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Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible
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CHAPTER 31

Jer 31:1-40. Continuation of the Prophecy in the Thirtieth Chapter.

As in that chapter the restoration of Judah, so in this the restoration of Israel's ten tribes is foretold.

1. At the same time—"In the latter days" (Jer 30:24).

the God of—manifesting My grace to (Ge 17:7; Mt 22:32; Re 21:3).

all … Israel—not the exiles of the south kingdom of Judah only, but also the north kingdom of the ten tribes; and not merely Israel in general, but "all the families of Israel." Never yet fulfilled (Ro 11:26).

2. Upon the grace manifested to Israel "in the wilderness" God grounds His argument for renewing His favors to them now in their exile; because His covenant is "everlasting" (Jer 31:3), and changes not. The same argument occurs in Ho 13:5, 9, 10; 14:4, 5, 8. Babylon is fitly compared to the "wilderness," as in both alike Israel was as a stranger far from his appointed "rest" or home, and Babylon is in Isa 40:3 called a "desert" (compare Jer 50:12).

I went to cause him to rest—namely, in the pillar of cloud and fire, the symbol of God's presence, which went before Israel to search a resting-place (Nu 10:33; Isa 63:14) for the people, both a temporary one at each halt in the wilderness, and a permanent one in Canaan (Ex 33:14; De 3:20; Jos 21:44; Ps 95:11; Heb 3:11).

3. Israel gratefully acknowledges in reply God's past grace; but at the same time tacitly implies by the expression "of old," that God does not appear to her now. "God appeared to me of old, but now I am forsaken!" God replies, Nay, I love thee with the same love now as of old. My love was not a momentary impulse, but from "everlasting" in My counsels, and to "everlasting" in its continuance; hence originated the covenant whereby I gratuitously adopted thee (Mal 1:2; Ro 11:28, 29). Margin translates, "from afar," which does not answer so well as "of old," to "in the wilderness" (Jer 31:2), which refers to the olden times of Israel's history.

with loving kindness … drawn—(Ho 11:4). Rather, "I have drawn out continually My loving kindness toward thee." So Ps 36:10, "Continue (Margin, 'Draw out at length') Thy loving kindness." By virtue of My everlasting love I will still extend My loving kindness to thee. So Isa 44:21, "O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of Me."

4. I will build … thou shalt be built—The combination of the active and passive to express the same fact implies the infallible certainty of its accomplishment. "Build," that is, establish in prosperity (Jer 33:7).

adorned with … tabrets—(1Sa 18:6). Or, "adorn thyself with thy timbrels"; used by damsels on occasions of public rejoicings (Ex 15:20; Jud 11:34). Israel had cast away all instruments of joy in her exile (Ps 137:4).

dances—holy joy, not carnal mirth.

5. Samaria—the metropolis of the ten tribes; here equivalent to Israel. The mountainous nature of their country suited the growth of the vine.

eat … as common—literally, "shall profane," that is, shall put to common use. For the first three years after planting, the vine was "not to be eaten of"; on the fourth year the fruit was to be "holy to praise the Lord withal"; on the fifth year the fruit was to be eaten as common, no longer restricted to holy use (Le 19:23-25; compare De 20:6; 28:30, Margin). Thus the idea here is, "The same persons who plant shall reap the fruits"; it shall no longer be that one shall plant and another reap the fruit.

6. The watchmen stationed on eminences (types of the preachers of the gospel), shall summon the ten tribes to go up to the annual feasts at Jerusalem ("Zion"), as they used to do before the revolt and the setting up of the idol calves at Dan and Beer-sheba (Eze 37:21, 22).

Mount Ephraim—not one single mountain, but the whole mountainous region of the ten tribes.

our God—from whom we formerly revolted, but who is now our God. An earnest of that good time to come is given in the partial success of the gospel in its first preaching in Samaria (Joh 4:1-42; Ac 8:5-25).

