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By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD.
SECTION 2 (26.1-45.5). (continued).
As we have seen this Section of Jeremiah from 26.1-45.5 divides up into four main subsections, which are as follows:
We have already commented on Subsection 1). in Jeremiah 4. We must now therefore consider subsection 2). This subsection, with its emphatic promises of hope for the future, is the most positive subsection from a long term view in his prophecy.
Subsection 2 (30.1-33.26). Following The Anguish To Come Promises Are Given Of Eventual Restoration, Central To Which Is A New Covenant Written By YHWH In The Hearts Of His People, Together With The Establishment Of The New Jerusalem As The Eternal City (30.1-33.26).
This Subsection places a great emphasis, not only on the coming anguish, but even more on the glorious restoration that will follow. It presents a final picture of a wholly restored nation which has been spiritually transformed.
It may be seen as divided up into two parts on the basis of the phrase ‘The word that came to Jeremiah from YHWH --’ (30.1; 32.1). (33.1; 33.19, on the other hand, open with ‘and’ (waw), signifying continuation rather than a new part). The first part deals with promises of glorious restoration and spiritual renewal ending up with the establishment of a new Jerusalem as the eternal city (compare Revelation 21.1-22.5). The second part contains an acted out prophecy in which Jeremiah purchases a piece of hereditary land in order to demonstrate his confidence in the final future of Judah, and gives further assurances of restoration.
Part 1). ‘The word that came to Jeremiah from YHWH --’ (30.1). Out of the anguish of Israel/Judah is to come restoration, when YHWH will bring His people from all the places of exile to which He has scattered them, and will replant them and build them up in the land, establishing with them a new covenant, written not on stone but in their hearts. All will know Him and all will be made holy, and God’s holy city will be established for ever (30.1-31.40).
We will now consider this part in detail.
Part 1). Anguish And Restoration (30.1-31.40).
Part 1 is divided up into two Sub-parts (A and B) by the introductory words, ‘thus says YHWH (of hosts), the God of Israel’ (30.2; 31.23). Sub-part A describes the coming restoration, but with continued flashbacks to the present miserable state of Judah/Israel, while Sub-part B emphasises the absolute certainty of the fulfilment of God’s final purpose for His people, including a glorious spiritual renewal.
Sub-part A). ‘Thus says YHWH the God of Israel.’ Commencing with a promise of coming restoration, Jeremiah, in a series of three brilliant contrasts moving from one extreme to the other (30.8-11; 30.12-17; 31.15-20), seeks to draw out in chapter 30 the miseries of the present in contrast with the hopes of the future, bringing out in the process the great necessity for the chastisement of the people prior to restoration. 31.1-22 then follows with expanded descriptions of that restoration, intermingled with a pathetic description of ‘Rachel’ (Jacob’s wife as representing Judah/Israel) weeping over the loss of her children (31.15), a reminder that the joy of the future will arise out of the misery of the present.
Using Jeremiah’s own markers we may divide up this sub-part as follows:
Sub-part B) is also introduced by the words, ‘Thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel,’ and a feature of this sub-part is the phrase ‘the days are coming, says YHWH, when --’ (31.27, 31, 38), with its emphasis on the glorious future for God’s people. It may be analysed as follows:
One question that will arise as we consider these passages is as to if and when YHWH is speaking of the northern kingdom only, under the name of Ephraim, or when reference is being made to the whole of Israel/Judah as ‘Ephraim’ in order to bring out their fallen state, with Ephraim being intended to be symbolic of a fallen people. It is not quite as simple a question as might at first be thought.
If, as some claim, this prophecy was written in the days of Josiah, the question would not arise. During his reign there were no exiles from Judah, and therefore the exiles of northern Israel alone would be in mind, and ‘Ephraim’ would simply indicate them. This would certainly be a good explanation for the four references to Ephraim in 31.9-20. But there are good reasons for in fact seeing that what is written here was written later than the reign of Josiah. For example, in 30.3 reference is made to ‘the captivity (exile) of My people Israel and Judah’ which is clearly referring to a period later than Josiah when there were also Judean exiles resulting at least from the activities of Nebuchadrezzar in 605 BC and 598 BC. Furthermore this ties in with the fact that there are other verses which must be seen as undoubtedly all-inclusive. 30.4, for example, introduces what YHWH spoke ‘concerning Israel and concerning Judah’ and refers to both under the joint title ‘Jacob’ (e.g. in 30.7, 10, 18). 30.21 refers to the setting up of a new authority, honouring to YHWH, which in the context suggests one connected with the house of David (see 30.9), and that must include Judah. 30.22 is most naturally seen as referring to Israel/Judah as one people. That would suggest that 31.1 must therefore also be using ‘all the families of Israel’ in an all-inclusive way (it is underlining what has been said in 30.22). Up to 31.1 then there are good reasons for seeing both Israel and Judah as in mind as becoming one people.
In 31.2, 4 ‘Israel’ and ‘the virgin of Israel’ are then spoken of as comparable with what happened in the wilderness at the Exodus. This again suggests all-inclusiveness because in the wilderness ‘Israel’ included Judah. The fact that they will once more plant vineyards ‘on the mountains of Samaria’, while certainly demonstrating that the exiles of the northern kingdom are included, must not necessarily be seen as exclusive of seeing the deliverance as applying to all. It is simply indicating that Israel will once more be part of the whole. The use of ‘Ephraim’ in verse 6 is merely speaking of an area known as ‘the hills of Ephraim’, and is seemingly indicating the reconciliation of Israel and Judah as joint worshippers of YHWH at the Temple. Meanwhile ‘Israel’ and ‘Jacob’ are used indiscriminately (31.2, 4, 7, 9, 10, 11) as those who will sing in the height of Zion. Furthermore ‘Rachel’ (31.15) combines Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh (compare Psalm 80.2 where these three represent the whole of Israel) and thus includes both kingdoms. All this points to both kingdoms being in mind throughout, seen as one people.
We are therefore left with three references to consider which might be seen as suggesting otherwise:
It is certainly obvious from these references that Jeremiah wants it clearly recognised that the northern kingdom is included in the coming restoration, and as being equally precious to YHWH, but the question is, are we therefore to see Judah/Benjamin as not in mind in them? On the contrary, we have seen that the reference to ‘Rachel’ (mother of both Joseph and Benjamin) would appear to emphasise that the southern kingdom are also in mind.
The first problem requiring solution is as to what ‘Ephraim is my firstborn’ signifies. Can this be seen as referring only to the northern kingdom, or is there good reason for seeing it as applying to both? For the fact is that Ephraim was neither the firstborn of Jacob/Israel, nor of Joseph. The only way in which he could have been seen as YHWH’s firstborn, unless ‘Ephraim’ was a synonym for ‘Israel’, would be because YHWH had chosen him to be above his brother (Genesis 48.10-12), i.e. had declared him to be His firstborn in status. But if that was in mind here it would mean that here Ephraim was being seen as distinguished from the rest of Israel, which would appear to be unlikely. The alternative is either to see ‘Ephraim is My firstborn’ as paralleling the wider ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn’ which is found in Exodus 4.22, which included all the tribes, with ‘Ephraim’ thereby indicating all the tribes, including Judah and Benjamin, or to see it as signifying that ‘Ephraim is an essential part of my firstborn’ with ‘firstborn’ indicating Israel/Judah’s status as ‘chief among the nations’ (31.7). Either way we must see ‘my firstborn’ as all-inclusive. But it may be asked, if that is so, why then alter ‘Israel’ to ‘Ephraim’? We may well see as the answer to that question that YHWH was by ‘Ephraim’ seeking to signify an ‘all-inclusive Israel in its fallen state as illustrated by Ephraim’. Everything then would seem to point to Ephraim here as, in one way or another, signifying all-inclusive Israel.
This interpretation would appear to be supported by the fact that it is extremely unlikely that YHWH could have been intending to give Ephraim as the northern kingdom a superior position to Judah, for it was from Judah that the supreme ruler was to come. And the same can be seen as applying to His reference to Ephraim as His dear son (31.19). Again He was certainly not intending thereby to exclude Judah. Rather He was emphasising that the northern kingdom were included along with Judah as His son, and will share the same ruler (and the same Temple). Note also how the virgin Israel’s cities in 31.21 become the cities of Judah in 31.23, 24. Thus we may see both Israel and Judah as being equally in mind in all references although with different emphases being made at different points.
If then we take the whole passage as a united prophecy (which 30.2 suggests) then it would appear to have been made after the monarchy had ceased in Judah, for reference is made in it to the restoration of the Davidic king (30.9, 21). An alternative possibility is that the prophecies occurred towards the end of the reign of Zedekiah, with troubles pressing upon them and the coming destruction now certain, and with Zedekiah being looked on as only really a regent, and as Nebuchadnezzar’s appointee. The idea would then be that Jehoiachin in Babylon was still seen as king and as the true Davidic representative chosen by the people, who needed to be restored (an idea, however, that Jeremiah has previously rejected - 22.30).
Note. Attempts to relate these prophecies to the current position in Palestine totally ignore the fact that modern self-named Israel did not return in repentance but in belligerence, are not ruled by a son of David, and are in fact the unbelieving part of Israel which was ‘cut off from Israel’ because of their rejection of the Messiah and their continuing unbelief (Matthew 21.43; Romans 11.17-28). In God’s purposes they are thus no longer Israel, although any who wish can become Israel by truly responding to the Lord, Jesus Christ (Romans 11.23), for ‘there is no other Name under Heaven given among men by which we can be saved’ (Acts 4.12).
The passage here is therefore rather describing the building up of the land after the return from exile, resulting in the true combined Israel, which is finally summed up in Jesus Christ (and came out of Egypt in Him - Matthew 2.15), and in the true Jewish remnant which responded to the Messiah when He came. It is those who responded to the Lord Jesus Christ who were the true Israel, ‘the Israel within Israel’, the repentant remnant. They were then supplemented by believing proselytes from among the Gentiles who united with them in Christ, and are together called the ‘Israel of God’ (Galatians 6.16), and the ‘Israel within Israel’ (Romans 9.6). This new Israel in which Jews and Gentiles have been made one is established on Jesus Christ and His Apostles and Prophets (Ephesians 2.11-22; Revelation 21.10-27). In other words it is the ‘true congregation of Israel’ referred to in Matthew 16.18, the ‘true Vine’ of John 15.1-6, which was being established by Jesus Christ as making up the true remnant of Israel. It is the olive tree, named as such by God (11.16), and with amplifying details described in Romans 11.17-28, which is now the true Israel..
End of note.
A). We will now consider sub-part A. verse by verse.
Because Of The Certainty Of Future Restoration Jeremiah Is To Record All His Words In A Book (30.1-3)
The importance of the words spoken here for recognising the true authorship of the bulk of Jeremiah can hardly be overstated, although we do know that he was assisted in his work by Baruch. For, unless Jeremiah was totally disobedient, we learn here that he added to the ‘book’ (scroll) that he had previously authored (36.31; 45.1), subsequent prophecies, at least up to the date of the siege of Jerusalem (at least part of the account below appears to be given at a time when there was no reigning Davidic monarch). He would certainly have had plenty of time for writing while he was in the royal guard room, and assuming that he had disciples in Judah, would surely have communicated his prophecies to them. He could then have completed it in Egypt, from where it would be sent to exiles in all parts. Thus apart from minor editing we may see from this that most of the book came directly from Jeremiah. And it is YHWH Who here stresses the necessity for this precisely because of the coming anticipated restoration to the land of both Israel and Judah. Jeremiah’s prophecies were therefore to be an essential part of the restoration, for along with the older prophets, they explained why Judah and Israel had had to go through their sufferings, and yet could still be offered hope.
30.1 ‘The word that came to Jeremiah from YHWH, saying,’
This is the usual formula with which Jeremiah opens a subsection of his work. and emphasises that what he is writing here consists of a new word of YHWH.
30.2 ‘Thus speaks YHWH, the God of Israel, saying, “Write you all the words that I have spoken to you in a book.”
With YHWH’s most imposing title being applied, Jeremiah is now called on to write down all the words that YHWH has spoken to him, in a book or scroll. This need for Jeremiah to write down his prophecies has in fact constantly been emphasised (36.2, 28; 45.1), and suggests that he felt under a divine urge to record his prophecies.
30.3 “For, lo, the days come, the word of YHWH, that I will turn again the captivity of my people Israel and Judah, the word of YHWH, and I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they will possess it.”
And the reason for writing down his words is in readiness for the fact that ‘according to the assured word of YHWH’ (twice stressed) the days were coming when YHWH would ‘turn again’ the captivity of His people, both Israel and Judah, and cause them to return to the land of their fathers and possess it. It would be at that stage that they would need Jeremiah’s prophecies of hope. This ‘turning again’ would begin with the return of exiles from Babylon (Ezra 1.1 ff.), but it would continue on through the undocumented period following Malachi to such an extent that, by the time of Jesus Christ, Palestine (Galilee and Judaea) was well populated with people connected with the ‘twelve tribes’ in one way or another (see e.g. Luke 2.36).
The Dark Days About To Come On Judah, And Already being Experienced by Many From Both Judah and Israel In Exile, Are Vividly Portrayed (30.4-7).
30.4 ‘And these are the words that YHWH spoke concerning Israel and concerning Judah.’
At the time when Jeremiah was speaking Judah was populated, not only by men of Judah and Benjamin, but also by large numbers of refugees and ‘immigrants’ from northern Israel, who for one reason or another, some for religious reasons, and others for political reasons, had taken up their abode in Judah. It thus represented what officially remained of both Israel and Judah in Palestine itself. These words, however, would appear to encompass not only those in Palestine, but also the exiles from both Israel and Judah scattered abroad around the world (Isaiah 11.11).
30.5 ‘For thus says YHWH,
YHWH declares that all is not well for Israel and Judah, either at home or abroad. From among both peoples comes a voice, not of wellbeing and peace, but of trembling and fear (compare Leviticus 26.36-39). Judah is approaching its final death throes, whilst many of the exiles are experiencing hard times (compare Deuteronomy 28.65-67). ‘We’ probably has in mind YHWH and the heavenly council, although it may simply be an anonymous and impersonal ‘we’.
Indeed things are so bad that it is as though even the males in Israel and Judah are in labour pains for they are holding their abdomens in their distress, and their faces have gone deathly white. They are like women undergoing labour pains as a result of the distress in which they find themselves, to such an extent that it makes onlookers ask, ‘are the men also in labour?’.
This depth of suffering suggests either a period near the end of Zedekiah’s reign when the great judgment was looming over them, or the period following when Jerusalem had been destroyed and the land was in darkness and despair.
This idea then leads on to a vivid picture of the anguish that must follow the destruction of Jerusalem and precede the restoration, the ‘time of Jacob’s trouble’, which is the period of suffering prior to restoration, a time of trembling and fear in full accordance with the warning given in Leviticus 26.32-45. Note in Leviticus the prominent mention of ‘Jacob’ (verse 42), and of ‘faintness’ (verse 36) and of the restoration of the covenant (verses 42, 45), all features of this passage. The phrase ‘Jacob’s trouble’ is itself drawn from the warning of ‘trouble’ for a disobedient Israel in Deuteronomy 30.17, 21; and its reference to ‘Jacob’ may be found in Isaiah 43.28; Hosea 12.2. For the idea of their distress and fear compare Deuteronomy 28.65-67.
So their anguish will be because of the dreadfulness of what is coming. It is the time spoken of by Moses and the prophets, the time of ‘Jacob’s trouble’ resulting from their idolatry and the breaking of the covenant (Leviticus 26.32-45; Deuteronomy 28.58-67; 30.17, 21; Isaiah 43.28; Hosea 12.2). It would result initially in the besieging of Jerusalem with all the human costs that that involved (Deuteronomy 28.52-55), and continue on in the misery of the exiles (Leviticus 26.36-39; Deuteronomy 28.58-67), something never before experienced. The princes of the sanctuary will be profaned and ‘Jacob’ will become a curse (Isaiah 43.28). ‘Jacob’ will be punished according to his ways, and recompensed according to his doings (Hosea 12.2).
And this occurred because the people had rejected YHWH in their hearts, and had gone after other gods and allied themselves with godless nations. Only a remnant would be delivered out of it. (A similar story would repeat itself when the nation rejected Jesus Christ. The Idolatrous Desolator (Abomination of Desolation) would destroy Jerusalem, and the people would be scattered into exile, facing a tribulation the like of which had not ever been known before (Matthew 24.15-21; Luke 21.20-24).).
Jacob (the people of Judah and the exiles of Israel and Judah as still not transformed), would be troubled because of the tumults in the world, as well as because they were strangers in a foreign land. It was not easy living in that area at that time. As we read of the movements of armies and of battles in history we can often tend to overlook the misery and suffering that was being brought on the people in the parts of the world where they took place. Every mile of advance of an army was at a tremendous human cost, as ‘innocent’ people were caught up in the terror that had come upon them. And in mind here are the particularly bad times, probably having in mind the times when the Babylonian kings had to quell rebellions, often in places where many of the exiles were to be found, and that even if they had not themselves been a part of the rebellion. These would most often occur as one king died and was replaced by another, something which would cause friction between contenders, and hopes of freedom (even if hopeless) among tributaries. At such times vengeance could be non-discriminatory. Indeed from what follows it would appear to have especially in mind the tumults that would arise as a result of the activities of the Persians and the Medes as, under Cyrus, they would challenge the mighty Babylonian Empire. It was a day so great and so awful that none could remember anything like it (compare a similar idea in Joel 2.2), and it would cause great trouble to ‘Jacob’, that is, to the exiles in Babylonia, Elam and Assyria, the ‘troubles’ forecast by Moses and the prophets (Deuteronomy 30.17, 21). For such ‘troubles’ for God’s nominal people resulting from rampant idolatry compare Deuteronomy 31.17, 21, and for its being related directly to ‘Jacob’ see Isaiah 43.28; Hosea 12.2. Thus it is the time anticipated by the earlier prophets when YHWH would punish His people for their idolatry. But, unexpectedly, out of it would come deliverance and the opportunity to return home, thanks humanly speaking to the humaneness of Cyrus’ policies, a king whom God had raised up for the purpose. They would be ‘saved out of’ the great troubles that were coming on them and on the world.
There are no good grounds for referring the words here specifically to what we call ‘the end times’ (we do love to think that no one mattered but us and ‘our times’, which incidentally may well turn out not to be the end times) except in so far as Jeremiah probably saw them as the end times followed by final restoration. He would not be expecting a complicated future. (He was not to know that it was the first stepping stone in a long history. The words were intended to apply to the situation in which the people in those days could expect to find themselves. Prophecy is not to be seen as a kind of crystal ball looking into the long distant future and irrelevant to the age in which it was given. Jeremiah was considering what immediately lay ahead. Of course, troubles arose for God’s people throughout all ages, and they would often be seen as ‘beyond compare’, although, of course, from the prophetic perspective their hope each time was that it would then issue in perfect peace for Israel. Thus they hoped that they would be the ‘end time’ troubles. They did not realise that there would be many such times of ‘Jacob’s trouble’, as Daniel in fact brings out, (and also a number of desolations of Jerusalem, e.g. by Nebuchadnezzar, by Antiochus Epiphanes, by Titus) before the end came. They simply knew that before blessing must come trouble because of the sinfulness of God’s people, and that this would be so to the end. Nor could they have visualised the new Israel (Matthew 21.43) that would arise out of such troubles in Jesus’ day, an Israel which would also continue to experience ‘much tribulation’ as the word of God spread throughout the world in accordance with Isaiah 2.3. All of this was awaiting the setting up of the everlasting kingdom when there will be no more trouble.
The Coming Great Deliverance (30.8-11).
One day there will come a time when the yoke of Babylon will be removed, and Israel will be free, and they will serve YHWH their God, and David their king whom YHWH will raise up to them.
