Jeremiah 31 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Jeremiah 31
Pulpit Commentary
At the same time, saith the LORD, will I be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.
Verses 1-6. - The promise of Jeremiah 30:22 is expressly declared to apply to both sections of the nation. Jehovah thus solemnly declares his purpose of mercy, and dwells with special Madness on the happy future of Ephraim.
Thus saith the LORD, The people which were left of the sword found grace in the wilderness; even Israel, when I went to cause him to rest.
Verse 2. - The people which were left of the sword, etc.; literally, the people of those left of the sword. The expression clearly implies that the Jews at the time spoken of had escaped, or were about to escape, in some great battle or some other kind of slaughter. Hence the finding grace in the wilderness cannot refer to the sequel of the passage through the Red Sea, and we must perforce explain it of the second great deliverance, viz. from the Babylonian exile. This view is strongly confirmed by Jeremiah 51:50, where the Israelites who escape the predicted slaughter at Babylon are called "escaped ones from the sword," and exhorted to remember Jehovah and Jerusalem "afar off." The "wilderness" of the present passage, like the "afar off" of ch. 51. (and of the next verse) seems to mean Babylon, which was, by comparison with the highly favoured Judah, a "barren and dry land" (comp. Psalm 63:1), a spiritual Arabia. It may be objected that the tense here is the perfect; but there is abundance of analogy for explaining it as the prophetic perfect. The restoration of the chosen people to favour is as certain in the Divine counsels as if it were already an event past. (It seems less appropriate to understand "the wilderness" of the country which separated Assyria from Palestine. It was in Babylon that the covenant of Sinai was renewed to God's repentant people.) Even Israel, when I went to cause him to rest; rather, when I went to cause Israel to rest (literally, to cause him - Israel - to rest; but the pleonastic pronoun need not be represented in the English). Another possible and perhaps preferable rendering is, I will go to cause, etc. "Rest" could only be had in the consciousness of God's favor. With all the outward property of many of the Jews in Babylon, there was no true "rest." Comp. chap. 16, "Ask for the old paths.., and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls" (the same verbal root in the Hebrew for "rest" in both passages).
The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.
Verse 3. - The Lord hath appeared of old unto me. The Church of the faithful Israel is the speaker. "From afar" (so we ought to render, rather than "of old") she sees Jehovah, with the eye of faith, approaching to redeem her; comp. Isaiah 40:10 and Isaiah 59:20 (only that in these passages it is to Jerusalem, and not to Babylon, that Jehovah "comes" as the Redeemer); also the promise in Jeremiah 30:10, "I will save thee from afar," and Jeremiah 51:50, quoted above. (Septuagint reads "unto him;" but an abrupt change of person is not uncommon in Hebrew.) Saying, Yea, I have loved thee, etc. "Saying" is inserted to make the connection plainer. The genius of Hebrew does not require such a distinct indication of a change of speakers as our Western languages. For other instances of this, see Genesis 4:25; Genesis 26:7; Genesis 32:31; 1 Kings 20:34. With loving kindness have I drawn thee; rather, do I continue loving kindness unto thee. "To continue" is literally, to draw out at length. The idea is the same as that in the great prophecy which follows that of the suffering Saviour, "With everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee" (Isaiah 54:8; comp. ver. 10).
Again I will build thee, and thou shalt be built, O virgin of Israel: thou shalt again be adorned with thy tabrets, and shalt go forth in the dances of them that make merry.
Verse 4. - I will build thee. A nation, like a family, is frequently compared to a building (so Jeremiah 12:16; Jeremiah 24:6; comp. Ephesians 2:22). O virgin of Israel. The people of Israel is personified as a virgin (comp. Jeremiah 14:7). Adorned with thy tabrets, The expression will not, of course, bear to be logically criticized, for it was not the whole people who went out with "tabrets" or "timbrels," but the "damsels," who, it is true, formed an important part of religious processions (Psalm 68:25), and doubtless of secular ones also (comp. Judges 11:34). Joyousness is an essential part of the Biblical ideal both of religion and of a normal state of society: "The joy of the Lord is your strength."