7. The people are urged with praises and prayers to supplicate for their universal restoration. Jehovah is represented in the context (Jer 31:1, 8), as promising immediately to restore Israel. They therefore praise God for the restoration, being as certain of it as if it were actually accomplished; and at the same time pray for it, as prayer was a means to the desired end. Prayer does not move God to grant our wishes, but when God has determined to grant our wishes, He puts it into our hearts to pray for the thing desired. Compare Ps 102:13-17, as to the connection of Israel's restoration with the prayers of His people (Isa 62:1-6).

for Jacob—on account of Jacob; on account of his approaching deliverance by Jehovah.

among—"for," that is, on account of, would more exactly suit the parallelism to "for Jacob."

chief of the nations—Israel: as the parallelism to "Jacob" proves (compare Ex 19:5; Ps 135:4; Am 6:1). God estimates the greatness of nations not by man's standard of material resources, but by His electing favor.

8. north—Assyria, Media, &c. (see on Jer 3:12; Jer 3:18; 23:8).

gather from … coasts of … earth—(Eze 20:34, 41; 34:13).

blind … lame, &c.—Not even the most infirm and unfit persons for a journey shall be left behind, so universal shall be the restoration.

a great company—or, they shall return "in a great company" [Maurer].

9. weeping—for their past sins which caused their exile (Ps 126:5, 6). Although they come with weeping, they shall return with joy (Jer 50:4, 5).

supplications—(Compare Jer 31:18, 19; Jer 3:21-25; Zec 12:10). Margin translates "favors," as in Jos 11:20; Ezr 9:8; thus God's favors or compassions are put in opposition to the people's weeping; their tears shall be turned into joy. But English Version suits the parellelism best.

I will cause … to walk by … waters … straight way—(Isa 35:6-8; 43:19; 49:10, 11). God will give them waters to satisfy their thirst as in the wilderness journey from Egypt. So spiritually (Mt 5:6; Joh 7:37).

Ephraim—the ten tribes no longer severed from Judah, but forming one people with it.

my first-born—(Ex 4:22; Ho 11:1; Ro 9:4). So the elect Church (2Co 6:18; Jas 1:18).

10. The tidings of God's interposition in behalf of Israel will arrest the attention of even the uttermost Gentile nations.

He that scattered will gather—He who scattered knows where to find Israel; He who smote can also heal.

keep—not only will gather, but keep safely to the end (Joh 13:1; 17:11).

shepherd—(Isa 40:11; Eze 34:12-14).

11. ransomed … from … hand of … stronger—No strength of the foe can prevent the Lord from delivering Jacob (Isa 49:24, 25).

12. height of Zion—(Eze 17:23).

flow—There shall be a conflux of worshippers to the temple on Zion (Isa 2:2; Mic 4:1).

to the goodness of … Lord—(See Jer 31:14). Beneficence, that is, to the Lord as the source of all good things (Ho 3:5), to pray to Him and praise Him for these blessings of which He is the Fountainhead.

watered garden—(Isa 58:11). Not merely for a time, but continually full of holy comfort.

not sorrow any more—referring to the Church triumphant, as well as to literal Israel (Isa 35:10; 65:19; Re 21:4).

13. young … old—(Zec 8:4, 5).

14. my goodness—(Jer 31:12).

15. Ramah—In Benjamin, east of the great northern road, two hours' journey from Jerusalem. Rachel, who all her life had pined for children (Ge 30:1), and who died with "sorrow" in giving birth to Benjamin (Ge 35:18, 19, Margin; 1Sa 10:2), and was buried at Ramah, near Beth-lehem, is represented as raising her head from the tomb, and as breaking forth into "weeping" at seeing the whole land depopulated of her sons, the Ephraimites. Ramah was the place where Nebuzara-dan collected all the Jews in chains, previous to their removal to Babylon (Jer 40:1). God therefore consoles her with the promise of their restoration. Mt 2:17, 18 quotes this as fulfilled in the massacre of the innocents under Herod. "A lesser and a greater event, of different times, may answer to the single sense of one passage of Scripture, until the prophecy is exhausted" [Bengel]. Besides the temporary reference to the exiles in Babylon, the Holy Spirit foreshadowed ultimately Messiah's exile in Egypt, and the desolation caused in the neighborhood of Rachel's tomb by Herod's massacre of the children, whose mothers had "sons of sorrow" (Ben-oni), just as Rachel had. The return of Messiah (the representative of Israel) from Egypt, and the future restoration of Israel, both the literal and the spiritual (including the innocents), at the Lord's second advent, are antitypical of the restoration of Israel from Babylon, which is the ground of consolation held out here by Jeremiah. The clause, "They were not," that is, were dead (Ge 42:13), does not apply so strictly to the exiles in Babylon as it does to the history of Messiah and His people—past, present, and future. So the words, "There is hope in thine end," are to be fulfilled ultimately, when Rachel shall meet her murdered children at the resurrection, at the same time that literal Israel is to be restored. "They were not," in Hebrew, is singular; each was not: each mother at the Beth-lehem massacre had but one child to lament, as the limitation of age in Herod's order, "two years and under," implies; this use of the singular distributively (the mothers weeping severally, each for her own child), is a coincidence between the prophecy of the Beth-lehem massacre and the event, the more remarkable as not being obvious: the singular, too, is appropriate as to Messiah in His Egyptian exile, who was to be a leading object of Rachel's lamentation.

