacrifices didn't actually wash away sin. As he says in the next verse:

    Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins.

    According to that argument, there’s no point in offering sacrifices once the sins have been forgiven, absolved, etc. He goes on to say “the blood of bulls and goats” can’t take away sins (v. 4). And the next several verses argues that only Christ’s sacrifice could actually forgive sins, and once that sacrifice was made, there was no need for any other. As verse 18 says:

    And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

    So if that’s true, why would there ever be a future time where Levitical priests would need to remain offering sacrifices before God forever?

    Personally, I think it makes far more sense to see the writers of Jeremiah and the writers of Hebrews as being individuals who had very different notions of God and what he wanted. Jeremiah believed that even though things were really bad for his countrymen during his time, God would eventually restore them to their “proper” place, and they would worship him in the manner they were used to. Of course, history didn’t work out that way. The writer of Hebrews, on the other hand, believed that the Mosaic Law had run its course and was no longer necessary.

    The fact that a consistent narrative can’t be constructed between them makes me very skeptical about claims of divine inspiration.

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