Thou shalt yet plant vines upon the mountains of Samaria: the planters shall plant, and shall eat them as common things.
Verse 5. - The mountains of Samaria. "Samaria" is used, equally with Ephraim, for the northern kingdom. Shall eat them as common things; rather, shall enjoy the fruit. The word, however, literally means shall profane them. The more common phrase, "shall eat the fruit," occurs in Isaiah 65:21, where the same promise is given. The law was that newly planted fruit trees should be left alone for three years; that in the fourth year their fruit should be consecrated to God; and that in the fifth year their fruit might be "profaned," i.e. devoted to ordinary uses (comp. Deuteronomy 20:6; Deuteronomy 28:30).
For there shall be a day, that the watchmen upon the mount Ephraim shall cry, Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion unto the LORD our God.
Verse 6. - The termination of the schism between north and south will be shown by the anxiety of the Ephraimites (see on "Samaria," ver. 5) to take part with their brethren in the festival of the new moon. It was the custom, at any rate in later times, to station watchmen at elevated points to give notice of the first appearance of "the slender sickle, which shines so brightly in the clear Oriental heaven" Let us go up. Not with reference to the physical elevation of Jerusalem, for the phrase, "to go up," is used of an army withdrawing from Jerusalem (Jeremiah 21:2; Jeremiah 34:21). This seems to indicate that the term was sometimes used in a weakened sense, to which parallels might easily be given. These words, "Arise ye, and let us go up," etc., were, at a later period, the formula with which the leader of the pilgrims from any particular district summoned the members of his caravan to fall into the procession.
For thus saith the LORD; Sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout among the chief of the nations: publish ye, praise ye, and say, O LORD, save thy people, the remnant of Israel.
Verses 7-14. - The restoration of Israel; its blessedness and joyousness. Verse 7. - Sing with gladness, etc. It is not stated who are addressed; but we may doubtless understand, from Isaiah 66:10, "all ye who love him," whether Jews or Gentiles. The latter, too, are interested in the restoration of Israel, because Israel is as it were a "priest" or mediator for the other nations (Isaiah 61:6). Among the chief of the nations; rather, because of the chief of the nations. Israel is called the "chief of the nations" (so, with a cognate word for "chief," in Amos 6:1) because Jehovah has" chosen" it as his peculium (to use the language of the Vulgate), Deuteronomy 7:6, and because no other nation "hath God so nigh unto them," and "hath statutes and judgments so righteous," as Israel (Deuteronomy 4:7, 8).
Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the coasts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together: a great company shall return thither.
Verse 8. - The weakest among the Israelites will share the blessings with the strongest, even the blind and the lame (comp. Isaiah 33:23, "The lame take the prey"). Elsewhere we are told that, in the Messianic age, "the eyes of the blind shall see," and "the lame man shall leap as an hart" (Isaiah 35:5, 6). Shall return thither; rather, hither; i.e. to Palestine, where Jeremiah writes this prophecy. The word for company is hahal, the proper word in the Pentateuch for the Israelitish national "congregation."
They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.
Verse 9. - With weeping; i.e. with a joy dashed with sorrow at the thought of the sin which has rendered such an interposition necessary (comp. Jeremiah 31:18). Cause them to walk by the rivers of waters. The reference here is primarily to the homeward journey of the exiles, which shall be free from the trials of the first Exodus, but not exclusively (see on next verse). The question arises how this prediction is to be reconciled with facts. For, as Kimchi has remarked, we find no reference to miracles performed for the Jews who returned from Babylon. A twofold reply seems admissible. We may say either that to those who enjoy a vivid sense of the favour and protection of God no trial is grievous, no circumstances exclude an undercurrent of joy (comp. Psalm 23.); or that the prophecy is still waiting for its complete fulfilment, Israel having still a great future reserved for it upon its recognition of the true Messiah. In a straight way; or, in an even way, i.e. one free from hindrances. Comp. Ezra's prayer (Ezra 8:21), and Psalm 107:7, in both of which passages "right" should probably be "even." Ephraim is my firstborn. It is doubted whether this simply means that Ephraim (i.e. North Israel) shall be in no respect inferior to Judah - a strong form of expression being chosen, on account of the longer continuance of Ephraim's captivity; or whether it implies a restoration to the tribes of Joseph of the prerogative conferred upon the sons of Joseph (1 Chronicles 5:1, 2; comp. Genesis 48:15). The former view seems hardly consistent with the dignity of a prophetic writer. "Forms of expression," i.e. rhetorical phrases, may be admitted in poetical passages, but hardly in solemn prophetic revelations. It was true that Judah had "prevailed above his brethren;" but the original "gift of God" to Ephraim was "without repentance." With regard to the fulfilment of this prediction, we must remember that the remnant of the northern tribes whose faith was strong enough to induce them to profit by the edict of Cyrus, was smaller than that of the southern. Hence the outward signs of God's favour to Ephraim could not be so great as they would have been had the moral conditions of the fulfilment of the promise been more fully complied with.