16. thy work—thy parental weeping for thy children [Rosenmuller]. Thine affliction in the loss of thy children, murdered for Christ's sake, shall not be fruitless to thee, as was the case in thy giving birth to the "child of thy sorrow," Benjamin. Primarily, also, thy grief shall not be perpetual: the exiles shall return, and the land be inhabited again [Calvin].

come again—(Ho 1:11).

17. hope in … end—All thy calamities shall have a prosperous issue.

18. Ephraim—representing the ten tribes.

bemoaning himself—The spirit of penitent supplication shall at last be poured on Israel as the necessary forerunner of their restoration (Zec 12:10-14).

Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised—In the first clause the chastisement itself is meant; in the second the beneficial effect of it in teaching the penitent true wisdom.

bullock unaccustomed to … yoke—A similar image occurs in De 32:15. Compare "stiff-necked," Ac 7:51; Ex 32:9, an image from refractory oxen. Before my chastisement I needed the severe correction I received, as much as an untamed bullock needs the goad. Compare Ac 9:5, where the same figure is used of Saul while unconverted. Israel has had a longer chastisement than Judah, not having been restored even at the Jews' return from Babylon. Hereafter, at its restoration, it shall confess the sore discipline was all needed to "accustom" it to God's "easy yoke" (Mt 11:29, 30).

turn thou me—by Thy converting Spirit (La 5:21). But why does Ephraim pray for conversion, seeing that he is already converted? Because we are converted by progressive steps, and need the same power of God to carry forward, as to originate, our conversion (Joh 6:44, 65; compare with Isa 27:3; 1Pe 1:5; Php 1:6).

19. after that I was turned, I repented—Repentance in the full sense follows, not precedes, our being turned to God by God (Zec 12:10). The Jews' "looking to Him whom they pierced" shall result in their "mourning for Him." Repentance is the tear that flows from the eye of faith turned to Jesus. He Himself gives it: we give it not of ourselves, but must come to Him for it (Ac 5:31).

instructed—made to learn by chastisement. God's Spirit often works through the corrections of His providence.

smote upon … thigh—(Eze 21:12). A token of indignant remorse, shame, and grief, because of his past sin.

bear … reproach of … youth—"because the calamities which I bore were the just punishment of my scandalous wantonness against God in my youth"; alluding to the idols set up at Dan and Beth-el immediately after the ten tribes revolted from Judah. His sense of shame shows that he no longer delights in his sin.

20. Is Ephraim my dear son? &c.—The question implies that a negative answer was to be expected. Who would have thought that one so undutiful to His heavenly Father as Ephraim had been should still be regarded by God as a "pleasant child?" Certainly he was not so in respect to his sin. But by virtue of God's "everlasting love" (Jer 31:3) on Ephraim's being "turned" to God, he was immediately welcomed as God's "dear son." This verse sets forth God's readiness to welcome the penitent (Jer 31:18, 19), anticipating his return with prevenient grace and love. Compare Lu 15:20: "When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion," &c.

spake against—threatened him for his idolatry.

remember—with favor and concern, as in Ge 8:1; 30:22.

bowels … troubled for him—(De 32:36; Isa 63:15; Ho 11:8)—namely, with the yearnings of compassionate love. The "bowels" include the region of the heart, the seat of the affections.