And ‘in that day’, the day when YHWH began to act, the yoke and bonds of Babylon, previously so vividly displayed by Jeremiah (27.2 ff.; 28.2), would be broken off their necks (as they had been prematurely from Jeremiah’s neck by Hananiah), and their bonds would be torn asunder (compare Isaiah 10.27), and the result would be that they would no longer be bondmen, restricted in their movements, but at liberty to return home to serve YHWH their God freely, and be ruled over by a Davidide (compare Hosea 3.5; Isaiah 55.4). That this occurred Scripture makes clear. Zerubbabel is the Davidide best known to us from the post-exilic period, but he was not the only one, and we should note the vivid language used by Haggai and Zechariah concerning his reign (Haggai 1.12-14; 2.2-7, 21-22; Zechariah 4.7-9). From Heaven’s viewpoint his reign was seen as ‘earth shaking’, even if humanly speaking it was ‘a day of small things’. But there would also have been others. All this would, however, culminate in the arrival of the greater ‘Son of David’ Who would establish God’s Kingly Rule on earth (Matthew 12.28; Revelation 12.10), and then establish His throne in Heaven (Matthew 28.18; Acts 2.36; Hebrews 1.3; Revelation 3.21), continuing an everlasting rule which would continue over the earth (Revelation 20.4-6) and which would be finalised after His second coming in the everlasting kingdom.
Furthermore this great picture is repeated whenever someone is converted to Jesus Christ. They rise from the captivity of this world, their chains fall off, their hearts become free, and they rise up to follow YHWH their God and the Greater David, Jesus Christ, Whom they have come to know as their King and LORD. It is noteworthy that in the New Testament the Name LORD (YHWH) is applied mainly to Jesus Christ.
Meanwhile the magnanimity of Persian policy would give nations a new freedom, and none more so than Israel and Judah, who were allowed to return home with their religious accoutrements and with assistance from the Persian treasury, and were thus able to establish first the Temple (completed about 516 BC) and a new but impoverished nation, and then finally Jerusalem itself as a ruling city under Nehemiah (about 445 BC), eventually becoming a relatively wealthy independent nation under the Hasmoneans, only to lose it all because of sin.
‘In that day --’ simply indicates ‘the day in which YHWH decides to act’. Such ‘days’ have occurred throughout history.
So Jacob (Judah/Israel) were not to be afraid of the future, nor dismayed at what was to happen around them, for all was in YHWH’s hands. The association of ‘Jacob’ and ‘Israel’ signifying the whole of Judah/Israel is typically Isaianic (Isaiah 9.8; 10.20 and twenty two times in all) as is the reference to Jacob as His ‘servant’, and it is possibly borrowed from there by Jeremiah. Whatever may have happened to them in the past His purpose towards them for the future was good. On the sure ‘word of YHWH’ they could be certain that they would be ‘saved from afar’, wherever they might be, and their children would be saved also, from the land of their enforced exile, and they would return to their land and find quiet and ease, with none to make them afraid.
This redemption of ‘Jacob’ was a regular feature of Isaiah’s ministry (Isaiah 14.1; 44.23; 48.20; 49.6; 60.16). And that is precisely what God did during the centuries after the Exile when His people returned and repopulated Palestine, enjoying many long periods of peace and wellbeing. Whilst we mainly know of the returnees from Babylon we may be sure that many who remained true to YHWH came from other parts as well. It would have been remarkable if they had not. And certainly by the time of Jesus we find an Israel made up of people from many of the tribes, although many had lost their specific identity. There was further fulfilment when Jesus came, leading men into peace and rest (Matthew 11.28-30), and bringing about an even greater redemption for ‘Jacob’ (Mark 10.45). But, of course, the final fulfilment will be in the everlasting kingdom when there will be no more fear.
The mention of ‘their seed’ indicates, however, that it would not be immediate but after a period of time, which ties in with the ‘seventy year’ delay.
30.11 “For I am with you,
For on His own sure word (the word of YHWH) they could know that He was with them and would deliver them, and would make a full end of all the nations among whom they had been scattered (especially Assyria and Babylon). But while He would make a full end of these nations He would not make a full end of Judah/Israel. This final hope was something that He had indeed often promised in the past (4.27; 5.10, 18). Rather He would correct them ‘in measure’ and punish them in order to remove from them what spoiled them. For towards them His final purpose was of chastisement not final destruction. On the other hand they could not remain wholly unpunished.
That many of the nations among whom they dwelt disappeared as such from history in the inter-testamental period is well known. Assyria also disappeared from the map as such, Elam was no more and ancient Babylon ceased to exist. They were eventually replaced by the powers of Greece and Rome.
The Reason Why Israel/Judah Needed To Be Delivered Was Because Of Their Sufferings, Which Were Grievous Because They Were The Consequence Of Their Sins (30.12-15).
Having made His glorious promises YHWH now turns back to why all this was necessary. As we have seen above this passage contains a deliberate pattern of contrasts, with the fact of the miserable present being contrasted with the glorious future. Their present condition is what prevents God from restoring His people and must first be dealt with before there can be restoration. Their situation has arisen because they were spiritually badly wounded with none to tend them. It was because there was no balm in Gilead, and no physician there (8.22). It was because all to whom they looked had deserted them. It was because YHWH Himself was dealing with the problem of their sins.
30.12-13 ‘For thus says YHWH,
The condition of ‘Jacob’ (verse 10) is seen as being like that of a badly wounded man. Their hurt is incurable by any earthly means. Their wound is bleeding and grievous. And because they have deserted Him there is no one to speak up for them in order that their wounds might be bound up. That is why they have no healing medicines. It is because they have been abandoned by those on whom they had depended. There is a clear similarity between this picture, and the badly diseased Israel of Isaiah 1.5-6.
They are like a wounded man who has been deserted on the battlefield, with their erstwhile ‘lovers’ having forgotten and abandoned them. No one looks for him or is concerned about him. And so it is with them. The reference to ‘lovers’ may be to their idols, or more likely it may have in mind their erstwhile idolatrous allies among the nations. But the point is that they will not receive any help from anywhere or from anyone. And the reason is because it is YHWH Who has wounded them, acting through their enemy. It is YHWH who has chastised them, acting by means of all the fierceness of a cruel invader (both Assyrian and Babylonian soldiers could be called ‘cruel ones’ because of their total lack of humanity). And the reason they are in this condition is because of the greatness of their iniquity, their inbred evil, and because their sins have continually increased.
Whenever we get a repetition in Scripture it is because of the necessity of the lesson coming home, and here it is the lesson of Judah and Israel’s extreme sinfulness which is to be repeated almost word for word from verse 14. In verse 14 their wounded state at the hand of YHWH had been described, and we learned that it was because of the greatness of their iniquity, and because their sins were increased, and now they are asked why it is that they are crying out because of the hurt of their wound, and it is again stressed that they are as they are because they are suffering at the hand of YHWH because of the greatness of their iniquity and because their sins had increased. Thus it is saying, ‘Let it be repeated. That was why He had done these things to them.’ And because it is YHWH Who is responsible for their wound, their wound is incurable except by Him.
However, The Nations Too Will Suffer Both Because Of Their Own Deserts And Because They Have Mocked Judah’s God, While On The Other Hand Judah Will Be Restored (30.16-17).
But Israel/Judah will not be alone in their sufferings, for those who are their adversaries will also themselves finally suffer. For they too are deserving of judgment and have sown misery, and what they have sown they will reap. On the other hand, because they have dismissed Zion (God’s people) in derision as of no account, Zion will be restored, in order that they might learn the lesson not to dismiss YHWH’s love and concern.
So those who devoured them would not go unpunished. They too in their turn would be devoured (those who take to the sword will perish by the sword) because they too were filled with iniquity and had increased in sin. And they too would go into captivity, even mighty Babylon. Those who despoiled them would themselves be despoiled, and those who preyed on them would themselves become a prey. God’s righteous judgment would reach to all. Thus in all their sufferings the people could recognise that it was not they alone who would suffer. Their conquerors too would become the conquered. It was the way of all flesh.
The one difference was that one day Judah/Israel’s strength would be restored. They alone of all the nations would be preserved through thick and thin. For YHWH Himself would one day restore health to them and heal their ‘incurable’ wounds, the wounds which He alone could cure because He had inflicted them. This was on the sure word of YHWH. And all this would be because men had derided them and had called them an outcast, and had spoken of them as ‘Zion whom no man seeks after’, because all had turned away from them. The mention of ‘Zion’ suggests that underneath the derision we are to see lying derision at Zion’s God. Judah/Israel themselves had boasted in ‘Zion’. Very well, say the nations, who wants them now?
This mention of Zion is a theme within a theme, for it is preparing for the following chapter when the restoration of Zion will be a feature of the whole restoration (31.12, 23, 40). Then indeed men will seek after Zion for His people will be restored. Its mention here in this derogatory fashion is thus preparation for its restoration.
‘Jacob’ Is To Be Restored To Its Former Glory By The Awesome Power Of YHWH. They Will Be His People And He Will Be Their God (30.18-31.1).
The restoration of ‘Zion whom no man seeks after’ is now abundantly guaranteed. The city and palace will be rebuilt, thanksgiving and merriment will ring out, and their numbers will multiply. But above all, and in one way or another it will be repeated three times (30.22; 31.1, 33), He will once more be their God and they will be His people. And all this will be accomplished by the tempestuous power of YHWH.
30.18-19 ‘Thus says YHWH,
The picture here is of complete restoration for Judah/Israel through the activity of YHWH. ‘Jacob’s tents’ (the places where they dwelt) would be ‘turned again’ and restored to their former glory. YHWH would have compassion on their forsaken dwellingplaces. Each city would be built on its own hill (tel, mound), especially Jerusalem, the symbol of them all, and the palace-complex would be re-inhabited as a palace, presumably signifying the restoration of the Davidic house. And from both city and palace would arise thanksgiving and merriment, the sign of a people restored both spiritually and physically. And their numbers would grow more and more so that they would not be few, and He would glorify them (by fruitfulness and prosperity) so that they would not be insignificant.
The fulfilment of this would take a century and more, commencing with the ‘few’ who would return from Babylon, and growing as more and more exiles returned. A great landmark along the way would be the establishment of the Temple, and finally Jerusalem’s own glory would be established by Nehemiah. Jerusalem would once again rule proudly as an independent city, with eventually their own rulers in their own palaces. What followed Nehemiah is mainly hidden from us, only to re-emerge, firstly in the successes of the Maccabees, and the reign of the Hasmonean kings, and then in a prosperous Judaea and Galilee in the time of Jesus, by which time ‘Israel’ were a numerous people. And then the final Son of David came and established the true Israel and the beginnings of the everlasting Kingdom.
All would be as before. Their young would again flourish and play in the streets as they had of old (9.21), and the whole of the people (their ‘congregation’) would be established before Him, while all who oppressed them would be punished. A new Israel would arise out of the old, but this time a chastened and at least partially responsive Israel. It was such a ‘congregation’ that Jesus promised to establish, founded on the words of Peter about His Messiahship as the Son of the living God (Matthew 16.18).
Their rulers would be those whom they themselves chose from among them, and would be home-born, and would be one of themselves. And these rulers would approach YHWH directly. This would be something totally new for in previous times the king would approach through the priests. We can contrast how it was said of Joshua, “he shall stand before Eleazar, who will enquire for him in a matter of Urim before YHWH” (Numbers 27.21), and how even David and Solomon could not approach into the immediate presence of YHWH to ask His will, but stood outside the Sanctuary. However, the prerogative of the priests of YHWH would now also belong to those who ruled in Israel. This found a remarkable fulfilment in the Hasmonean priest-king rulers (it is noteworthy that this particular prophecy did not mention David), and even moreso in the twofold ministries of Jesus Christ, especially as portrayed in Hebrews. In Him we have the Priest-Ruler Supreme, One Who was from among themselves and Who had full access into the presence of His Father.
The question ‘who is He who has had boldness, to approach to me?’ can be seen as similar to the later question of Jesus to the rich young ruler, ‘Why do you call Me good?’ It is not denying that the One questioned about is good, or has the right to approach, but rather asking for all to consider the unique credentials of the One about Whom the question was asked.
And the end result will be that the true remnant of Judah/Israel will be His people and He will be their God. This could only ever be so for the remnant who returned to Him in repentance and trust, for all through the Old Testament it was they who formed the true Israel, the Israel within Israel. Thus there are always two Israels in balance, nominal disobedient Israel and true believing Israel. And the final promises are always to true Israel, not to cast-off Israel. The coming of Jesus would bring things to a climax, and the new believing Israel would arise out of the old, with the old cast off (Matthew 16.18; 21.43; John 15.1-6; Romans 11.17-28; Galatians 3.29; 6.16; Ephesians 2.11-22; 1 Peter 1.1; 2.9; James 1.1).
For these words compare 23.19-20. All that was being described would be accomplished by ‘the Tempest of YHWH’ as His wrath went forth, both against His own disbelieving people, and against their adversaries. Like a sweeping tempest it would burst on the head of the wicked, and it would not return or cease until He had carried out the intents of His heart. And towards the end, as it was coming into fulfilment, they would understand it. ‘The latter days’ indicates the latter days of this period in which all this would happen. We, as God’s people, of course understand it more fully for we have seen the arrival of the King, and await the everlasting kingdom.
And the final consequence of all this, and this was the assured word of YHWH, was that YHWH would be God of all the families of Israel (an all-inclusive description taking in both Israel and Judah) and they would be His people. It would be true in the inter-testamental period of all who returned to the land from all the tribes of Israel, coming with a new trust in YHWH, and was seen also as true by the exiles who remained in ‘the dispersion’. God was seen as having re-established Himself as the God of His people. But there was still among them, certainly in the later days prior to Jesus’ coming, (and within His days), bitter fighting and rivalry. It thus became even more true that God was the God of His people when out of the Old Israel a New Israel was born (Matthew 21.43; compare 2 Corinthians 6.16-18), founded on the Apostles and Prophets, its beginnings found in the continuingly expanding believing remnant of Israel in Judaea and Galilee, expanding further to the believers among the dispersion, and then bursting forth in the incorporating of Gentiles into ‘the household of God’ as ‘fellow-citizens’ (Ephesians 2.11-22), all making up ‘the families of Israel’.
Note. It is, of course, a myth to think of Israel as ever having been made up only of actual descendants of Jacob. From the beginning it included servants and retainers of the patriarchs. This was further added to by the ‘mixed multitude’ (Exodus 12.38) who were incorporated into the families of Israel at Sinai, and other foreigners who joined with them in terms of Exodus 12.48. And ‘Israel’, continued to gather up foreigners into the family of Israel all through its long life (e.g. Uriah the Hittite). The idea of ‘descent’ was seen as very flexible, and was on the whole by adoption. Israel was therefore very much a cosmopolitan entity even in the time of Jeremiah, united by its rather frail belief in YHWH, than by ties of descent. The times of exile would result in many ‘Israelites’ being lost to Israel, as they merged into the nations among whom they settled, and thus Israel was constituted more from then on of those who remained loyal to the concept of Israel’s God, both in Palestine and among the dispersion. Thus when the Messiah came the whole of Israel was faced up to its final choice, and a new Israel was born out of those of Israel who truly believed and responded to Him. The rejection of the old while they were still in unbelief was signified by the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and made clear by Jesus Christ Himself (Matthew 21.43) and by Paul (Romans 11.17-28). The true Jerusalem was now the Jerusalem that was above (Galatians 4.21-31), which was now ‘the city of the living God’ (Hebrews 12.22), and the Temple was now Jesus Christ (John 2.19) and His people (1 Corinthians 3.16 and often). They were now the true Israel, believing Israel, and as always ready to accept into ‘the families of Israel’ all who truly believed, whether Jew or Gentile.
End of note.
As They Were Of Old Delivered From Egypt, So Israel Are Now Again To Be Redeemed And Delivered, So That They Might Find Rest Because Of YHWH’s Love For Them (31.2-6).
The reference back to the old deliverance from Egypt confirms that we are to see in what follows a reference to the whole of Israel. While at certain points Jeremiah will especially be emphasising the people of the northern kingdom, that is because he wishes to emphasise that they are included in YHWH’s saving activity. It might otherwise have been thought that they were excluded. But as with Isaiah Jeremiah sees the two nations as one. Both are seen as returning (verse 1, 27). Indeed, Israel will so much be one with Judah that they will once more seek to Zion (verse 12).
31.2a ‘Thus says YHWH,’
As usual this phrase opens up a new passage. YHWH speaks, and what He says comes about.
As in 2.1-6 current Israel are paralleled with the Israel that came out of Egypt. Those who were left from the sword (i.e. had escaped from the swords of Pharaoh’s advancing troops) had found favour in the wilderness’ ‘Found favour’ is a typical Exodus phrase relating to YHWH being with His people (see Exodus 33.16), and the tenses of the verbs employed also support the idea. In verses 2-3 perfects are used, whilst in verse 4 we have the imperfect, ‘again I will build you’. The use of the phrase ‘in the wilderness’ (compare 2.2; Hosea 13:4-5) further supports a reference to the Exodus.
The reference to ‘escaping from the sword’ was deliberately in order to make the parallel with the Babylonian and Assyrian exiles. These exiles were truly those who had escaped from the sword which had devoured their fellow-countrymen. And these exiles too are often portrayed as returning through the wilderness (e.g. Isaiah 43.19-21; 48.21). The aim in both cases was to ‘give them rest’ or ‘cause them to settle’. This is the opposite of Deuteronomy 28.65 where they would ‘find no rest’, and indicates a reversing of the curse. So they too will be delivered as Israel had been of old. It is probable therefore that at this stage ‘Israel’ is intended to include all the tribes as it did in the wilderness.
The ‘me’ here is Israel. YHWH had appeared to them at Sinai and declared His covenant love, a love which is now revealed as an ‘everlasting love’, a never failing love. But it is apparent immediately that it is not a love which overlooks sin (His chastening would still go ahead). It is a love which perseveres and expects them to truly repent and respond to Him as He draws them to Himself in accordance with that covenant (something to be exemplified in verses 31 ff.). For in the end that love will finally be revealed in those who truly believe.
Alternately we may translate ‘from afar’, with the idea that He has heard from Heaven and has arrived in His covenant love in order to act on Israel’s behalf.
As a result of His redeeming and saving work they will again (as they were of old) be ‘built up’ (a constant Jeremaic theme, 12.16; 18.9; 24.6; and often later. The repetition emphasises the soundness of the work). And they will again (as they used to do in better days) wear their musical instruments, and will go forth dancing as those who ‘make merry’ (compare 30.19; 31.13). This light-hearted joy would be a feature of the deliverance. The ‘tabret’ was an ancient kind of tambourine made up of a metal ring containing bells.
Note the reference to Israel/Judah as the ‘virgin of Israel’ (compare 2.32; 14.17; 18.13; 31.21). The idea is of her restoration to her original purity, no longer a spiritual adulterer but a seeker after YHWH.
That the deliverance of the exiles from the northern kingdom is very much in mind (although not to the exclusion of Judah) comes out here in the reference to Samaria. They will ‘again’ plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria (those once ruled from Samaria), they will plant and subsequently enjoy their fruit because they will be under YHWH’s protection once again. This enjoyment of fruit is more significant than at first appears for the fruit of the vineyard could not be eaten until the fifth year (Leviticus 19.23-24). Thus it is an indication of permanence. ‘The mountains of Samaria’ are once again, therefore, to be a part of Israel/Judah.
But this new Israel will be one which is again united with Judah, for the cry of the watchmen on the hills of Ephraim (probably a parallel phrase to ‘the mountains of Samaria) will be, ‘Arise you, and let us go up to Zion, to YHWH our God’.” They will again join in the regular religious feasts at the Temple at one with Judah. The schism would have been healed. (Thus Judah will also be back there and the Temple will have been rebuilt). Their hearts will all be set on YHWH.
There is a reference here to the special watchmen in Israel who observed the phases of the moon so that they might know the timing of the feasts of YHWH, both the day of the new moon (which commenced the ‘month’ - the moon period) and the day of the full moon which commenced the seven day feasts. It also determined the date of the Passover. It was thus ‘the watchmen’ who called the people to the feasts.
YHWH Will Lead The Remnant Of Israel Back From Exile As A Father Does His Children And On The Height Of Zion They Will Rejoice In The Resulting Glorious Provision Of YHWH (31.7-14).