Hear the word of the LORD, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock.
Verse 10. - The isles; i.e. the distant countries of the West (see on Jeremiah 2:10). So great an event as the restoration of the chosen people would be of worldwide importance. He that scattered Israel will gather him, etc. "The Israelites were the flock of Jehovah (Psalm 77:20; Psalm 80:1), but during the Captivity a scattered and miserable flock. Jeremiah says that his eye 'shall run down with tears, because the flock of Jehovah is carried away captive' (Jeremiah 13:17). The change in the fortunes of the Jews is compared by the prophets to a shepherd's seeking his lost sheep, and feeding them again in green pastures (Jeremiah 31:10; Jeremiah 1:19; Ezekiel 34:11-16). The reference is not so much to the homeward journey of the exiles as to the state of temporal and spiritual happiness in which they would find themselves on their return. The same figures occur in a psalm, where a reference to the return from exile is excluded by the pre-exile date, '... feed them also, and carry them forever' (Psalm 28:9)" (from the writer's note on Isaiah 40:11).
For the LORD hath redeemed Jacob, and ransomed him from the hand of him that was stronger than he.
Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of the LORD, for wheat, and for wine, and for oil, and for the young of the flock and of the herd: and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all.
Verse 12. - Shall flow together to the goodness of the Lord; i.e. the Ephraimites, after praising God on the holy hill, shall spread themselves over their own territory like an overflowing stream, and enjoy the "goodness" or good gifts of Jehovah - the corn (not simply the wheat), the wine, the oil, etc. (comp. Deuteronomy 8:8). Sorrow; rather, languish. As Dr. Payne Smith well says, "It expresses the poverty and helplessness of exiles unable from homesickness and want of confidence to do anything with spirit. Restored to their homes, they will be as full of vigour as a garden irrigated with water under a Southern sun."
Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow.
Verse 13. - Young and old, men and women, shall give themselves up to joy and merriment, the centre of the mirth being the maidens with the timbrels (ver. 4). Both young men and old together; rather, and young men and old (shall rejoice) together.
And I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith the LORD.
Verse 14. - And I will satiate; literally, water (same word as in Psalm 36:8). The "fatness" means the fat parts of the thank offerings, which were given to the priests (Leviticus 7:34). Satisfied. "Satiated" would be a happier rendering. The word is different from that rendered "satiate" just above.
Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.