21. waymarkspillars to mark the road for the returning exiles. Caravans set up pillars, or pointed heaps of stones, to mark the way through the desert against their return. So Israel is told by God to mark the way by which they went in leaving their country for exile; for by the same way they shall return.

highway—(Isa 35:8, 10).

22. go about—namely, after human helps (Jer 2:18, 23, 36). Why not return immediately to me? Maurer translates, as in So 5:6, "How long wilt thou withdraw thyself?" Let thy past backslidings suffice thee now that a new era approaches. What God finds fault with in them is, that they looked hither and thither, leaning on contingencies, instead of at once trusting the word of God, which promised their restoration. To assure them of this, God promises to create a new thing in their land, A woman shall compass a man. Calvin explains this: Israel, who is feeble as a woman, shall be superior to the warlike Chaldeans; the captives shall reduce their captors to captivity. Hengstenberg makes the "woman" the Jewish Church, and the "man" Jehovah, her husband, whose love she will again seek (Ho 2:6, 7). Maurer, A woman shall protect (De 32:10, Margin; Ps 32:10) a man, that is, You need fear no foes in returning, for all things shall be so peaceful that a woman would be able to take man's part, and act as his protector. But the Christian fathers (Augustine, &c.) almost unanimously interpreted it of the Virgin Mary compassing Christ in her womb. This view is favored:—(1) By the connection; it gives a reason why the exiles should desire a return to their country, namely, because Christ was conceived there. (2) The word "created" implies a divine power put forth in the creation of a body in the Virgin's womb by the Holy Ghost for the second Adam, such as was exerted in creating the first Adam (Lu 1:35; Heb 10:5). (3) The phrase, "a new thing," something unprecedented; a man whose like had never existed before, at once God and man; a mother out of the ordinary course of nature, at once mother and virgin. An extraordinary mode of generation; one conceived by the Holy Ghost without man. (4) The specification "in the land" (not "earth," as English Version), namely, of Judah, where probably Christ was conceived, in Hebron (compare Lu 1:39, 42, 44, with Jos 21:11) or else in Nazareth, "in the territory" of Israel, to whom Jer 31:5, 6, 15, 18, 21 refer; His birth was at Beth-lehem (Mic 5:2; Mt 2:5, 6). As the place of His nativity, and of His being reared (Mt 2:23), and of His preaching (Hag 2:7; Mal 3:1), are specified, so it is likely the Holy Spirit designated the place of His being conceived. (5) The Hebrew for "woman" implies an individual, as the Virgin Mary, rather than a collection of persons. (6) The restoration of Israel is grounded on God's covenant in Christ, to whom, therefore, allusion is naturally made as the foundation of Israel's hope (compare Isa 7:14). The Virgin Mary's conception of Messiah in the womb answers to the "Virgin of Israel" (therefore so called, Jer 31:21), that is, Israel and her sons at their final restoration, receiving Jesus as Messiah (Zec 12:10). (7) The reference to the conception of the child Messiah accords with the mention of the massacre of "children" referred to in Jer 31:15 (compare Mt 2:17). (8) The Hebrew for "man" is properly "mighty man," a term applied to God (De 10:17); and to Christ (Zec 13:7; compare Ps 45:3; Isa 9:6) [Calovius].

23. Jerusalem again shall be the metropolis of the whole nation, the seat of "justice" (Ps 122:5-8; Isa 1:26), and of sacred worship ("holiness," Zec 8:3) on "Mount" Moriah.

24. Judah … cities … husbandmen … they with flocks—Two classes, citizens and countrymen, the latter divided into agriculturists and shepherds, all alike in security, though the latter were to be outside the protection of city walls. "Judah" here stands for the country, as distinguished from its cities.

25. The "weary, sorrowful," and indigent state of Israel will prove no obstacle in the way of My helping them.

26. The words of Jeremiah: Upon this (or, By reason of this) announcement of a happy restoration, "I awaked" from the prophetic dream vouchsafed to me (Jer 23:25) with the "sweet" impression thereof remaining on my mind. "Sleep" here means dream, as in Ps 90:5.

27. He shows how a land so depopulated shall again be peopled. God will cause both men and beasts in it to increase to a multitude (Eze 36:9-11; Ho 2:23).