In striking contrast to the present state of the exiles we now have a glorious picture of restoration, but one that is then immediately and deliberately set in contrast to a flashback to the weeping figure of Rachel weeping over the condition of her children (31.15). This is a reminder of the pattern found in 30.5-11 and 30.12-17. Deliverance may be coming, but it is to be remembered that it is out of the deserved misery of the present. Nor must the fact be overlooked that they must return with responsive weeping because they are repentant over their sins (verse 9), and this even though it will later be followed by a call to ‘weep no more’ (31.16 ff.). Deliverance was not to be on easy terms. It was clearly considered important that it be recognised that their deliverance would arise from despair and weeping, and must be accompanied by repentance and weeping. They are not being rewarded for good behaviour, but are being, as it were, lifted out of the pit which they have deliberately dug for themselves and into which they have fallen. They must therefore respond accordingly. When God delivers and ‘brings salvation’ it always results in repentant hearts and changed lives. His righteousness is both imputed and imparted (Isaiah 61.10). On the other hand that must not take away from the glory of that deliverance which is the result of God’s sovereign love (verse 3).
31.7a ‘For thus says YHWH,’
Once again YHWH has spoken and it will therefore come about.
This call may be seen as addressed to those who had said, ‘Zion for whom no one cares’ (30.17). Or simply as addressed to the nations more generally (compare verse 10). Or as addressed to the ‘remnant of Israel’. Whichever way it is they are called on to sing with gladness for Jacob (Judah/Israel), and to shout with triumph on behalf of ‘the chief of the nations’, a title applied to Israel in Amos 6.1, but equally applicable to Judah. The idea was based on such verses as Exodus 19.5; Leviticus 20.24, 26; Deuteronomy 7.6; 26.19. Note the acknowledgement that once again Israel and Zion are the chosen of YHWH. Thus these ‘singers and callers’ are to publish abroad their desire for YHWH to save His people, and are to praise YHWH concerning it. Their cry is to be, ‘O YHWH, save your people, the remnant of Israel’. It underlines the fact that now someone does care about Zion. If we see it as spoken to the Gentile nations ( for which there is a good argument on the basis that it does counter the fact of ‘Zion for whom no one cares’, and because it explains the reference to Israel as ‘the chief (head) of the nations’), then there is also here an indication that they are hoping for some of the blessing also to fall on them once Israel is restored (Genesis 12.3; and often).
It is noteworthy that, as always, it is ‘the remnant’ of Israel who are to be saved (compare Isaiah 6.13), the repentant ones who respond to YHWH’s call. There is never any suggestion that Israel as a whole will be saved. Many indeed would have been absorbed into the nations among whom they dwelt, while other would have lapsed into unbelief and despair, or been killed. But from among them would come those who believed. It was they who would be saved.
Israelites are to be gathered from the north country to which the Assyrians had taken them, and from the uttermost parts of the earth (see Isaiah 11.11), and it will include the weak and helpless, the blind, the lame, the pregnant woman and the woman in labour. The road will be made so easy for them that such conditions will not matter. They will return as ‘a great company’, (in other words a good quantity will return), but clearly in equally great weakness. While we have no record of their return in the Scriptures, there is no reason to doubt that many northern exiles did actually join in the return to the land once the news reached them of the new settlement of Israel by returning Babylonian exiles and the rebuilding of the Temple, and they would help each other along. Weakness was to be no bar to travel for YHWH would be with them. It was the time for which many of them had been waiting (compare how they were depicted as watching what was going on in the land in 8.19) and now it was here, and they were not going to miss it. Those who came would be those who were the most zealous for YHWH, establishing the nation in readiness for the arrival of the coming Shoot of David.
But when they returned it was to be in repentance, weeping as they came. There could be no restoration without repentance. That the primary reference is to repentance comes out in the combination with ‘supplications’. Compare also verse 16 where they are to cease weeping because of their deliverance. It was thus not seen as weeping for joy. They are rather seen as seeking the face of YHWH in tears. Of course, we need not necessarily wholly exclude the idea of their also weeping for joy (see Ezra 3.12-13), for repentance and joy in the end go together. Joy follows repentance. But it is clear that we cannot exclude the idea of repentance. That is the first requirement for their return as has been made apparent earlier (e.g. 29.12-14). Compare verses 18-19.
And they would make continual supplications to YHWH as He led them in the way, just as they had in the wilderness after leaving Egypt. It would be a new Exodus. But they would not thirst because He would lead them by rivers of water, and they would not stumble because the way would be made straight. For He would be like a Father to them, and they would be His first-born.
They can be pictured as like the prodigal son as he wended his way home to his father, and indeed that is what they were. He too came with weeping and supplication (Luke 15.12-20)
This is probably describing what would be true spiritually rather than physically, although it clearly also included the thought of provision on the way. He would be with them as they struggled towards their homeland, encouraging them in the way. ‘Ephraim is my first-born’ indicates that the stress is at present very much inclusive of the return of the northern tribes, but not exclusively, for as His first-born it must include Judah (Exodus 4.22). Ephraim was the one chosen by YHWH over Manasseh (Genesis 48.19), and was a name later applied to the northern kingdom, and then as here to all Israel. It can thus signify ‘My chosen one’. The phrase is reminiscent of ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn’ in Exodus 4.22. Judah will be emphasised in 31.23-30. But all will return (30.3, 4, 17; 31.1, 27, 31). To prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah Israel and Judah were still really one nation under any title.
The call again goes out to the nations, as in verse 7, and to the isles across the sea, (Cyprus, Crete and the Aegean coastlands), declaring what YHWH is doing for His people. YHWH is now like a shepherd to His people. He Who had (by means of the wolf and the lion - 2.15; 4.7; 5.6) scattered them, would now gather them and lead them forward, safely kept under His protecting hand. For YHWH has proved His might. He has ransomed ‘Jacob’ (Judah/Israel) and redeemed him from the hands of those who were stronger than he (compare Psalm 35.10). Assyria and Babylon may have seemed stronger, but they would perish. Israel would, however, go on in God’s purposes.
The idea behind ransom and redemption was of a kinsman redeemer who himself would sacrifice of his own in order to assist the setting free of a kinsman. For YHWH too there would be a price to pay.
31.12 “And they will come and sing in the height of Zion,
An idyllic picture is drawn of the future. They will return to Zion, and there they will sing on its ‘height’, its holy mount. And they will flow like a river into YHWH’s goodness (i.e. into YHWH as He is in His goodness). Compare the similar picture of all nations flowing to YHWH in Isaiah 2.2. The grain, new wine and olive oil will flourish as they flow into it as part of the goodness of YHWH, and the flock and the herd will abundantly produce their young. Their own inner lives will be like a watered garden full of life and vitality, and they will sorrow no more. The watered garden was the ideal of luxury and fruitfulness, never running dry because its owner could always afford water.
To a certain extent this was fulfilled as far as they were concerned when they returned to their land and things appeared to prosper as they lived semi-independently under their Persian rulers. And even more so when they found independence from the later (Greek) Seleucids through Jonathan and Simon Maccabaeus. Even under Rome they would be more allies than subjects, with Herod being seen as the friend of Rome, at least until towards the end. But its greater fulfilment awaits the eternal kingdom, the new Heaven and the new earth as described in Revelation 21.3-4; 22.1-5. Interestingly it is reminiscent of the idyllic life depicted in Ecclesiastes.
All sorrow will be over. All will join in the dancing. The virgin, the young man and the old together will rejoice in the dance. There is no reason for excluding the males from the dance. It would be remembered that David danced before YHWH when the Ark was brought safely into Jerusalem. Perhaps that is in mind here. Their mourning will be turned into joy, and YHWH will comfort them and make them rejoice from their sorrows. In the end, however, this is not something that can finally be accomplished in this life. It requires the perfecting of men’s hearts at the resurrection, and will come to fulfilment in the eternal kingdom.
We can compare here Isaiah 35.10, ‘the ransomed of YHWH will return, and come to Zion with singing, everlasting joy will be on their heads, they will obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing will flee away’. Everlasting joy is only obtainable in the everlasting kingdom.
Both priests and people will be satisfied in YHWH. To be satisfied ‘with fat’ is to have the best of provision. The fat was the best of the sacrifice, and was sacred to YHWH. It was not partaken of by the priests. It therefore here means receiving the very best, and is not a direct reference to sacrifices. The provision of YHWH will thus be abundant, and His goodness overflowing. And this is on the assured word of YHWH.
But This Great Joy Will Arise Out Of Sorrow And Out Of What YHWH Has Caused To Happen To His People (31.15).
In a deliberate contrast to the joy and exultancy of the previous verses, Jeremiah now returns to the anguish of the current situation. In a very short (one verse) passage we are reminded again of the chastisement that must precede the blessing. The future is bright, but the present is not. The present is ‘Rachel’ weeping for her children because ‘they are not’.
31.15a ‘Thus says YHWH,’
Once more what happens is to be seen as resulting from the word of YHWH.
There would appear here to be a play on ideas. ‘Ramah’ (‘height’) is here without the article whereas when used of towns it usually has the article, not only in the historical contexts such as 40.1, Joshua 18.25; Judges 4.5, etc., but also in prophetic writings such as Hosea 6.8; Isaiah 10.29. It is thus suggestive of ‘Rachel’ standing on ‘a height’ (as in 1 Samuel 22.6; Ezekiel 16.24), looking towards the north as her children disappear over the horizon. And just as ‘Jacob’ represented the people of Israel/Judah, so we may see ‘Rachel’ as doing the same here. The picture is of the remnant of Israel/Judah, and all their buried ancestors in the land, mourning over those who have gone into exile.
But why should Rachel in particular be introduced? It was probably precisely because Jeremiah wanted to see in this a reference to ancient Ramah, a site which was unquestionably near the place where Rachel died in sorrow in child birth. And as she died she called her son ‘Ben-oni’, ‘son of my sorrow’ (Genesis 35.18). Thus Rachel’s sorrow was especially related to Benjamin, and to this area. We could even describe this as ‘the time of Rachel’s sorrow’ (compare ‘Jacob’s trouble’ in 30.7). Rachel was Jacob’s wife, and she was buried after dying in childbirth ‘on the way to Bethlehem’ (coming from Bethel - Genesis 35.16 ff.). 1 Samuel 10.2 puts her tomb as ‘on the border of Benjamin’ near Zelzah (site unknown). Her tomb was thus well known in Samuel’s day. He himself lived at a different Ramah (which simply means ‘height’) and he possibly therefore referred to ‘nearby Zelzah’ rather than ‘nearby ancient Ramah’ so as to avoid confusion between the two Ramahs.
This ancient Ramah in Benjamin was a stopping place between Bethel and Bethlehem in the area of Gibeon and Beeroth in the tribal area of Benjamin (Joshua 18.25). It was near Jerusalem (which was on the border of Benjamin) and Gibeah (Judges 19.13). This may be seen as supporting the ancient tradition that Rachel was buried near Ramah, (on the basis of which tradition a tomb was in more modern times (15th century AD) built there after the Muslim style, as a memorial of her). This pathetic picture may well therefore be intended to include the idea of Rachel weeping from her resting place, where she had once grieved over Benjamin, as she sees what has now happened to her present seed and to the seed of Jacob. Once again she is in sorrow because of Benjamin. Interestingly her sons can be seen as representing both Ephraim (who was the son of her own son Joseph) and Judah (who were united as one people with Benjamin her son), and it should be noted that in Psalm 80.2 it is the Rachel tribes, Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh (the ‘children’ of Rachel) who represent the whole of Israel/Judah. On the other hand she did, of course, also have other sons by her handmaid who would certainly in those days have been seen as genuinely her sons. We cannot therefore see Rachel as just weeping over Ephraim. She is weeping over the whole of Israel/Judah.
Ramah was also the place where the captives were gathered to be taken into exile (40.1), which may also possibly help to explain why ‘Rachel’ was seen as weeping there, but if that was the prime reference we would expect mention of Ramah before this in order to make the reference clear, and we would have expected the article (found in 40.1). On the other hand everyone knew that ancient Ramah was near the place where Rachel had died in sorrow, so that the very hint of ‘ramah’ would draw attention to it. What is, however, most important is that her weeping is depicted as unceasing (she refuses to be comforted), because the land is empty and her children are no longer there. She refuses to be comforted because her children ‘are not.’ That is the essence of the verse.
As already mentioned, Ramah is in Benjamin (Joshua 18.25), and on the border with Judah, and so she is not to be seen as just weeping for the northern kingdom. Benjamin and Judah too are gone. And Rachel has, as it were, been left alone, bereft of all her children, either by slaughter or by exile. The only thing that can comfort her will be the return of her children. But as yet that has not happened. The days of hope that lie ahead must first be preceded (especially for the few remaining in Judah and Benjamin, if Rachel is seen as representing them), by days of mourning and weeping for a people far away. Matthew later sees the return from exile as not really satisfying her sorrow when he contemplated in his day what Israel had become, and so he saw the sorrow of the bereaved women of Bethlehem as significant when Another Who represented Israel and was one of Rachel’s ‘children’ would be exiled to Egypt, escaping from the slaughter of other children, only later to return from exile (Matthew 2.17-18). He was thus seen by Matthew as representing exiled Israel (see Matthew 2.15-17) and therefore as fulfilling this prophecy.
Rachel’s Weeping Will, However, Be Rewarded, For Her Children Will Be Returned To Her, And They Will Come To YHWH In Repentance And Be Received By Him As A Beloved Son (31.16-22).
The call now comes to the weeping ‘Rachel’ to cease her weeping, because her activity has been rewarded. Her children would return from the land of their enemies to within their own borders, giving hope for the future. For they have returned in repentance acknowledging the chastisement of YHWH, and YHWH is ready to receive them as His beloved children.
31.16a ‘Thus says YHWH,’
YHWH continues to speak and bring about His will.
In context the words are spoken to Rachel who was weeping for her children, whoever she was seen as representing. Her weeping is seen as being duly rewarded, on the sure word of YHWH. Her mourning and repentance will succeed. For she is assured that eventually (in around fifty years time) her children will come from the land of the enemy. She therefore has hope for her later days. And there would indeed have been some alive when the exiles returned who had been left as a remnant in Israel/Judah and could be seen as ‘Rachel’. They would see their hopes fulfilled at their ‘latter end’. And this on the sure word of YHWH. For their ‘children’ would come again to their own border within their lifetime.
Ephraim is now pictured as bemoaning herself, and calling on YHWH, accepting that it is He Who has chastised them. That is why they have been chastised (the repetition emphasising the fact). They admit to being like a calf unaccustomed. either to the yoke or to service or to both, who needed to be chastened. And they thus call on YHWH as their God to ‘turn them’ (bring them to repentant response), for it is only if He does it that it will be successful. They recognise their own inability to save themselves (the first essential for conversion).
‘Ephraim’ may here refer to the repentant among the exiles of the northern kingdom, or more probably to the repentant among all the exiles both north and south. Either way the important lesson is that it was those who had repented who were now acceptable among YHWH’s people, those who had accepted that what had happened to them had happened as the chastening of YHWH. It is the remnant who repent and return, not the whole of Israel. Thus it is an Israel within Israel. This Israel within Israel is the constant theme of the Old Testament. They are ‘the holy seed’ (Isaiah 6.13). It will finally issue in the large remnant who will respond to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith forming the new nation of Israel in the time of Jesus and the Apostles (Matthew 21.43).
(Note: It is often argued that no such repentance as this was obvious among the returning exiles as we look at the way in which they are depicted in Ezra/Nehemiah/Haggai/Zechariah/Malachi, but that is to overlook the fact that the returnees were very human and had huge obstacles to surmount. Their describe behaviour did not mean that underneath there was not genuine repentance in what mattered most. If we try to diminish the glory of the return from exile by pointing to the weak spiritual state of the returnees we would do well to ask how we ourselves compare, and how we would have reacted to their situation and hardships. YHWH certainly saw earthshaking events as taking place at the time of their return (Haggai 2.21). And we should notice that it is regularly through such weakness that God accomplishes His work. Many of Paul’s churches were nothing to write home about, and when we look at the later church we have to be filled with wonderment that anything spiritual survived at all. And yet remarkably it did. It is therefore to be lacking in spiritual awareness to suggest that, because we know of many problems among the long stream of returning exiles, as brought to our notice by the writings of Ezra, Nehemiah and Malachi, there were not truly repentant groups among the exiles who returned who were activated by the Spirit of God, any more than we can say that the outward worldliness of the church means that there is no genuine spiritual element among them, or indeed that large numbers of even the less spiritual are not encompassed within God’s plan of salvation. Man looks at the outward appearance, and judges by earthly standards (and by an optimistic view of himself as compared with others), but God looks at the heart. And it is in fact God’s very boast that He works through the weak and the foolish (1 Corinthians 1.26-28). Those struggling returnees in fact formed the advanced battalion of a mighty army of weak, struggling saints who would eventually re-establish Israel, despite their weakness, and we should recognise that there must have been a great hunger for God among them for them to brave the perils of the return journey in order that they might worship YHWH in their own land. That is so whatever may have been their faults. (Nothing could be more unlike the case of modern Israel, for, apart from the initial few, the returnees of modern Israel mainly knew that they would be arriving in a prosperous and thriving modern nation. In contrast, the ancient exiles did not know to what they were returning. They simply struggled forward in faith).
We must remember that we only learn the worst of what happened among the returnees precisely because it was that that had to be rebuked. We can compare how in the Book of Judges it is the periods of failure of which we have details, not the periods of success marked by the words ‘then the land had rest for -- years’. Furthermore the list of faithful witnesses in Hebrews 11 confirms that the faithful remnant were always there, shining out among the faithless, and known and treasured by God. It was they who were the Israel whom YHWH had restored, and who largely rallied to the Maccabees in Israel’s time of need. And many of them became a part of the martyrs listed in Hebrews 11.
And it was those who later followed them, inspire by a similar zeal, who would, in the days of Jesus and the Apostles, believe in the Messiah and form the new Israel in the face of much persecution from the cast off Jews. And it is they who, as ‘the church of the firstborn’, are the ones who at times have faithfully endured persecution ever since. They will all be among the multitude which no man can number who will enter into the everlasting kingdom (Revelation 7.9, 14). In a sense then the ‘return from exile’ has taken 2,500 years, but at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ our exile will be over. It is rather amusing to think that some see this weakness of the returnees as in some way being an argument for seeing these prophecies as pointing to a millennial kingdom, as though people then would be different from the exiles of Jeremiah’s time and not be weak and failing. And this is especially so when we know that the general view of that kingdom is that it will end in apostasy and Satanism. Where then is the difference? If it were truly referring to that it would be describing something even more spurious).
We have here His people’s confession. Having been turned through YHWH’s chastening they have repented. Having been instructed by YHWH’s chastening, they have smitten their thighs in shame and anguish. They have been ashamed and confounded because they are bearing the reproach of their younger days. And they have humbled themselves before Him.
For a parallel example of smiting on the thigh we can compare an extract from Homer, ‘and then he groaned and smote on both his thighs, with headlong hands and thus in sorrow spoke.’
YHWH’s response is one of love, the response of a father to a repentant wayward child. The questions are intended to be answered with a ‘yes’. Yes, ‘Ephraim’ (Israel/Judah) is His dear son. Yes, ‘Ephraim’ is His darling child. While He may have to speak against him and criticise him, even bring him, as it were, before the justices (fathers of the sub-clan as signifying the heavenly court?), He still earnestly remembers him as His son. Israel is not entirely cast off. And so YHWH’s heart yearns for his return to true sonship, with full willingness to have mercy upon him. This was the purpose of his arraignment. And this is the assured word of YHWH.
So now that the Father is ready to receive the prodigal son He calls on him to prepare for his journey home. When a king or a wealthy man was going on a journey in those days, with his retinue, especially to an unknown country, there were those who could be sent ahead to set up indicators along the best road so that the way ahead would be smooth (they had no maps or satellite navigation). Alternately it might signify pioneers who left the road marks for those who followed. And they were to return by the way in which they went, the shortest route. For the virgin of Israel, now once again purified, were to return to their cities and to their obedience to YHWH. More detail is given in verses 23-24.
For there is no longer any need for them to be going hither and thither among the nations, as a backsliding daughter (the opposite of a virgin of Israel) powerless to help herself (compare 15.4; 24.9; 29.18), for YHWH has done a new thing in the earth. He has enabled ‘the woman’ (virgin Israel), in every case in different parts of the world, to gain primacy over ‘the he man’, those who were in authority over them. With rare exceptions such an idea was inconceivable in those days, for women were very much dependent on men. But it will happen now for in each place of captivity the virgin daughter of Israel will ‘surround’ the man, the nations, the stronger than she (31.11), who had taken possession of her, like a victorious army surrounds a city. The weak and defenceless virgin of Israel will gain primacy over the strong who seek to override her, bringing them into submission so as to obtain her release.