Verses 15-22. - From this glorious prospect Jeremiah's eye turns to the melancholy present. The land of Ephraim is orphaned and desolate. The prophet seems to hear Rachel weeping for her banished children, and comforts her with the assurance that they shall yet be restored. For Ephraim has come to repentance, and longs for reconciliation with his God, and God, who has overheard his soliloquy, relents, and comes to meet him with gracious promises. Then another voice is heard summoning Ephraim to prepare for his journey home. This verse is quoted by St. Matthew (Matthew 2:17) with reference to the massacre of the innocents, with τότε ἐπληρώθη prefixed. The latter formula of itself suggests that there was a previous fulfilment of the prophecy, but that the analogy of the circumstances of the innocents justifies - nay, requires - the admission of a second fulfilment. In fact, the promise of the Messianic age seemed in as much danger of being rendered void when Herod wreaked his fury on the children of Bethlehem, as when the tribes of Israel were scattered in exile. Dean Stanley finds a geographical inconsistency in the two passages. "The context of Jeremiah 31:15 implies that the Ramah of the prophet was in the northern kingdom, probably Ramah of Benjamin. The context of Matthew 2:18, on the other hand, implies that the Ramah of the evangelist was within sight of Bethlehem" ('Sinai and Palestine,' p. 225). But this remark involves the assumption that the quotation was not intended merely as an application. Verse 15. - A voice was heard; rather, is heard. It is a participle, indicating the continuance of the action. In Ramah. In the neighbourhood of which town Rachel was buried, according to 1 Samuel 10:2 ("the city" where Samuel and Saul were - 1 Samuel 9:25 - appears to have been Ramah). Rachel weeping for her children. Rachel ("Rahel" is only a Germanizing way of writing the name), being the ancestress of the three tribes, Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin, is represented as feeling like a mother for all the tribes connected with those three. Her "weeping" is no mere figure of speech. Jeremiah believes that the patriarchs and holy men of old continue to feel an interest in the fortunes of their descendants (comp. Isaiah 63:16).
Thus saith the LORD; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the LORD; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy.
Verse 16. - Rachel is admonished to cease from weeping, because her work has not really been in vain; her children shall be restored. Thy work shall be rewarded. Like the Servant of the Lord, Rachel had said (though with the voiceless language of tears), "I have laboured in vain; I have spent my strength for nought and in vain;" and like the ocean mother of Zidon, "I have not travailed, nor brought forth children, neither nourished up young men, nor brought up virgins" (Isaiah 23:4). Rachel's work had been that of rearing up the patriarchs, "in whose loins" the tribes themselves were, in a certain sense. From the land of the enemy; i.e. from the countries of Israel's dispersion. But in the spirit of St. Matthew, we may fill the passage with a higher meaning, of which the prophet (like Shakespeare sometimes) was unconscious, namely, "from death;" and the passage thus becomes an undesigned prophecy of the Resurrection.
And there is hope in thine end, saith the LORD, that thy children shall come again to their own border.
Verse 17. - Hope in thine end; rather, hope for thy future (comp. on ch. 29:11). There is no occasion to render, with the Septuagint and Rosenmuller, "for thy posterity" (comp. Psalm 119:13, Hebrew); for Rachel identifies herself by sympathy with her descendants.
I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus; Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the LORD my God.
Verses 18, 19. - The ground of this hope, viz. that Ephraim will humble himself with deep contrition. Verse 18. - As a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke; literally, as an untaught calf (comp. Hosea 10:11). Turn thou me, etc. Jeremiah has a peculiarly deep view of conversion. Isaiah (Isaiah 1:16-20) simply calls upon his hearers to change their course of life; Jeremiah represents penitent Ephraim as beseeching God so to prepare him that he may indeed "turn."
Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth.
Verse 19. - After that I was turned, I repented; rather, after my turning away (as Jeremiah 8:4), I have repented. It is a different kind of "turning" which is here meant, a turning away from God. I was instructed; literally, I was made to know; i.e. brought to my senses by punishment. I smote upon my thigh; rather, I have smitten, etc. Ephraim describes his present state of mind, and the symbols by which he translates it into act. Smiting upon the thigh was a sign of mourning (comp. Ezekiel 21:17). I did bear, etc.; rather, I have borne, etc. The "reproach of Ephraim's youth" is that which he brought upon himself in early times by his unfaithfulness to Jehovah.
Is Ephraim my dear son? is he a pleasant child? for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the LORD.