28. (Jer 44:27). The same God who, as it were (in human language), was on the watch for all means to destroy, shall be as much on the watch for the means of their restoration.

29. In those days—after their punishment has been completed, and mercy again visits them.

fathers … eaten … sour grape … children's teeth … on edge—the proverb among the exiles' children born in Babylon, to express that they suffered the evil consequences of their fathers' sins rather than of their own (La 5:7; Eze 18:2, 3).

30. (Ga 6:5, 7).

31. the days … new covenant with … Israel … Judah—The new covenant is made with literal Israel and Judah, not with the spiritual Israel, that is, believers, except secondarily, and as grafted on the stock of Israel (Ro 11:16-27). For the whole subject of the thirtieth and thirty-first chapters is the restoration of the Hebrews (Jer 30:4, 7, 10, 18; 31:7, 10, 11, 23, 24, 27, 36). With the "remnant according to the election of grace" in Israel, the new covenant has already taken effect. But with regard to the whole nation, its realization is reserved for the last days, to which Paul refers this prophecy in an abridged form (Ro 11:27).

32. Not … the covenant that I made with … fathers—the Old Testament covenant, as contrasted with our gospel covenant (Heb 8:8-12; 10:16, 17, where this prophecy is quoted to prove the abrogation of the law by the gospel), of which the distinguishing features are its securing by an adequate atonement the forgiveness of sins, and by the inworking of effectual grace ensuring permanent obedience. An earnest of this is given partially in the present eclectic or elect Church gathered out of Jews and Gentiles. But the promise here to Israel in the last days is national and universal, and effected by an extraordinary outpouring of the Spirit (Jer 31:33, 34; Eze 11:17-20), independent of any merit on their part (Eze 36:25-32; 37:1-28; 39:29; Joe 2:23-28; Zec 12:10; 2Co 3:16).

took … by … hand—(De 1:31; Ho 11:3).

although I was an husband—(compare Jer 3:14; Ho 2:7, 8). But the Septuagint, Syriac, and St. Paul (Heb 8:9) translate, "I regarded them not"; and Gesenius, &c., justify this rendering of the Hebrew from the Arabic. The Hebrews regarded not God, so God regarded them not.

33. will be their God—(Jer 32:38).

34. True, specially of Israel (Isa 54:13); secondarily, true of believers (Joh 6:45; 1Co 2:10; 1Jo 2:20).

forgive … iniquity … remember … no more—(Jer 33:8; 50:20; Mic 7:18); applying peculiarly to Israel (Ro 11:27). Secondarily, all believers (Ac 10:43).

35. divideth … sea when … waves … roar … Lord of hosts … name—quoted from Isa 51:15, the genuineness of which passage is thus established on Jeremiah's authority.

36. a nation—Israel's national polity has been broken up by the Romans. But their preservation as a distinct people amidst violent persecutions, though scattered among all nations for eighteen centuries, unamalgamated, whereas all other peoples under such circumstances have become incorporated with the nations in which they have been dispersed, is a perpetual standing miracle (compare Jer 33:20; Ps 148:6; Isa 54:9, 10).

37. (Compare Jer 33:22).

for all that they have done—namely, all the sins. God will regard His own covenant promise, rather than their merits.

38. tower of Hananeel—The city shall extend beyond its former bounds (Ne 3:1; 12:39; Zec 14:10).

gate of … corner—(2Ki 14:13; 2Ch 26:9).

39. measuring-line—(Eze 40:8; Zec 2:1).

Gareb—from a Hebrew root, "to scrape"; Syriac, "leprosy"; the locality outside of the city, to which lepers were removed.

Goath—from a root, "to toil," referring to the toilsome ascent there: outside of the city of David, towards the southwest, as Gareb was northwest [Junius].

40. valley of … dead—Tophet, where the bodies of malefactors were cast (Isa 30:33), south of the city.

fields … Kidron—so 2Ki 23:4. Fields in the suburbs reaching as far as Kidron, east of the city.

horse gate—Through it the king's horses were led forth for watering to the brook Kidron (2Ki 11:16; Ne 3:28).

for ever—The city shall not only be spacious, but both "holy to the Lord," that is, freed from all pollutions, and everlasting (Joe 3:17, 20; Re 21:2, 10, 27).

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