It is in fact quite possible in this regard that there was a popular proverb declaring, ‘A man will encompass a woman’, indicating man’s superiority. If that be so, it is now turned topsy turvy, as Israel/Judah, YHWH’s ‘virgin’, causes the nations to yield to her desire for freedom.
‘A woman will encompass a man.’ Some, however, translate as ‘embrace’, and see it as signifying that the virgin of Israel will embrace YHWH, by responding to His will. It is a beautiful thought, but it is not quite clear how that can be seen as a totally new thing. We already know that she had embraced YHWH in the wilderness, so that this would not be a new thing (2.2-3). And women were in fact regularly embracing men.
Sub-Part B. The Coming Days Will Introduce A Completely New Type Of Covenant Provided By YHWH, One That Is Written In The Heart And Will Thus Result In Changed Lives (31.23-40).
This sub-part commences with the words, ‘Thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel,’ and a feature of it is the phrase ‘the days are coming, says YHWH, when --’ (31.27, 31, 38), with its emphasis being on the glorious future. We may analyse it as follows:
31.23a ‘Thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel,’
This phrase introduces the second subpart of Section 2 Part 1, and emphasises again that we have in it ‘the word of YHWH’.
Once the exile is over and YHWH has brought His people back to the land they will once again look to Mount Zion and exult in the presence of YHWH among them. The exile will have accomplished its purpose. They will rejoice in Him, and He will be their all, ‘dwelling’ on His holy mountain (compare the vivid picture in Isaiah 4.5-6 where the everlasting future is in mind). However, as in 50.7 it is YHWH Himself Who is the ‘habitation of righteousness’, designated as such by the nations, this must possibly be seen as the significance of the words here. Then the thought would be that as they look to the holy mountain they ‘see’ Him dwelling there as ‘the habitation of righteousness’.
There can be no doubt that initially this would be the idea which would take up the minds of the returned exiles as they rejoiced at being back in the land with the assurance from Ezekiel that YHWH’s heavenly Temple was among them (Ezekiel 40.1-43.12), even though they could not see it. All that they had was the altar built on the holy mount (Ezekiel 43.13-27), through which they could access that heavenly Temple. But it represented true worship. And they even set about building a Temple. Its foundations were laid. But the hardships of their lives began to press in on them so that they took their eyes off YHWH and His holy mountain and began to concentrate on more mundane things.
This is ever man’s tendency. The glorious vision is lost in the hard practicalities. It was then that they neglected the restoration of the Temple (Haggai 2.9), with its consequent effect on their own spiritual lives. We might even begin to feel that the restoration was somehow failing. But we must remember that while this period might have appeared to be ‘a day of small things’ to the exiles (Zechariah 4.10), as they struggled on in difficult surroundings, and that it may also appear so to us in our comfortable chairs, from Heaven’s viewpoint the picture was wholly different. The earth was being shaken (Haggai 2.21), and the Davidic prince was being established (Haggai 2.23). God was moving mountains! Zerubbabel would act by YHWH’s Spirit (Zechariah 4.6) and be the reducer of mountains of difficulties as the Temple was rebuilt (Zechariah 4.7, 9). And this would eventually lead on to the rebuilding of Jerusalem as an independent city (Nehemiah) and then to the coming of an even greater Davidic prince Who would cause the heavens to open (Matthew 3.16), and would accomplish His purpose by being cut off (Daniel 9.25-26), something which would result in His ascending to a place of ‘all authority in Heaven and on earth’ (Matthew 28.18; Hebrews 1.3). God would have broken through to man (Matthew 17.2 onwards; John 1.14). But it all began here with a motley group of returning refugees.
It is on the whole regularly God’s way to work through sowing seeds rather than by dropping bombs. He starts with small beginnings and eventually produces a huge mustard tree. Even the coming of Jesus was but a blip in secular history, until suddenly everyone was saying, ‘where on earth has this huge body of Christians, that we see all around us, sprung up from?’
31.24-25 “And Judah and all its cities will dwell in it together,
The spotlight now turns on returned Judah. Once again they will dwell in the land in safety and their restored cities will dwell there too, along with the farming communities and the shepherds. It is an idyllic picture combining civilisation and strength, safety and security, with pastoral pursuits. (The cities were the places where they could find refuge from marauders). God’s people will be made up of all types, and all will be satisfied in soul, and replenished at heart. For He will be to them all that they need. Outwardly at least they will appear to be as they should have been from the beginning.
And on this delightful thought Jeremiah awoke from his prophetic dream, and saw its fulfilment as one day becoming reality. And it made his sleep sweet to him. The bitterness of the past was, at least for the present, behind him.
The Threefold Predictions Concerning ‘The Days That Are Coming’ (3.27-40).
We now come to a threefold prediction concerning the coming days, backed up by absolute assurances of their fulfilment.
This is a remarkable potted history of what the future would hold. Initially we have the settlement and establishment in the land which took place during the inter-testamental period. Secondly we have the giving of a new covenant in the coming of Jesus Christ to die for our sins and offer us new life in the Spirit, which would cause the law to be written in our hearts (see 2 Corinthians 3.6-18; Hebrews 8.6-13). Thirdly we have the establishment of a new and everlastingly perfect Jerusalem (Galatians 4.24-30; Hebrews 12.22; Revelation 21.2-22.5) something that could never happen on this earth. It will require a new Heaven and a new earth.
The concept of the new Heaven and the new earth is an essential one for Biblical exegesis. It is the only way in which the ancient promises, with their emphasis in ‘forever-ness’ could be fulfilled. God’s people will there eternally enjoy ‘the land given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’ and will enjoy the new Jerusalem, but it will only be in that other world, the heavenly (see Hebrews 11.10-14).
In Coming Days YHWH Will Re-establish Israel and Judah In The Land And Will Build Them Up (31.27-30).
YHWH’s promise is that He will, once the time is ripe, sow the land with men and animals so that they will grow and multiply and fill the land, after which He will build and plant so as to establish His people in the land. The miracle of the restoration of Israel/Judah in the land is often only too easily overlooked by those who think only in terms of ‘the end times’. There was still a long time to go before the end times would be even a whisper on the horizon. Meanwhile YHWH would re-establish His people in an empty land to such an extent that by the time of Jesus both Judaea and Galilee would be well populated and relatively prosperous.
31.27 “Behold, the days come, the word of YHWH, that I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man, and with the seed of beast.”
The land of promise, (‘the house of Israel and the house of Judah’), is pictured as a fertile field waiting to be resown. And YHWH’s promise is that He will Himself be the Sower, and will sow it with human and animal life so that it will once more be populated by men and by animals, as a land should be unless it is a desert. The description of His activity as sowing indicates that the process will be a gradual one. The seed will be sown and the grain will grow gradually, being resown again and again.
31.28 “And it will come about that, just as I have watched over them to pluck up and to break down and to overthrow and to destroy and to afflict, so will I watch over them to build and to plant, the word of YHWH.”
And just as He had previously watched over them to pluck them down and break them down, to overthrow them and destroy them because of their sinfulness, He will now act in the opposite way to build them up and to plant them, and this in accordance with the sure word of YHWH. The assumption is being made (made explicitly elsewhere - 29.12; 31.9, 18-19, 23) that they are now seeking Him. This description was in accordance with His promise from the commencement of Jeremiah’s ministry (1.10) and other previous promises (18.9; 24.6). Israel and Judah would once more be planted in the land as those who now sought YHWH with all their hearts. And as at the beginning, YHWH would be ‘watching’ over His word to perform it (1.12).
This re-establishment of His people in the land was very necessary if His other promises were to be fulfilled. From this people and this land would develop the whole of God’s plans for the future as first Jesus Christ came and fulfilled the work of salvation, and then as He established a Jewish remnant and sent out Jewish missionaries to take His message to the world. But beyond it we may see the settlement of God’s people in the eternal kingdom. For that is the end to which all else is aiming.
31.29 “In those days they will no more say,
In the future the situation would be such that everyone would be responsible for his own sins. The nation would no longer be judged as a nation any more. No longer would the well know proverb be cited that, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Each individual would be responsible for himself. They would no longer be able to throw the blame for what was happening to them onto their fathers. The implications of this, if fathomed, were quite huge. It was indicating the ‘secularisation’ of the state which was no longer seen as responsible to God as one whole.
31.30 “But every one will die for his own iniquity, every man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth will be set on edge.”
For in future judgment was to be an individual thing. It was the one who sinned who would die (compare Ezekiel 18.4, 20). It was the one who ate sour grapes whose teeth would suffer for it. We might ask how this fits in with the warning that the sins of the fathers would be visited on their children to the third and the fourth generation? The answer is not difficult. They would be so because those generations would sin as well in a similar way as a result of the influence of their forebears. But the way was always left open for repentance, at which point the law would cease to apply. God is always depicted as ready to respond to men’s repentance. Even the Jerusalem of Zedekiah’s day could have been saved by true repentance, as many examples from the past indicate (compare 1 Kings 1.27-29; Jonah 3.10).
In Coming Days YHWH Will Make A New Covenant With His People, A Covenant Written In Their Hearts (31.31-34).
A covenant is an agreement made between two or more parties which is binding on both. God’s covenant is an example of a covenant which is instituted by one party to the agreement as the result of the giving of a benefit, to which the other parties, who have received the benefit, are then bound to comply. But the state of Judah at this time was such that it was clear that the old covenant made at Sinai had failed. As the writer to the Hebrews points out, the assumption was being made here that the old covenant was insufficient for its purpose (Hebrews 8.7-8). It could show men how to live, but it could not enable them to live in accordance with its requirements. YHWH had made with them His first covenant as their Deliverer and Redeemer looking for a faithful response. But, it was an ‘outward covenant’ made with men whose hearts had not changed, and as a result, apart from at rare times, they had continually failed in that response and had demonstrated that no amount of gratitude or miracles would make them obedient to YHWH.
Now therefore the time was coming when YHWH would provide them with a new covenant. And He would write the covenant in their hearts in such a way that they would want to obey it and would desire to do His will. In the words of Philippians 2.13, He would ‘work in them to will and to do of His good pleasure’. And the result was to be that many would in that day come to know Him and respond to Him. And when would that day come? ‘The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ’ (John 1.17).
The necessity for such a covenant brings out how central the covenant was in YHWH’s dealings with His people. Judgment had come on them because of their failure to observe the covenant. Murder, adultery, idolatry, blasphemy were all breaches of the covenant and were constantly cited as reasons for judgment. And each of these required the death penalty. Thus nothing in the covenant as it then was could save them. The covenant could not even provide offerings that would provide expiation and atonement for such offences, as it could in the case of lesser offences. (As David makes clear in Psalm 51, only the mercy of God could do that). Thus if His people were to be restored it had to be by means of a covenant that worked and lifted them above such things.
31.31-32 “Behold, the days are coming, the word of YHWH, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah, not according to the covenant which 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 broke, although I was a husband to them, the word of YHWH.”
YHWH declares that in days to come, at the time determined by Him, He would make a new covenant, a new binding agreement, with Israel/Judah. It would not be like the old covenant because that had failed miserably, and it had failed even though He had not failed them, but had been like a true husband to them. He had redeemed them from Egypt, wooed them to Himself in the wilderness, and bound them to Himself by covenant (had ‘married’ them) at Sinai, and had from then on acted as a husband on their behalf. But in spite of that they had rejected Him and had preferred other lovers and had deserted Him (see Hosea 1-3). And although time and again they had come to renew that covenant, seemingly genuinely, it had never been with more than a transient response (see e.g. Deuteronomy 27.9 ff.; Joshua 24; 2 Chronicles 23.4-7; 34.29-32). Thus He had ‘recognised’ (humanly speaking) that that covenant was insufficient. What was needed was the miracle of the transformation of their hearts and lives. That alone could solve the problem.
31.33 “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, the word of YHWH,
YHWH describes the content of the new covenant that He will make with them (‘House of Israel’ is here clearly inclusive of Judah). It will consist of ‘instruction’ (torah - law) which He will put in their inward parts and write in their hearts. It will such that it will become a part of them. Using Pauline terminology it will be written on their hearts by the Spirit of the living God (2 Corinthians 3.3). And then He will again be their God, in a different sense from previously because He will be personally involved in their lives, and furthermore, as a result of the Spirit’s work within (compare Ezekiel 36.26-27), they will in turn truly be His obedient people, fully responsive to Him. It is important to recognise here that ‘heart’ for the Israelite, like ‘inward parts’, signifies mind and will as well as emotion. The law will be written in their minds and wills and thoughts. To quote Paul again, they will have ‘the mind of the Spirit’ (Romans 8.7). They will be ‘minded’ to do His will by the Spirit. In Jesus’ own citation from Isaiah 54.13, ‘they will all be taught of God’ (John 6.45)
‘And I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ The same words were spoken in Leviticus 26.12, but the meaning was very different. There He would be dwelling among them in the Tabernacle and would be their God. Here He would be personally at work within their hearts, and therefore dwelling within them as His Temple (see 2 Corinthians 6.16-18), and would be their God. It is a totally different situation.
And the result will be that there will be no need of anyone to teach them to know Him, because they will all know Him, from the least to the greatest. They will be Spirit enlightened (compare Isaiah 54.13; Matthew 11.25-27). If they were to ‘know God’ this would be essential for ‘no one comprehends the thoughts of God apart from the Spirit of God’ (1 Corinthians 2.11). It will be a part of what He has implanted within them (Isaiah 61.3). Indeed Jesus tells us that it will be His own work, for ‘no one knows the Father but the Son, and those to whom the Son pleases to reveal Him’ (Matthew 11.27). Furthermore, to truly know God, is to be known by Him (Galatians 4.9).
Such will be the new relationship that He will forgive their iniquity and no more remember their sin. There could be no such experience of God unless sin were truly dealt with. It is not that He will ‘forget’ their sin. It is that He will thrust it from His mind. He will deliberately and positively no more remember it. It will be for ever gone, not to be dredged up again. As far as they would be concerned this forgiveness would be on the basis of the necessary cult offerings and sacrifices, but as Isaiah 53.5-6, 10 makes clear, it would finally be consequent on the Servant of YHWH, as representative of His people, offering Himself as a guilt offering (compare Mark 10.45).
In these words we have a clear outward revelation of what must always have been true in the hearts of true heart believers, otherwise they would not have persevered as believers. But this is the first time that it has been spelled out. It was, however, intrinsic in such prayers as ‘create in me a new heart, O God, and put a new and right Spirit within me’ (Psalm 51.10) and ‘teach me to do your will, for you are my God. Let your good Spirit lead me on a level path’ (Psalm 143.10). Compare also Psalm 37.31; 40.8; Isaiah 51.7 Without such an experience, known in the New Testament as ‘birth from above’ or ‘birth of the Spirit’ (John 3.3-6), there could have been no salvation for anyone, for no man could save himself or do this work within himself. It had to result from the ‘circumcision of the heart’ by YHWH (4.4; Deuteronomy 30.6; Romans 2.29). To put it in Paul’s words, ‘if any man be in Christ Jesus he is a new creation. Old things are passed away. Everything has become new’ (2 Corinthians 5.17).
The writer to the Hebrews makes clear that it is these very promises which are central to Christian experience (Hebrews 8.8-13). It is because Christ has, through the eternal Spirit, offered Himself without blemish to God, and has thereby become the Mediator of the new covenant, that we can enjoy such an experience (Hebrews 9.14) through the working of the Spirit of God. It is this which was lacking in the teaching of the Rabbis, and in the teaching of all who believe in salvation by doing good things.
There was, of course a sense in which ‘those days’ came at the time of the return from exile. Many of those who returned did so because of God’s working in their hearts, otherwise they would not have come. Much of their activity was ‘not by power, nor by might but by My Spirit, says YHWH’ (Zechariah 4.6). What happened at that time was earthshaking (Haggai 2.21). But it did not result in a fully transformed nation. That awaited the coming of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ Himself, when large parts of the nation were stirred and a ‘new nation’ was formed which replaced the old (Matthew 21.43), the Israel within Israel (Romans 9.6). And that nation went out to transform lives in all parts of the world. It was that that began the complete fulfilment of this prophecy. There is now no other true nation of Israel other than the one then formed, the body of believers who responded to the Messiah. This promise is not given to those who call themselves the nation of Israel in Palestine. For whilst, of course, many of them could partake in it by responding to Jesus Christ, there is no guarantee that they will do so (although we can hope that it will be so). The ‘all Israel’ who will be saved are the Israel within Israel, the elect, and they include all true believers.
And yet even this cannot be seen as the final fulfilment of these words, for I have been in many churches, and learned of many more, and have never found one where all the people (or even some of the people all the time) were fully like this. It is rather the ideal which is in process and is coming. Indeed we must ask, when will we be like this, living in such total obedience to His will? And when will we fully know God? And the answer can only be, ‘in the new heaven and the new earth’. Thus as always this is a prophecy which will be fulfilled in stages. (It will certainly not be fulfilled in any so-called Millennium which, if it ever were to exist (and Jesus, Paul and Peter clearly knew nothing of it), will according to its adherents end up with almost everyone following Satan).
This Work Of God Within Is Guaranteed For YHWH’s True People, Being As Certain As His Giving Of Light Through Sun, Moon And Stars By Day And Night, And As His Continual Stirring Up Of The Seas (31.35-36).
YHWH demonstrates the certainty of His actions in regard to His people by comparing His activity on their behalf in terms of the giving of the sun as light during the day, and the giving of the moon and the stars to give light by night, and with His continual stirring up of the sea so that its waves roar. These were phenomena known to all as a regular and common occurrence. They were His ordinances, what He decreed. And it is only if these permanent and sure things fail that ‘the seed of Israel’ will cease to be a nation before Him. It will be certain because He has ordained it, and it will be certain because of His working.
But we should note here the phrase used, ‘the seed of Israel’. The point is not that the nation of Israel will survive in its present form, but that some of their seed will always be a nation before Him. And in the next passage we have a similar emphasis, when He guarantees that He will not cast off ‘all the seed of Israel’ (verse 37). Some will not be cast off (and therefore others will). Jesus Christ made quite clear that this new ‘nation’ would be composed of His Jewish followers and their converts (Matthew 21.43). While the true church, composed of all true believers, survives, then that seed of Israel and that new nation will continue (1 Peter 2.9), for they ARE the true Israel, the actual physical continuation of Israel as described in God’s terms.
Strangely some take these words as applying to the whole nation of physical Israel, but if they had so applied it could only signify that YHWH had failed in His promises. Nothing is more certain than that the people of Israel as a whole have not through time experienced this activity of YHWH. Otherwise how different history would have been. Some have experienced it, by a true heart response to God, and then to His Messiah, but they have always been in the minority. Nor need we look for a revival in modern Israel which will bring this about. There is no suggestion that He will do so. For such a revival has already taken place in Israel, and it took place in 1st century AD. Those were the ‘coming days’ in which this occurred. So to whom should we see it as applying? The answer can only be, ‘to the seed of Israel’, ‘the remnant of Israel whom He will bring to Himself’, the ‘holy seed’ of Isaiah 6.13, the ‘seed of Abraham’ (Galatians 3.29). And this remnant of Israel, who experienced precisely what is written here, were to be found in the Apostles who followed Jesus, and to those multitude of Jews who followed them to true faith in Christ. The 1st century AD was the time when it really came into fulfilment, and when Jews flocked to their Messiah as never before or since, forming a large Jewish church. They were the ones who responded to the new covenant offered by Jesus in Luke 22.20; 1 Corinthians 11.25. And it was in their hearts that He wrought His new work (Acts 13.48; 2 Corinthians 5.17; James 1.18; 1 Peter 1.3). They were His new ‘congregation’ of Israel (Matthew 16.18), His new nation (Matthew 21.43), the true Vine (John 15.1-6), His olive tree (Romans 11.17-28, compare Jeremiah 11.16).