Verse 20. - The Divine speaker asks, as it were in surprise, whether Ephraim, who has so flagrantly sinned against him, can really be his dear (or, precious) son, his pleasant child (literally, child of caressing, i.e. one caressed). The latter expression occurs in a remarkable passage of Isaiah (Isaiah 5:7). Since I spake against him; rather, as often as I spake against him; i.e. as often as I pronounced sentence against Ephraim - such a sentence as is recorded in Isaiah 9:8-21 (where the future tenses should he perfects) and Isaiah 28:1-4. We must remember that, with God, to speak is to perform. Often as Jehovah punished Israel, he still remembered him in love - a love which was the pledge of his future restoration to favour upon his true repentance. I do earnestly remember; rather, I verily remembered. "To remember" is the Old Testament term for providential care (comp. Genesis 8:1; Genesis 19:29). My bowels are troubled; literally, sound, moan (so Isaiah 16:11; Isaiah 63:15). Something analogous to the thrilling sensation of deep human grief is predicated of Jehovah. Such is the "humility" of the God of revelation (Psalm 18:35; comp. Hosea 11:8).
Set thee up waymarks, make thee high heaps: set thine heart toward the highway, even the way which thou wentest: turn again, O virgin of Israel, turn again to these thy cities.
Verse 21. - Set thee up waymarks. The "virgin of Israel" is addressed. She is directed to mark out the road for the returning exiles. The command is obviously the. torical in form; the general sense is that the Israelites are to call to mind the road so familiar to their forefathers, though only known to themselves by tradition. The word rendered "waymarks" occurs again in 2 Kings 33:17 and Ezekiel 39:15. It apparently means a stone pillar, which might be used either as a waymark or a sepulchral monument. The high heaps seem to mean much the same thing; "signposts" would be a better rendering. Set thine heart toward the highway; rather, turn thy thoughts, etc., for the heart is here evidently the symbol of the intellectual rather than the moral life (comp. 1 Kings 10:2, and many other passages). A passage in the Psalms (Psalm 84:6) will occur to every one, in which a psalmist, longing at a distance for the services of the temple, pronounces blessed the man "in whose heart are the highways [to Zion];" here, it is true, "heart" has the double meaning of "mind" and "affections," but "highway" has almost exactly the same sense as in the passage before us. To these thy cities. The unseen speaker is supposed to be in Palestine.
How long wilt thou go about, O thou backsliding daughter? for the LORD hath created a new thing in the earth, A woman shall compass a man.
Verse 22. - How long wilt thou go about? We must suppose the Israelites to be hesitating whether to set out on their journey or not. They are now admonished to put away their rebellious reluctance, and a special reason for this is added. The Lord hath created - i.e. hath decreed to create - a new thing in the earth (or, in the land); comp. Isaiah 43:19 which suggests that a complete reversal of ordinary experience is indicated, as indeed the word create of itself prepares us to expect. And what is this promise granted as a sign to reluctant Israel? A woman shall compass a man; i.e. instead of shyly keeping aloof, or worse (as hitherto), Israel, Jehovah's bride, shall, with eager affection, press around her Divine husband. The phrase, however, is extremely difficult. Of other explanations, the most plausible philologically is that of Schnurrer and Gesenius, "a woman shall protect a man" (comp. Deuteronomy 32:10). The part of a sentinel, pacing round and round his charge, seems most unfitted for a woman. When enemies are abroad, it is the men's natural duty to perform this part for the women. But in the coming age, the country shall be so free from danger that the places of men and women may safely be reversed. But would a paradox of this kind be likely to be uttered in this connection? Surely a clearer statement would be necessary to remove the reluctance of the Israelites. Vers. 19, 20 suggest that Ephraim needed reassurance as to the attitude of Jehovah towards him. The promise of ver. 22, as explained above, would give precisely the needed strength and comfort. The exposition of St. Jerome and other Fathers, that the birth of Christ from a virgin is referred to, is altogether inadmissible,

(1) because the nouns which form the subject and the predicate respectively indicate sex, not age, and the first in particular cannot be tortured so as to mean "virgin;" and

(2) there is no article to confine the reference to any particular persons.
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; As yet they shall use this speech in the land of Judah and in the cities thereof, when I shall bring again their captivity; The LORD bless thee, O habitation of justice, and mountain of holiness.
