Game of Thrones is a literary and cinematic phenomenon that emerged from the pen of writer George R.R. Martin in the 1990s. It began as a book but morphed into a media empire, including one of the most popular television shows ever on HBO. The overall point of the series is to explore the relationships between a group of feuding kingdoms in a fictional medieval country.
Jeremiah 23:1-6 holds many similarities to Game of Thrones. Jeremiah’s context is filled with kingdoms that were at odds with each other, and political and military jockeying by multiple kings who either wanted power or were afraid of losing it. Former enemies, Egypt and Assyria, had formed a tentative alliance against the Babylonians. Judah was left with a choice: Align with Egypt and Assyria and stand against Babylon or give in to Babylon’s authority.
Three kings of Judah made decisions that led to Judah’s military ruin. One decided to join Egypt as they tried to help Assyria battle Babylon. But during one of the military conflicts, he was killed at the hands of Egyptian archers. A second decided to withhold a monetary tribute from Babylon which led to Babylon invading Jerusalem shortly thereafter. A third tried to stand against Babylon which led to Judah being taken into exile.
One of the ironies of the actions of these kings was that each time they prepared to respond to their enemies, the prophet Jeremiah delivered a word from God about what they were to do. Each time, God told the king to stand down and wait. If they did not wait, they would experience defeat. None of the kings listened. They rushed headlong into defeat for themselves and for God’s people.
Jeremiah 23 is God’s response to the sins of the kings in not listening to the words of the prophet. God speaks directly to the leaders who marched the nation of Judah into defeat. Jeremiah compared those leaders to shepherds who led their sheep astray. A shepherd’s role was to protect their sheep from harm.
Unfortunately, Judah’s shepherds did not protect them. Jeremiah 23 is a clear expression of God’s displeasure with the decisions that had been made by the kings. In the end, God would not turn a blind eye to their actions. God would hold those leaders accountable.
But, according to Jeremiah, the story would not end there. God would not leave the people alone or leaderless. God would redeem the people and eventually set the free through a leader who would be the kind of leader who put God first and loved the people the way God wanted. God would eventually send a truly righteous leader to lead God’s people.
Instead of ultimate defeat, they would experience ultimate redemption and restoration through a leader who came from the lineage of David, their nation’s greatest king. This leader would lead them and love them as God desired.
God eventually sent the leader who was not only the one the Hebrew people needed but that all creation needed. God provided a leader after God’s own heart who truly loved and shepherded God’s people: The man Jesus. The one who loved us all with an incomparable love and was willing to give his life for ours. The man who fulfilled God’s desire for himself and us.
During this season where we have too many examples of faulty and selfish leadership, may we remember that our hope is not to be found in fallible humans who seek leadership to build their own kingdoms and instead place our hope in the one who came as a sacrifice for those who needed it, Jesus the Christ.