They were not initially expecting a huge influx of Gentile converts into their midst, for who could have foreseen it (except, of course, God)? But this was quite in accord with Jewish ideas, and in accordance with the prophets (e.g. Isaiah 42.6; 49.6; etc.) Indeed it had always been the case that all who truly responded to God, whether homegrown or foreign, could become a part of the covenant. It happened to the foreign servants of Abraham, it happened to the mixed multitude of Exodus 12.38 at Sinai, it happened to all who sought to become a part of Israel through the years (Exodus 12.48). Thus they all ‘became Israel’, and saw themselves as descendants of Abraham from then on. We too ‘become Israel’ when we respond to Christ and are circumcised with His circumcision made without hands (Colossians 2.11), and become descendants of Abraham (Galatians 3.29). Thus the Israel which God here guaranteed would continue ‘for ever’, is the true Israel of God (Galatians 6.16), the ‘Israel within Israel’, the ‘congregation of true believers’.
Here we again have an introductory phrase indicating a new idea, and stressing its certainly because it is the word of YHWH.
Three things are cited as being given by YHWH which are constant and unchanging to such an extent that they could ‘always’ be relied upon; the giving of the sun for a light by day; the ordinances of the moon and stars by night; and the regular storminess of the seas. No one could ever have imagined their ceasing to occur. They were one of the few certainties of life. And they were all given by the One Whose Name was ‘YHWH of hosts’ (of the hosts of heaven and of the hosts of waves).
It is doubtful if many (or indeed if any) Israelites thought in terms of ‘laws of nature’. Their certainty of their continuation would in their view lay in their confidence in God’s reliability which had always proved unfailing (a view supported by Jesus in Matthew 5.45), and in the certain promise of God (Genesis 8.22). In fact by the time that these ordinances do fail (and fail they will) it will be unimportant as we will be in the new Heaven and the new earth.
And the ceasing of ‘the seed of Israel’ from being a nation before Him was as impossible a thought as the cessation of the ordinances concerning sun, moon, stars and waves. And this was so on the certain and sure prophetic word of YHWH. The phrase ‘the seed of Israel’ carefully avoids suggesting that all Israel as a nation is in mind. It is rather stressing that some of Jacob/Israel’s seed will always be a nation acceptable in His sight (‘before Him). This is, of course, a necessary result of the promises made to the Patriarchs. And as we have seen it was fulfilled, and is still being fulfilled, in the fact that those who believe in Christ, forming His new, elect, holy nation (Matthew 21.43; 1 Peter 2.9), are either physically of the seed of Jacob/Israel, or spiritually so. This way of looking at things was no different from the inter-testamental Israel, (or indeed the Israel of Sinai) large numbers of whom were not physically related to Jacob. Their ‘descent’ was due to their response to the covenant. And it is seen here to be a part of YHWH’s ongoing purposes, as much so as was the continuation of sun, moon, stars and waves
YHWH Firmly Guarantees That Not All Of The Seed Of Israel Will Be Cut Off (31.37).
The suggestion that ‘not all the seed of Israel will be cut off’ was an indication that some would be. And in the circumstances in which Jeremiah found himself that was a certainty. That was why such severe judgment had come on the two nations. It was because they had been cut off from God’s mercy. Thus the expectation was of a portion of Israel who would continue before God. In the words of Jesus, ‘fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingly Rule’ (Luke 12.32). Here was the ‘new nation’ spoken of in Matthew 21.43. Its eventual fulfilment took place in the foundation and growth of the true congregation of believers in Jesus Christ.
The likelihood of God failing in His promise to Jacob/Israel was as tiny as the likelihood that the Heavens could be measured, or the foundations of the earth searched out. Neither is remotely possible to man (even in this modern scientific generation we are still feeling our way at the edges). Until that has happened we can be sure that some of the seed of Israel (although not necessarily the outward nation of Israel) will continue. For while many would be cast off, not all would be so. That casting off was declared by Jesus when He spoke of the ‘true Vine (John 15.1-6), ‘My congregation (of Israel)’ (Matthew 16.18) and a ‘new nation’ (Matthew 21.43); and in His forecasting of God’s judgment on the temple (Mark 13), and it was described by Paul in terms of the Israel within Israel (Romans 9.6), and the branches broken from the olive tree. But the physical seed continued in the Apostles and their followers, and hosts of converted Jewish Christians ‘world-wide’, and the spiritual seed continues in all Who are His.
In Coming Days YHWH Will Re-establish The Whole Of Jerusalem As Holy To Him (31.38-40).
The first thing that was to happen ‘in coming days’ was the restoration of YHWH’s people in the land, where they would be planted and built up (31.27-30). The second thing to happen was YHWH’s giving of a new law written in the heart, something which while we can experience it in part now awaits final fulfilment in the everlasting kingdom (31.31-34). The third is now described and it is the establishing of a new Jerusalem which is completely holy to YHWH. This prophecy too would find its gradual completion. It would be partly fulfilled in the days of Haggai, Zechariah and Nehemiah as a city and Temple were built which were dedicated to YHWH (with the result that it began to be seen as ‘the holy city’ - Nehemiah 11.1, 18; Isaiah 52.1; Daniel 9.24). It will be even more fully fulfilled in YHWH’s new Temple on earth consisting of His people (2 Corinthians 6.16-18), and His new Temple in Heaven to which His earthly people continue to look as they come to Him in prayer (Hebrews 10.19-25), which are both part of the new Jerusalem in Heaven (Galatians 4.22-30; Hebrews 12.22), and it will find its final fulfilment in the new Jerusalem which consists of those who enter His everlasting kingdom to dwell in the very presence of God for ever. Indeed it is only this last Jerusalem that can be wholly pure and last for ever (Revelation 21.1-22.5). The detailed description, apart from the full purification of the Valley of Hinnom which remained as a rubbish dump, may mainly have in mind the initial restoration of Jerusalem, and is described in 6th century BC terms, but the final concept has in mind the eternal future.
Sitting here in the twenty first century we look back over a long period of history since Jeremiah’s day, and try to fit his prophecy into what has happened since. But that was not Jeremiah’s aim or insight. He was not trying to give a detailed description of the future of Jerusalem as such. He was trying to provide assurance to the people of the future rebuilding of Jerusalem (something which in the event would happen a number of times), but in the end picturing an ideal Jerusalem where God would dwell with His people in total perfection, expressed by him in terms of the purifying of the ‘uncleannest’ part of the Jerusalem area which had the vilest of reputations. One day, he was saying, there would be the perfect setting for the people of God, a setting which would be free of any kind of ‘uncleanness’. And in vision he, as it were, sees its rebuilding.
31.38-40 “Behold, the days are coming,
The point of this prophecy is not simply that an ancient city will be rebuilt after its previous destruction. That happened to many a city. The point is rather that Jerusalem, with all that it symbolised to the faithful in Israel, would one day be re-established as the place where they could meet with YHWH and as an ideal city (it would be ‘holy’ throughout, a literal impossibility if it contained earthly people), one which would be there everlastingly. And that could only therefore in the end indicate that it must be heavenly, for only what is heavenly can be wholly pure and can survive for ever. This description is thus a symbol of a greater reality. In the future there would come a time when for evermore the people of God would dwell in a place where they were separated to YHWH. No more would His people see themselves as cut off from YHWH, for He would be in their midst. It is similar to what Ezekiel’s Temple and city symbolised, the ideal fulfilment (Ezekiel 40 onwards). The literal city and Temple which would be rebuilt there, as a partial fulfilment of this prophecy (by Zerubbabel and Nehemiah), would certainly again be destroyed (Matthew 23.37-38; Mark 13.2), (as, for those who believe in a millennial age, would any supposed millennial city if it ever exists, as Revelation 20.11 makes clear) but the city in mind here, along with its Temple, would be ‘raised up’ again in the resurrection of Jesus Christ to exist everlastingly (John 2.19 - note the connection of the two themes). The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb will dwell in the City and be its Temple (Revelation 21.22).
Note that the description is of ‘the building of the city to YHWH’. It is not for the glory of a king, or of a people. It is for the glory of YHWH. And the aim is for it to be ‘holy to YHWH’ (compare how the High Priest wore the same words ‘Holy to YHWH’ on his tiara, although there it was symbolic). It is to be set apart wholly to Him, having been cleansed throughout from all sources of defilement, something impossible for a literal city where the activities of the people must constantly result in its being affected by ‘uncleanness’ (which is why even initially the people were not allowed into the Sanctuary and the priests only after purification). We can compare the vivid picture in Isaiah 4. It is the ideas that we are to grasp and not the detail. They are of a place where all is pleasing to God, and watched over by God. Any building of the city which took place prior to this would therefore have this final end in view.
But in the initial physical phase it was to be built according to precise specifications, and it is quite clear that in vision Jeremiah sees a new Jerusalem arising out of the ashes of the old, based mainly on what he knows of that city. Initially it was to be very much a city on earth. Thus he ‘sees’ the rebuilding as commencing at the Tower of Hananel, a tower in the north wall of the city (Nehemiah 3.1; 12.39) and moving on from there to the Corner Gate at the north-west corner (2 Kings 14.13; 2 Chronicles 26.9; Zechariah 14.10; Nehemiah 3.24, 32). Then he ‘watches’ as the measuring line goes on to the hill Garob, presumably on the westward side, from the Corner Gate. The hill Garob (the lepers’ hill, compare for the root Leviticus 21.20;22.22, and therefore itself an unclean place) is otherwise unknown, but the idea of the measuring line was of God’s activity in restoration (see Zechariah 2.1-5). The idea of incorporation of the leper area into the new Jerusalem is significant. All will be made holy. He ‘saw’ it then ‘turn about unto Goah’, again otherwise unknown (although the Aramaic Targum boldly paraphrases as ‘the pool of the heifers’ on the basis of a root connection with the verb for the lowing of heifers), but presumably indicating south-westward, leading on to the area of the Valley of Hinnom to the south-east, and the horse gate in the south east corner. The east would be determined by the Kidron valley. Jeremiah’s description of ‘the whole valley of the dead bodies and of the sacrificial ashes, and all the countryside (fields) to the brook Kidron, to the corner of the horse gate toward the east’, brings out the significance of what is happening. All the unclean parts were to be cleansed and incorporated within the city, and the whole was to be ‘holy to YHWH’. The valley described was the site which was seen as the epitome of ‘uncleanness’ (cemeteries were all ‘unclean’ being connected with death, but ‘the valley of the dead bodies’ was probably identical with the Ugaritic ‘Field of Moth (Death)’ which was where the bodies of children sacrificed to Moloch were buried). It has already been vividly described as an area of judgment (compare Jeremiah 7.30-33; 19.4-9), and was also where the city rubbish dump was found. But he ‘saw’ all this area as now having been purified. Indeed he ‘saw’ the whole new city as an ‘ideal city’, made holy to YHWH for ever. (It has to be an ‘ideal’, for no ordinary city could do without a place for refuse, or be completely holy). The word translated ‘fields’ (seremoth) is found only here in the Old Testament and must signify something like fields or terraced land.
And the consequence of the whole area of the city being ‘made holy’ is that it will be established for ever as God’s own possession. As already stated this could not in the end be an earthly city, for no earthly city, not even Jerusalem, could be eternal, or eternally holy. It is in the end indicating the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21.2-3), in the new Heaven and the new earth, which will go on for ever (Revelation 21.1). So the emphasis is on the fact that God’s presence with them and watch over them would one day become an eternal reality, something vividly brought home in a different way in Revelation 21-22. But it could only be brought home to the people at that time, (who had no concept of a heavenly kingdom for mortal man), by describing it in terms of bricks and mortar. In those days heavenly kingdoms were for the gods (and unlike the new Heaven and the new earth, even they were generally made of bricks and mortar).
The ‘coming days’ will thus result in the rebuilding and replanting of His people; will for these same people have the consequence of a new obedient heart within; and will result in the final perfect state of total holiness to YHWH in the new Jerusalem, which will occur in the new Heaven and the new earth.
Section 2 Subsection 2 Part 2). Having Been Imprisoned During The Siege Of Jerusalem Jeremiah Buys A Piece Of Hereditary Land In Order To Demonstrate Confidence In The Future Of The Land Of Judah, Something Resulting In A Promise Of Restoration And Of The Coming Of The Shoot Of David (32.1-33.16).
The promises of what would happen in ‘coming days’ having been given, Jeremiah is now given an initial earnest (proof of occurrence) that it will happen. This part commences with the defining phrase, ‘The word that came to Jeremiah from YHWH --’ (32.1), and it describes how Jeremiah is shut up in prison by Zedekiah during the siege of Jerusalem, and yet nevertheless buys a piece of hereditary land on the death of his uncle as a token that Judah still has a future. After prayer he is then assured by YHWH that while Jerusalem must certainly suffer because of its sins and its sinful people must be taken into exile, He will one day restore them again under a Shoot (or Branch) of David through an everlasting covenant (32.1-33.26).
Part 2 is divided up into two sub-parts, both occurring while Jeremiah was in the palace complex prison during the final stages of the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, and in both of them restoration is promised once the worst is over.
Sub-Part A. After Its Destruction Jerusalem Will One Day Be Restored, Something Guaranteed To Jeremiah In A Symbolic Act Of Purchasing Family Land (32.1-44).
Jeremiah is commanded to buy an hereditary piece of land as a symbol of what YHWH is going to do with regard to Judah. This confuses Jeremiah who cannot understand how such an action ties in with YHWH’s warnings of the near certain destruction of Jerusalem, and he comes before YHWH in prayer, arguing out the pros and cons about whether YHWH intends to deliver His people at the last moment. YHWH replies by confirming that He will cause Jerusalem to be destroyed in the near future, but that one day He will also cause the exiles to return again to their own land. There He will transform them and make with them an everlasting covenant, with land once again being bought and sold in the land of Judah (32.1-44).
Jeremiah Is Shut Up In Prison For Prophesying That Jerusalem Will Be Taken By Nebuchadrezzar (32.1-5).
The scene now shifts from the rebuilding of the new Jerusalem to the time of the siege of the old Jerusalem, with the enemy camped around the city, and its people within being slowly starved into submission. All could look out over the walls and see the Babylonian siege engines and siege mounds, and all the related activity connected with the besieging of a city. This was relieved for a short time when an Egyptian army arrived to challenge the Babylonians, but that army was soon sent packing, with the siege being resumed. It was not until after this that Jeremiah was shut up, first in prison (37.4-5, 11-13), and then in the court of the guard (37.21). All efforts would meanwhile be being made to uphold the morale of the slowly starving city, so that Jeremiah’s prophecy that the city would fall would therefore have been seen as little short of treachery, which was one reason why he was subsequently put under guard in the court of the guard in the king’s palace complex.
32.1 ‘The word that came to Jeremiah from YHWH in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar.’
The date was around 588/7 BC. The siege began in c. 589 BC, and was now at its intensest, with hope of help from the Egyptians having faded. It was the time when, as a result of the attempted rebellion of Zedekiah (largely forced on him by his advisers), Nebuchadrezzar had surrounded the city with a view to forcing it into submission. 588/7 BC would be Nebuchadrezzars’s seventeenth year by Babylonian reckoning (omitting the accession year), and therefore the eighteenth year by this reckoning (including the accession year).
32.2 ‘Now at that time the king of Babylon’s army was besieging Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was shut up in the court of the guard, which was in the king of Judah’s house.’
With the city surrounded by the enemy Jeremiah, who was falsely accused of wishing to desert to the enemy (37.13), had been imprisoned in the palace-complex prison in the court of the guard which was probably retained for the purpose of imprisoning high state officials who fell from grace. It was a far better situation than he had experienced earlier when he had been in what was basically little better than a cess pit (38.6), a situation which could have proved fatal, and from which he had mercifully been delivered by a friendly party who had appealed to the king on his behalf (38.7-10). And there in the palace-complex prison he was occasionally consulted surreptitiously even by Zedekiah, and could be visited by his friends and relatives.
32.3-5 ‘For Zedekiah king of Judah had shut him up, saying, “Why do you prophesy, and say,
We are then given, in words spoken by Zedekiah, the gist of what Jeremiah had prophesied, which was why he had been shut up in prison. This was basically that there was no point in resistance to the Chaldeans as the end was certain, and any resistance to them would not prosper. And that end was that the city would be delivered into the hands of the Babylonians, along with Zedekiah himself. Zedekiah would then be carried off to Babylon, and would at some stage be brought face to face, and eyeball to eyeball, with Nebuchadrezzar, speaking with him mouth to mouth (while no doubt crouched in terror before him. As it turned out this would be the last sight, along with the execution of his sons, that he would see on earth before he was blinded). And he would remain in Babylon until YHWH ‘visited’ him. And this was the sure word of YHWH.
The idea of ‘visiting’ can sometimes signify release or judgment. Here it simply indicates YHWH’s carrying out of His intentions. As there is no record of his release at the time of the release of Jehoiachin it is probable that he was ‘visited’ by death prior to that date. All this is a reminder to us that if we do not pay heed to the word of God we must expect to face the consequences.
Jeremiah Is Commanded By YHWH To Demonstrate His Confidence In The Future Of Judah By Buying Land From His Cousin Hanamel On The Death Of His Uncle. But Even Jeremiah Is Puzzled By It And It Drives Him To Prayer (32.6-25).
There is no reason to doubt that Hanamel had taken shelter in Jerusalem and pessimistically saw no future for the land in Anathoth. Among the wealthy (and the family appears to have been comparatively wealthy) it was only those favoured by the Babylonians (and that would include Jeremiah) who could have any hopes of future possession of land. This may have been one reason for passing the land on to Jeremiah. Furthermore in the desperate situation of the siege he may have needed money at hand in order to buy food. Thus it would no doubt have been seen by him as a rather good move to sell it to Jeremiah before he lost it totally to the Babylonians. The price may well, therefore, have been a bargain one, with Jeremiah having the right of redemption because Hanamel had no sons.
It was seen as important in Israel/Judah to keep family land within the wider family (compare the situation in Ruth 3.9-13; 4.1-12; also Leviticus 25.24 ff.). When it was being sold it must therefore be offered within the family, a custom exemplified here.
32.6 ‘And Jeremiah said, The word of YHWH came to me, saying,’
We have once again one of Jeremiah’s distinctive markers indicating a new passage. And once again it is intended to remind us that all that Jeremiah spoke was the word that came to him direct from YHWH. The passage may be divided up into:
The Transaction (32.7-15).
32.7 “Behold, Hanamel, the son of Shallum your uncle, will come to you, saying, ‘Buy you my field which is in Anathoth, for the right of redemption is yours to buy it’.”
YHWH prepared Jeremiah for the visit that was about to be made to him by telling him about his cousin Hanamel who was desirous of selling family land in Anathoth, Jeremiah’s birthplace. We do not know details of why it was available because normally priestly land could not be sold. But this may have been extra land which had been bought by the family, or had come into it through a female who was of a non-priestly line. And the point was that being family land it had to be offered to the next of kin. As Hanamel’s cousin Jeremiah appears to have been next of kin, Hanamel presumably being childless.
32.8a ‘ So Hanamel my uncle’s son came to me in the court of the guard in accordance with the word of YHWH, and said to me, “Buy my field, I pray you, which is in Anathoth, which is in the land of Benjamin; for the right of inheritance is yours, and the redemption is yours, buy it for yourself.”
Hanamel may have been desperate to sell the field in order to be able to buy food at the very expensive prices for which food was being sold in a siege ravaged city, and it may well be that he was making the offer as a legal formality, convinced in his own mind that Jeremiah would refuse. Or he may have been relying on the fact of Jeremiah’s popularity with the Babylonians as making the offer seem worthwhile, at least to him. He may indeed have considered that, by selling it to Jeremiah, it would in the event of a Babylonian victory still be held in the family. (Knowing that conversely, if Jerusalem was delivered, Jeremiah’s life would not be worth a moment’s purchase). Whatever the reason, just as YHWH had said, he arrived in Jeremiah’s cell in order to make the offer. The phraseology used may well have been a formal one used in such transactions, which would explain why full and seemingly ‘unnecessary’ details of the land (but very necessary in a legal context) were given, with the details having to be fully specified to make the offer valid. It would be legally necessary to distinguish Anathoth in Benjamin from any other possible Anathoth for any who in the distant future might look into the matter.
32.8b ‘Then I knew that this was the word of YHWH.’
Having been forewarned Jeremiah recognised in this the hand of YHWH. He knew that it was what YHWH had purposed through His word.
32.9 ‘And I bought the field which was in Anathoth from Hanamel my uncle’s son, and weighed him the money, even seventeen shekels of silver.’