Verses 23-26. - But the prophet would not have Judah suppose that Ephraim has supplanted her; she too shall be restored, and shall enjoy a happy pastoral and agricultural life. Verse 23. - As yet; rather, again (as ver. 4). Mountain of holiness. Does this mean simply Mount Zion, or the whole highland country of Judah (scrap. Isaiah 11:9)? The former view is the safer; it is by no means clear that "mountain" in Isaiah or anywhere else in the Old Testament means the Holy Land.
And there shall dwell in Judah itself, and in all the cities thereof together, husbandmen, and they that go forth with flocks.
Verse 24. - The ideal of outward life exhibited by the prophets is still the agricultural and pastoral. Jeremiah puts this more forcibly than the Authorized Version represents. Instead of, And there shall dwell in Judah, etc., he says, And there shall dwell therein (viz. in the land) Judah and all his cities together as husbandmen, and they shall go about with flocks, i.e. they shall attend to their ancient pursuits without let or hindrance from invaders (comp. Isaiah 32:20). "Go about" (literally, break up) is the regular word for the periodical journeying of the nomad life.
For I have satiated the weary soul, and I have replenished every sorrowful soul.
Verse 25. - For Jehovah will have fulfilled every unsatisfied craving. I have satiated (literally, watered) means "I have decreed to satiate;" it is the perfect of prophetic certitude, which represents an event as already having taken place in the Divine counsels. Sorrowful; rather, languishing (see on ver. 12).
Upon this I awaked, and beheld; and my sleep was sweet unto me.
Verse 26. - Upon this I awaked, etc. Who the speaker is here has been much debated. That Jehovah is meant is not an admissible view. A weak believer may say complainingly, "Why sleepest thou?" but God himself cannot be represented under the image of a sleeper. There seems, however, to be no reason why the prophet should not have used this language. The doubt is whether a real, physical sleep is meant, or merely an ecstatic condition resembling sleep. Hengstenberg decides for the latter. But there is no parallel for sleep in the sense of ecstasy, and, on the other hand, there is evidence enough for dreams as the channels of Divine revelation (Genesis 31:10, 11; 1 Kings 3:5; 1 Kings 9:2; Joel 2:28). As Naegelsbach points out, this is the only unqualifiedly comforting prophecy in the whole book, and may well have left a sweet savour in the prophet's memory. Stern, indeed, was the reality which the moment of his waking brought back to him.
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man, and with the seed of beast.
Verses 27-30. - The physical side of the Messianic blessing. Its effect upon the heart of the pardoned sinners will be such that they will fully recognize the justice of the Divine judgments. There will no longer be any room for a certain favourite proverb; the death of a sinner will be universally acknowledged to be the reward of his personal sin (Keil). Verse 27. - I will sow, etc. The passage may be illustrated by Isaiah 26:18, where the Church of the restored exiles is represented as complaining that the land (of Judah) has not been brought into a state of security, and that inhabitants (in sufficient numbers) have not been begotten. Similarly here, only the tone of complaint is wanting. The thought has suggested itself - Will the Israelites of the latter days be sufficient to fill up the land? Yes, is the answer of revelation; for Jehovah will perform a wonder, and make the people and their cattle so prolific that it will seem as if children and young cattle grew up like plants.
And it shall come to pass, that like as I have watched over them, to pluck up, and to break down, and to throw down, and to destroy, and to afflict; so will I watch over them, to build, and to plant, saith the LORD.
Verse 28. - As I have watched... so will I watch, etc. The allusion is to the twofold commission given to the prophet (Jeremiah 1:10), which was partly to pluck up and to destroy, partly to build and to plant. Jehovah has hitherto been "watchful" (another point of contact with ch. 1; see on Jeremiah 1:12) over the fulfilment of the destructive prophecies; he will now be equally zealous for that of the promises of regeneration.
In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge.