So he went ahead and bought his deceased uncle’s field, at a price agreed at seventeen shekels of silver (literally ‘seven shekels and ten’ which was probably following a legal format, or may have been intended cryptically to indicate the seventy years of captivity). This was not strictly ‘money’ (coins) but a certain weight of silver, which explains why it had to be weighed out. As we know nothing about the size of the piece of land, nor local land values, nor how long it was to the year of yubile, we cannot evaluate the price. But it does indicate that Jeremiah came from a fairly wealthy family and had a fair level of resources available to him even in prison.
32.10 ‘And I subscribed the deed, and sealed it, and called witnesses, and weighed him the money in the balances.’
Jeremiah then wrote out the deed and solemnly sealed it, calling witnesses to witness to the payment of the correct price.
32.11-12 ‘So I took the deed of the purchase, both that which was sealed, according to the law and custom, and that which was open, and I delivered the deed of the purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, in the presence of Hanamel my uncle’s son, and in the presence of the witnesses who subscribed the deed of the purchase, before all the Jews who sat in the court of the guard.’
It is apparent that two deeds were in fact completed ‘according to law and custom’, one being left open and one sealed. They were then handed over to Baruch, in the presence of Hanamel, and in the presence of the witnesses mentioned above, and in front of all the Jews who were gathered in the court of the guard. These may well have been supporters of Jeremiah who had gathered there in order to demonstrate that support, and in order to encourage him (and themselves in the light of the siege). Their presence indicates the relative restricted freedom that Jeremiah enjoyed. The transaction was therefore well witnessed. The fact that Jeremiah was buying land may well have become the latest on dit, intriguing the people of Jerusalem, and it would encourage his supporters, even if they did not fully understand it.
Baruch was Jeremiah’s faithful friend and secretary. His importance in a secular sense is brought out by the mention of two forebears, and the fact that his brother Seraiah held an important post in the court of King Zedekiah (51.59). But his greatest importance undoubtedly lay in the support and help that he continually gave to Jeremiah. In 36.4 he is depicted as acting as his secretary and amanuensis, in 43.3 he is accused of encouraging Jeremiah to preach sedition, and in 36.26 he is seen as sharing his sufferings and perils.
32.13-14 ‘And I charged Baruch before them, saying, “Thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel, Take these deeds, this deed of the purchase which is sealed, and this deed which is open, and put them in an earthen vessel, that they may continue many days.’
Then he charged Baruch in the Name of YHWH of hosts to put them in an earthenware jar for preservation into the distant future. The jar would then itself be sealed with pitch in order to preserve the contents, and would have the contents written on the outside in case the deeds ever had to be consulted.
32.15 ‘For thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel, Houses and fields and vineyards will yet again be bought in this land.’
Finally he declared that by this ‘YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel’ was indicating that one day fields and vineyards would once again be sold in the land. On Jeremiah’s part it was a firm statement of faith in the future.
Jeremiah Questions YHWH As To Why He Has Commanded Him To Do This Strange Thing Of Buying Land If The Land Was In Fact Simply Going To Be Taken Over By The Chaldeans. He May Well Have Wondered Whether This Did This Then Mean That YHWH Intended To Intervene At the Last Moment And Save His People (32.17-25).
Having handed over the deeds of purchase of the land to Baruch, Jeremiah comes to YHWH in prayer, and in the prayer he sums up how he sees the present situation, setting out the pros and cons. On the one hand he sets out his arguments as to why he knows that YHWH could deliver if He so wished, and on the other he acknowledges that YHWH’s thoughts are based on a greater wisdom than his own, that the people are unworthy, and that it does not at present look as though He is going to deliver. He may have intended it to be a challenge to the mighty YHWH to once again act to save His people miraculously, in view of the fact that He has made him, Jeremiah, purchase a piece of occupied land, or to be a query as to why He has called on him to buy such land if He knows that He is not going to deliver His people. Or it may indeed be seen as a combined challenge with both options in mind.
The background to the prayer is that the enemy are at the very gates of Jerusalem and have dug in, building mounds and awaiting Jerusalem’s final submission, seemingly with no intended intervention by YHWH at hand. But as Jeremiah watches this from the city walls he is also conscious of the power of YHWH and of what history has revealed about both His ability and His willingness to save, (He is after all a God Who shows covenant love to thousands), and it would appear that he was thus wondering what YHWH’s final intentions might be at this final stage. (He may well have had in mind the last minute, remarkable deliverance of Jerusalem in the time of Isaiah).
So in his prayer to YHWH in the light of this, he deliberately draws attention to the positive, to His great and creative power, and His ability to do whatever He wants. Nothing, he points out, is too hard for Him. He is indeed the Mighty God of Battle, so he has no doubt that He could deliver if He wished to do so. And he also, possibly hopefully, draws attention to His covenant compassion, although he then immediately contrasts it with His judgment on sinners. He is clearly not wanting to presume.
On the other hand he recognises that He is the One Who is all-wise and sees all men’s actions, and deals with them accordingly. That may count against Judah. On the other hand it could count against their enemies, and he recalls in this regard how God had similarly delivered Israel from Egypt when they were in an impossible situation, because He was aware of the sinfulness of the Egyptians. And had He not done similar things at other times since, even when His people were failing Him? Indeed he underlines how often YHWH has miraculously delivered His people in the past.
On the other hand he also acknowledges that, in spite of YHWH’s past goodness revealed in the giving to His people of a land flowing with milk and honey, YHWH’s people had once again failed Him and had not obeyed His voice or walked in His Law. Indeed they had done nothing of all that He had commanded them. He therefore acknowledges that that is why they are now in this perilous situation, and why siege mounts are visible outside the walls, and why the conditions within the walls of sword, famine and pestilence appear to be ensuring a final enemy victory. That might appear to settle the matter. But then he draws on what he sees as one last glimmer of hope. YHWH has caused him to buy land in Judah almost as though nothing was going on. Does that then mean that YHWH intends to deliver Jerusalem? He may well have been asking, ‘You have acted so in the past, are you now about to do so again, in view of the fact that you have made me buy this land?’ The impression being given by the prayer is that Jeremiah is not quite sure what YHWH intends to do with the result that he has gone over all the facts which could influence such a decision in his prayer. On the one hand he knows that He could deliver them if He so wished, because He is mighty and powerful, and compassionate, and wise, and experienced as a miraculous Deliverer, but on the other he remembers that YHWH sees all that is going on and that YHWH has declared in the past the certainty of the destruction of Jerusalem. On the other hand this last does not appear to tie in with his having required Jeremiah to purchase a piece of land. The question Jeremiah is considering is in his prayer is, will He save or will He judge? (The prayer considers the arguments both ways). No wonder he is puzzled.
The prayer is typical of expanded Hebrew prayer which summarises the whole situation before coming to a conclusion, and in this case initially exalts YHWH as mighty Creator and miraculous Deliverer, before going on to present arguments in depth based on the people’s sinfulness which might cause Him not this time to act in His divine power. We can compare for this kind of discursive prayer Daniel 9.14-19, and elements in Ezra 9.5-15; Isaiah 37.16-20. Note also Jonah 2.2-9 which demonstrates the Hebrew art of introducing into a simple prayer of distress matters of divine moment. This is typical prophetic prayer.
32.16 ‘Now after I had delivered the deed of the purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah, I prayed to YHWH, saying,’
We should note here that Jeremiah obeyed first and then prayed afterwards. Our prayers would often be more successful if we learned this lesson. All too often our prayers are hindered because we are not walking in obedience to what God has called on us to do when we pray. But Jeremiah first did what he was told, and then brought his grievance to YHWH. Indeed it was his obedience that gave him grounds for doing so.
32.17-18 “Ah Lord YHWH! Behold, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for you, who shows covenant love to thousands, and recompenses the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their children after them. The great, the mighty God, YHWH of hosts is his name.”
Firstly he draws attention to the positive possibilities. He draws attention to the greatness and all-powerful nature of YHWH, and declares that YHWH is the sovereign ‘Lord’, Who has made the heavens and the earth by His own great power and personal activity. In other words that He is the Great Creator Who is over all things and can therefore do anything that He wants, whether in saving or in judging. For the idea of ‘Your great power and your outstretched arm’ compare Deuteronomy 9.29 where it referred to His intervention in the deliverance from Egypt. Here it refers to His bringing about the very act of creation by His personal act of power.
Indeed he stresses that it needs to be recognised that there is nothing that is ‘too hard’ (extraordinary, difficult) for Him. These words, which are repeated in verse 27, confirming their authenticity, are drawn from Genesis 18.14. The conclusion to be drawn from this is that He could save if He wanted to.
Furthermore he points out that He is also the God of Moses with whom He had made His covenant, for on the one hand, as He had declared to Moses, He shows ‘covenant love’ to thousands (Exodus 20.6; 34.7), and on the other He recompenses to men their iniquity in failing to observe that covenant, both in respect of themselves and of their sinning descendants. Not the contrast between YHWH ‘showing covenant love to thousands’ and those who pour their iniquities ‘into the bosom of their children’. This is the inheritance that they leave their children by having taught them sinful ways. Compare for these descriptions the words of Moses in Exodus 20.5-6; and especially 34.7. From the point of view of his argument this is neutral, leaving YHWH options either way. On the one hand YHWH could respond in compassion, in accordance with His covenant. On the other He could condemn on the basis of their iniquities.
And on top of this he draws out that He is also the God of battle, for He is ‘the great, the mighty God’ (compare Isaiah 9.6), Whose Name is ‘YHWH of hosts’. In all this we have an indication of Jeremiah’s sound knowledge of early Scripture, and a view of YHWH which is in deliberate contrast to Judah’s powerlessness at the hands of the besieging Babylonians. He is making clear that if they are not delivered it will be because YHWH chooses not to deliver them, not because He cannot.
32.19 “Great in counsel, and mighty in work, whose eyes are open on all the ways of the sons of men, to give every one according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings,”
He then points out that YHWH is also both all-wise (great in counsel) and all-powerful in His activity (mighty in work), as well as being all-knowing, with His eyes open to all the ways of mere ‘sons of men’, in order that He might reward each according to their deserts, and according to what they have achieved. Thus YHWH knows what is best and he is confident that He will make the right decision. We can compare with his description here the words of David in Psalm 53.2, ‘God looks down from Heaven on the sons of men, to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.’ Thus if He chooses not to intervene on Judah’s behalf it will not be because He is unaware of precisely what is going on.
32.20 “Who set signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, even to this day, both in Israel and among men, and made yourself a name, as at this day,”
Furthermore he points out that He is a God of continuing wonders and miracles. He initially established signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, and has continued to produce such signs and miracles ‘to this day’. In mind here are no doubt the miraculous deliverances in Joshua (e.g. 10.8-14), Judges (e.g. 5.19-21), 1 Samuel (e.g. 7.8-11), 2 Kings (e.g. 13.4-5), and especially miraculous deliverances from sieges such as are found in 2 Kings 7 and 19, to say nothing of displays of YHWH’s powers among the nations (‘among men’) in the form of earthquakes, storms and other ‘miraculous’ events (e.g. Joshua 10.8-14; Judges 5.19-21; 1 Samuel 7.8-11). Indeed thereby He had made a Name for Himself. There was thus plenty of precedent for YHWH’s intervention, had He wished to do so. But now YHWH appeared to be silent.
32.21 “And brought forth your people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs, and with wonders, and with a strong hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terror,”
With the same strong hand and outstretched arm that He had used in creating, He had also personally delivered His people out of Egypt, by means of signs and wonders, His strong hand and outstretched arm, and great terrors. There could be no doubt therefore of His ability to save should He desire to do so. Babylon was no mightier than ancient Egypt.
32.22 “And gave them this land, which you swore to their fathers to give them, a land flowing with milk and honey,”
And it was He Who had demonstrated His love for His people by giving them the land that they now possessed (the very land which Jeremiah had bought a portion of), a good and worthwhile land. It had been His gift to them, on the basis of His promises to their forefathers. (In this lay possible hope).
32.23 “And they came in, and possessed it, but they did not obey your voice, nor did they walk in your law. They have done nothing of all that you commanded them to do. Therefore you have caused all this evil to come on them.”
And the result was that they had come in and possessed it. Victory and territory had been secured with YHWH’s help. But then had arisen the problem. They had not obeyed His voice or walked in His Law. Indeed they had done nothing of what He had commanded them. They had flagrantly disobeyed Him. And by doing so they had forfeited any right to the land. (That appeared to cancel out the possible hope).
32.24 “Behold, the mounds, they are come to the city to take it, and the city is given into the hand of the Chaldeans who fight against it, because of the sword, and of the famine, and of the pestilence, and what you have spoken is come about, and, behold, you see it.”
Then he calls on YHWH to consider what lies before His very eyes. The siege mounds of the Babylonians have been built up outside the city walls, because they have come there to take the city, and it has already for all practical purposes been given into their hands because the city is almost consumed with the sword, and with famine, and with pestilence as YHWH had previously warned. Death and weakness were therefore everywhere, as YHWH Himself could see. It was in no position to consider resisting.
32.25 “And you have said to me, O Lord YHWH, Buy you the field for money, and call witnesses, whereas the city is given into the hand of the Chaldeans.”
On the other hand, having considered YHWH’s power to deliver, in contrast with the present situation of the city, he still has cause for perplexity. What, he asks, is YHWH’s intention in view of the fact that He has called on Jeremiah to buy a piece of land in the presence of witnesses (something which appeared to suggest that the land still had a future)? On the one hand he has obeyed YHWH and has bought the land, and on the other YHWH is delivering the city into the hands of the Chaldeans. This did not appear to make sense.
This is a perfect example of praying through a problem, by listing the pros and cons of the situation and considering the alternatives. The pros are that God is all-powerful and all-wise and mighty enough to deliver, and often acts graciously. The cons are that the people are totally undeserving and disobedient to the covenant, and thus subject to its curses. The question then was what YHWH’s reaction was going to be in the light of all the facts.
Note On Jeremiah’s Depictions Of God.
In chapter 10 Jeremiah had depicted God, in stark contrast with idols, as:
Now in this passage he has expanded on that view, and brought it into historical context in the light of His dealings with men. Thus:
Note how perfectly each list is suited to its context. The one contrasting Him with man-made idols, the other establishing His ability to act in history, with power, wisdom, understanding and discretion, while keeping in mind the deserts of His people in the face of His goodness towards them.
YHWH’s Answer Is Unequivocal. It Is True That Nothing Is Too Hard For Him, But That Must Be Seen As Precisely The Reason Why He Was Delivering The City Into The Hands Of The Chaldeans. For He Will Also Later Cause His People To Return From Exile So That Land Will Once Again Be Bought And Sold In Judah (32.26-44).
YHWH answers both of the questions that are preying on Jeremiah’s mind. On the one hand He stresses that He does intend to deliver the city into the hands of the Chaldeans because of all their iniquity (32.28-35), and on the other He draws out that He does intend one day to deliver them again and restore them to the land, so that they might buy and sell land once again (32.36-44). Thus both of Jeremiah’s options are to be seen as true. And that is because NOTHING is too hard for YHWH.
32.26 ‘Then came the word of YHWH to Jeremiah, saying,’
Observing His servant’s perplexity YHWH graciously comes to Jeremiah with the final answer to his questions.
32.27 “Behold, I am YHWH, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for me?”
He confirms that Jeremiah is quite correct in having said that nothing is too hard from Him because He is ‘the God of all flesh’, the Universal Lord, with complete authority over all men. For the phrase ‘of all flesh’ compare Numbers 16.22; 27.16.
Jerusalem Will Be Destroyed Because Of The People’s Gross Sinfulness (32.28-35).
32.28 “Therefore thus says YHWH, Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the Chaldeans, and into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, and he will take it,”
And it is on this basis that He intends to give the city into the hands of the Chaldeans (another name for the Babylonians, or possibly in this case Nebuchadrezzar’s choice troops) and into the hands of Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, who will consequently take it. Note that it is because YHWH so chooses that it will happen. It will happen just as He has determined.
32.29 “And the Chaldeans, who fight against this city, will come and set this city on fire, and burn it, with the houses, on whose roofs they have offered incense to Baal, and poured out drink-offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger.”
YHWH then deigns to explain why He has made this choice. It is because the flat roofs of the houses had become mini-sanctuaries to Baal and to other gods, with incense being offered there to Baal, and drink offerings poured out to other gods. It was because it had become a hive of idolatry, provoking Him to anger. That was why He had brought in the Chaldeans, in order that they might purge the city with fire. The smoke of burning buildings would replace that of incense. The next few verses will expand on YHWH’s grievances in detail.
32.30 “For the children of Israel and the children of Judah have done only what was evil in my sight from their youth, for the children of Israel have only provoked me to anger with the work of their hands, the word of YHWH.”
He accuses the people of both Israel and Judah of having done ‘only what was evil in my sight from their youth’. The idea is not that none ever performed a good action, but that even in their good actions their motives were wrong. Their whole attitudes and trends of life had been contrary to His will. Note how ‘the children of Israel and the children of Judah’ are summarised as ‘the children of Israel’ in the one sentence. ‘The work of their hands’ includes their overall disobedience and evil activity, but may well partly have in mind the idols that they had made for themselves with their own hands. And this was the sure word of YHWH.
‘From their youth’ probably indicates that they had done it from the earliest days in the wilderness (compare 2.2), although alternatively it may indicate that they had sinned grievously even before they were adults.
32.31-32 “For this city has been to me a provocation of my anger and of my wrath from the day that they built it even to this day, that I should remove it from before my face, because of all the evil of the children of Israel and of the children of Judah, which they have done to provoke me to anger, they, their kings, their princes, their priests, and their prophets, and the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”
What is more the whole city of Jerusalem had provoked Him to anger constantly from its very beginnings, both from when it was a Jebusite city, combined with suburbs built by Benjamin and Judah, and from when David and Solomon had rebuilt and extended it. (Even David had brought YHWH’s wrath on it through his behaviour with Bathsheba, and by his later arrogance and dilatoriness, combined with the misbehaviour of the people (2 Samuel 11 and 24)). They had done it to so severely that it was beyond redemption to such an extent that He was now determined to remove it from before His face. Furthermore the blame was to be shared by all, for it fell on the people of both Israel and Judah, their kings, their princes, their priests, their prophets, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. None were exempt from blame (compare 5.1-9). All had provoked His anger.
32.33 “And they have turned to me the back, and not the face, and though I taught them, rising up early and teaching them, yet they have not listened to receive instruction.”
Indeed they had rudely turned their backs on Him rather than looking Him in the face (i.e. had given Him perfunctory recognition while at the same time treating Him for all intents and purposes as though He was not there by worshipping idols). Compare 2.27; 7.24. And they had done this despite His great efforts to bring them back to Himself, and His efforts to instruct them. Once again we have the Jeremaic expression, ‘rising up early and teaching them’ signifying great effort. God had done all that He could but they had not listened.
32.34 “But they set their abominations in the house which is called by my name, to defile it.”
And to cap it all they had even set up idols in YHWH’s own house, the house which was called by His Name, thus defiling it. Compare the similar statement in 7.30. This included an alter to the hosts of heaven, and certainly an Asherah image. It also included vessels for Baal which suggest that a pillar to Baal was also set up. See 2 Kings 16.10-12; 21.5, 7; 23.4, 6.
32.35 “And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech; which I did not command them, nor did it come into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.”
But even possibly worse than that was that they had committed a sin so horrible that YHWH did not even want to bring it to mind, in that they had set up high places of Baal in the Valley of Hinnom and had caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech. In 19.5 this is described as ‘burning their sons as burnt offerings to Baal’, so that there is no doubt that child sacrifice was involved. Molech was the fiery god of the only half-civilised Ammonites, and had clearly been conjoined with Baal in this form of worship (Baal means ‘Lord’, Molech means ‘King). And not only had YHWH not commanded it, but He could not even bear to think of it.
However, Once Jerusalem Has Been Destroyed And A Reasonable Period Has Elapsed, YHWH Will Restore His People To Their Land And Will Once Again Be Their God, Giving Them A New Heart To Fear Him For Ever, And He Will Make An Everlasting Covenant With Them Plating Them In The Land So That They Will Once Again Buy And Sell Property, As He Had Promised To Jeremiah (32.36-44).
YHWH promises that whilst it was true that Jerusalem would be given into the hands of the king of Babylon after enduring great suffering, nevertheless he would one day gather them from all the countries to which He had driven them, and would give them true and steadfast hearts that would fear Him for ever, and would make an everlasting covenant with them (clearly the covenant of 31.31-34) that He would never again turn away from following them in order to do good, having put constancy in their hearts. He would plant them again in the land, and bring good on them. And fields would once again be bought and sold in the land.
Looking ahead Jeremiah no doubt saw this in terms of one final once-for-all development on their being restored to the land, for that would be his hope, and he was not called on to proclaim what was beyond his ability to comprehend. But as with all prophecy it has to be taken piece by piece and applied to what has happened and what will happen. God’s panorama is very large and very lengthy, and He has plenty of time. Certainly the people would begin to return to the land within fifty years, and gradually that trickle would become a flood, repopulating Palestine ready for the coming of Christ. Over that time He would once again be their God, and they would be His people. And a good number of them would have restored faith and restored hearts, and would enjoy a certain level of security. But it would not then have the completeness described here, for what is described here could only be fulfilled in eternity, when the hearts of God’s people are set towards good everlastingly, and their security also is eternal. No experience on earth could accomplish this (not even a so-called Millennium).
Nor could YHWH’s everlasting covenant be given in this fashion to sinful men living on earth, under whatever circumstances. It requires hearts which have been made perfect, ‘the spirits of righteous men made perfect’ (Hebrews 12.23). And this will only be found in the heavenly kingdom and the new Heaven and the new earth.
Thus the promise is very much a down to earth one of the present, while at the same time having an eternal perspective. It combines near and far. Many of God’s people did return from many countries preparing for the first coming of the Messiah. And many would be transformed. And an even greater transformations would take place once the Messiah had come and He had drenched His people with the Holy Spirit. They would indeed have a new heart and a new spirit. And the perfection described here would be incipient within them, in preparation for their eternal future. But the final fulfilment has undoubtedly to await that eternal future. And no fictitious Millennium (unknown to Jesus, Paul and Peter) is required.
32.36 “And now therefore thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, concerning this city, of which you say, ‘It is given into the hand of the king of Babylon by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence’,”
We have here YHWH’s response to Jeremiah’s puzzled condition. Jeremiah had indeed prophesied that Jerusalem would be given into the hand of the King of Babylon accompanied by sword, famine and pestilence, the three accompaniments of war, for which see verse 24. But what he must not overlook was what was to follow.
32.37 “Behold, I will gather them out of all the countries, where I have driven them in my anger, and in my wrath, and in great indignation, and I will bring them again to this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely,”
For it was YHWH’s intention to gather His people from all the countries where He had driven them ‘in His anger, and wrath and great indignation’ (a threefold combination bringing out the greatness of His fury). And He would bring them back to this place and cause them to dwell in safety.
While we are later only given glimpses of the beginning of this return (in Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra, Nehemiah, etc), there is really no reason to doubt that the Palestine of Jesus’ time did contain peoples who had returned from many countries, and who then dwelt there in comparative safety. And given the constant contact that had been maintained with other exiles, and the deep faith of many in exile, it was inevitable. We do not have to look to a future return of a moribund Israel for the fulfilment of this promise.
32.38 “And they will be my people, and I will be their God,”
Again there can be no doubt that re-established Israel did see themselves as YHWH’s people, and YHWH as their God. Nor can we doubt that God saw it in the same way, for He sent His Son among them seeking ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matthew 10.6). But there was also undoubtedly a deeper fulfilment in the formation of the early church of true believers after Christ’s resurrection (2 Corinthians 6.16). But in all cases there would be false among the true. Thus its final complete fulfilment awaits the time when all half-heartedness will be done away and His people are finally His for ever (Revelation 21.3).
32.39 “And I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them,”
Here we find a repetition of the promise of the new covenant (31.31-34). It is a guarantee that once such a change of heart has taken place it can never be reversed. They will fear Him for ever. ‘For He Who has begun a good work in them will confirm it until the Day of Jesus Christ’ (Philippians 1.6). ‘He will confirm them to the end, for He is faithful Who promised’ (1 Corinthians 1.8-9). It represents a ‘fear of the Lord’ which is permanent and cannot be taken away (although a spurious and temporary fear of the Lord is possible). Such a fear of the Lord must have been present in His true people from earliest times. We need not doubt that Adam came to it. And it was central to the Christian Gospel, so that Jesus could say, ‘They will never perish and none will pluck them from My hand’ (John 10.28). And in a good number of cases it would be passed on to their children, but only when they also truly believed.
32.40 “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from following them, to do them good; and I will put my fear in their hearts, that they may not depart from me.”
A few moments’ thought will bring home the fact that this everlasting covenant could not be given to any ordinary nation. For no ordinary nation could ever be composed of people of whom not one would ever turn from Him. It was certainly not true of Israel after the return from exile, for in the end many of them rejected our Lord Jesus Christ, although that nation certainly contained some of whom it was true, those of whom the world was not worthy (Hebrews 11.38). Nor is it true of so-called Israel today. Indeed the only nation like this described in Scripture is the new nation created by Jesus (Matthew 21.43) composed of all who truly believe in Him. They are the ones whom He has promised to keep and maintain for ever (John 6.37, 39; 10.27-28; 1 Corinthians 1.8-9; Philippians 1.6; Hebrews 10.14; 1 Peter 1.3-5; Jude 24). For His salvation is for those for whom He ‘works in them to will and do of His good pleasure’ (Philippians 2.13), and for whom He is their Saviour.
But even in this new nation there are undoubtedly those who do ‘depart from Him’ for a time. It is only in eternity that we will discover complete steadfastness by all. Thus there are a number of partial fulfilments, but only one final complete fulfilment.
And this reference of it to eternity ties in with the fact that it is an everlasting covenant. No manipulating of the Hebrew can make this mean any other than ‘everlasting’, for that is the point of the promise. It will be unfailing for ever. And that requires an eternal kingdom.
32.41 “Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will plant them in this land assuredly with my whole heart and with my whole soul.”
This is certainly not true of modern so-called Israel. He can hardly be said to have planted them in the land with His whole heart and His whole soul, and they are undoubtedly demonstrating attitudes which are not of God. They are there still largely in unbelief, and they have already planted themselves there. (Jeremiah always speaks of a return following repentance, and modern so-called Israel has not repented, otherwise they would have come to believe in Jesus Christ). It thus mainly has in mind the restoration after the exile. YHWH did rejoice over them to do them good, as He assures both Haggai and Zechariah, and He did plant them in the land with His whole heart and His whole soul. But again in the end it applies finally to the new Heaven and the new earth where Abraham will receive the promises made to him for ever, in the better country, that is the heavenly (Hebrews 11.10-14).
32.42 “For thus says YHWH, In the same way as I have brought all this great evil on this people, so will I bring on them all the good that I have promised them.”
The certainty of the future is underlined. The initial fulfilment was undoubtedly after the Exile. Having brought evil on them He did in the future bring good on them. But it was necessarily limited. Thus the final fulfilment awaited the establishment of the new nation of Matthew 21.43, and even then only as finalised in eternity. Thus Jeremiah was prophesying beyond what he could possibly comprehend. What he did know was that YHWH was promising the very best for all who were His own.
32.43 “And fields will be bought in this land, of which you say, ‘It is desolate, without man or beast. It is given into the hand of the Chaldeans’.”
The buying of fields did, of course, become common after the Exile, even though at this time it must have seemed unlikely that it would ever do so. The fields would no longer be desolate.
32.44 “Men will buy fields for money, and subscribe the deeds, and seal them, and call witnesses, in the land of Benjamin, and in the places about Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah, and in the cities of the hill-country, and in the cities of the lowland, and in the cities of the South, for I will cause their captivity to return, the word of YHWH.”
YHWH wanted to root His promises in a genuine hope to which the people of Jeremiah’s time could look forward. And thus He promised that just as Jeremiah had bought land at Anathoth, so would men in the future buy fields in the land for silver, and would like Jeremiah subscribe to deeds and seal them. The land thus had a future, and this future would not be restricted but would be true over the whole land. The mention of the ‘land of Benjamin’ stresses that such purchases will take place in the very part of the land where Jeremiah had made his purchase. Interestingly there is overall no specific mention of the northern kingdom, but we must remember that Jeremiah was making his promises very much to the nation of his time, and that nation did not possess the northern kingdom. The ‘cities of the South’ were of course the cities in the Negeb. The hill country and the lowlands covered the remainder of Judah, the cities of Judah being added in for good measure. The mention of Jerusalem is an assurance that one day it will be restored, as it was by Nehemiah. And all this would be because, on the certain and sure word of YHWH, their captivity would be returned. The exiles would come home.
‘For I will cause their captivity to return, the word of YHWH.’ Note that this is a uniting thematic phrase connecting together chapters 32 and 33. See 33.7, 11, 26.
Sub-Part B. YHWH Promises The Restoration Of The Davidic Monarchy And The Levitical Priesthood (33.1-26).
The passage commences with, ‘Moreover the word of YHWH came to Jeremiah the second time --’, as it had the first (32.1). Despite the fact of the devastation that is shortly to come on besieged Jerusalem, YHWH promises to Jeremiah that one day He will restore His people, settle them securely in the land, and will restore the Davidic kingship and the Levitical priesthood in accordance with His covenants made with them (33.1-26).
The initial promise to show these things to Jeremiah suggests that in his prison in the court of the guard, with news coming to him of the city’s sufferings under the siege, he was struggling in his soul concerning the situation, and trying to come to terms with what was involved in all that YHWH had said. YHWH thus comes to give certainty to His loyal servant, the certainty that he seeks.
The passage is divided up by divisional markers:
To A Doubting And Troubled Jeremiah YHWH Promises To Reveal The Glorious But Seemingly Impossible Future, Which Will Be Brought About By His Creative Power Following The Current Storm (33.1-3).
33.1 ‘Moreover the word of YHWH came to Jeremiah the second time, while he was yet shut up in the court of the guard, saying,’
The need for a ‘second word’ suggests that YHWH is aware of Jeremiah’s confusion as the siege gets even more severe. Situated as he was he had had plenty of time to puzzle over what appeared to be an impossible situation. Who had ever heard of a nation being destroyed and exiled from its land, only to be restored in all its former grandeur?
33.2 “Thus says YHWH who does it, YHWH who forms it to establish it; YHWH is his name,”
YHWH, however, assures him that He is easily able to produce something out of what appears to be nothing, for He is the one who ‘does things’, and then ‘fashions them’ (as He had at creation), with a view to finally establishing them. And this is so because His Name is ‘YHWH’, the One Who ‘will be whatever He wants to be’, and ‘causes to be whatever He wants to cause to be’. (Depending on the pointing both meanings are contained within the Name YHWH).
33.3 “Call to me, and I will answer you, and will show you great things, and hard to bring about (difficult, impregnable), which you do not know.”
All therefore that Jeremiah has to do is call on Him, and He then promises him that He will answer him, and will show him things which are both ‘great and hard to bring about’ (compare the same description in Deuteronomy 1.28; 9.1), things about which at present he has had no past knowledge of. In other words He will show him ‘a new thing’ outside of his experience.
Alternately the singular verbs may apply to the people in general, with the point being that if, when in exile, they truly call on Him, He will reveal His hand in an amazing deliverance.
The Conditions Of The Siege Which Have Caused Jeremiah To Despair (33.4-5).
YHWH recognises that Jeremiah might be confused at what he is experiencing as the siege approaches its final intensity, and describes the scenes with vivid reality, before adding His assurance that this causes Him no problems.
33.4-5 “For thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, concerning the houses of this city, and concerning the houses of the kings of Judah, which are broken down to make a defence against the mounds and against the sword, while they come to fight with the Chaldeans, and to fill them with the dead bodies of men, whom I have slain in my anger and in my wrath, and for all whose wickedness I have hid my face from this city,”
In a vivid, but abbreviated description, Jeremiah depicts under YHWH’s guidance the awful cost of defending the walls against the besieging army, and he draws attention to the fact that it all arises as a result of the wickedness of those very people (its citizens) who were now dying or facing death, for it was their wickedness that had drawn down on the city the anger and fury of YHWH. It is clear that he was well aware as he sat in his prison, of the ferment in the city as houses were being torn down in order to strengthen the fortifications that were the main target of the besiegers, and he would have been especially so as it directly affected the palace complex where the most substantial stones would be found which were suitable for the purpose. As the siege progressed, the battering rams, dragged by the besiegers up the mounds which enabled the rams to reach the weaker parts of the walls, gradually did their work of weakening the defences. The consequence was that the walls, once thought to be sufficiently substantial, were now crumbling before them, and in such circumstances it was common practise to strengthen such walls from the inside by adding layers of stones and other building materials, which would be obtained by breaking down suitable buildings. It was all a part of the cost of the defence of the city in the face of the daily activity of the Chaldeans (Babylonians) against the walls. And on the other side the enemy would be tearing down houses outside the walls in order to build their siege mounds, adding to the overall final cost. War was not cheap.
‘Against the sword (instrument of war).’ The noun used signifies siege axes as well as swords, and indeed all instruments used by the attackers in order to achieve a breach in the walls, and which the defenders had to constantly face in defending those walls. During a fierce siege nothing stood still, and all kinds of weapons and instruments were used.
The account is necessarily very much abbreviated and telescoped, but it vividly brings out the mayhem and devastating effects of the continual fighting. We can visualise the siege engines being dragged up the mounds to attack the walls, accompanied by other instruments of war as men fought from siege towers, with the defendants fighting back gallantly, and their dead being dragged away to be laid in heaps in the remnants of the destroyed buildings near the wall. This is the explanation of the ‘dead bodies of men’ who were probably those slain defending the walls, and who would be dragged away when there was a lull in the fighting, in order to be laid in the ruins of the houses. This was so that they would be out of the way, and would also have the purpose of treating them with a rough kind of respect. War was a cruel thing, but even in the midst of hostilities, men still respected their fallen comrades as best they could. They did not leave them just lying around. The numerous bodies that lay there, piled up in the broken down ruins of the buildings, would be a constant reminder of the cost of the siege.
But they were also a reminder, as YHWH Himself points out, of YHWH’s anger against Jerusalem, and of His punishment of men whose wickedness had contributed to the demise of the city, a wickedness which had caused Him to hide His face from them rather than defending them. It was because of this wickedness that He had handed them over to the slaughter.
Vividly aware as he would have been of such conditions we can understand why Jeremiah was finding it difficult to reconcile them with YHWH’s promises of future deliverance. He would be gaining the impression that once the fighting was over, there would be little left to restore. He would not, of course, have been the only one afflicted with a sense of deep gloom, nevertheless, having no part to play in the fighting, he would have time to think of it more than most. And it was into such gloomy prognostications that the assurance of YHWH came.
YHWH Confirms His Promise Of Future Restoration (33.6-9).
These verses must be seen as being closely connected with verse 5 for it is in the light of the words there that these promises are made. Indeed there is a certain pattern here which partially parallels verse 5. Instead of broken down buildings there will in the future be plasters and healing, instead of dead bodies there will be an abundance of true peace and restoration, and instead of YHWH’s anger over their sin they will receive cleansing and pardon. And the consequence of all this will be that YHWH’s Name will be exalted among the nations. Nevertheless it is quite clear that in the case of each parallel the one must precede the other. The breaking down must precede the binding up, warfare must precede true peace. The lessons must first be learned through suffering, before the glory arises out of the ashes. But so wonderful will be what happens that it will be a deliverance beyond Jeremiah’s, and the nation’s, current understanding.
YHWH promises that in days to come the wrecked and devastated Jerusalem, and the equally desolate Judah, will be brought back to health, bound up (covered with an effective plaster) and healed (compare 30.17), and that the people within it will themselves be healed, and will enjoy an abundance of ‘peace and truth’ (‘genuine peace’ rather than the kind of peace promised by the false prophets). Thus the city and the land, at present experiencing such despair and hopelessness, will once more be restored to life and vigour. For He will cause the captivity and exile of Judah and Israel to be reversed, with the result that their numbers will be built up in the land so that they will be as numerous as before.
Furthermore they will be cleansed from all their ‘iniquity’ (the root means ‘to be bent’) and will be pardoned from all their ‘iniquities’ (the consequences of their being ‘bent’ within) which assumes that they will have repented from their ‘sins’ (their ‘coming short of the mark’) with which they have sinned against Him. Note that this last is repeated twice. We can see from this how the depths of their sin is being emphasised. And it had all resulted from ‘rebellion’ (hostility to God and His ways). But now their rebellion will be over and they will be cleansed and pardoned (as per the new covenant - 31.34). Thus both the depths of their sin and the greatness of their pardon is being emphasised.
And the consequence of YHWH’s goodness to them will be that ‘all the nations’ will fear and tremble as they see all that YHWH does for His people. They will realise that from then on they must treat them with care because they are YHWH’s. And all that has happened will bring home to them the wonder of YHWH, His joyous renown, His praise and His glory. We may also justifiably see in this ‘fear and trembling’ a reverent response of the nations to YHWH, another indication that finally people of all nations will turn to YHWH (compare Genesis 12.3).
Desolation And Waste Will Be Replaced By Joy And Gladness, Marriage Celebrations and Worship, Because YHWH Will Have Delivered His People From Their Captivity (33.10-11).
Once again we have the ‘before’ and ‘after’ of which Jeremiah is so fond, in that he first depicts the utter desolation of Jerusalem and Judah, ‘waste without man and beast’, and contrasts it with the following times of joy and gladness, when weddings will be celebrated with merriment, worshippers will give vibrant thanks to YHWH for His covenant love, and thanksgiving offerings will be sacrificed in the house of YHWH.
‘This place’ clearly refers both to Jerusalem and to the cities of Judah and thus indicates the whole land. At present it is a desolate waste (with Jerusalem awaiting the final denouement) and will shortly be bereft of its inhabitants and all forms of civilisation, a deserted land stripped of life. But when the time comes for YHWH to act He will restore life to it, men and women will once more dwell there voicing their joy and gladness, marriages will again be joyous affairs and worshippers of YHWH will give thanks to Him for His goodness and His everlasting covenant love (chesed). The house of YHWH will have been restored, and worshippers will bring there their thanksgiving offerings out of gratitude for what He has done for them, for He will have restored Jerusalem and Judah back to what it was in the glory days. Note the opening and closing ‘says YHWH’ which emphasises that it is all His doing.
In all this we must not overlook the problems that would be involved. Uprooted from the lands which they had begun to call home because of the lure of their true homeland, taking the long and weary journeys back to that homeland with all their belongings, settling into what had become a foreign environment, coping with the jealousies and schemings of their neighbours, struggling to re-establish themselves in the land, and to re-establish the fruitfulness of a land that had gone to waste, eventually after twenty or more years rebuilding the Temple, although but a mere shadow of what it had been before (and yet one which would last longer than any other of their Temples and would be truly the people’s), and finally after a hundred years rebuilding Jerusalem as once more a semi-independent city. It would not be easy, nor would all necessarily go well. But they were a hardy people, and eventually the land was restored. As so often God’s work was not spectacular, but was ground out through the sufferings of His people.
The Whole Land Will Once Again Become A Place Of Flocks And Herds (33.12-13)
To an agricultural people this was an essential part of the re-establishment of the land. Once again the land, which had become so desolate, would be filled with flocks and herds. This would be the sign of its prosperity. The land would be filled with Jacobs, feeding their flocks and seeing their numbers grow. It would be back to the good old days.
Note again the vivid contrast being expressed. Initially the land would be waste, and would be emptied of man and beast, but then it would become repopulated with both man and beast. The ‘cities’ would be mainly shepherds’ encampments, as they gathered together for mutual protection, with their watchtowers and their sheepfolds. And they would be found all over the land, in the hill country, and in the lowlands (the Shephelah), in the cities of the Negeb (in the south), and in the land of Benjamin (in the north), and in the places around Jerusalem and in the varied cities of Judah. There the flocks would lie down, and there they would be counted by the counters. Note again the opening and closing ‘says YHWH’ stressing that YHWH has spoken.