Verse 29. - Have eaten a sour grape; rather, sour grapes. The prophet (like Ezekiel, ch. 18.) condemns the use of this proverb, and declares that the sinner is the artificer of his own ruin. At first sight, it may seem as if Jeremiah opposes the second commandment, which describes how God "visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children" (Exodus 20:5). This, however, cannot really be, for he endorses this declaration later on (Jeremiah 32:18). The fact is that he is not so much condemning the proverb, as the blasphemous application of it made by the Jews of his time. It is an eternal truth that sin perpetuates itself (except by the miracles of grace) in the children of transgressors, and intensified sin leads to intensified punishment. But the children of transgressors do not cease to be responsible for their own share in the sin; - this was the truth which Jeremiah's contemporaries ignored. He does not deny the solidarity of the family or the race,but he superadds the neglected truth of the special responsibility of the individual. This is one among many evidences of the deepening sense of individual life in the later period of the Jewish monarchy. (A somewhat different view is offered by Delitzsch, 'Messianic Prophecies,' § 50. According to him, Jeremiah looks forward to a time when the individual shall be liberated from the consequences of his solidarity with his race, and when personality shall be "invested with its rights." But can the individual be thus liberated?)
But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
Verses 31-34. - The new covenant. A prophecy which stands out from the rest of Jeremiah by its evangelical character, in which it strongly reminds us of parts of the second half of Isaiah. The doctrine of the covenant is "the thread which binds together the hopes and the fears of the prophet, his certainty of coming woe, his certainty of ultimate blessing." A covenant was granted of old, but that covenant had on man's side been broken. Still "the gifts and calling of God are not to be retracted" (Romans 11:29); and Jeremiah felt that the very nature of God guaranteed the renewal of the covenant on a new basis. "Covenant" is, no doubt, an unfortunate rendering. The Hebrew word so rendered means, primarily, a decision or appointment, and there is a whole group of passages in the Old Testament which requires this meaning (see the present writer's note, in 'The Prophecies of Isaiah,' on Isaiah 42:6). We retain it, however, as that with which the reader is familiar, and only remind him that God is everything, and man nothing, in fixing the terms of the transaction. The characteristics of the new covenant are three:

(1) The relation between God and his people is protected from all risk by God himself making the people what he would have them be.

(2) "Whereas, in the case of the old, the law of duty was written on tables of stone, in the case of the new the law is to be written on the heart; whereas, under the old, owing to the ritual character of the worship, the knowledge of God and his will was a complicated affair, in which men generally were helplessly dependent on a professional class, under the new, the worship of God would be reduced to the simplest spiritual elements, and it would be in every man's power to know God at first hand, the sole requisite for such knowledge as would then be required being a pure heart." And

(3) "whereas, under the old, the provisions for the cancelling of sin were very unsatisfactory, and utterly unfit to perfect the worshipper as to conscience, by dealing thoroughly with the problem of guilt, under the new God would grant to his people a real, absolute, and perennial forgiveness, so that the abiding relation between him and them should be as if sin had never existed" (Dr. A.B. Bruce, in The Expositor, January, 1880, pp. 70, 71). Comp. the abolition of the ark indicated in Jeremiah 3:16. - The inspired author of Hebrews tells us (Hebrews 8:6-13), speaking generally, that this promise delivered through Jeremiah was fulfilled in the gospel. But it must be remembered that the gospel has not yet taken form outwardly, except in a comparatively meagre sense. If the Jews as a nation (that is, the better part or kernel of Israel) should embrace the gospel, not necessarily in the logical expression familiar to the West, but in its essential facts and truths, we should see quite another embodiment of the promise, and feel the spiritual impulse in ourselves as we have not yet done. It seems appropriate, in conclusion, to quote a finely expressed passage from De Quincey's exposition of the New Testament term μετάνοια. Without pledging ourselves to the absolute correctness of his explanation of that word, his language may be well applied to Jeremiah's prophecy. "What would have been thought of any prophet, if he should have promised to transfigurate the celestial mechanics; if he had said, 'I will create a new pole star, a new zodiac, and new laws of gravitation;' briefly, 'I will make new earth and new heavens'? And yet a thousand times more awful it was to undertake the writing Of new laws upon the spiritual conscience of man."
Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD:
Verse 32. - Although I was an husband unto them. The translation of the Septuagint κἀγὼ ἠμέλησα αὐτῶν, is undoubtedly wrong, though adopted for consistency's sake by the author of Hebrews 8:9. The phrase is the same as in Jeremiah 3:14, where even the Septuagint has ἐγὼ κατακυριεύσω ὑμῶν
But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Verse 33. - After those days; i.e. after they have fully come; not, after they are over. I will put my law, etc. Of course, not the Pentateuch, but the principles of which the rules in the Pentateuch were the temporary application. It is not here denied that there were, or might be, some under the Old Testament dispensation who had the Divine Law in their heart (see some of the psalms), but speaking of the people as a whole, it must be said that the Law was an external dictator rather than a bosom friend, a mechanical rule rather than a λόγος ἴμφυτος (James 1:21).
And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
Verse 34. - On this verse, see note on the paragraph.
Thus saith the LORD, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The LORD of hosts is his name:
Verses 35-37. - Guarantee of Israel's national continuance. A marvellous promise, in the face of the Babylonian Captivity. Verse 35. - The ordinances of the moon; i.e. the moon in its appointed changes (comp. Jeremiah 33:23). Which divideth the sea when, etc.; rather, which stirreth up the sea, so that, etc. This is one of the points of content Jeremiah with the latter part of Isaiah (see Isaiah 51:17; and comp. Job 26:12).
If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the LORD, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever.
Thus saith the LORD; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the LORD.
Verse 37. - Thus edith the Lord. "It is not without meaning that the prophet so frequently repeats: 'Thus saith the Lord.' This formed the Α and Ω; his word was the sole ground of hope for Israel. Apart from it, despair was as reasonable as now it was unreasonable" (Hengstenberg).
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that the city shall be built to the LORD from the tower of Hananeel unto the gate of the corner.
Verses 38-40. - The connection is not very clear. The main point of these verses is that Jerusalem, when rebuilt, shall be altogether "the Lord's." Its circumference shall even be extended with the single object of including spots at present unclean, but then to become holy like the rest of the city. According to Hengstenberg and Keil, Jerusalem is here a figure of the kingdom of God in the latter days. Verse 38. - The tower of Hananeel. This lay at the northeast corner of the city (Nehemiah 3:1; Nehemiah 12:39). The gate of the corner. At the north, west corner (2 Kings 14:13; 2 Chronicles 26:9). Both this and the tower of Hananeel are mentioned together again in the prophecy of the glorification of Jerusalem, in Zechariah 14:10.
And the measuring line shall yet go forth over against it upon the hill Gareb, and shall compass about to Goath.
Verse 39. - Over against it upon the hill Gareb; rather, straight forward unto the hill Gareb. The hill of Gareb is not mentioned elsewhere; its meaning is probably "Leper's Hill." It must, of course, have been outside the city, and may be identified (after Schleussner and Hitzig) with "the fourth hill, which is called Bezetha" (Josephus, 'De Bell. Jud.,' 5:04, 2). To Goath; rather, to Goah. But the reading of the Peshito, "to Gibeah," should probably be adopted.
And the whole valley of the dead bodies, and of the ashes, and all the fields unto the brook of Kidron, unto the corner of the horse gate toward the east, shall be holy unto the LORD; it shall not be plucked up, nor thrown down any more for ever.
Verse 40. - The southern boundary of the city. The whole valley of the dead bodies, and of the ashes; rather,... even the dead bodies and the ashes. It is assumed by most that Jeremiah means the valley of Hinnom, which, after its defilement by Josiah (2 Kings 23:10), had become a receptacle of rubbish and offal. It is, however, against this view that the word for "valley" is not gai (elsewhere connected with Hinnom), but emek, i.e. "deep lying plain." The "dead bodies" are the corpses of men and animals, destroyed by the judgment of God, and lying unburied; but where, seems uncertain. Ashes. Wood ashes are not here meant, but those of flesh and fat, which remained after the burning of a sacrificial victim (see Leviticus 1:16; and comp. 4:12). The horse gate. Mentioned in Nehemiah 3:28. Holy unto the Lord. The unclean spots in the neighbourhood having been transformed. The expression reminds us of Exodus 28:36 (the legend on the forefront of the high priest's mitre).

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