It would be interesting to know how the counting would take place, for it is very probable that few if any shepherds could actually count proficiently to any large extent. (Learning to count takes considerable effort, an effort which may well have not been seen as worthwhile. Such a skill was not really needed by shepherds who would recognise their own sheep without having to count them). Possibly shepherds had a number of small stones reflecting the number of sheep, and the sheep would be numbered by dropping the stones into a vessel as the sheep were driven by. Or there may have been specialist counters who performed this function for the shepherds (as the text may seem to indicate). Or the assessment may have been by names stored in the memory, ‘he calls his own sheep by name’ (John 10.3). The shepherd would know every one of his sheep and would easily spot if one was missing.
YHWH Promises That In ‘The Days That Are Coming’ Both His Chosen (Davidic) Kingship and His God-Appointed (Levitical) Priesthood Will Be Maintained So As To Watch Over His People’s Future (33.14-25).
The point in what follows is not so much the proper descent of the kings and priests mentioned, as the fact that they will be those who have been chosen and appointed by YHWH. Both the Davidic kingship and the Levitical priesthood had been chosen and appointed by YHWH in order to maintain a pure kingship and a pure priesthood, and that was why they were kept ‘in the family’. The theory was that they would be properly bred to their posts, inheriting the virtues of their ancestors. One thing in which northern Israel had so disastrously failed was in dispensing with the Davidic kingship and the Levitical priesthood, appointing instead kings and priests of their own choice who had soon proved their lack of worth. But Judah was also suffering because whilst they still had a Davidic kingship and a Levitical priesthood, their ‘Davidic kings’ did not walk in the ways of David, and their ‘Levitical priests’ did not walk in the ways of Aaron.
Thus YHWH’s promise is not only of a Davidic King, but of one who will be a Shoot of Righteousness. And His promise is not only of a Levitical priesthood, but of one that will offer sacrifices truly ‘before YHWH’. In other words He will provide true Kingship and true Priesthood of a type which is pleasing to Him. The main spotlight is, however, on the Righteous Shoot from the house of David, who is then described in more detail (verses 15-16, 25a), with the true priesthood being a necessary adjunct so that true worship will be ensured.
The Setting Up Of The Shoot Of Righteousness Descended From David (33.14-16).
YHWH now repeats His promise of a coming David who will introduce righteousness (compare Isaiah 9.7; 11.1-4). The days are coming, on the assured word of YHWH, when He will perform the good word that He has spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. For in those days He will bring forth a shoot of righteousness to David, a righteous and true Davidic king, Who will bring about justice and righteousness among His people. The promise is basically Messianic. He will introduce a reign of righteousness.
33.14 “Behold, the days are coming, the word of YHWH, that I will perform that good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and concerning the house of Judah.”
This is the fourth ‘days are coming’ of this series of passages. The first referred to the re-establishing of the people in the land (31.27-28), the second to the giving of the new covenant (31.31-34), and the third to the re-establishment of the new Jerusalem (31.38-40). Now all will be sealed by the setting up of God’s righteous King. It is a ‘good word’ indeed.
33.15 “In those days, and at that time, will I cause a Shoot of righteousness to grow up to David, and he will execute justice and righteousness in the land.”
The promise of the coming righteous king began in Genesis 49.10. It was confirmed in 2 Samuel 7.12-13, 16; and ripened in the prophecies of Isaiah (Isaiah 9.6-7; 11.1-4). It has already been confirmed in Jeremiah 23.5-6 in words similar to those used here. It was, of course, finally fulfilled in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring about righteousness and in the establishment of His eternal kingship (Matthew 12.28; 25.31-46; 28.18; Luke 1.32-33; Acts 2.35; 7.55-56; Romans 1.3-4; Hebrews 1.3-4; Revelation 3.21; 19.16).
33.16 “In those days will Judah be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell safely, and this is the name by which she will be called, ‘YHWH our righteousness’.”
While there was a shadow of a fulfilment after the exile when Judah was delivered and Jerusalem dwelt safely under a Davidic ruler, and an even greater fulfilment in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, when His people were covered and endued with His righteousness under His Kingly Rule, it is only through His eternal Kingship, and the establishment of His heavenly kingdom, that this promise could be truly fulfilled. It is vain to look for it in an earthly kingdom. For it is only in a heavenly kingdom that His people can enjoy the perfect righteousness of YHWH. It is an idealistic state.
‘YHWH our righteousness.’ This name was originally given to the coming king of the house of David (23.6), now it is applied to His people as personified in Jerusalem. It is an indication that both will be revealed in God-likeness.
YHWH’s Promise That There Will Always Be A True Son Of David, And A True Priesthood, To Meet The Needs Of His People (33.17-24).
In a series of three short words from YHWH the guarantee is made to God’s people that they will always have a Son of David available to rule over them, and that while offerings and sacrifices are necessary there will always be a legitimate Levitical priesthood. Each ‘word’ is introduced by a standard Jeremaic introduction:
YHWH Guarantees The Provision Permanently Of Successors To David, And Successors To The Levitical Priesthood While They Are Still Required For The Offering Of The Regular Offerings (33.17-18).
33.17-18 “For thus says YHWH, David will never want a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, nor will the priests the Levites want a man before me to offer burnt-offerings, and to burn meal-offerings, and to do sacrifice continually.”
YHWH’s words are carefully chosen. He promises that there will always be a descendant of David available to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, not that one will always be sitting on it. Indeed the latter situation could not be true in exile. And it was from the line of David’s successors that Joseph, Jesus’ father, was king-elect in Israel, as Matthew’s genealogy demonstrates, and that the right passed on to Jesus as the eldest son.
He also promised that there would never be a lack of a Levitical priest to offer the regular offerings and sacrifices, while such a priest was required. Unlike Isaiah Jeremiah did not foresee the day when the regular offerings and sacrifices would be required no more, because Another would have been offered up as an all-sufficient sacrifice (Isaiah 53; Hebrews 7-10), but he did recognise that YHWH would always make provision for man’s atonement.
Both promises have been fulfilled. On the return to the land a Davidide was available to govern Israel, leading up to the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ, and there was an abundance of Levitical priests for the renewal of Temple worship. It was only when the sacrificial system finally ceased, never to be renewed, spiritually at the death of Christ, and literally at the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, that the line of Levitical priests ceased. For by then we had One Who was chosen by God as both King and Priest to act on our behalf for ever. (Today we could not find either a genuine Davidide other than Jesus Christ, or a genuine Levitical priest).
‘The priests, the Levites.’ This phrase is found nowhere else in Jeremiah, but it also occurs in Deuteronomy 17.9; 18.1; Joshua 3.3; Isaiah 66.21; Ezekiel 43.19; 44.15; 2 Chronicles 30.27. As found in Deuteronomy 18.1 a distinction is made between ‘the priests, the Levites’ and ‘the whole tribe of Levi’ (see our commentary on Deuteronomy for evidence of this) which is then explained in more detail in Deuteronomy 18.2-8.
YHWH’s Covenant With David And With The Levitical Priesthood Is As Certain As His Covenant Of Day And Night (33.19-22).
33.19 ‘And the word of YHWH came to Jeremiah, saying,’
The introductory saying leads into a vital ‘word’ from YHWH
33.20 “Thus says YHWH, If you can break my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night, so that there will not be day and night in their season, then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant, that he will not have a son to reign on his throne, and with the Levites the priests, my ministers.”
And that vital word is that YHWH’s covenant with David His servant, and with the Levitical Priesthood is as sure as the covenants which result in the continual series of day and night. The first covenant was that there would always be a son available to rule on the throne of David His servant, and the second covenant was that none other would be allowed to offer offerings and sacrifices other than the Levitical priesthood, His servants. Both were fulfilled, the first in that Jesus Christ received the eternal throne of David, and the second in that the Levitical priesthood was restored after the exile and continued its ministry of offerings and sacrifices until Lord Jesus Christ came and offered up a heavenly sacrifice which was not one that the Levitical priesthood could offer (as the writer to the Hebrews makes clear), thus terminating the Levitical priesthood which had thereby lost its purpose and ability to act, a termination confirmed by God in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD.
This solemn promise was necessary at this time. The seed of David appeared to be in a precarious position, with Jehoiachin in prison in Babylon, and Zedekiah and his sons, and the whole house of David, in peril of their lives in Jerusalem, whilst the priests could well have been a target for Nebuchadrezzar’s revenge, or may have become ‘lost in the crowd’ once they were in exile and no longer required. That neither happened was a fulfilment of this promise.
For the covenant with David see 2 Samuel 7.8-16; Isaiah 55.3-4; 2 Chronicles 7.18; 13.5; Psalm 89.3. For the covenant with Levi see Numbers 25.12-13; Nehemiah 13.29; Malachi 2.4-9.
33.22 “As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, nor the sand of the sea measured, so will I multiply the seed of David my servant, and the Levites who minister to me.”
In a clearly exaggerated statement, exaggerated in order to emphasise His provision, YHWH states that He will multiply the seed of David and the Levites who serve Him until they are as many as the stars and the sand of the sea. The main aim of the statement was in order to indicate the certainty that neither would die out while they were needed as there would be a plentiful supply. That this was fulfilled comes out in that the line of David continued adequately, with an heir always available, and the number of Levitical priests available to serve in the coming new Temple after the exile were numerous. Indeed by the time of Jesus there were so many Levitical priests that they drew lots for the privilege of offering incense in the Sanctuary (Luke 1.9).
However, as this vivid description with regard to the host of heaven and the sand of the sea is in Genesis used of the whole ‘seed of Abraham’ (see e.g. Genesis 15.5; 22.17; etc.), and the ‘seed of Abraham’ is mentioned in verse 26, it may well be that we are intended to see in it a hint that God’s people as a whole will become the seed of David (by being united with Christ), and will replace the Levitical priesthood (by becoming priests who offer up the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving), thus being truly a great multitude which no man can number.
YHWH Affirms That He Has Not Cast Off The Two Families Whom He Has Chosen, And Guarantees The Rule Of The Seed of David Over The Seed Of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (33.23-25).
In this final affirmation YHWH gives the assurance, either that He has not cast off either the family of David, nor the family of Aaron, despite what others are saying, so that both have a part in His future purposes, or that He has not cast off the family of David and the family of Jacob, whom He had chosen. The latter is the more likely as it will be noted that in what He goes on to say it is only to the family of David and the family of Jacob that he gives an assurance of eternal permanence. At no stage, in fact, in these verses has YHWH guaranteed the eternal permanence of the Levitical priesthood. All that He has promised was that while the ministry that they had been chosen to perform was there to be done, it would be they alone as His chosen priests who would do it. They are not, however, specifically mentioned in this final word from YHWH at all, while the families of David and Jacob are.
33.23 ‘And the word of YHWH came to Jeremiah, saying,’
Once again we are assured that this is the word of YHWH speaking through Jeremiah.
33.24 “Do you not consider what this people have spoken, saying, ‘The two families which YHWH chose, he has cast them off?’ Thus do they despise my people, that they should be no more a nation before them.”
The reference to ‘this people’ is always a reference to unbelieving Israel/Judah. Thus this is a comment being made by unbelieving Israel/Judah as they claim that YHWH has broken His promises and has cast off the two families whom He chose. Some see the two families as referring to those of David and Aaron, whom He has chosen. And as a consequence unbelieving Israel are seen as rejecting the idea that Israel can ever again be a true nation because its two recognised pillars, its king and its priesthood, have been removed. In their circumstances of despair it was understandable that they should feel this, but YHWH wants them to know that their words are not true. However He goes on to say that He has neither cast off the seed of David, nor has He cast off the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the true Israel. Both continue before Him. Thus the inference would appear to be that they are the two families now being spoken of, so that the Levitical priesthood is no longer in mind. Either way the important fact is that Israel have not been cast off, they are only being chastened.
‘Thus do they despise my people.’ This may refer to unbelieving Israel seen as despising Israel as a nation because YHWH has cast them off, or may indicate that the foreign nations despise Israel because of their unbelief, seeing them as no more a true nation because they have deserted their roots. The former appears more likely as the nations have not been in mind in the context.
33.25a “Thus says YHWH, If my covenant of day and night stand not, if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth, then will I also cast away the seed of Jacob, and of David my servant, so that I will not take of his seed to be rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
Once again YHWH uses His covenant with day and night (compare verse 20), and adds His appointment of the ordinances of Heaven and earth, as a guarantee of permanence. And what are to be permanent are ‘the seed of Jacob’ (then expanded to ‘the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’) and ‘the seed of David my servant’, with the latter ruling over the former.
The ‘seed of Jacob’ and ‘the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’ were technical terms indicating all who subscribed to the covenant of YHWH, for by this time (and even from the beginning) it included more than Jacob’s direct blood descendants. Through the centuries many ‘foreigners’ had been incorporated into Israel in accordance with Exodus 12.48 and all were seen as ‘the seed of Jacob’, as were the mixed multitude of Exodus 12.38 which had been incorporated into ‘the seed of Jacob’ at Sinai. Their descent was by adoption. The process would continue after Christ’s resurrection when the early Jewish church, the true remnant, the ‘holy seed’ of Isaiah 6.13, opened its doors to Gentiles who became believers and were thus incorporated into the new Israel, ‘the Israel of God’ (Matthew 21.43; Galatians 6.16) becoming ‘Abraham’s seed’ (Galatians 3.29) and circumcised though the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2.11). Today ‘the seed of Jacob’ continues in the whole body of true believers in Christ.
Jesus Christ was ‘the seed of David’ because He was adopted by Joseph, who was of the seed of David, as his eldest son and heir (demonstrated by his naming Him - Matthew 1.25), being born through Mary, who was probably also a Davidide, by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1.20; Luke 1.35).
33.25b “For I will cause their captivity to return, and will have mercy on them.”
And all this would occur because YHWH would ‘cause their captivity to return’, that is, would deliver them from exile, as a result of His compassion and mercy.
Note On The Permanence Of The Levitical Priesthood.
The appointment of Aaron and his sons to minister in the priest’s office is described in Exodus 28, see also Leviticus 8-10, although there is no actual mention in those passages of a covenant. It could on the other hand be assumed that there was an incipient covenant, as it is constantly made clear that Aaron and his sons were alone appointed to minister in the Sanctuary.
However, a covenant with relation to the Levitical priests is mentioned in Numbers 25.12-13, when in his zeal for YHWH, Phinehas slew Zimri, the prominent Simeonite, who had consorted with a Midianite woman and her gods, and brazenly brought her into the camp, displaying his disloyalty to YHWH for all to see. In response to Phinehas’ action YHWH promised, ‘Behold I give to him my covenant of peace, and it will be to him and his seed after him, the covenant of an everlasting priesthood, because he was jealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel’. In other words, as a result of his action YHWH covenanted peace to His wayward people, and as long as the priesthood was required in Israel (for the purpose of obtaining atonement), Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, and his descendants would have a part in it. They were thus given an everlasting right to have a part in the Levitical priesthood.
So whether we see the covenant as made with Aaron, or with Phinehas, the outcome is the same, and that was that the rights to serve the Tabernacle (and then the Temple) as priests lay with the Levitical priests. This would, of course, depend on there being a need for such priests, and there being a central altar where legitimate sacrifices could be offered. It was not, however, until the prophets that the concept would arise, although even then not fully thought through, of a time when God’s people would be truly holy, and would therefore presumably no longer require such priests (e.g. Isaiah 4.3; 6.13; Obadiah 1.17).
When the rival Sanctuary was set up at Dan in the time of the Judges an attempt was made to give its priesthood legitimacy by appointing as priests descendants of Moses (Judges 18.30), and this presumably continued until the land was overrun by the Philistines (‘the time of the captivity of the land’). It must be seen as probable that no legitimate Aaronide would serve there because it contained a graven image. But we cannot see this as evidencing anything other than man’s attempt to get round God’s Law and make do with second best.
When rival Sanctuaries were set up by Jeroboam I of Israel at Dan and Bethel he made no attempt as far as we know to obtain legitimate priests, but appointed men of his own choosing. This was, however, clearly frowned on by YHWH and by the prophets. On the other hand there were altars in Israel that were looked on as legitimate and these presumably had legitimate priests (1 Kings 18.30; 19.10). As they were accepted as legitimate they were presumably seen as erected at places where YHWH had ‘recorded His Name’ (Exodus 20.24-25). We need not doubt that this was the same in Judah, something which may be observed from Samuel’s ministry (his sacrifices at Bethlehem). The actual situation is often disguised by the fact that regularly someone is said to have offered sacrifices, when in fact it may well have been done by a priest at their instigation. Thus when Solomon is said to have offered a thousand burnt offerings (1 Kings 3.4) he hardly did it on his own. His priests made the offerings on his behalf. This may well also have been the case e.g. with Gideon and his ten men (Judges 6.25-27) and David (1 Kings 24.25). Manoah made a sacrifice to YHWH, but it was in a place where He had recorded His Name as a result of the presence of the Angel of YHWH, and was thus legitimate (Judges 13.19). In none of these cases was the uniqueness of the Levitical priesthood called into account.
Alongside this in Isaiah 61.6 all Israel are at some time in the future to be named as ‘Priests of YHWH’ and called ‘Ministers of our God’, and this was presumably intended to indicate being legitimate Levitical priests by adoption, whilst Isaiah 66.21 indicates a time when many who were not of the family of Aaron (and some commentators see it as indicating Gentiles), would legitimately be taken by YHWH as priests and Levites. We may assume from all this that as with becoming a member of the other tribes, it was possible to become a Levitical priest by adoption (as happened to Samuel), and in these cases, by wholesale adoption.
It must, however, be emphasised that at no time is it ever said that Levitical priests would be required everlastingly, but only that when they were required to serve at the Sanctuary on earth they would need to be in one way or another of the house of Aaron, whether by descent or adoption.
The position of the Levitical priests is upheld by the writer to the Hebrews, who points out that Jesus could not act as a priest on earth because He was not of the Levitical priesthood. However, he stresses that He had a perfect right to do so at a heavenly altar because He was a priest after the order of Melchizedek (the Jerusalem and Davidic priesthood - Psalm 110.4). This, of course, for all practical purposes made the earthly Levitical priesthood redundant.
Meanwhile in the New Testament as a whole God’s people are seen to have a priestly role in that they offer themselves as a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12.1-2) and offer up the sacrifices of praise and generosity (Hebrews 13.15-16). For they are a holy priesthood who are to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Christ Jesus (1 Peter 2.5). Indeed they are a kingdom of priests (Revelation 5.10). But none of this impinges on the service of the Levitical priesthood, although it may be seen as superseding it. It is a priesthood of a different order, a spiritual priesthood.
The coming of the future kingdom is put in sacrificial terms because that was the main way of expressing worship known to the prophets and the people, and we may see the descriptions partly as depicting the worldwide worship of the church, as the Kingly Rule of God is being established, and partly as a pointer to the everlasting kingdom when it will be finally established. Thus in Isaiah 66 it is depicted in terms of a weekly visit by all nations to Jerusalem in order to worship YHWH, where the adopted priests and Levites of Isaiah 66.21 were presumably ministering (although no mention is made of sacrifices), and also to scan the rubbish dump where the bodies of presumably executed transgressors were burning continually. In contrast in Zechariah 14 the nations are only required to pay a yearly visit to Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles where they are to worship YHWH by observing the Feast, and the sacrifices will be so many that all the pots in the whole of Judah will be required and will be made holy to YHWH (we can therefore see why all Israel will need to be priests). Meanwhile in every place among the Gentiles incense is being offered, along with a pure offering to YHWH (Malachi 1.11). If the aim in each case is to bring out total loyalty to YHWH in worship and a ministry to the whole world, rather than to indicate actual practise, the pictures make sense, but if we seek to take them literally we make them contradictory, and have the weekly keenites vying with the annual visitors, who again vie with the house churches. (Of course if we see them as a picture of the worship of the whole church, which in a sense they also are, such an idea becomes very realistic). One thing that they are not is the picture of a millennial kingdom, unless we see that as very divided and disorderly.
Thus Jeremiah’s (and YHWH’s) description of the Levitical priesthood as permanently established in Israel/Judah whilst earthly offerings were being offered at an earthly Sanctuary is valid, and the promise was never broken.
End of note.
Back to Jeremiah 1 (1.1-10.25).
Back to Jeremiah 2 (11.1-17.27).
Back to Jeremiah 3 (18.1-25.38).
Back to Jeremiah 4 (26.1-29.32).
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